I had to keep my eyes open or I lost all sense of space, up and down, just skin, water, steam, and the pressure of his body both behind and inside me. His rhythm was steady, easy, and languorous as he moved with strength and power, holding me up, keeping us balanced, and still, easing his fingers against the bud.
I wanted it harder, faster, not sure I could take it without collapsing but needing to try. I pressed my palm into the tile, bracing myself so I could push into him, two opposite forces, crashing together, again and again.
My thigh was starting to quiver, so he picked up the rhythm, his fingers fluttering with practiced intent. His breath sped up, puffing against my ear, and that confirmation that he was feeling it too charged through me in a flash. The muscles tightened around his fingers and the pleasure began to spread, first in small ripples, then blasting out. I let out a small cry, and Gavin worked faster, easing his fingers away, holding my hips, and then he was over the top, groaning into my hair, and the shattering of reality began to fall in sparkles, like the water glittering in the spray.
We breathed together for a moment, unwilling to break apart. He wrapped both arms around my waist, his cheek on my back. I remembered feeling in that moment that we had gotten everything back, all of it, all of us, and because of that, baby Finn was not really lost. As long as Gavin and I were together, the pieces of Finn we carried were able to connect, and even the passage of time would not diminish the strength of those memories.
In the hospital shower, I felt like I was on fire, and that the steam came not from the spray, but the heat of my body. I wanted to be well, to be with Gavin, hold on to him, hold him tightly to me as he went through this mess with that woman. She would not trick him, or take him, or cause him guilt or pain or grief.
I would not let him fall.
A volunteer in a bright white dress came for me a few hours later. “I hear you’re going to do some art!” she said, rolling a wheelchair up beside my bed.
I’d traded the hospital gown for my mother’s velour sweatpants and flowered T-shirt, wishing I’d told Gavin to get me some clothes during one of his rides over. She had tiny feet, so I still had the nubby socks, but I was getting out of the room, and that was good enough for me.
“I didn’t know I was getting chauffeured,” I said.
“This is a high-class operation,” the woman said. “I understand you need this, though.” She passed me a blue surgical mask.
“You can’t run around collecting everyone’s germs.”
I tucked the elastic behind my ears, already wanting to stay back. But I had to ask Tina about the test, and this was the best way to make sure my parents weren’t around.
They waved as we rolled out. “Go shopping!” I called back. “Have some fun!” And give me some time to myself again, I thought, as we trundled down the hallway. They were definitely a devoted pair. I tried to imagine sitting in a hospital all day for my child, then remembered, I had. For seven terrible days.
The very idea that I’d forgotten this brought my exuberance of being out of the room to a crash. It probably felt the same as the times someone would ask my mom how many children she had. When she popped out “Just the one,” too quickly, she often cried afterward, as if neglecting to mention all the babies she had lost was some great failure, a disloyalty that struck her heart.
Because of our town’s size, this rarely happened near home. Everyone knew her history. But I particularly remembered a trip to the Grand Canyon, standing on the edge of a flat rock and looking over the massive crater in the earth. Another family had come up, four unruly boys, and the father had asked my dad to take a picture of his brood.
The woman had been friendly enough, thanking us. “What I’d give to only have one again!” she exclaimed, snatching at the littlest son, who seemed determined to slide off the rock to a ledge a few feet below. “Take my advice and don’t have any more!”
My mom managed a weak “I won’t,” but after they were gone, she’d sat on a bench and cried for ten minutes, which seemed like forever when I was just six. I didn’t know then what had set her off, and my dad waited beside her, an arm over her shoulder, looking out over the canyon like the gash in the earth was minuscule compared to the hole in their lives.
But I got it now, the wheelchair whirring along the waxed floor, passing people in various stages of distress, nurses, families, patients on beds moving through the corridors for MRIs or brain scans or EKGs. The full force of Gavin’s surgery hit me again. I might never be given the chance to express my number of children, including or excluding Finn based on the situation. My belly might stay empty for the rest of my days.
We passed through the hub, and I knew that on my old floor, the bereavement rooms were above me. On this hall, however, we were clearly in some pediatric ward. The walls were colorful, and the art framed on the wall was bright with happy images of circuses, animals, and girls in sequined costumes performing tricks on a trapeze.
The doors were all closed, however, so I didn’t see any of the small patients. We turned toward an atrium and then into a wide room lined with windows. Tina stood at a table, coaxing a couple smooth-headed children to wash their brushes. She’d apparently given up on the nice clothes like the sweater and skirt from before. Now she wore splattered jeans and a black cotton shirt.
“You can come back for these when they are dry,” she said. She hung a wet image of the sun crying red tears on a line with several other paintings. “If you forget, I’ll bring them by your room tonight.”