Fiction: My Daughter Came Back To Me

I posted this awhile ago on, but either it sucked, slipped through the cracks, or I don’t understand their review system, so it sat there blinking “1000/1680” for months. Decided I felt like someone might actually want to read it, so posting it here. Comments, suggestions and flames are always welcome. Let me know what you think.


When James took Lilly away, I thought I would die. Nothing mattered, anymore. She’d been my whole reason for living, my light. I was a wreck; nothing could console me.

I think I pulled all of my hair out. That’s what I figure, anyway, from the scars on my head and the fact that the police found me bald. I did other things, too. Hurt myself. I’ve still got all the scars.

I waited. It felt like years, where they kept making me visit the doctor, kept sending neighbors over to check on me, made me take all those pills. Very long, dark, years.

But then it finally happened. The thing I’d been waiting for, even if I hadn’t wanted to admit it to myself.

My daughter came back to me. Just like I remembered her. Her hair was a little longer, and maybe her features had shifted a bit, but it was still her. I recognized her right away, lying in her crib, so still and perfect, one hand curled up under her chin, the other sprawled out behind her.

She looked just like she had the night James took her. At first I thought I was dreaming, remembering that night. Any minute he’d blow past me and pull her out of the crib and out the window.

I braced myself for the impact, James’ body against mine. It didn’t come. After another moment, I realized it wouldn’t. How could it? James was gone, and this was no dream.

There, on one of the crib’s legs, was the evidence. A streak of blood, from when I grabbed it to pull myself up that night. And over there, the gouges in the wooden frame of the window, when I lunged for it and yanked it open, trying to stop James from getting away.

But little Lilly, she had come back to me. Finally, as though realizing I was staring at her, she opened her eyes and turned her head towards me. Her fist was blocking one eye, but the other was warm and shining, a pearlescent green that had haunted me every minute of every day since I’d seen it last. The corner of her mouth twitched in a smile, and a gurgling sound came out, her version of a laugh.

I saw that something else had changed; her teeth had started coming in. Little white pickets, pushing through the flesh of her gums. It must have been painful – maybe even infected – because they were terribly reddened and swollen. But it didn’t matter. My daughter had come back to me. And no one was going to take her away ever again.

I went to her, fetched her from the crib, and held her against my breast. I took a deep breath, expecting that amazing scent, the one only a mother really knows, not matter how much she tries to explain it to someone else. Fresh baby-head. Instead I got a wallop of stench, rancid and wild. She was leaving thick, muddy streaks on my shirt as she squirmed and rooted for the nipple. And why not? James couldn’t have been bathing her, and whoever had finally delivered her back to me had surely wanted to make sure she was returned as quickly as possible. Knowing that a mother – a good mother, a real mother, like me – would want to bathe her child, to scrub every inch of her and make sure she was alright.

Another reason for the bath: Lilly was cold. I don’t know how she wasn’t shuddering herself half to death, grinding her lips and tongue to ribbons with those shiny nubbins that had grown from her gums in her absence. It was like holding a block of ice. But filthy as she was, maybe it was insulating her somehow. Or maybe she was too shocked, too happy to be home where she belonged.

I  closed off the part of my mind that started whispering at that. It was trying to tell me something. Something I understand now, but wouldn’t have listened to then. Something about where she belonged.

“Where she belongs is in a nice warm bath with all her favorite toys, isn’t it, love?” I tickled under her chin and beamed down at my precious as her eyes rolled towards me and her lips split open in a beatific smile that broke my heart.

I hurried for the bath with her, undoing my blouse so she could nurse while I ran the water. There was pain, but why wouldn’t there be? I was sore and tender from a lack of suck, and she had those new teeth. I felt liquid run, hot and thick, down my chest, pooling at my waistband. Just some excess milk, I told myself. She missed, that’s all.

Seven days I had with my Lilly. Seven days to see how rarely she moved, how shrill her cries were. Seven days for my nose to tell me the smell got worse with every bath and changing, not better. Seven days of finding clots of earth, dried blood, and the occasional worm in the diaper.

