Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2020  Vol. 19 No. 1
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A sinkhole split the interstate near my apartment, just a mile or two down from the bow of the Tennessee River bridge where your tires catch a little air if you drive too fast, as I like to do. Now we all have to take the long way on Highway 36 to get out of Hartselle. I first heard about it while at the gas station, where I’d stopped to buy Mabel a chocolate Krispy Kreme doughnut after her biopsy. The sinkhole, the cashier told me, opened so wide and sudden that drivers veered around it, cars zipping off to the side. No one died, but they could have. Over the next few hours, the hole kept forming, a maw consuming pavement and dirt until ALDOT measured it as thirty feet long. It spanned both directions of I-65 and sank down seventy feet. Seventy feet below the earth’s crust is another world; I know, I’ve been down that far. Before Mabel was born, of course.

The story about the sinkhole distracted me so much that I took a bite of Mabel’s doughnut as I walked back out to the car. The glaze flaked sweet and guilty on my lips. She was mad at me when I handed it to her.

“You ate some,” she said accusingly. She sat still buckled into the booster seat, a hospital ice pack on her lap.

“A tax,” I said as I kissed her forehead. On the drive home, I looked hard at the road, wary of any crack, conscious of each stray ribbon of tar. That sinkhole—I’d never heard of one so large. Massive enough to consume houses, school buses, river catfish the size of buses, whole entire lives. Certainly big enough to swallow our cramped apartment, with our lack of a bathtub, lack of a second bedroom, lack of vegetables for a growing girl, lack of a man; the sinkhole could take in all of our lack. But what happens when you add what’s lacking to emptiness? Does the emptiness make the nothingness disappear, or does it just make the hole grow and grow, a uterus filling with a to-be-stillborn child? I got Mabel home, settled her into bed with a fresh ice pack on her hip, but I couldn’t stop wondering what lay beneath us.


On the outside, I’m washing dishes, but on the inside this is what I’m thinking about—the illusion that the earth is firm beneath our feet. I’m standing at the sink, both hands bare in the dishwater, when a lower cabinet opens near my legs. Mabel crawls out, my old headlamp askew on her forehead. The elastic strap is snarled in her dark curls. She’s turned on the headlamp, and the beam bores a bright white hole into the peeling linoleum floor.

“I’m exploring!” she says. She throws her head back, and the tunnel of light shines hot on my cheek.

“It’s time to explore your way to the bathroom and brush your teeth,” I say, my hands still in the water, greasy from our hot dog dinner.

She runs down the short hallway. I watch her go, her feet kicking up, her legs still strong. I want to reach inside her skin and wrap my fingers around the bones. I want to know, by a mother’s touch, if it’s true.

This all started with a bruise—a bruise I caused by grasping her arm in a busy parking lot. A familiar motion of my hand, one that had never before left a mark. Then, more—purple blooms appearing on her arms and legs, even the tops of her feet. A big bruise on her shoulder; she couldn’t tell me where it came from, if she remembered falling. “I look like a pony!” she said one night, standing naked in front of the bathroom mirror. I knew she was thinking of the Appaloosa mare that grazes in a pasture by her school—the bruises covered her like the spots on that nag’s hide.

I hear Mabel banging around in the bathroom—opening a drawer, turning on the squeaky tap, letting the water run too long. Looking over my shoulder, I see that she didn’t bring over the rest of the dishes like I’d asked, so I reach with dripping hands to grab the dirty plates from our two-chair table. I’ve mostly given up on the third-chair concept. Two years ago, when Mabel was four and I was finally twenty-one, I started dropping her off with my mother for the night and going to a bar. Usually I brought a pack of cigarettes with me even though I don’t smoke—a tip from my cousin Julie. If a guy is too shy to talk to you, he might come up and ask for a cigarette or a light. It’s a lure. “Men are like fish,” she said. “Now let’s dress you up nice.”

It never worked. Nothing works.

Under the faucet, mustard from our plates wraps in yellow ribbons around my fingers then slips down the drain, along with the chewed end of Mabel’s hotdog bun. I hope the sink won’t clog; there’s a garbage disposal, but it’s broken. Just like the dishwasher. I am the dishwasher.

Mabel pads back into the kitchen, wearing a long night shirt and a pair of my socks that reach almost to her knees. Last week, they withdrew bone marrow from her hip. Tomorrow, the appointment with the oncologist. The results. If it’s positive, the next step is a spinal tap—just a thin needle slipped between the spaces in her vertebrae, they tell me—to see if the cancer has reached her nervous system. Mabel will have to be sedated. I will want to look away, but I won’t. I will watch everything they do, from the needles to the cotton swabs to the IV drips, as if my attention will somehow be the cure.

