At home Annette and Simon are eating dinner, a rare moment of relaxed solitude. It is as though the absence of Alice lightens the atmosphere, changes the feeling in the air, retrofits it with the reminder of the way things used to be.
As though it all never happened. Far from Simons mind are the hospital visits, the smell of plastic wrappers, disposable syringes and the copperish, sickly smell of blood. Annette’s mind has blocked those smells out, as though the threshold was passed back then, when too much had been had.
Whenever she thinks of that time her mind blurs into a hazy indistinction, interspersed with snapshots of little Alice growing older, getting bigger. Getting further away from a normal sibling age.
They never speak of them, the miscarriages. They never did. Only a brief sentence, a deadening of Annette’s eyes, always followed by that resolute statement, we will try again. They tried five times, and five times it failed to take hold, failed to stay in her body, to clutch onto life.
Each time Annette curled further and further in on herself, something like stone creeping through her body, stopping her organs, stopping her heart. She would sit alone for hours, her young healthy body hunched as she watched the world out of the window, the lines etching deeper around her twenty five year old eyes.
Simon tried to reach her. He tried to unthaw her body, using words, using his hands, using anything that he could to shake out some response, some sign of life.
He was broken too, and unable to help. He hated it. He hated watching her, hated seeing the hope in her eyes each time she found out, the terrifyingly hopeful way that she would track its progress, this tiny embryo buried deep in her body, as though her coveting knowledge would save it somehow.
Sex became mechanical, a disgusting process stripped of all its previous delicate intimacies, just another way to make it happen, to create another little baby, a little brother for Alice, always to try again.
It happened after the fifth time, when the fifth baby had been lost, the blood spilled dark and sticky on the carpet. Annette was twenty-six then, and something snapped.
It was as though she had curled too far, gone too deep inside herself, out of reach. Something inside her seemed to realize that it would never happen, and she decided almost stubbornly that they would no longer try. Simon was alerted to this decision by a subtle push, a resigned denying of his trained advances one night.
His body sighed relief, and though he felt a certain loss of the children that would never be, the siblings that Alice would never know, his overwhelming relief for Annette was bigger. He thought that that would be the end, that she would come back to him, in time seeking solace in his arms.
But she never came back. She slipped further and further away, wrapping herself in gym classes, home decorating, wine bottles. Her life became a search for perfection, a never-ending race to be flawless. The flawless, barren mother.
It became harder and harder for Simon to talk to her about it. He could not address this issue that caused her to cry in her sleep, could not comfort her. She would not speak about it, her face freezing if it was brought up, leaving the room as the forbidden tears began to prick at her eyes.
So Simon stopped trying. And soon the years passed, and the heartrending memories were covered in Christmases and forced smiles, P.T.A. meetings and baked cakes, all in an effort to forget, to push it all back under the surface.
But she never came back. She was never the same girl. Something was gone, some warm innocence, some happy expectation that life would be wonderful. She was harsher now, hard around the edges with realism and toned muscle, harrowed by the world.
Her smiles were shorter, her laughs didn’t linger like they used to, and Simon missed her.