Fiction

Shock

By: S. Berenstein

Michelle decided on Victoria’s Secret solely because it was in the middle of a crowded shopping area. Clutching a large woven bag and carrying her leather purse over her shoulder she tried to strike a casual air as she flipped through the clothes and took a selection of bras and slips off the racks. Waving at the saleslady, she stepped into the dressing room.

             In the checkout line, a few minutes later, she said, “Most of the stuff didn’t fit, but I’ll take this bra,” and completed the transaction. She walked away from the store with a confident stride.

 Before too long a policeman approached her. He was carrying her woven bag. “Ma’am, you need to come with me,” he said, walking her over to a secluded area. “I’m sure you realize that you’ll have to speak with someone about why you left this in the dressing room at Victoria’s Secret. I’m going to wait with you, here, but the ambulance will arrive, shortly.”

“Oh,” said Michelle. She stared at him without saying another word, tapping her fingers on her purse.

Hardly any time went by before the policeman spoke into the walkie-talkie. “I’m bringing her to the car, now.” He ushered her towards the street and into the ambulance, putting the woven bag in the front seat.

Michelle sat in the back, still in a state of numbed silence. At the hospital, a man and a woman escorted her inside. The woman carried the woven bag and walked into an office. The man directed Michelle towards a chair across from the woman and left the room.

“I’m Dr. Saunders,” the woman said, as she took a seat across from Michelle. “I’m sorry you’re having a hard time.”

“I’m fine,” said Michelle.

“Well.” Dr. Saunders paused. “I’m guessing you had a stillbirth, recently. You must be very sad.”

Michelle was silent.

“After all, you carried her inside your body for nine months.”

“No, seven,” said Michelle. “But I’m not going to talk about it.”

“Okay. Can I share my thoughts?” Dr. Saunders asked.

Michelle stared straight ahead.

“I was thinking, how enterprising of you, really,” Dr. Saunders said. “You carried her inside of you for months. You expected to have your baby by spring, I imagine—the perfect time for new life. Then she was born dead. What a terrible shock.”

“I guess.” Michelle looked down at the floor.

“Many mothers in that situation would need time to say goodbye to their baby. You found a way,” Dr. Saunders continued.

“Right,” said Michelle. “Of course, you have to say that.”

 Now, Dr. Saunders was silent.

“I have a question,” said Michelle. “Do you know if Victoria’s Secrets is going to prosecute me for shoplifting? I put some bras in my purse before I walked out. So, I didn’t only leave my baby in the dressing room. I also broke the law.”

Dr. Saunders remained quiet.

“Didn’t you hear me? Michelle asked.

“Yes. I was thinking. What comes to mind about that, Michelle?” Dr. Saunders asked.

“What comes to mind? That’s all you’re going to say,” Michelle yelled. “You’re acting like I’m a criminal. If I take a few bras, you decide to stop talking to me!”

“Hmm. Why do you think you’re calling yourself a criminal?” Dr. Saunders asked.

“Don’t turn it around on me. You were talking to me as if I’m a common thief, just now. Not someone who’s suffering!”

  “Maybe you’re upset because you feel overly responsible for not holding your baby inside of you, that somehow she wouldn’t have died if you’d been able to do that.”

Michelle stared sullenly at Dr. Saunders. “You shrinks make it seem so simple. You all think you’re God. But the real God intervened and punished me before I could do any more damage.”

“What do you mean, any more damage?” asked Dr. Saunders.

“We found out she had Downs syndrome,” Michelle put her hands over her face, but she kept talking. “I wasn’t able to touch my belly and talk or sing to her like I’d imagined I would if I was lucky enough to get pregnant. Then, my boyfriend left and I couldn’t even do a good job of eating for two.” Michelle removed her hands, but looked away from the doctor.

“It’s not your fault that she had Downs syndrome or that she was stillborn.” Dr. Saunders tried to catch Michelle’s eyes.

“You don’t get it. I’m so ashamed. And I’m trying to explain. She came suddenly, at seven months. I called 911 but they didn’t arrive in time, so I just coped. I put towels on the floor and pushed and pushed and she slipped out. I tried, over and over, to smack her and get her to breath, but I couldn’t.” Michelle’s voice sounded far away.

“It’s not your fault,” Dr. Saunders said. “You…”

“Let me finish, “Michelle interrupted her. “I cut the cord and tied a knot. Then I had to get out of there. I put her in my bag and went shopping.” Michelles body sagged. She looked defeated by the effort it had taken to explain.

“You weren’t ready to let go of her.”

Michelle rolled her eyes. “My boyfriend used to stroke my belly and talk to her—Jewel, he called her. But I couldn’t. I just felt numb.”

“No wonder,” said Dr. Saunders. “When you learned she had Downs syndrome you felt more responsible than him, as the mother. And when she was stillborn, you couldn’t let her go right away. She’d been a part of your body for months.”

“No. I abandoned her at Victoria’s Secret.”

“That was a cry for help,” Dr. Saunders insisted. “Would you like to tell her how you feel, say goodbye?”

“You’re crazy. She can’t hear me. She’s dead. It doesn’t help to pretend.”

“Okay, do it your way,” said Dr. Saunders.

But then Michelle looked at her with…was it respect? And a tear began to roll down her face.

###

S. Berenstein (she/her), has published her work in Litbreak, California Council for the Arts Journal and Transforming Lives. Her flash fiction was listed under ‘Notable Stories’ in Brilliant Flash Fiction.

Categories: Fiction

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