From the Author
"What's her name?"
I traced her shape with my finger, with no sense of recollection, no maternal pull at all, as if tracing the lines of a stranger, same as a picture in a magazine. How strange it was going to be to nurse a baby I didn't know, couldn't remember giving birth to, couldn't remember conceiving. Or remember anything of the children who came before her. It would feel completely foreign to me to put her to my breast to nurse. Almost as strange as when that Hispanic actress went to Africa, or whatnot, and put that little black baby to her chest to feed it--with the suck heard 'round the world--winding up in all the news for weeks. At least she'd nursed her own baby girl first, so she knew just what to do, and the black baby seemed to know what to do, too. One breast must be just as good as the next.
"Her name is Dolly Sue."
"Dolly Sue!" I spat, feeling the heat of anger color my face. "Please tell me you're teasing. I let you name our child Dolly Sue? Is it too late for an annulment? Birdy, you know I can't stand those hillbilly names. What were you thinking? I always told you, from the time I first started going out with Bobby Lee, that when he and I got married, I was going to name our children normal names, names such as Amanda or Jessica, or Christopher or Brian if it was a boy, not old-fashioned southern names. Stupid names. I talked about it enough, even wrote them down and showed you, I'd think you'd remember. And you gave me a Dolly?"
Birdy flinched and jerked back. "She's our daughter, Savannah May. Yours and mine. Whatever you and Bobby Lee talked about don't make a lick of difference. And for your information, I named her Anna Sue, it's you who started calling her Dolly." He yanked the picture out of my hands. "And she's not named after Dolly Parton, if that's what you're thinkin'. Who if I recollect, I've heard you sing her songs so many times in my life I could puke. You call her Dolly because she's so pretty you said she looks like a doll." Birdy turned away from me, his expression wounded.
"Don't holler at me, Birdy! I'm doing the best I can here."
The fight went out of Birdy. He sat down on the edge of the bed and stared at me for a moment before putting his hand on the side of my face, his palm warm and callused, except for the spot where his thin gold wedding ring rested, cool, and smooth. I closed my eyes and remembered another time Birdy put his hand on my face. The night he found me sitting on the bumper of my car and he dried my face with the tail of his shirt and then soothed my stinging cheek with the coolness of his hands.
Birdy heaved a deep sigh. "I'm sorry. I know. But Savannah, if you knew what hell I've been going through, worrying about you, and taking care of the kids. They miss you and can't understand why you haven't come home. I didn't know what to tell them. The doctors, they didn't know how long they'd need to keep you asleep. Or what you'd be like when you woke up ..." His voice trailed off.
I patted his hand and gently removed it from my cheek. "Kids? We have two?" I asked, hopeful. Two didn't seem too many. One for each of us to care for.
"Darlin', we have four."
"Four!" I sat up so fast I set off the alarm. Machines beeped and buzzed and the nurse's voice came over the intercom. Not four! Dear Lord, I was the mother of four
children. Four loud and annoying children. I assumed they were loud and annoying, having never met a child who wasn't at least one of the two.
"Coming," a voice warbled from the intercom.
"No, it's okay," Birdy spoke into the microphone. "Savannah just found out we have four children. But she's fine. I think she's fine. Or at least as fine as someone who's just been told they have four kids would be," he ended.