This is where I write, in the back sun room of my house, a room with three walls of solid windows overlooking my yard and garden. My laptop sits on a reclaimed-wood table I had made for me, having fallen in love with it at a local flower shop and cajoled the owner into giving me the name of the man who had made it. And this is the way it all looks to me when I sit down to begin, when the picture of what I need to say remains out of focus, out of my reach.
Today I struggled. Today’s particular form of struggle involved looking up an ungodly number of words in the thesaurus. Really. Ungodly number.
I finished the chapter I have been working on. !! And whereas I wrote more than a paragraph, it is one paragraph that will allow me to lay my head on my pillow tonight feeling like I have done something.
“As if it is the most natural thing in the world, as if she has done this a million times, Madeline reaches for the breast of a fifteen-year-old girl.She squeezes the nipple, and she directs the breast from a position slightly above Dustin’s head into his eager, expectant mouth.For a few fleeting seconds, Madeline feels she has been given a magnificent gift.In a featureless hospital room, with an exhausted adolescent mother whose breast she holds in her own hand, she has been granted a moment of profound grace.”
A segment from the novel-in-progress, from the chapter I had requested feedback. As my daughter said when she was about eleven years old: “It’s contemporary fiction. You don’t know everything.”
“Um, I’m not sure if he’s in a good position. I think his head may be a little bit too far away. From the breast. Your boob.”
Sierra looks from her baby boy’s head, to the breast that lay in her hand, to Madeline, and her mouth again falls open. She is exhausted, and not understanding, and trying so hard, and wanting to try even harder, and wanting to give up.
Madeline looks around the room, says to Sierra, “Would it help…do you want me to get on the bed with you?”
“Yeah yeah yeah yeah,” she says. “Yes.”
“Yeah, you go head, Mad.” Billie waves Madeline towards the bed, her fists clenching and re-clenching as she speaks.
The aunt, the uncle, the cousins, who have been murmuring among themselves with downcast eyes, decide at this point that they will excuse themselves and get refreshments. Madeline edges to the side of the bed and sits down with a tentativeness that resembles slow motion. Seated a respectful distance from Sierra, she tucks one leg underneath the other, letting her foot dangle casually off the side, in an attempt to project calm confidence. And with the simple movement of raising her rear end slightly off the bed to tuck her leg, she gets her first real glimpse of newborn Dustin Roy.
Tears threaten to well, pour, spring from her eyes. The sum of tears inside her threatens to flood the room – Billie, still holding a pile of meticulously-folded things, Sierra still cross-legged on the bed with her mouth agape – they will be swept up in the great salty tide and whisked down the corridor, past roomfuls of astonished new mothers cradling infants, while Madeline swoops up Dustin and saves him. She saves him. She seizes him and holds him and swaddles his blanket tight and rubs her cheek against his newborn hair and smells his skin and makes a pact, a pact that very instant that she will do anything in the world to protect him, anything at all, forever, she will do anything she needs to do for the rest of time as long as there is time, because he is there, and he is perfect, and he is new, and everything is possible for him, everything, he will have a good life, he will…
“MadMad? What should I do?”
Madeline keeps her eyes fixed intently on Dustin, as if pondering the question quite seriously, until the dam that threatens to burst has proven it will hold.
“Um, let’s try again.”
Sierra goes through each step — positioning Dustin, squeezing her nipple, then maneuvering the outer third of her breast so it comes down to Dustin’s mouth from above. After each separate move, she looks back to Madeline, and Madeline nods.