By Jessica Hwang
Angel is in the middle of changing the baby when the phone rings. She knocks over a can of talcum powder. “Hello?” she says, around the diaper pin clamped between her front teeth.
Her mother says, “Angel. George died.” And then, “Are you there?”
“He had a heart attack, at work. It happened just before lunch and all I keep thinking is he didn’t get to eat the leftover lasagna I packed for him.” The words are clogged, heavy with tears.
Angel tosses the wipe into the trash can. “I…”
“I shouldn’t have sprung it on you like that. I just got back from the hospital. He died in the ambulance on the way there. I didn’t even get to…” Her mother’s voice dissolves into muffled crying.
Angel lifts the baby, bounces her on one hip. “Mom, I’m sorry.” Tiny fingers tug at Angel’s hair, reach for the shiny earring. She tells her mother she’ll check on flights and text the arrival information.
She and Baby go down the hallway. On the bedside table, in a wooden frame, is her ultrasound photograph. Her baby is curled up, a tiny lone alien afloat within the dark galaxy of her womb. The bed is neatly made—the bed where Angel and her husband made a baby, after nearly three years of trying, after Angel had given up and grown weary of railing against God and doctors and fate and her husband and her own body. Against everyone except the one who was to blame, the one who’d long ago irreparably damaged something necessary within her.
She presses a kiss to the baby’s velvet cheek. Her daughter gurgles and coos. Angel lays Baby in the middle of the bed. Sunlight pours in between the curtains. She cups the tiny feet, tickles the round belly. Baby grabs her own toes, shrieks with laughter.
“He’s dead,” she tells her baby, her daughter. Angel raises her fingers to her cheek and is surprised to find wetness there. Baby stares at her with solemn eyes. She says it again, “He’s dead.”
Angel looks in the closet for a suitable black dress. They’ll all go, the three of them, to North Dakota. Angel has never brought her baby back home, had sworn she wouldn’t. She will bring her daughter to her mother—to the grandmother who has only met her once, in the hospital, right after her birth.
Angel will gaze down into the casket, standing there in her black silk with the hushed, respectful voices of distant relatives and strangers washing over her, while behind her, her mother holds her infant granddaughter, the baby a balm against their wounds.
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Jessica Hwang’s fiction has appeared in Moss Puppy, Uncharted and Tough and is forthcoming in Pembroke Magazine and Shotgun Honey. Her stories have been longlisted for Litmag’s Anton Chekhov Award for Flash Fiction in 2022 and The Masters Review 2022 Flash Fiction Contest. Her short story A Place like You was a finalist for the Bellingham Review’s Tobias Wolff Award for Fiction in 2022. You can find her at jessicahwangauthor.com.