The Memory Box
– Nonfiction by Danielle LaRocque –
Honorable Mention in the Dreamers Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Contest.
In our living room, a box sits atop a record player, with a black and white photo placed upon the box. All three items act as a tabletop for collected dust: the record player sits unused; the photo for dark decoration; the box too difficult to open more than once or twice a month.
When I do dare venture into the four walls of the box, I see sympathy cards, many of which boast rich indigos and blues on their covers. One has a hand-painted forget-me-not on its cover; it’s from my relative, Heather, who lives hours away, but whose careful gesture made it to our home in little Montrose. On the inside of her card, words of condolences darken the page, with the painting entitled, “Forget-Him-Not.”
Heather gave the card to my mom to give to us, soon after we came home from the hospital. At the time, she wanted to give it to us herself, but I wasn’t ready to see her. I wasn’t ready to see anyone. Anytime I left the house, my heart would pump into my throat, leaving me nauseous. I would hide my newly-flat stomach with shaking hands, ashamed of its emptiness.
Underneath the cards, there is an ultrasound still: a baby’s small, curled body, lying on its back in the womb, still healthy; its nose turned up and lips sticking out, ready for a kiss.
When I was in the depths of labour with Michael, I was lying on my back, looking into the fluorescent, rectangle light on the ceiling, when I had the sudden sensation to make a bowel movement. From my prenatal class, I knew this was the urge to push.
“I think I have to push,” I managed to utter through constricted breathing.
The nurse placed her fingers inside, checking for dilation. Wrinkles formed between her brows. “I think you may be even less dilated than before. I better go get the doctor. She’ll check.” Before, I was 2-3 centimeters. How on Earth could I be less? I felt like I couldn’t help myself from pushing much longer. Waiting for the doctor, I found comfort in Nigel’s sturdy hand, which was placed on my chest, spreading light into my heart.
The doctor arrived in the room, did her own examination, saying, “No, you’re about 9 centimeters. We can get the room ready for delivery. The nurse was feeling the baby’s lips.” We all had a small chuckle of relief, before everyone stirred into motion for preparation – what else could we do? I thought of the ultrasound; those little lips.
I had been so excited to see those little lips, to see them root for nourishment for the first time. I wondered whether the baby was a boy or girl; I still didn’t know. Were they little boy lips or little girl lips? What did it matter? All babies looked the same. What did it matter? I wasn’t taking a baby home, anyway. The Friday before, I crossed the 39-week milestone of pregnancy; now, on the following Thursday, I longed for the motivation to give birth that I had felt just a week before. Everything looked so bleak now; I had nothing waiting for me on the other side, aside from grief and loss.
Ok, I said to myself. I can’t go there right now. I have to focus on pushing. Lying on my back, I clenched my pelvic muscles, waiting for the preparations to be made so I could deliver my still baby.
Polaroid photos splay throughout the box; a swollen belly remains the focus of most pictures. Captions like “Waiting for the sunrise…” and “Waiting for a Friend” are scrawled across the bottoms of the pictures; the captions were written as chipper statements of excitement for the future, but now they seem to hold an intense sense of longing and loss.
Hospital Bands and Memory Card
Inside a small, white envelope, there are two wristbands and a card for “Memories.” The bands both say “LaRocque-Burk, Baby Boy, June 6, 2019 at 11:05”; the difference is in their sizes, as one would fit an adult, and the other would fit an infant. Neither were ever worn, but they were created for us by the nurse as a keepsake of our birth and son.
Inside the card, there is a set of tiny footprints, and a ribbon holding a small lock of dark, straight hair. One of the footprints looks as though a heart is printed inside of it. It seems as though the feet are a bit different in size – just slightly, only a difference a mother would notice. I wonder if his feet were actually different sizes, or if the print just makes them seem so. I wouldn’t know, as I’ve never actually seen Michael’s feet. I wonder if his little feet were cold and hard when the nurse took the print, or if they were still soft like a babe’s feet should be. I feel sick when I think of the lifeless baby feet; I wonder if I am a bad mother for never wanting to see them – not like that.
Michael and his Teddy
On top of all these items, there is a small teddy with a striped brown scarf. Next to him sits a dark blue, velvet box, with a small plastic bag of cremated remains inside for safe keeping. And next to that, a scattering box with more ashes; the outside of the box is black, with large, blue flowers. The box was used once to scatter ashes into the soil of a Blue Hibiscus tree at Michael’s memorial. We couldn’t scatter them all; couldn’t let go fully just yet. The scattering box is taped shut with white masking tape to keep the remaining ashes from spilling out. We couldn’t bear to lose any more of our son than we already have.
About the Author – Danielle LaRocque
Danielle LaRocque is a graduate student in Athabasca University’s Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies program. She possesses a BA in English and has spent her career life thus far tutoring and facilitating in the English and literacy fields. In June 2019, Danielle and her partner, Nigel, were expecting their first child; devastatingly, their son, Michael, was stillborn just a day before his due date. Since then, Danielle has been exploring the use of writing for therapeutic purposes in her academic and personal life. When she’s not writing or doing schoolwork, Danielle enjoys walking and spending time with her partner, Nigel, and their mini Goldendoodle, Luna, within their home of beautiful British Columbia.
**This story by Danielle Larocque received an honorable mention in the 2019 Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Contest.
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