She hugs me, wraps her arms around my thighs before I can dry my hands, and when I look down I see the dark forest of her curls springing upward from her scalp. It’s been a few nights since I’ve washed her hair, and each day her curls grow in volume, as is their tendency. Those curls are Dalton’s, all the way. That spring we were together, I liked his short spirals, a shadowy crown over his sweaty forehead, and now I sometimes darkly wish that Mabel didn’t have those beautiful ringlets, that she had my boring hair—limp dishwater blonde—because then maybe I wouldn’t think about him so much, if I didn’t have to daily see his hair on my daughter’s head.

The headlamp is still pressed to her forehead, the light shining. I dry my hands and hug her tight, then I sweep her up in my arms and, as she giggles, carry her to bed. Her bed is one half of my old bunk-bed set, stationed in the corner of our living room/television room/foyer. In a tiny, dew drop vase from my mother, set on the flimsy table by her pillow, there is the bouquet of clover Mabel picked yesterday—a few stiff blossoms, but mostly the clover itself, all with leaves of three. Some of the stems she pulled up by their roots, and now those milky white hairs float in the water of the vase.

“Let’s take this off now,” I say, reaching for the strap of the headlamp.

“No!” she shrieks, clasping both hands to her head. “I’m not done exploring.”

“It’ll be uncomfortable,” I tell her. I know there must be a red mark on her skin already, where the plastic case is held against her forehead.

“I don’t care.”

“When you roll over, it will hurt your face.”

“No, it won’t. I’ll be still all night long, I promise.”

You don’t need to make promises to me, I want to tell her, or anyone. But instead I simply say, “OK , but we’re at least going to turn it off.” With my forefinger, I find the small, rubber-covered button below the light and push until I hear a click.

Bedtime is long. I perch on the narrow bed with her and read books, sing songs. I ask if she wants to hear a story about the sinkhole in the road, but she does not; she has tired of the subject. When she starts to drift off, I lie on the carpet by her bed. I don’t usually, but tonight I think I’ll stay here until she is asleep. Her bed is low to the floor—she used to fall out, so I got Shane, a neighbor, to shorten the wooden legs with a saw—and now she’s so close to me I could easily reach up and touch her shoulder.

I want to get out my phone, but if she sees the light of the screen she won’t go to sleep; she’ll whine to watch YouTube. As I lay quietly, left only with my own thoughts, the carpet is stiff against my elbows. Something sticky has dried on the floor near my wrist.

My mother called earlier today. To talk about nothing, just checking on us, but I panicked; I rushed her off the phone. Because I haven’t told anyone—not my mother, not even Julie—what we’re facing. For now it’s a secret that we hold. I imagine the leukemia as a growth, a non-native, deep-rooted vine twisting its way around her bones, or a lump of foreign tissue bulging inside a joint. But they say it is actually simple, hardly detectable: an overcrowding of white cells in the marrow.

My mother tries to love me, though she doesn’t really know how anymore. She works filing records at the courthouse and saves her pennies for us, Mabel and me. She got me a job at the DMV in the same building; “At least you’ll get photography experience,” she said. I yelled at her; I grieved. “I’m going to work for National Geographic!” I howled, my arms clasped around my domed belly. Mabel was due in a few days. “Don’t you think I gave up dreams for you? You have to grow up,” my mother said. But why? When I take license photos, I don’t tell people to smile, or even warn them before I freeze their face on the awful blue background; I hope they look ugly and cringe to show their laminated picture for the next four years. But why? But why?

On the floor where I lay, the shadows stitch themselves together into darkness. I’ve not been sleeping well and I want to nap here, by her bed, but whenever I start to relax, my body jolts, tenses, and for a split second the floor has given way and I’m disappearing into the opening earth. Cancer, I know, would be a sinkhole—a falling through of everything I might have imagined for us. The DMV is a sinkhole, a job barely too good to quit but dark enough to make me enraged. Dalton was a sinkhole, a disappearing act.

The sinkhole on I-65 is not such a surprise. If you hike the forests around here, sinkholes are everywhere, mostly narrow but scary deep and not even roped off. So many secret spaces carved in the planet’s mass beneath our feet. Waiting to make themselves known. And too, Mabel’s illness, I feel, should not be such a surprise. I’ve caused a lot of damage in my life. If my daughter has cancer, it’s on me; I suspect the seed of her misfortune goes back deep, to the very beginning when I was pregnant and her new cells, upon learning that she was unwanted, hiccupped while forming and left fissures unsealed.


