Newborn in Bloom
February 20. London. At a hospital.
Aurora didn’t want a new baby sister.
She stared at herself in the reflective surface of the glass, frowning. The freckles she had feared had not made their speckled march across her face, but her black hair had fallen out of the pigtails her mother had put up that morning before their trek to the hospital. But she didn’t care very much. As her eyes focused on a writhing bundle of life on the other side of the glass, her mind was fixated on the problem at hand: Ariel Rosemary Bloom.
Around her, grown-ups milled across the linoleum, speaking to each other in jargon that sounded like a foreign language to her. She could hear Aunt Margo murmuring into a phone, Uncle Nick singing a song to a sleepy Gus. She heard a sniffle but didn’t think anything of it. It was a hospital, and as she learned from Aunt Pen, there were sick people everywhere in a hospital.
On the other side of the glass, little Ariel Rosemary flailed her arms and legs. She took in the room with her hours-old blue eyes. When those little eyes met Aurora’s, Aurora leaned in, fingertips on the window. They stared at each other for a moment until Ariel yawned.
She wanted to badly to see her mother. Around noon, Nana Rosalind had rushed into the playroom, talking quickly. Aurora instantly had known her mother was having the baby. That had been hours ago, and since she and Gus had only seen their mother once. She had been hooked up to various machines, with her hand firmly clutching her husband’s. Aurora now remembered her pale face, filled with wan happiness as her children gave her hugs and kisses before the stern-faced doctor said they had to leave. That ghostly smile etched in Aurora’s memory suddenly filled her with unease.
A woman drifted over, her heels clicking on the floor, and stood next to Aurora. Aurora spared her a quick look before staring at her little sister again. She was about her mother’s height with fine blond hair pulled back away from her face and dark eyes of which Aurora could not tell the color. She wore a stylish suit (how did she know? of course she knew it was stylish; she was Penelope Henderson’s eldest niece!) in a hue that reminded her of cinnamon sugar and cinnamon-colored heels. Aurora ignored her, hoping she would go away.
“She’s a beautiful baby,” the woman remarked. She had a melodious voice. But Aurora still wanted her to go away. “Is she your sister?”
Since she wasn’t taught to be impolite, Aurora replied, “Yes. Her name is Ariel.”
“That’s a beautiful name.” When Aurora didn’t agree, the woman continued. “I suppose it’s a little strange being a big sister all of a sudden, isn’t it?” Aurora said nothing. She wasn’t sure that she should. This woman was a stranger. “After all, you’ve been the only girl for all your life.”
How did she know that? Aurora’s eyebrows came together. How was it that grown-ups knew all sorts of things that kids didn’t? Goodness, was she wearing a sign or something?
“Mummy and Daddy said that it would be the same as always,” Aurora revealed, finding that her astonishment had loosened her mouth.
The woman chuckled. “Take it from me, kid. It’s never the same. But the job does come with its highs and lows. I expect a smart little girl like you would make the best out of things.” Aurora looked up at her, and the woman gave her a warm smile. A yell from down the hall made her smile fade away, and she rolled her eyes. But she worked up another grin for Aurora and patted her on the shoulder in farewell.
“Good luck, kid,” the woman said. “And remember, there’s enough love in the world for all of us.”
With that, she strode away on her cinnamon-colored heels. Aurora considered what she said, frowned upon it. She wasn’t quite sure she got the meaning, but she hoped it wasn’t bad.
* * *
Nearby, Orlando stood watching her, tears in his eyes.
He had known for weeks that she was unhappy about the new baby. Gus had approached it like an adventure, the proverbial mountain climb, skyscraper construction, cave expedition. But Aurora, his sweet eldest daughter, she could see beyond the novelty of it. She saw herself being cast out into the cold as Mummy and Daddy fawned over new baby sister. Right then, Orlando ached to reassure her, but he hadn’t the energy. He barely had the strength to reassure himself that the worst was over because he knew it was yet to come.
