So real

“If it came down to it,” I’d asked Jack once. “If you could only save one of them…”

“One of who?” he wanted to know.

“Kyna or Katie. If you couldn’t get to both of them.”

“Katie,” he said without hesitation and with a conviction I couldn’t mistake.

I nodded. He’d just been confirming something I already knew about him, after all.

“I thought, you know, I’d save Kyna,” he said. “We could always have another baby. But. She’s so tiny. And she’s so, I don’t know. So real.”

“I’d go after Barbi,” I’d said then. “And she’d hate me for it. With every bit of herself, she’d hate me. God. What kind of parent am I gonna be?”

I’m asking myself the same question now.

It had been simple enough to ease the baby out of Barbi’s arms when she dozed off. Simple for me, anyway; it would’ve taken an anti-tank missile for anyone else, I’m pretty sure. Nothing is coming between Barbi and her child. Our child.

I lay her in the bassinet just long enough to adjust the swaddle a little tighter. The fabric is covered in tiny vintage airplanes flying this way and that and I wonder if Jack picked it out before or after he closed himself off from everyone. I tuck the blanket around her with a series of motions half-remembered from when Jo’s little boy was just born. Before Jo moved out, spitting insults like battery acid, and in with her boyfriend’s parents – born-again Christians who were all-too willing to redeem my sister’s soul.

What kind of parent?

“You’re gonna be a fine one,” Jack had answered me. “Once she’s there, and she’s real, and you hold her. You’d do anything. I swear to you, you’re gonna be a good… a good whatever you decide to call yourself.”

Inay, I decided. Like my mother, when we were small, before we learned that people would make fun of you for the stupidest things and we started to call her Mom instead. Inay, because it carries more weight than Mom, and less.

“You’d do anything,” he’d said, and I suppress the urge to kick something, because what the fuck does he know? He walked out on his kids. Yeah, sure, he’s keeping watch. It’s his fucking responsibility. But he walked out just the same, and I swear – I swear – I am not going to do that. Not to my kid, and not to him either.

I pick her up before she can start to fuss – babies know the difference between a cold mattress and a warm chest – and nestle her in the crook of my arm. She turns her tiny face in, nuzzles against my shirt.

“Sorry, kiddo,” I say. “You’re barking up the wrong tree there.”

She startles at the sound of my voice, opens her eyes. They’re a deep blue, like all babies have, and even knowing she’s likely to end up with brown eyes like me I can’t help but notice how much she looks like her mother. She starts to squirm and I hold my breath, bounce her gently until she settles back down.

I thought it would be different once she was born. Would I do anything for her? I don’t know. I don’t know. For Barbi, I would. Barbi is real. Jack is real, the Jack who told me these things, not the Jack who handed me a stack of flannel blankets and walked away. This Jack doesn’t seem real anymore. I would do anything for the Jack whose blood is mixed with mine.

I brush her super-soft blonde hair with one finger. She doesn’t seem real either. And I know if I put a name to her, if I speak it out loud, she will become more real. Become fixed in time and space and in my heart. Each time I speak her name is another barbed hook.

In a way, I’m a lot like Jack. Difference is, I’m gonna set those hooks. Difference is, I’m not giving up.

“It’s okay,” I whisper, settling into the cushioned rocker in the corner and closing my eyes, just for a minute. “We’re gonna be fine, you and me. Stella. We’re gonna figure this out.”

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