When I was first pregnant with Mabel, in the heat of late June, when no one knew but my cousin Julie and me, the two of us went caving in Scottsboro with the church youth group. Only weeks after I peed on the stick. Before that day, I’d supposed caves were dusty holes, cartoonish and gray. But caves around here are practically underwater. That’s how the caves came into being—dripping water eating away at porous limestone rock, until the stone crumbles and falls—and this cave, called Tumbling Rock, was as wet as the inside of your mouth. Once we got in deep, to the furthest point of our route, I could more easily imagine swimming out than walking out. Whether you believed in God’s great flood or the presence of a prehistoric ocean, it was clear the cave belonged more to the sea than the land.

Inside Tumbling Rock, it felt cool, like the waft of an old refrigerator. As instructed, we wore old jeans, long-sleeve tees, and stiff kneepads. On our heads were rented hard hats, with newly purchased headlamps banded around the plastic. “Everyone is responsible for bringing and maintaining their own light,” the permission slip had said. With efficiency the guides checked the fit of our hard hats before sending us inside the cave in a single-file line. Before I went in, I noticed one of the guides stashing a Ziploc full of spare headlamps and batteries in her bag, and the thought of the darkness, how it would be inside Tumbling Rock without our artificial light, made me shiver.

After we had walked, crouching, through the sloping entrance to the first cavernous room, we turned off our headlamps and stopped for group photos. The guides set up their special flashes and lights. I didn’t smile. All I could think of while posing next to the stalagmites was that Julie had offered to drive me to Birmingham to get an abortion, and I had said yes, that’s what I wanted. Later in the pictures we would see that the stone walls were built with hundreds of horizontal stripes, each colorful layer a generation of stone. But while we were in the cave, just a few hours, we forgot color. We forgot the sun, trees, and walking on two feet.

After the photographs, the guides wound us through the cave toward King’s Shower, our destination, which we were told was a high chimney of a cavern with a trickle of water falling, invisibly, from a dark puncture at the top. Sometimes we crawled on our hands and knees, sometimes we squeezed ourselves through tunnels. Carefully, we slunk past open holes where, we were warned, rescue would be impossible if we fell in. We lifted our bodies up or down through narrow passages to new floors. As we slithered through the darkness, seeing only the patch of ground and rock exposed by our lights, I noticed the edges of the cave were scalloped, carved from the eons of flowing water.

When we made it to King’s Shower, Julie and I collapsed onto the limestone ridges in the wall, letting our backs get wet against the rock. Everyone was told to turn off their headlamps and use only their flashlights. For a moment the cavern echoed with the clicks of switches. We took off the hard hats and held them in our laps, but the cave’s damp air did nothing to dry our sweaty heads. Julie and I tilted our necks and gazed upward. We could see the waterfall only when we shined our flashlights on the thin stream that poured from the rock ceiling, a place far beyond our sight. Falling water splashed by our shoes. Some of the other kids stomped in the puddles and ran their flashlights up the cavern walls. But mostly, the darkness was undisturbed by us. We were visitors. We would leave, and the cave would remain the same as always.

The youth pastor gathered the group for a song, instructing us to all point our flashlights upward to the top of the dome. I clicked off my light and leaned against Julie. She turned off her light, too, and we stayed seated, hidden by the dark, while everyone else stood in a circle. I looked at the rippling stone walls revealed by their collective lights. The cavern was ridged and tall, a giant’s throat, made of stacked yellow-gray stone. “Let’s sing, ‘What Can Wash Away My Sin,’” the youth pastor said, and started the song.

I watched the stream of falling water, thin and twisting in the flashlight beams. Julie’s face was so close to mine I could feel her eyelashes brush my forehead. “What can make me whole again,” the kids sang as they swayed. But they didn’t need to be made whole; they had everything already. I was the one who lacked salvation. I whispered to Julie, “Forget what I said. I’m keeping it.”

I don’t know what made me say that, but as soon as I heard myself I knew I meant it. That I couldn’t go back. It wasn’t a decision; it just was—like my eyes had adjusted to the dark.

When the church’s vans were ready to leave, Julie wasn’t back from the bathroom. We were running late and the youth pastor tapped his foot. Finally, we saw her running from the mouth of the cave, something red dangling from her fist. She tumbled into the seat next to me, and the van left with a lurch.

