What’s Left

Fiction by Laura Leigh Morris

A woman in a mask cups the baby’s butt, grips her neck. She holds the squirming purple body above the sterile drape, says, “Congratulations, Mom and Dad.” She says the baby’s lungs are full of fluid, that they need to keep an eye on her. I watch, helpless, as they pack her into an incubator and wheel her from the room. 

“I’ll go with the baby.” My husband moves toward the door.

Before, I directed him: Stay with her. The baby needs you.

That’s what the mom groups say—the first step of motherhood is realizing your wants no longer come first. Your needs come second too. You are a vessel for the baby’s wellbeing. If you and the baby are sick, you minister to her, not yourself. If the baby needs extra care at home, you shift to part-time work. If she needs an alternative education, you homeschool. Less is selfish.

But now, with each step my husband takes, my grip on the world grows more tenuous. I am lighter, more insubstantial. The walls of this world thin, become diaphanous. “No.” I stretch my fingers toward him.

He doesn’t see me, eyes the nurses as they wheel the baby from the operating room, takes a step toward me, then away. “The baby.”

I am supposed to say, “Go.” I am supposed to tell him the doctors have me, that I’ll be fine. Except I won’t be. I am dissolving, dispersing. Still, my husband edges toward the exit. My fingers no longer reach for him. They lay curled in my palm. “Go,” I say. Because he will anyway.

When I got pregnant but didn’t give up caffeine, he switched my coffee to decaf without telling me. When I craved a spiced ham sandwich with brown mustard, he reminded me of the dangers of listeria. When I reminded him that my body was my own, he responded, “But the baby inside it is ours.” I started to argue but stopped because when I lifted my hand I saw that my fingers had become translucent. He walked away while I marveled at how the sun shone through my entire forearm.

He pushes through the door, footsteps silent in operating room booties.

I close my eyes. The room is still too bright, too white, but now the bustle of bodies is gone. All that’s left is a skeleton crew, here to sew up what’s left.

“How we doing over there, Mom?” the doctor asks, voice loud, sure of its place in the world.

“My name’s not Mom,” I try to say, but the words get lost as they leave my mouth.

“We’ll be done soon,” he says, jovial.

Except by the time they’re done, it won’t matter. I can feel the numbness moving up my chest, across my shoulders. I open my mouth, but no sound comes out. I try to flex my fingers, but nothing happens. I look at my hand. My fingers are translucent again, but now the veins are visible. Then even their fibers dissolve, and blood droplets scatter, dissipating in the air. I watch, amazed, as who I am diffuses. I wonder if my husband understands that when he returns, I will be gone. Then, I wonder if his understanding matters at all.

Laura Leigh Morris

Laura Leigh Morris is the author of The Stone Catchers: A Novel (UP Kentucky, August 2024) and Jaws of Life: Stories (West Virginia UP, 2018). She has short fiction published or forthcoming in STORY Magazine, North American Review, Pithead Chapel, JMWW, Redivider, and other journals and anthologies. She teaches creative writing and literature at Furman University in Greenville, SC. To learn more, visit www.lauraleighmorris.com.