Whether she wanted it or not, Bree had stepped into a future filled with sorrow. It all started when she roused Wednesday morning at 6:00, her normal wake up time since having given birth four weeks ago. Only this time it was different. According to the bedside clock, it wasn’t morning. It was one in the afternoon. She lay there for a moment, coming fully into consciousness. Then out of habit, she reached out with her hand, looking for Todd’s familiar form. His side of the bed was cold. She wasn’t surprised.
Then her normal reaction would have been to run out of the room and check on Benny. Instead, she found herself sick and dizzy, crawling toward the bathroom, retching her brains out over the toilet. Somehow she made it back to bed, then it all went blank after that.
She woke up again, covered in sweat and tangled in her damp sheets. The quiet in the house felt weirdly exaggerated. Not that she could have explained the kind of quiet it was. It just felt wrong. Usually, she’d hear the TV in the morning. She’d smell the coffee brewing, instead a faint smell of paint that made her wrinkle her nose. But it wasn’t morning. The aim of the sun, filtering through the sheer curtains, was too bright for six a.m. And the nightstand clock displayed two p.m. in neon green. She should be feeling thankful that Todd or Lillian had let her rest this long, knowing how little she’d been sleeping since Benny was born.
Yet, the stillness of the house made her anxious.
“Lillian?” she called out.
She frowned and pushed aside the covers, an effort to get to her feet. Her head made loops, her vision blurred. Nausea roiled in her stomach. She collapsed, landing on her knees. The floor was cold beneath her as she crawled slowly to the bathroom hoping she wouldn’t throw up before she got there.
Where was Lillian?
Maybe she was in the kitchen preparing Benny’s formula. Bree fought to linger on that thought, to anchor it down.
In the bathroom, as she vomited into the toilet. Still on her knees, she crept back toward the bedroom. The thing she wanted the most at that moment was to crawl back under the covers. Instead, she collapsed at the foot of the bed.
No sound came out when she tried calling Todd’s name. He’ll be here soon, she told herself. He always took good care of her.
Between bouts of waking and falling asleep again, she noted that it was light outside and then dark again. She recalled hearing the phone ringing. She wished Todd would bring her ginger ale, something her mother used to do when she was sick in bed as a child.
She awoke, sure that only a few minutes had passed, but saw the clock to realize that it was six a.m. With trembling fingers, she located her clothes at the foot of the bed and struggled to pull them on. It took effort to control the shakes and stand upright. She pushed the bedroom door open and shuffled down the hall toward the unfamiliar stillness.
A frigid silence.
Bree felt a twist in her belly that had nothing to do with how shitty she felt.
She pushed open the door to Benny’s room. A gust of wind blew in through the windows that overlooked the back yard, a field of grass and trees. She stood there for one minute, two minutes, three minutes. Her eyes rotating back and forth. Back and forth.
Then it started to sink in.
Except for a rocking chair, the room was bare. She could still smell the fresh scent of paint. Benny’s crib was gone and so was his dresser. No trace of all his little clothes. She shut her eyes tightly, opened them. Even the walls had changed, from pale blue to white. Despite the newly painted room, and the missing furniture, Benny’s scent—baby powder mixed with shampoo—lingered in the air.
A full-blown panic formed in her throat.
Heart racing, Bree stumbled out of Benny’s room. She walked barefoot to the edge of the stairs, struggled to the first floor. With sluggish feet, she pushed herself forward from room to room to room. Each step felt heavier than the last. Everything looked different. Everything seemed to stop, as if life itself had been sucked out of the house.
She opened the door leading to the garage. Her beat up Volkswagen was still there, but Todd’s car was gone and Lillian’s car wasn’t in the driveway. She tried to convince herself that Todd must have gone out with Benny and would be back soon.
When she stepped outside, the late September wind bit into her skin, the sky was filled with swollen, gray clouds.
“Todd?” she screamed.
“Lillian?” Bree’s throat felt on fire.
A rolling thunder clattered. Bree impelled her body along the side of the house to the back yard. She called Todd’s name again. The wind gained momentum and a white birch tree groaned in response. She shivered and pushed her hands into her pockets.
Back at the front of the house, she stared at the driveway, where dead leaves had been shepherded by the wind against bushes and trees.
For a moment Bree thought she heard Benny crying in the distance. She listened for a while longer, then started moving into the woods. She moved forward, toward her crying baby. All she could hear were the soggy crush of wet leaves under her feet, and the distant rumble of thunder. The baby’s cries stopped.
Chill seared into her bones. She continued. Fallen branches scratched her legs. Her breath came in heaves. When she finally came to a stop, she was screaming Todd’s name at the top of her lungs.
Some of the birds above her sped away.
No Todd. No Lillian. No Benny. Just a cordon of big old trees swaying in the wind.
She forced herself to breathe. In. Out. In. Out.
She started back toward the house. Maybe Todd had left a note on the fridge door. But just before opening the door, she sensed motion at the edge of her vision that didn’t fit in with the pattern of the surrounding. Her heart made a quick loop. Right there under the Red Cedar, a ray of sun peeked out from a swollen cloud and beamed like a spotlight on something small and white. She took several quick steps to the tree. There, lying on the ground Benny’s sock bobbed in the wind like a white angel among the leaves. With a heavy heart she brought the sock to her nose, inhaling Benny’s sweet scent. An image flashed in vivid colors of Benny pumping his little legs each time she entered his room.
She racked her brain trying to remember whether Todd had told her that he was taking Benny somewhere. But that didn’t make sense, because it’s only 6:30 in the morning. Something heavy had begun to settle on her heart, a crippling feeling from the depth of something she couldn’t explain.
She heard the cock squawk and the moo-ing of cows as they chewed their way through green fields. Familiar sounds, but this wasn’t home. Home should bring her security, should bring comfort.
She began to shake, a shiver at first but growing in intensity until her whole body was wracked with great shudders.