Julie thrust her hand into my lap. “Your headlamp. I saw it snagged on the fence.”

I remembered something catching the metal gate as I left the cave and how my headlamp had dangled heavily from my wrist and then its weight left me. It hadn’t seemed important enough to turn back, and the guides were hurrying us out. But when I took the headlamp from Julie’s hand, its red strap covered in mud but the light still shining, I couldn’t imagine ever being OK with leaving it behind.

In the van on the way home, I meant to rehearse what I’d say to my mother. I knew I needed to tell her about the baby that day. But instead, I watched the green fields and fence posts swish by the window, the motion sweeping my mind clean of words. Julie slept softly beside me. I knew that by keeping the baby I was leaving her, leaving everything—the life I felt had been promised to me, by way of my mother’s hard work and my good grades, my ambitions. “You want too much—like this place isn’t good enough for you,” Dalton once said to me, his mouth kissing me quiet, when I had tried to tell him where my camera would take me.

I took a bath before telling my mother I was pregnant. Almost I wanted to tell her immediately, while the cave still covered me. When I arrived home, I still bore all the colors of Tumbling Rock: red silt on my scalp, yellow mud beneath my fingernails, brown grit over my skin and clothes. My resolve was made stronger by the remnants of the rocks on my body. But my mother stripped me clean before I found the words.

Really, she just told me to undress and put my clothes right in the washer. The laundry room was just inside the back door, where I entered after Julie dropped me off. But to me, leaving my soiled clothes behind felt like a penance for something my mother didn’t yet know. Naked, I wrapped myself in a clean white towel from the basket and headed upstairs. It was the last time I’d walk through her house as a child. Next time I’d be someone’s mother.

I bathed in her tub, the new one in the bathroom attached to her room. She had remodeled when I was fourteen, chipping out the 1960s peach tiles herself, and told me she spent an entire paycheck on that tub, an uncharacteristic extravagance. She must have believed she was nearly done; that she’d raised me, all on her own, and I’d turned out fine. The tub was old fashioned and claw footed, with a gleaming waterspout, and, in those days, stocked with buttery soap and those tan, irregular sponges that looked as if they were plucked from the sea.

The day of Tumbling Rock, I ran the bathwater hot and laced it with generous amounts of her new bodywash, a kind she had bought because it came in a fancy, pretty bottle. I tossed in handfuls of vanilla bath beads, too. These products were splurges for her, and, like a daughter, I used them without regard.

When the temperature was how I liked it, as hot as I could stand, I slipped into the tub. Pinpricks of heat traveled over my skin. Safe beneath the water’s protective cover, I put my hands to my belly first, and then to my small breasts and back to my belly again. I still felt like a virgin, like I’d hardly been touched, though that was nowhere approaching true. With Dalton, I sometimes felt like I wasn’t there; I nearly disappeared beneath his body, and whatever was below my back—the grass, the torn seats of his car—felt closer than his skin. In the bathwater, the space between my hips and navel was still flat but newly firm. My abdomen pushed back against my hand, and, though I couldn’t yet feel the baby move, I felt something else—that my body was no longer my own but in service to what it held.

The cave did not depart easily. In the tub, the water turned brown and red and through it my pale skin appeared nearly tan. I drained the water. I left the dirt behind, a film of grime on my mother’s new white tub.

When I told her, she was quiet, but I knew her thoughts. The sum of her own failures. My lost childhood. We were the anti-history of biblical patriarchs, single mom begets single mom. Now that I’d spoken the words, my decision to keep the baby seemed only foolish, not righteous—but yet, a future set in stone. I thought of the dove that left Noah when the earth became dry again. What promises were left for me?


Yesterday, on the way to the mailboxes to look for a check from Dalton, we stopped in the field behind the apartment. There is an oasis of sorts between the backs of the orange brick buildings, a stretch of land with a dip in the middle that makes a grassy creek when it rains. Hardly anyone comes here but us. This time of year, May, the field is consumed with clover.

Mabel dropped to the ground and swung her arms and legs in a swishing motion, a sort of snow angel maneuver but in warm green instead of frozen white. Beneath her, the leaves matted and stems broke off. Then she rolled over, wincing as she bumped her hip, still sore from the biopsy, and began pawing through the clover, her nose close to the white tops. She is obsessed with finding a four-leafed one. So obsessed that I left her there while I went to check the mail. She is six now, old enough to be alone for a minute. I walked quickly through the parking lot, my flip-flops slapping on the pavement, the asphalt so hot I could feel the earth’s heat rising up through the rubber soles. The scene behind me felt much like the day I slept with Dalton for the first time. The silky spread of clover with its cottony blooms, the big bowl of the warm sky, the sun dangling at the apex. The idea that if you lie back-to-ground you can occupy a private sliver of space where no one will see you, except those who you want to see you.

