Snow Skins – Part 3
Read Part 2
My Face For The World To See by Alfred Hayes was an awful book in Deirdre’s opinion, but she kept reading it out of morbid curiosity. When she’d finally flipped the last page, thoroughly disgusted with the characters, it landed on Ian’s nightstand.
“That was pointless,” she said, falling back onto the pillows.
“Then why did you read it?” Ian chuckled, editing another manuscript in bed.
“I wanted to see what happened.”
“What was it about?”
“A man not understanding that cheating on his wife is wrong,” Deirdre said flippantly, rolling over so that she was laying on her stomach facing him. “You’re not secretly married, are you?”
Ian’s pen stopped moving. His chin wobbled when he swallowed, the bristles there glittering as they caught the lamplight. The shadow of a beard waiting to grow dark was bold against his cheeks. Still, white stubble stood out amongst the dark strands—snow on a dark field. There was snow at his temples too. But snow wasn’t allowed to fall in California, so a bottle of dark brown dye fixed the problem. Covering up the white, covering up the cold. Deirdre stilled as the snow stole the warmth from her.
“How long have you been married?” She asked lightly, not disturbing the soft white powder that began to mound between them on the sheets.
“Ten years. She took a professorship in Italy for a year.”
At least he didn’t deny it.
“You took down her pictures?”
“I didn’t want you to see them.”
Deirdre slid out of bed. “I should go.”
Outside it was ninety degrees, but Deirdre was too cold to feel it.
She missed Lady more than she missed Ian. Was it possible, she wondered, to only be with a man for his dog? The dog hadn’t moved when Deirdre got out of bed that night, her skin sex-warm and her insides frozen. Lady had only whined as Deirdre dressed and left Ian in the bed surrounded by his work. A taste like burnt sugar settled in the back of her throat. When she boarded the bus, the driver didn’t look when she sniffled in the back seats.
It hurt more than she’d expected. In elementary school, playing house and pretending to be in love seemed so easy. You were in love because you held hands and maybe shared candy. It was that simple. Then, when you were done, you just stopped and became friends or never spoke again. As children, you fall in love, and then you aren’t. There isn’t any fuss, just acceptance. Somehow, children are the only ones able to let each other go without hurting.
Now, sitting in a bus in California, watching gum harden on the metal under the seats, she felt foolish and naive, like a child with the pain of an adult. Throughout the ride back to her apartment, she tapped the cover of her book, watching the blunt fingernails gleam against the library seal. She’d left the daffodil mug at Ian’s apartment.
Her roommates prepared to go to war. Sarah’s jade and pearl engagement ring glinted in the lamplight as she curled her hand into a fist.
“I have scalpels,” she offered over bourbon.
“You swore a Hippocratic oath, babe,” her fiance warned.
They stopped mentioning Ian in the apartment.
A month later, Deirdre knew she was pregnant. She’d been scared about what the tightness under the soft skin of her stomach could mean. Now, she had a confirmation in the form of two blue lines.
She told her roommates first. Then she told her mother. The conversations were long and emotional. No, she wouldn’t go home. No, she didn’t want her mom to fly out to California. Yes, she was scared out of her mind. She didn’t have an answer to the question of whether or not she was ready.
Ian was the last to know, across a cup of decaf coffee in a cafe older than the surrounding buildings.
“Could you get an abortion?”
Deirdre wouldn’t lie and say she hadn’t considered it when she’d first found out. She’d seen her mom struggle with choices that had no clear path. But she was too far along.
Ian looked cheerful like he’d given her the answer to a math problem she was too stupid to understand. Deirdre set down her cup. She looked at him, no grand realization washing over her at the image he offered. Deirdre had kissed the indent on his nose from his glasses. She’d gripped at the hair turning to snow between her legs. She’d mapped his crows’ feet with her fingers as she studied his face in bed. She already knew what he looked like. She’d always known who he was.
At his core, Ian was what he did. He took out the things he didn’t like, wrote them off with a red pen, twice if necessary. He was a man who’d slept with a girl twelve years his junior, who’d hidden his wife’s photographs so she wouldn’t see. He was a man who moved through life, apologizing for his intrusion in it and covering up any subsequent mistakes.
He’d told her once that you cut were some lines of a script because they were bad, and some you cut because they were fun but pointless. He called them butterflies. Pretty to look at, but pointless to chase. That’s what she was in the script of his life; a fun bit of dialogue. Pointless.
“I can’t,” she said.
His face fell.
“I don’t want anything from you. You can waive your parental rights as soon as it comes out. I don’t care.”
Still, he frowned. He seemed to be under the impression that she’d want more of his input.
“You will be there when it comes.”
He would see the consequences of what they’d done. She wouldn’t let him wander off, absolved and free. He looked sick, but she knew him; he wouldn’t deny her this. He didn’t have the guts.
“I’ll be there.”
