KORTNEY SIZEMORE-GALLAGHER

My hands cup the icy water from the faucet, and in one quick, frantic movement, I splash the water onto my face. The temperature of the water raises goosebumps on my arms. I pause for a moment, letting most of the water drip off before coming eye to eye with the woman in the mirror.  

Her hair in disarray, pulled up into the literal definition of a messy bun. Large brown eyes brimmed with fresh tears that threaten to spill over onto her flushed cheeks once more. Her features are somehow stable, even in the mess of things, there is strength in her stature; in the way she holds herself.  

Another night of no sleep is going to make her go insane. I refuse to admit the imposter in the mirror is the same person I was only a couple of months ago. I squint my eyes and look into her features, looking for any resemblance. The accusing eyes squint back at me, making me flinch. 

Another night of sleep is all I need to feel better. A hot meal in the morning and a warm shower will start my day–my typical, average, perfect day.  

I avert my gaze. It’s getting hard to recognize the person who glares back at me. As if she hasn’t seen the things I’ve been through. As if she hasn’t been there through all of the things I’ve had to witness. To think she would be more understanding. 

There’s a faint cry from the crib behind me; it rings into my already sensitive ears and quickly brings me back into reality. I rush over to the cradle and peer upon the face of the fragile infant inside, peacefully asleep, yet the sound of crying continues to run circles around my head. 

Holding my trembling hands onto my ears, I lay on the bed next to it, putting my ear down onto the pillow and freeing a hand to reach out, allowing my fingertips to barely graze the bars on the crib. Hopefully, the close proximity will bring me enough comfort to sleep for more than twenty minutes. I close my heavy eyelids, and the shrieking from the crib only seems to get louder, the vibrations causing odd light patterns beneath the lids of my fastened eyes. I slow my breathing. 

It’s not real. It’s not real. It’s not real. I tell myself repeatedly, hoping this somehow will bring me a smidge of comfort. 

What seems like for only a moment, the world goes dark.  

A loud ringing brings me back all too soon, heat sears my skin, and I jump off the couch, falling roughly onto the floor and hitting my face. Terror consumes me. Smoke engulfs the room, surrounding me and making it difficult to breathe. Each jagged breath I take scorches my tender lungs. I struggle to climb onto my knees, putting my hands onto the edge of the crib, I attempt to pull myself upwards. 

Blazing heat from the crib’s metal bars scores my skin. The pain is easier than it should be to ignore, there is only one thing on my mind. Looking into the crib, I see the charcoaled remains of my newborn baby, his face distorted into that of a scream, but no noise escapes his parted lips. 

I let out a scream, the loudest scream I can muster. Did I sleep through the death of my baby? Covering my ears so completely, I couldn’t hear his helpless pleas. 

“Help, help someone, please help.” I screech, falling back onto the ground, too defeated to get back up. Pain rips through my chest, causing more damage than any fire ever could. Who have I become? 

“Please, someone!” Even to me, my cries sound weak, muffled, as the breath in my lungs fails to give me enough air for a voice anymore.  

I feel arms around me, pulling me up. “No, the baby,” I mutter again, gasping for air. “Not me, the baby.”  

Just enough strength returns to my body to fight. Every fiber of my being struggles against the someone who is rescuing me, it’s wrong to be away from my baby, if he’s dead, I should be too. I kick and flail my arms. To no avail, the arms tighten around me. 

Let me go, can’t you see I want to be with him. Can’t you see he needs his mother? 

“Danielle. DANIELLE seriously wake up,” the familiar voice screams at me. 

My eyelids flutter open, and I clutch at my chest. It’s heavy, and fear keeps me from breathing in too deeply. I take in a slow, measured breath. The air is clean. I look to my husband standing above me, his eyes wide and alarmed as he watches me contemplate my next steps.

Although he loosens his grip on my shoulders, he remains there for a moment. His worried look causes me to start hyperventilating again, remembering what has happened only moments ago. I gasp loudly and hit his arm out of the way. 

Rolling out from under him, I stand up and run to the crib, almost tripping on mounds of clean and dirty unfolded laundry on my way over. I grab the edge of the bed and pull myself up, looking anxiously inside. The baby is fine. I carefully observe his chest, sighing in relief when I see his stomach rise and fall in comfortable patterns.  

I kneel for a moment, allowing the sobbing to break through, trying not to shake, so I don’t disturb his peaceful slumber. The ringing in my ears finally comes to a silent end. 

Standing up slowly, I stumble my way into the little bathroom attached to the side of the bedroom. Finally, calming myself enough to take in a full breath, I turn the bathroom sink on and shove my hands underneath it, allowing them to fill with the cold water. I splash the water onto my face and cringe, knowing I was about to once again come face to face with her. 

I see my husband’s bewildered expression looking at me through the mirror. He sighs in defeat. Locking eyes with the stranger and trying to understand, trying to recognize the woman in the mirror. 

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