I kissed him first. Not our first-ever kiss, but I kissed him first in that open-mouthed way, the way that said: it’s time, why not, I’m ready, you’re ready. Hurry. He drew me into his lap. The camera that hung around my neck made an awkward mass between us. I’d gotten out of class on a photography assignment. Dalton had gotten out of class to find me. I was there behind the baseball bleachers to take photos of the budding trees at the edge of the fence, and when he pulled me to the ground I heard the camera’s shutter click. “It won’t hurt—I won’t hurt you,” he said, “I promise.”

By the time I found the courage to develop the picture, it was winter and I was very pregnant, the skin on my belly stretched as tight as a pulled rubber band. I remember standing in the darkroom at school, unrolling the film and winding it around the spool. While I swished the canister of development chemicals, I wondered what the picture would be—would it be skin, would it be hair, would we be recognizable? The camera was old fashioned, the kind that you have to crank to advance the film, so only one photo was taken.

I turned the key to the mailbox and pulled out the stuffing of pizza and carpet steamer coupons. After sorting through the papers to see if an envelope hid among the folds, I dumped the coupons in the trash can, already full of the same from my neighbors’ boxes. I swept my hand through the empty mailbox, grazing even the back corners where spiders hide. Dalton is six—seven?—months behind on the checks he promised. We never talk anymore. He is the one who left town after all, not me; he went to Colorado, has a new baby now. His girlfriend has red hair, I saw on Facebook, and they are planning a wedding at the top of some mountain, though when I knew him he couldn’t care less about mountains, or anything but my body. I wonder if she knows that, the red-haired girlfriend—that I exist and that Mabel exists and that for the last three months of my junior year, his senior, my body and Dalton’s were intertwined. The picture I took that day, it was nothing. Just ghosted blades of grass, out of focus and pressing against the camera lens.

When I returned to the field to get Mabel, her bare legs and arms were covered with bits of soil and green clover. Pressed into her knees was a patchwork from the grass blades, her skin crossed and ridged under my fingers. The touch reminded me of my own skin after the first time with him—the ground we’d crushed ourselves into, the pattern on the backs of my calves as I brushed myself clean and shook out my skirt. How I couldn’t decide if I was forever changed, not a virgin anymore, having crossed some invisible line, or if I was the same as ever.

In the sea of clover by our apartment, I grabbed Mabel up in my arms and smelled her—so bright and alive with the scent of the earth and her own sweat. The weeds around us stretched toward the sky, never wavering from the work of living. I imagined the underground below us, their roots intertwined with one another and connecting every plant in the field as one. And beneath that a cave of limestone that cradled water we would later drink. A bee floated by us, busy and important. Even the dirt on Mabel’s skin seemed alive and ticking.

“Mo-ommy,” Mabel protested after I held her too long. I released her and let my own body fall to the ground. The clover tickled my skin. This is what I would remember tomorrow, I resolved, when the hospital would be too starkly clean and I’d see Mabel’s eyes well with fear. Again she searched the green ground for a four-leaf clover, and I didn’t rush her, for once. On the way back to our apartment she held my hand, and in the other she clutched her bouquet of clover, which contained no talisman of four but she insisted was lucky, anyway.


When Mabel is fully asleep, the rise and fall of her little chest making alternate mountains and valleys in the blankets, I get up to shower. On the floor of the cramped shower stall is the black plastic bin I use for her tub. She’s too big for it now—her knees touch her chin—but she never complains. Just sits with her bony legs to the side as she leans forward, plays with her toys, while I wash her hair and futilely apply the comb to her fierce curls. I don’t know what I’ll do if she gets sick and too weak to bathe like that. Maybe hold her to my chest like a baby, let the shower cover us both.

I don’t bother to drag Mabel’s bath bin out of the shower, so I have to stand inside it, and when I step in I feel a cold slick of water under my feet. A plastic toy fish that I kick to the side. As the hot water falls, the bin fills and I’m standing in a puddle up to my calves, like maybe I’m splashing through a cave somewhere, an underground stream, and the water that falls is not the shower but a thin waterfall that starts high above, at the earth’s surface—and me, I’m down deep, hidden in the dark, and if I’m not careful I’ll fall in even further.

