The last reminder of hope. Light, scattering in long, thin lines across the black ceramic. For a moment she thought it was a spider web.
So she dropped the mug. It went tumbling from her fingers, and she could see the lines of light dancing across the rim as the mug fell.
“No-!” But it was too late. The ceramic hit the floor and shattered. Chips of black mug went skittering off into the corners. Shards of it, long and thin, like glass, lay in the dim light. Dark against the pale linoleum. Like pieces of shadow that God had dropped when he was rounding up the afternoon.
Suddenly, she’s all alone. The dead, their shadows, the long poisonous claws of the whispering never-weres. Gone. Shocked into silence, and in silence ceasing to exist.
Akachi was still. The air pushed against her empty chest. She focused on that, and then focused on her breath when it forced itself back into her body.
But she noticed the silence anyway, and, like not thinking of an elephant, the noise came back.
-Damn it! How could you drop that!-
-That was the nice one Margaret gave us. She’s going to be so upset.-
-I knew it was going to be a horrible day. Never should have gotten up.-
Akachi ignored them. They cut her anyway. She took more caution with the ceramic shards, placing each step carefully as she walked to the cupboard where the broom was kept. Only six long steps.
-It wasn’t like you even thought there was a spider on it. Like a spider would live in a mug.-
-Oh god, what if there are more in there? What if there’s a black widow living in the tea-pot?-
Akachi picked up the broom. The bright white plastic had faded to grey, like the light, over the last year. She eased into a crouch, using the cupboard and the wall.
The girl in her womb turned over.
Akachi waited, and then, with slow strokes, began to sweep the floor.
She knew she was there because of the gentle song of the wind chimes. Clear, single notes sounded. Slow. There was a breeze, down here in the garden. It wasn’t strong enough to make the hedge shiver. It never was. She could hear wind, and it smelled cold. But here, sheltered by the high green that surrounded the small space, the air was warm.
The sky overhead was storm grey, and the clouds rippled and ran in the wind.
Akachi was sitting at the glass table. The table was wet, and a puddle had formed below the rip in the tan umbrella. But the chair, white wire with thick brown cushions, was dry.
It smelled of rosemary and rain.
Someone was holding her hand. Someone with larger hands then her, and rough and weathered palms.
Akachi didn’t look. She never looked.
The wind chimes clanked again as the breeze brushed them.
“I hate this.” Akachi said. There was no venom in her voice. “Everyday I wake up, and I know I can’t make it. And then the whole day passes, and I have to do it again. Can I just be done? Will you please just let me die?”
The hand squeezed hers, gently. Reassurance, or empathy.
“Was it like this for you?”
The shards rang together as she brushed them into the pan. She shifted the pan, and they the clicked and slithered. Like glass, only a deeper, rougher sound.
“I don’t know how we’re going to make it baby-girl.” Akachi said. But the sound of her voice broke the lonely silence in the kitchen. She should turn the light on. It was so gloomy, with just the dim rain light coming through the windows. “I guess we’ll find out together.” It was only a whisper.
Akachi stood, slowly, and turned on the lights.
Dirty yellow light flooded the space.
Uglier. But brighter, at least.
And that was a kind of beauty.
Esperanza was sleeping on her shoulder. The noise of the traffic and the fight on the front of the bus had tried to keep her awake, but they had not triumphed.
That was a blessing. She could have gotten any kind of baby, and she got the sort that loved to sleep and wouldn’t let anything get in the way of it.
Akachi managed a smile. She felt it twisting around the edges of her mouth, caught it, and forced it to land. It came out faded and sad. But it came.
The fight on the front of the bus was growing louder. A white guy and his girlfriend, only she was Hispanic. They’d come on arm in arm and sat in the middle seats. And now they were shouting. She was in tears and shouting. He was just shouting.
Every forty seconds the bus driver would shout “Hey! Quiet down!” and their voices would drop back into hissing whispers. And then, like waves cresting, rise again.
The bus pulled over to a stop. The white guy, still shouting, stood up and grabbed the woman’s wrist.
Akachi’s chest began hurt, like it had just caved in.
The woman was trying to stay seated. He was shouting. She was shouting.
“Get off!” The bus driver screamed.
Akachi stood up, keeping Esperanza on her shoulder. She strode down the aisle. Stomach rolling, heart racing, mouth dusty.
The voices had dried up. All poison spent on trying to make her stop, none left to critique her through her adrenaline.
“Excuse me.” She said, to the young lady, in Spanish. “Will you hold my baby, please?”
The young woman stared at her. Akachi held out Esperanza.
“Um.” The young woman said. “What?” In Spanish.
The white guy said, in English, “What the fuck do you want?”
Akachi smiled at him.
His girlfriend took the baby in her free hand.
“She offered to help.” Akachi said, in her best ‘dumb as hell’ voice.
The wind chimes sang, slow and low. The air smelled of rosemary and rain.
It smelled cold. But here, sheltered by the high, green hedge, it was warm.
Akachi sat at the glass table. She could see the sky in the reflection the puddle made, see it through the hole in the umbrella. It was rolling, in a thousand shades of grey and white.
But here, the breeze was gentle. Heard, not felt.
Someone was holding her hand. She could feel the warmth around her fingers, on her palm.
“Please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please, please–“
A gentle squeeze.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” The white guy said.
Akachi took a step back.
“I need both hands.” The girlfriend said, pushing her wrist toward the white guy. “To hold the baby the lady gave me.”
He whirled on her, but he dropped her hand. “We aren’t taking a baby home!”
“Get off the bus NOW!” The bus driver said, getting out of his seat.
The girlfriend sat down, with a deliberate finality. “I’ll catch up with you.” She said to the white guy. “As soon as I get this baby back.” She turned, in her seat, to Akachi. “Here, crazy lady, take the baby back.” But she kept her tucked in one arm.
“Sir, I need you to get off.”
“I’m going, I’m going!”