I knew. Of course I did. I’d known since I first walked in. Part of me had, anyway. But there’s no force on earth like a mother’s love, is there? Her hopes and dreams, all focused on that one little person so like and yet unlike themselves. I couldn’t have any more; it had been a difficult birth, and afterward the doctors had to cut a few things out. She was all I had, all I would ever have.

But seven days of the smells, the signs, the tears in my flesh from her sharp little teeth, they finally told me that enough was enough. So I bundled her up in her winter best – a little parka covered with cartoon horses that she hadn’t even gotten to wear before James had taken her from me – and tucked her into the car seat.

“We’re going for a ride now, Lilly. Won’t that be nice? Just you and mommy, right?”

No response. Not that I had expected one. She hadn’t spoken so much as a “goo goo ga” in the last week. She hadn’t laughed. Hadn’t burped. Just a terrible wailing that seemed to start behind my left eye and crawl towards my eardrum, building up pressure both inside and out, until I thought I might be sick. Then I’d change her. Offer her the breast. Wash her. Walk her back and forth across the room singing Miranda Lambert songs, the ones that used to make her laugh when James and I would try to dance to them.

No response as I started the car, either, and nothing as I pulled out of the driveway. But after a few more turns, as I pulled onto the long straight road at the end of my land, the one that went only one place, that wail began.

My eyes were watering, and I couldn’t tell if they were tears of grief or an automatic response to that godawful sound. She knew where we were going, and wanted none of it.

I turned through the old gates my grandfather had put up, trying to block out the sound. I stopped the car, hurried around the front, opened the passenger side and hefted Lilly. She was squirming, flailing her tiny little fists at me, but her movement was slowed, exaggerated, as though underwater. I tried to ignore the sound of suction as I pulled her from the car seat, pretended I hadn’t seen the smear of black and green her exposed legs had left behind on the vinyl.

I jogged as best I could – not easy with a squirming child in your arms – along the rocky path, passing the headstones of my grandfather’s family, then my mother’s, and finally reached a more open space. Rusted chicken wire marked this spot off from the rest, clashing with the wrought iron on the older sections, but it was all I had been able to afford. There was room enough for three stones, but only two had been erected.

“James Michael Hovdahl,” read one. “God grant he lie still.” Etched into a slab of marble that his insurance had paid for, with no ornamentation other than his dates of birth and death.

Beside it, a marker far less formal. It had been my cutting board, once. Smears of blood and soot filled in the letters I’d spent hours chipping into it. My blood, of course; the material hadn’t wanted to give way, and a box cutter is likely to turn on you when you’re doing fine work with a broken arm and through a mist of tears. I’d glued a Precious Moments figurine to the top, a praying angel that was now bleached almost totally white and missing half its halo.

“Lillian Michelle Hovdahl,” this one said. “Beloved daughter. You were my all.”

Beneath was a patch of freshly turned earth, the soil rich and loamy, clods of it scattered all about. There were bits of white plastic, remnants of the tattered wrapping that had kept my darling in the dark, flapping in the breeze, anchored down by those hand-turned piles of dirt.

Her screaming was getting louder. I couldn’t tell if it was blood or tears leaking from my eyes as I put her back in the hole she crawled out of, but I know I was laughing hysterically as I covered her up. She didn’t make much effort to stop me, and once there was a couple feet of earth between her and I, the sound was muffled enough that it became almost bearable.

When it was done, I almost couldn’t hear her at all. I bowed my head and crossed myself, whispering the old words of prayer that I used to know by heart but that had grown dimmer with every year, every tragedy. They came easily enough this time.

The crying stops. The earth beneath that makeshift headstone stops throbbing, stops looking like a diseased heart about to burst. It’s enough for me.

I made my way back past the older graves. Back to the car. Back to the driver’s seat. Back out of the driveway, through the lanes, back to my own house. I can almost believe I dreamed it, that everything is fine.

But I get out of the car, mount the steps, and feel a terrible chill. There’s a heaviness in the air, a scent of decay and old diapers, that I have grown far too accustomed to in the last week.

Then, the crying begins.

My daughter came back to me.


One response to “Fiction: My Daughter Came Back To Me

  1. Pingback: Metaphorical Meaning | Insomnia, Nightmares and General Madness

What's your opinion?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s