Brushing away the sweat forming on my forehead, I look over at my work. There are two tables set up in the yard with innumerable items sprawled across them, a collage of clothes and decorations. There are large cardboard boxes underneath the tables overflowing with old books, shoes, and unused toys. A sign reading “Yard Sale,” in bold red letters, is placed at the corner of the street.
Staring blankly at my messy display, I sit down under a dark gray umbrella, waiting for customers to appear. No one seems to take an interest in what I have, most just glance at me, then continue to walk past. I stare at the asphalt, and watch cars zoom away.
After sitting there for half an hour, my fingers are fidgeting, ready to pack it all up. Then I notice a young woman with a black stroller turn the corner after perusing my sign. The woman walks up and starts looking at the stack of neatly folded clothes; she meticulously filters through the large assortment, pulling out a few options. After a few minutes, she walks up with the stroller, holding several shirts and a lightly used bear-shaped rattle.
“Hello,” she says to me, smiling, blue eyes shining in the sun, “How much for these?”
“Four dollars, twenty-five cents.”
“Alright, here you go,” the woman says, handing me coins and crumpled up bills.
“I haven’t seen you around town before,” I remark, counting the money.
“Yeah, we recently moved here; our house is just a block over. I’m Alice.”
“Peggy, nice to meet you,” I shake her hand. “She’s a cutie, how old?” I say, looking at the baby in the stroller.
“Two months, her name is Elizabeth,” she replies, cooing at the baby. Elizabeth imitates the noise, smiling with a toothless grin. Her large eyes stare up at me with curiosity, she tries to reach out to me, until she sees her arms are too short. I stare back at her, my mouth stretched into a grin as I poke my finger close enough so she could grab it. Elizabeth gurgles and coos a bit more. Alice takes the newly bought rattle and jiggles it in front of Elizabeth, who is having fun with her new toy. My mind flips back, around half a year ago, to the moment I was holding my little Anna in my arms for the first time.
“U-waahh, U-waahh,” Anna cries, her thin pink arms flailing.
I smile down at her perfect face, with her squinting brown eyes, and rosy cheeks. I grab the rattle I had just bought out of the bag, and shake it, letting out rattling noise like teeth on a cold winter day. Intrigued by the noise, her crying stops as she lets out quick and shallow breaths. When I let the nurses take her from me, and the noise stops, she instantly becomes petulant. Her breaths turning into piercing wails, and I look forlornly at her, unable to make it stop.
“Now, now, playtime is over, Anna. You need to let the nurses take care of you. Besides, you have a whole lifetime in front of you to play,” I murmur, wishing she could understand.
Elizabeth’s eyelids are slowly closing shut. She is sinking into her fuzzy blanket, shielded from the intense rays of the sun. Her mother places the rattle beside her, letting the baby fall asleep.
“How old is your child?”
“Mine? Well, she’ll be about nine months old,” I reply, counting in my head. One month, and then another eight gone by. Nine months.
“She must be throwing things by now. Little Elizabeth can’t pick things up, yet. Is she a loud one?”
“No, it’s quiet,” I reply, looking back at the house.
“Oh, does she sleep a lot?”
“She never liked to sleep, but now she sleeps soundly. She’s sleeping right now.”
“Sounds wonderful, I never get much sleep with this little one around. But, I still love her to death, and wouldn’t trade her for any amount of sleep,” Alice says, admiring her sleeping child. I look at Elizabeth with longing eyes, remembering when I used to watch my little angel sleep.
Anna is sleeping on her back in a plastic bassinet. She has nothing on but a diaper, a multitude of tubes and rainbow wires braided around her arms and legs. One of the tubes leads into her nostrils, allowing her chest to rise up and down at a steady pace. I clutch the rattle tightly, staring at her delicate body. Without warning, the monitor tracking her heart rate sounds an alarm, the high pitched ring echoes through the room and out the door. Nurses rush in, pushing me out of the way, striding towards Anna’s crib. A nurse tells me to wait outside until they fix the problem. I slowly feel my stomach twist, forming a large knot that can’t be untied. Not knowing what to do, I leave the room. My eyes dart towards the room door, my hands are sticky with sweat, and my brain is telling me that everything will be alright.
“Well, I better get going. Elizabeth will be hungry soon, and I don’t want to face a hungry baby. She doesn’t like it when she misses a meal,” Alice says, interrupting my memories.
“It was nice meeting you, I hope you get some good use out of that rattle. I know, I wish I could’ve.”
“Thanks, I will, and I hope we’ll see each other again soon.”
“You know where I live,” I say, waving goodbye. She starts walking away, and I smile, watching her and the stroller disappear the same way it came.
The nurse comes back, her eyes full of sorrow. I plaster on a smile, hoping it makes the situation better, but it feels like a dagger has been driven through my heart a million times. The feeling is still there, and I’m left with a wound that will not heal, a new emotion that leaves an empty hole in my heart. I clutch the rattle even tighter, almost tearing the rattle, and twist it between my shaking fingers. Breathing heavily, I involuntarily stand up in a state of shock, as my legs start to move on their own. I’m walking away from my pain, away from my sadness, and away from my child.