There is a moment when Tara considers letting the fire go out. Perhaps they could all freeze to death. She and Josh and the baby.
She’s holding her breath.
“Josh,” she shakes her husband’s shoulder. He is asleep on the couch next to her. He’s a hard sleeper and it takes a few more shoves to get his attention.
“What is it?” he mumbles. “Is it Hannah?”
Their six-week-old daughter sleeps in the bassinette stationed within their reach. She is fine, for now.
Tara, however, has come to find she is not fine.
“Something’s wrong,” she whispers.
Her husband stirs, rubs his hands over his face.
“It’s fine. You’re fine,” he mumbles. “It’s just a snowstorm. Go back to sleep. The doc says you need sleep.”
Tara takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly like in yoga class. She hasn’t been to the studio in months.
“It’s the new normal,” Josh says, touching her leg. “Remember?”
She does remember. It’s what everyone says.
“Get some sleep,” he instructs and burrows deeper into couch cushions.
She would love to sleep. Instead, she slides off the couch and toward the fireplace. A few jabs with the iron poker moves the logs around and reignites the embers. She blows gently, watching the ash swirl. The flames are hot and strong again, licking the burnt wood, reaching around to the untouched bark. The room instantly warms up. It’s not that big. French doors keep the heat in. She insisted on them when they built the house a few years ago. Growing up in Minnesota taught her to be prepared.
The large mantlepiece was another must. She proudly displayed photos of their wedding day, the trip to Bermuda and, of course, Hannah. With enough chopped wood to last the season just outside the door nearby, Tara figures the next few days will be okay as long as she and the baby never leave the room.
Josh is right, she does need some sleep. Tara shifts Josh’s legs to make some room for herself and tries to get comfortable on the couch. She reaches out and traces her fingers along the basket weave of the bassinette. It moves a little on its four wheels.
She pushes it a little closer to the fire. Then pulls it back an inch.[ML1]
She can’t see inside the white basket. But she knows Hannah is there. Still, it’s very quiet. Maybe something happened. Tara thinks she should pick her up. But she can’t. She is so tired. Her eyes are closing.[ML2]
Tara wakes in a burst of panic. Where is the baby[ML3] ? She is disoriented but quickly focuses on the bassinette glowing in the reflection of the low-riding flames. Tara scrambles up off the couch and stands, holding her breath, over the baby, waiting for it to move. Waiting for it to make a sound. Has she killed it?
She looks for signs in the carefully swaddled bundle. Does it rise and fall? Firelight flickers over its smooth, pink face. Does it flinch? Closed eyelids mere lines of dark lashes. Do they blink? Tiny holes for nostrils. Are they breathing? Soft parted oh so slightly just above a dimpled chin. Are they blue? A small hand is poised at a cheek, as if in comfort. A small glistening teardrop caresses its face, and then another. More tears fall onto her baby until the tiny fist releases its fingers to scratch at its cheek, as if to wipe them away.
Wendy Pierman Mitzel is a fiction writer and journalist based out of Connecticut but still connected her midwestern roots. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University and has several publications including Bookends Review and Solstice Literary Magazine. She is a recipient of an author's fellowship to Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing and attended the Writing By Writers Tomales Bay Workshop in 2021. Mitzel spends her non-writing time at zumba and hip-hop dancing lessons and raising 6 kids, two dogs, as well as a man she calls the 'Lumberjack.'