Concentrating on crossing the floor to his daughter, Orlando put one foot in front of the other, hands in pockets to keep them from trembling. He stood next to her for a moment, then took a shaky hand from his pocket and placed it on her head. When she looked at him, he saw the change in her eyes because of what she saw in his. He managed a smile for her, but it didn’t meet his eyes. She didn’t smile back; instead, she frowned.
“Daddy?” she started, sounding more uncertain than inquisitive.
He had to swallow hard to make his voice come out normally. “Yes, love?”
Those guileless eyes threatened to break his resolve, but he held steady until… “Can we go see Mummy now?”
A sob clawed its way out of his throat. He swallowed most of it back, but Aurora had heard. Uncertainty came into her eyes, and the awareness that something was horribly wrong. He wished he could take it back, could shield her eyes from what she was about to see, cover her ears against what she was about to hear.
She opened her mouth to speak, but Penny came over at that moment. Aurora glanced at her, brown eyes wide. Orlando saw the measuring look she gave her disheveled aunt, as well as the various stages of change her face endured. There was the confusion, the realization, then the denial.
“Is Mummy okay?” Aurora asked in a pitifully small voice.
Penny’s breath hitched and her cornflower blue eyes swam with tears. Orlando knelt in front of Aurora, as he had many times before, but this time it was different. Aurora knew it.
“Aurora love,” Orlando began in a voice scratchy from tears, “Mummy is not okay. She…” He pursed his lips together until the urge to break down and sob passed. “She’s gone, love. She’s gone to a better place.”
Understanding his meaning, Aurora shook her head. “No,” Aurora said weakly. His already broken heart started breaking again. “No, Daddy. No.”
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. But it’s true. It’s all true. Mummy…Mummy has passed away.”
Aurora started shaking her head more vigorously. “No,” she repeated, voice rising in an echoing crescendo. “No, no, no! It’s not true! Mummy can’t be gone…”
Orlando began crying openly, much to Aurora’s dismay. Filled with despair, Aurora stepped forward and hugged him, burying her wet face in his chest. Orlando hugged her like she was his only lifeline. They stood that way for a long time, a tableau vivant of melancholy and loss. No one had the heart to move them.
Orlando felt the light touch of Penny’s hand on his shoulder. He stared down at Aurora, who had some of his gray T-shirt fisted in her small hand. But those brown eyes were hidden behind heavy eyelids, and he hoped she was having happy dreams.
Penny offered to take Aurora, but he waved her away silently as he strode down the hall for some privacy. He flipped out his cell phone and pushed one. He hated that he was telling his mother the news over the phone this way, but he had to warn her. He had to tell someone that would understand…
When she answered, Orlando nearly broke again. But he steeled himself. He had to tell her.
“Orlando sweetheart?” Rosalind prompted when he said nothing. “What’s the matter?”
“M—Mum.” Dammit, you bleeding wanker! Why can’t you just tell her? Pure misery swamped him again and brought another wave of tears with it. He had to say it now, and say it quickly. Like tearing off a Band-Aid. “She’s dead, Mum.”
Judging from the silence, he knew his mother felt like someone had struck her in the chest. He knew the feeling. He still hadn’t quite shaken it off himself.
“Dead?” Rosalind’s voice came out a couple of octaves higher than usual. “How?”
He wiped his nose with the back of his free hand. “She lost too much blood during the c-section. They tried to stabilize her but it didn’t work.” The meaning of it kept hitting him, hitting him mercilessly, and he found himself crying like a child to his own mother.
On the other line, Rosalind struggled for control, knowing that it would do neither one of them good if she broke down now. In a gentle, but firm voice she soothed her grown son until he was calm enough to speak to her.
“What am I going to do, Mum?” Orlando asked her. “Gus…and Aurora…and Ariel…”
She understood his desperation, his defenselessness. She wished, just as he had wished with Aurora, that she could cover his eyes and eyes. Erase the pain. But it was too late. The wound had been inflicted. Now it just needed time to heal.
“I’m on my way,” Rosalind told him.