When Lou was fifty-one, Melody’s cheeks took on a greenish hue in the early morning, and the waist that he so loved to encompass in his enormous hands began to expand. She wouldn’t admit it at first—maybe she was scared to hope—but Lou knew almost immediately. Something about Melody had changed, the scent of her skin or the complexity of the air around her when she entered a room. Maybe both. Either way, Lou was relieved. It wasn’t him, it had never been him, and now she would be happy. They would be a family.

Lou didn’t think much about the baby until the doctor handed him a tiny, tightly wrapped bundle with a pink cap sliding down over her lashless eyes. They were two little commas, those eyes, a break amidst all the words that comprised his many years of life, though certainly not a beginning or even an end. Lou stared at her and realized that he had planned on having a son.

“Abigail Rose,” Melody called weakly from the bed. She smiled at him with all the energy she could muster, and her eyes were dancing with tears. “Rose for my mother and Abigail because it’s the most beautiful name I’ve ever heard. I think we’ll call her Abby.”

What was there to say? It was a fine name, and Lou hadn’t wasted a single thought on another. “Pretty,” he said finally and brushed his lips tentatively across the soft forehead because it seemed like the right thing to do.

I didn’t know what to do with her.

She was cold, her skin was so cold, and she seemed dirty to me. I wanted to wash her hair and make her lips look pink again instead of the sickly gray that taunted me for not getting here sooner. For not paying attention. For not being everything she needed me to be.

When I got over the initial shock, when I had cried so hard I had emptied myself of every fighting, aching thing inside, I moved her arm half a degree and sat on the edge of the bathtub so I could be near her. There was nothing to be afraid of. This body beside me was only an empty shell; she was gone, and yet I wanted to be close enough to study every detail. I wanted to imprint her on each scribbled page of my memory so that when they took her away, I could remember how her collarbones rose in mirrored harmony and almost met in the shadow of her long neck.

My skin was tight from crying, and I could taste the salt from my tears when I licked my lips. There was blood, too, and it was insulting somehow that I could feel the metallic tang of life on my tongue when hers was spilled beneath me. Then I felt a jolt of shock at the blood in my mouth. How did it get there? Had I bled with her? Had I inadvertently touched where she lay broken and partaken in some unholy communion?

I raised my palms and studied their whiteness, then put them to my face and knew: the edges of my mouth were cracked from forming the scream that tried to clear a way for my heart to leave my body. It would have climbed up through my throat and escaped—it wanted to; I could feel it thrashing around, dying for an exit, a way to escape this pain—but it was held fast by each vein that anchored it to my fingers, my toes, the rest of my numb body. The blood in my mouth was my own.

It took me what felt like hours to reach for her. And when I did, her fingers were firm and limp like molded plastic as I wrapped my hands around them. I fought back my revulsion and reminded myself of who she was. Rubbing her lifeless hand between my own warm ones, I willed her to squeeze me back even as I knew she never would. A longing stabbed through me and was gone: I want to be where you are. But that was impossible.

I would have to live in this new reality.

I didn’t know what to do without her.

From The Moment Between. Copyright © 2009 by Laura Hayden.  Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188.