Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Let Down

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It's her, I tell Craig. I know her jangled ring.

He says, "Who else calls at two a.m.?"

The phone is cold. She's hissing in my ear. "You've got to throw IT out!"

"Mother--" The name catches in my throat. It's my name now, too.
She says, "I've been up all night--" The familiar panic flickers in my chest. "--riding a wavelength spectral vision," she says. I don't ask. I know the brittle cracks in her voice. She's saying, "The baby is EVIL." I hear her exhaling. I can almost smell her Marlboro smoke. "It will KILL you in your sleep. SLIT you open. I've SEEN--"

I look at Lizzie gentled down between Craig and me. Craig turns. Eyes closed. She whimpers. He nuzzles her satin cheek, careful with his whiskers. His head is huge beside her tiny newness. He opens his bloodshot eyes halfway and looks at me.

"Hang up," he mouths. His hair's pointing irritably at the walls, at the bed. Sleep deprivation. He props himself up on an elbow, I love the curves of his chest. My anchor. He covers my hand on the receiver with his. So warm. I resist for just a second. He pulls it to his ear, wrinkles his face, listening, like he wants to spit. "Stop it, Doris. Just. Stop." He clicks off.

She's crying now. My breasts ache in response. I pull her into my arms and rub my lips into her silken hair. Let down. My milk seeps over me, chilling my chest that feels so tight, it's hard to breathe. But I want her nine pounds against me. She smells like everything I've ever wanted.

"Jesus Christ," Craig says, staring at the phone in his white knuckled grasp. It's not a prayer. Maybe it is. He rolls to us.

"She's off her meds. Again." I tell him.

"I'll unplug it?" His eyes say please.

I shake my head. No. "She'll just call back. She's bad."

He groans and falls back into the mattress. I watch him. He hates this illness he married into his life. My heart bangs in my chest.

She's a quiet baby. Only 12 days -- no, 13. Everyone says, You wait. Or. It's just the quiet before the storm. What storms have they known?

She's wet. I change her. Carry her flannelled weight in my arms. I tell myself to breathe. In my rocking chair. It's been in my family for four generations. Rocking. Back and forth. The panic settles. By the window. In. Out. Back and forth. I follow the lights, undulating, down the hill. Winking through the trees. To the freeway. So many people. Going so fast. In the night. I rock her slowly. She whimpers, searching for me, with her mouth, like a baby bird.

"It's okay," I whisper, "I have what you need." Softly. "Mommy's here. You're safe." I open my robe.

I'm a mother now, too.

The phone is ringing.


Teresa Burns Gunther’s work has appeared in Stones Throw Magazine, Flashquake (Editor’s Pick 2008), Literary Mama and many other literary journals. New fiction is forthcoming in the Pen And Brush 2009 Anthology. Other recent interviews can be found at Bookslut, Shambala Sun, Glimmertrain’s Writers Ask and Mary Journal. Burns Gunther holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College. She teaches writing at Lakeshore Writers Workshop in Oakland, California where she lives with her husband and two sons.


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