What secrets does my body keep? Perhaps beneath my breasts, a malformed heart, and I, casually spending away the rest of its ticks. I reach back to trace my spine, twisting so I can run my finger from tailbone to neck. Feels normal, but cancer could be blooming inside my marrow this very moment. The water from the shower drums against me. I know it’s pointless to worry if cancer hides in my own body. It is already there. Whatever roots inside Mabel will consume me, too.

When Mabel was born, Julie stayed the entire night, holding my hand and feeding me ice chips like a husband would do; she even gave Mabel her first bath. This bath took place while I lay in the hospital bed, dazed from the drugs and exertion, barely feeling the doctor stitch me up. They’d put Mabel on my chest right after the birth, but I’d been so exhausted, so nervous and unsure of myself as a mother, that I didn’t immediately lift my arms, and the nurse whisked the baby away. But when I saw Julie across the room with Mabel, my baby beneath the heat of an incubator light, something unknown inside me stirred. Lifted its head.

“Give her to me,” I said. I hardly recognized my own voice—so assertive. So sure.

“Just a minute,” said the nurse.

“Don’t move,” the doctor said, still working on the stitches between my legs.

“Now,” I said, struggling up from the pillow onto my elbows.

Julie, dear Julie, didn’t hesitate. She was already charging across the room to me, holding Mabel. My child whimpered, her body shiny with bathwater and traces of my blood. Julie tugged open my hospital gown and placed Mabel on my bare chest.

I had thought Mabel’s birth would be an end. Something I must do, but that would hollow me, just the same. But Mabel was everything. She rooted for my breast and took the nipple in her mouth. So tiny, so ready to survive. I cleaved tight to my daughter and felt her wild heart. Beating faintly at first, barely perceptible. But the sensation increased, and the rhythm of her pumping blood grew and swelled until it rocked my own rib cage, until suddenly I understood just why humans love and kill and keep living despite it all—a primeval knowledge, distilled within a single heartbeat, and held in my own arms.

The hot water is thinning. I turn off the shower and slide still damp into a sweatshirt and yoga pants. It’s late, but instead of going to my bed, I pass through the kitchen to the living room. Light from the parking lot outside makes a patch on the floor near Mabel’s bed. I lay there, just outside of the light, and gaze into the kitchen, at the shine on the sink faucet and the forks standing up in the dish drainer. Mabel breathes with the sounds of sleep. For a moment I’m jealous that rest comes so easily to her, that she doesn’t know to fear tomorrow.

I pull out my phone, blue light glaring in spiderwebs through the cracked screen. Searching, I look for articles about the sinkhole. I want to know if anyone has explored it. Could have been me rappelling down on a rope, the red headlamp firm on my forehead. But what I find on Google is not science or adventure, but rather, that the hole is resisting repair. Its rock floor at seventy feet down has fallen through, and how deep it goes now no one knows yet, but probably depths that sunlight can’t reach. The men working might have to brace inside it with steel. Or build a bridge on pillars set underground. Or give up, reroute eight lanes of high-speed traffic. Let the sinkhole take whatever it pleases.


The next morning, when the sun comes through the blinds, I’m still lying on the floor by Mabel’s bed. I spent the whole night awake, watching the darkness fill the room until it was full, brimming with dark, and then the shadows drained out like water.

Mabel, my morning lark, wakes up with the sunlight.

“Mommy,” she says as she sits up, seeming unsurprised to find me there. She stretches, one elbow brushing the vase of clover; it falls over, but nothing cracks or spills. The water is gone and the leaves are limp. She lays down again on her back, her hands clutching the blankets to her chest.

She did indeed sleep without moving the whole night; the headlamp remains on her head. Her hair is so tangled around the strap now that I’m not sure I’ll be able to get it off her without cutting something, the strap or her hair, and I know I won’t be able to manage either. Perhaps she’ll wear it all day at the hospital. That would make for some conversation, some distraction. The headlamp’s strap is still stained with the mud of Tumbling Rock, and the plastic casing around the light is scuffed from the cave’s rocky walls, from all of that crawling I did so long ago. I reach up and run my finger over one of the scuffs, then let my hand rest on her head.

“Mommy,” she says again. She lifts her hand, finds the rubbery button, and turns on the light.

Our hospital appointment is early. I should get up, find clothes, pour cereal. But Mabel is quiet, her head stilled beneath my palm, and I let myself be quiet, too. I run my other hand over the carpet, stringy fibers like weeds, like clover maybe, as if good luck grows here, somewhere; I stare at the ceiling and the circle of her light, a pale sun.  

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