Mamas of lost babies see them coming and duck into alleys, slam the front door, take cover until they pass. All pudgy cheeks and weeble-wobbling and snotty-nosed playground scrambling, they are the shadow babies—the fruit of neighbouring wombs. Gestational acquaintances and nearly-cousins and almost-playdates whose ages echo our should-have-beens, our phantom children who itch like lost limbs beyond the stump. Despite the fingers in our ears they broadcast through the channels of souls in magically amplified singsong nonnie nonnie, I am here.
Their existence is proof that life tends to chug along uneventfully for 99% of the rest of the world: ordinary babies for ordinary mothers in ordinary ways. From our bunkers we spy on them covetously through slivers of blackout cloth, directing muttered profanities at them and at ourselves.
Split neatly down the centre, I am cast out of both camps. One baby died, one baby lived. Furiously bitter among the usual folk, sheepish and humbled among the medusas. He is my blessing baby and my shadow baby. He saved my life by filling my arms, calling for me in the no-man’s-land between midnight and dawn for contraband giggles, drinking my milk like a dog with a bone as I sobbed.
As Liam left this world he called to Ben mirror-brother, shine bright. Shine so bright you blind mama’s blackness.
And he does.
During random laptop housekeeping I see this
and step back a few feet from the screen, transplanting myself into some parallel universe where I chuckle oh, that’s okay, no one can tell them apart but me… the one on the left’s Ben, and the one on the right’s Liam, silly goose. They’re going to be up to so many tricks this summer, I’m going to need to grow two more arms.
The love affair with Ben has magnified the gravity of Liam’s absence. His snaggletoothed delight both lightens and darkens, rescuing me while serving as evidence of the sort of third boy we might have had. Broadcasting to me through the channels of souls in magically amplified singsong the voices of Liam and Ben ring out in a tangle nonnie nonnie, we are here.