Daniel and Sarah helped arrange everything, scoffing when she offered to move out. They all secured a Midwife and a condo that had enough rooms for them and the baby once it came. She already asked them to be the godparents. They’d agreed wholeheartedly.
“We don’t want kids,” Sarah explained over crib pieces. “But your kid is different.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
Sarah shrugged. “Doesn’t have to. I like kids, but I don’t want to give birth, and adoption is expensive.” Her hands stilled on the bassinet they were assembling. “It would be an honor to help raise whatever comes out of there.”
Deirdre snorted, which turned into laughing, which turned into crying. Sarah wrapped her in a hug, maneuvering around her large belly. She was seven months in and felt every bit of it.
“I love you two,” Deirdre cried.
Sarah nodded against her shoulder. “I’m gonna be the best damn godmother this kid’s ever seen.”
A lawyer wrote up the forms to waive Ian’s parental rights when she was weeks away from her due date. They sat signed, sealed, and processed in a law office. She’d made it clear when they’d signed them what he was giving up.
“You will not contact them,” she began, her pen hovering over the page. “You will not contact me about them. I will not contact you about them. I will not ask for your financial assistance. If they want to find you later in life, I won’t stop them, but as of right now, you are not a father.”
His pen hesitated for a moment, but eventually, his name was on the forms next to hers.
After she left the law office, Deirdre found herself in a church for the first time since her grandmother’s funeral. She wasn’t Catholic, but it was the only one close enough for her to walk. When she finally managed to lower her heavily pregnant self into the bench, it creaked under her weight.
Even if the church was different, even if they had different ways of doing things, it still felt like that same little church where she’d sat with her grandmother through many a sermon, wedding, or funeral. The wooden pews were quiet and waiting for parishioners. The silence itself was a person in the empty room, or maybe that was the Holy Spirit, the quieter part of the Trinity. It listened while she breathed in and out, steadying her heartbeat.
“I’m scared,” she admitted. “I have so many people ready to help me, but I’m still scared.” The crucifix and the Holy Ghost waited. “That’s all I wanted to say.”
Her mother arrived three days before Deirdre gave birth. For the first time in years, they slept in the same bed, talking long after the sky had turned dark.
“You’re exactly like I was,” her mother said, gesturing at Deirdre’s body. “Everything went straight to the front; couldn’t tell a thing from the back.”
“I get a lot of strange looks in the store,” Deirdre agreed. She gripped her mom’s hand. “What if something goes wrong?”
Her mom’s mouth turned downward in the dark, mulish and purple, a shriveled plum in the pale, heart-shaped face. She gathered Deirdre closer. Her mom’s arms were no longer taught from the hours spent on yoga DVDs bought at the Goodwill. They were thin and sagging. Her mother had become old while Deirdre wasn’t watching.
“You’re doing fine, baby,” her mom whispered into her hair, kissing Deirdre’s temple. “You’re so much stronger than I was.”
“You made me this way.”
The words sat between them like an accusation, but Deirdre didn’t mean it that way. Her mom didn’t know all the ways she’d shaped Deirdre. Every night watching her bend over the computer cataloging bills was another strike of a forge hammer. Every softball game or band competition her mom had cheered at, another. Deirdre was who she was because of the woman lying beside her in the bed, and the woman that made that woman.
When her water broke, she called Ian and calmly told him he could come by the house. Then they’d called the Midwife. She was a skinny older woman, short and wiry but firm.
“Everybody out,” the woman demanded before closing the door and checking Deirdre. “You’re gonna be fine, Mama. We’ve got this.”
Six hours. That’s how long she was in labor. After six hours of grunting, screaming, and growling like an animal, her baby was laid against her chest. Love, pain, anger, and protectiveness muddled together, coming out in a flood of tears.
“Hi,” she whispered to the tiny creature in her arms. “I made you.” She ran a finger over the squished face. Her daughter was perfect. This tiny, red, squalling thing was perfect. It was hers; she’d done this.
“If you have a name, I can go ahead and mark it down.”
“Annamarie.” Deirdre had picked out the name a long time ago. It could mean Bitter or Grace. “Margaret is her middle name.”
“Alright.” The Midwife scribbled on a notepad, her tongue protruding between her thin lips. “Do you want to let the others in?”
Annamarie yawned and latched onto Deirdre’s nipple. Deirdre nodded.
Her mother was the first to come in, cooing at the baby. Sarah and Daniel watched from a distance.
“Ian?” She asked.
“He left as soon as he heard she was born.” Daniel sounded disgusted.
“That’s all I asked him for.” Deirdre was too weak to summon up that anger from months ago. If Ian was out of her life for good, she didn’t care.
“What should I put down for the father’s name?” The midwife asked.
“Nothing.” Annamarie gripped her finger.
Her baby’s head had a fine mist of blonde hair, thin and pale, like Deirdre’s, like her mother’s. The platinum strands would darken with time, but, for now, they were white. Like snow against her skin.
Photo by Andriyko Podilnyk on Unsplash.