A grey cotton dress arcs slowly over the round curve of her belly before falling to brush the porch floor. She leans against the doorframe, carrying tired eyes filled with all the sadness in the world. One hand rubs small circles around the protrusion of her belly button, the other hangs limply at her side, clutching loosely to a phone.
She watches as a skinny little wisp of a five-year-old girl looks carefully down the street- both ways- then runs across the black asphalt to the mailbox. Looking as if she's won a gold medal, she pulls out a fistful of mail and waves it over her head triumphantly.
Mommy, I've got it! she cries. Her mother offers up a splintered smile.
The girl's dress is buttercup yellow, matching the sunny-day-blue color of her eyes. Rainbows flare in her smile. Her mother receives her back with a one-armed hug. The girl nuzzles her head against the skin that covers her sleeping baby brother.
She pushes the mail into her mother's hand, her face radiant. Her mother flips through it, apathetic, until she comes across the letter that breaks her.
She falls heavily into the rocking chair, pressing the familiar handwriting to her chest. Her daughter is confused. She tries to climb into her mother's lap, but there's no room.
What's the matter, Mommy? The words fall like rocks between them and the phone slips from her mother's hand to shatter on the floor. Only five minutes ago, it had carried the words of an apocalypse to her mother's ear.
Her daughter locates the fallen batteries and their cover, but they refuse to fit back together. She abandons them under the chair.
Who called? Why are you sad? Her daughter kisses her, still sure that a kiss remedies all. Her attention falls on the envelope still pressed between her mother's hands.
Is that from Daddy?
These words wrap around her mother's throat, strangling her. She nods, mute.
How is she supposed to tell her little sunshine girl the words that will eclipse her?