Birthday

For Round 7 of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that have a character come to town and someone leave town.

A cellphone.
iStockphoto.com

Later, the woman in the blue silk blouse would say that he stumbled. I would see her on the news, on the little wood-grained TV high on the wall in the hospital room. The stranger who grabbed for his elbow as he fell, who gave him CPR afterwards — later she would say that out of the corner of her eye she saw him stumble.

"He must have tripped," she would say. "It just happened so fast."

I would hear her say this the second time they showed the video. The first time, I would have the TVs sound muted, barely registering its flicker as I gazed down at the tiny swaddled form in the crook of my arm, parted lips still pressed against my breast.

The name on the screen would catch my eye, and a roaring wind would fill my ears. I would stretch to reach the remote dangling by its thick cord over the bed rail, shaking, suddenly struggling to breathe. I would wait until the commercial was over, then turn on the sound, as low as I could make it, when I saw the caption again.

In the video, she would shake her head, slowly, struggling to explain. On a humid August day, she would hug her arms, as if against a chill. August 17. My daughter's birthday. His daughter's birthday.

Digital watches don't stop when they're run over. They pinpointed the time of the accident, the newspaper article would explain the next day, with the call log in his phone. The woman in the blue silk blouse would have told the police that she had seen him tap the screen and begin to raise the phone to his ear. When he was hit, the phone was knocked from his hand.

Would they have looked for the phone if the woman hadn't mentioned it? In the end, they would find it under a parked car nearby. At 1:37 p.m., he dialed the last number in the log.

The police would not think to notify me. It's only on TV that they send detectives to sit awkwardly in living rooms and interview the people the dead person called. They would find nothing suspicious in his death; he stumbled, he fell, he was hit by a bus. It doesn't quite happen every day, but often enough.

A woman in a blue silk blouse tried to catch him as he fell. Other people, people in ties and people in shorts, would stand in the street waving off traffic as she gave him CPR. Someone would pull a phone from a pocket or a purse and dial 9-1-1. Before the paramedics arrived, he would be dead.

There was a moment that was before, and there would be an endless string of moments after. As the ponderous weight of our child's soul entered her tiny new body, he stumbled. By the time she had drawn a breath, he would be gone.

Useless tears would gather in my eyes as I listened to the woman in the blue silk blouse.

My daughter would begin again to root at my breast, eyes squished shut, learning to suck but restless, losing the nipple over and over and frantically searching for it. Her tiny, alien cries would wake my husband. He would stretch, wrapped in another thin blanket on the recliner in the corner, then come to stand at my bedside.

He would not notice the TV — he would see only my tear-streaked cheeks. He would brush back my hair and place a gentle kiss on my forehead.

He would never know.

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