My heart is a roomful of clamouring things all spinning and fidgeting, pressing to burst out but hitting the bottleneck of a cat-gotten tongue.
Standing there on my own after the speech, I had nothing to do but notice her. She hesitated and then crossed the stretch of grass tentatively, birthing that awkward moment: too far away to speak and fill the empty space, but close enough and closer still to create a vacuum of intention like the breathing pause before a jump into water.
"I wasn’t going to come over but I wanted to thank you," she says quietly. "That was nice, what you said."
"Who are you here for?" I ask her, this western girl with a pink and blue ribbon pinned to a fleece of MEC green. Her eyes go glassy.
"My nephew," she says. "And my brother. My nephew was stillborn and my brother killed himself a month after that."
As her face crumples mine does too, and I say Oh, sweetie to a complete stranger for the first time in my life. We stand in the field embracing, her body shaking with sobs, my hand on her back, pressing. "This was the most amazing day," she says, gulping for breath.
Later as I walk and watch for Liam’s name I see a young girl standing alone, dejected, her camera swinging from the wriststrap in her hand. Her brow furrows as she stares at the chalk letters at her feet.
"Her name is too long," she says to no one in particular. "I liked all the names so I gave them all to her."
"It’s pretty," I say.
"Yeah," she replies, chattering rapidly. "Everyone thinks we spelled it wrong but we didn’t. It’s Irish. That’s the right way. She died and then she was born. They said ‘We can’t operate, she’s less than a pound!’ and I said ‘No way, she’s more than that, do something!’ and they said no and so she was born and she was three pounds nine ounces and I said ‘told you so’. I just knew. I was only sixteen when I had her."
"How old are you now?" I ask.
"Seventeen," she says firmly. "People keep saying I’m so strong but I just don’t like to cry in front of people. I need a picture of her name, though. I don’t know how to make it fit."
I take a photo of her baby’s name with my wider lens—three plus two with a hyphen stretching off into the unreadable distance, but the whole thing nonetheless.
"Can I take your photo?" I ask, pressing the shutter as soon as I see her begin to nod. In that brief moment before she composes herself I see her as she is. In the second frame she beams obligingly. I like the first one best.
"He was three-and-a-half," she says, tears dripping down her face. "We spent so long caring for him, we don’t know what to do with ourselves anymore. We both got tattoos."
The woman tugs her shirt down to reveal a dragonfly in flight over her heart. Her husband has been crying. He pulls up his sleeve to show me one chubby footprint and one chubby handprint on his bicep. I run my finger across the ink, assuming passage on his skin, warm and kindred.
"We don’t know where we belong anymore," she adds. "But it just feels right to be here today. You all understand."
I walk away only feeling sure of the attempt, simultaneously heavy and weightless.
They called the name of every baby and more than 400 people—grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and siblings—watched as each was released in turn, filling the sky with colour.
This morning I went for breakfast with Lincoln’s parents, the mommy and daddy who did all this.
"Did you feel Liam yesterday?" she asks.
"Not really," I reply. "He’s elsewhere. Did you feel Lincoln?"
"Not really," she says. "But this morning my mother-in-law was driving to the walk and she heard Lincoln’s voice in her head, and he was happy. He said ‘I’m here, grammy! Here I am!’ and she turned to look out the window, and there was a baby moose running along beside the car. A baby moose, just out of nowhere, running with her."
"He knew you’d be busy today. He knew she’d pass it on."
"Yes," she whispers through tears, smiling. We speak frankly of life and death, mutual emotion camouflaged by the clatter of hungry neighbours, and the hollandaise awaits luscious and glistening.