Baby Maker – M. L. Broome

F MANCHESTER,ENGLAND rom my periphery, I see the mourners adjourn, giving my arm a squeeze as they pass and casting a last glance at the casket that holds my life. My Nigel. Cancer doesn’t discriminate. My husband is proof of that fact. He battled the demon for two long years, never once admitting that he wouldn’t emerge victorious. That’s what you do, right? Never admit defeat, or defeat wins. Defeat won anyway. “Come on, Luv. Let’s get you fed.” Simon, my best friend, wraps an arm around my shoulder in a futile effort to shield me from the wet English weather. But despite his best intentions, his warmth is no match for the ice that has taken up residence where my heart once existed. “I’m not hungry.” It’s the truth. I subsisted on crackers and hope for the last three months. Now hope is no longer an option.

“Calliope, don’t make me pull the doctor card.” “It’s not like I’d listen, regardless.” Despite my current obstinate attitude, I’m indebted to Simon. Without him, I likely wouldn’t be upright. He’s been my rock these last couple of years. No surprise, as he’s been my constant since childhood. A lousy boyfriend but aces in the best friend department. Thankfully for my other best friend, Bridget, he’s also aces in the husband department. Six years together, and they still behave like newlyweds. As if I should talk. I behave that way with Nigel, too. Behaved. I blink back tears, thankful for the misty air covering their tracks. I know that it’s normal to weep at a funeral. Standard fare, really.

But I’m hardly anyone’s definition of normal. I haven’t cried, not a real breakdown anyway, since Nigel passed. How could I? There was no time for tears—just a boatload of arrangements to be handled between two continents with an ocean between them. Part of me wanted to fight Nigel’s parents when they insisted he be laid to rest in his hometown. It’s thousands of kilometers from our house in Rhode Island. But instead of bickering, I let them bring their son back across the Atlantic. After all, it’s just a marker, and England will always be our birthplace. Besides, although I enjoy Providence, it’s never felt like home. Merely a resting point between my adventures with Nigel. We often discussed moving, but then he got sick, and new adventures were shelved along with the rest of our lives. I swipe at the agony dripping down my face, aggravated that I’m making a public display. During Nigel’s illness, until the last few weeks anyway, I was the bright and sunny cheerleader—optimistic on the outside, dying on the inside. Bad luck. I didn’t die. My darling husband did.

My death will be a slow torturous period of minutes and hours, waiting until this life is over. This agony of a life. Both of our families have rallied around me, waiting for that moment when I’ll crack, and the floodgates will give way. I hate to break it to them, but that’s not happening any time soon. Perhaps it’s my English upbringing, but I choose to grieve privately. The last thing I need—or want—is pity. “Calliope.” Simon grips my elbow. He’s obviously eager to move us both to a dry, warm location. What he fails to understand is that the cold drops flicking my skin are the only thing I’ve felt since Nigel drifted away a week earlier. The icy mist is currently the sole reminder that I’m still stuck on this rock. Alone. That, and I can’t just leave Nigel here. We barely spent a night apart during our marriage. How am I supposed to spend a lifetime without him by my side? I focus my gaze on the cloud riddled sky, serving as a backdrop for his flower-strewn casket.

Nigel often commented how the stormy skies, with their tumultuous blend of grey, purple and black, matched my eyes. Like I said, I’m hardly the definition of normal. To many, my eyes are unnerving—a bit too large, too intense. Nigel never saw them that way. In fact, he told me on our first date that it was my eyes that first grabbed his attention. That, and my bum. Boys will be boys. My fingers trace along the blanket covering the casket. What a pitiful attempt to keep him warm. He was never warm at the end. I would snuggle in with him, my arse sweating under layers of blankets, while his poor body shook against an unending chill. Now, this pathetic excuse for a cloth is supposed to protect him from the elements? Unacceptable. Pressing my palm against the cool metal, I struggle to feel the energy of the man I love. Some semblance that he’s still with me, even if I can’t see or hear him any longer. Just some small assurance that this glorious man isn’t blinked out from existence.

I don’t think I can do this, Nigel. We made a deal, remember? We were going to die holding hands, old and grey. You didn’t hold up your end of the bargain. You left me holding the bag. “Calliope,” Simon urges, and I wrest my elbow from his grip, huffing with indignation. “Just go, Simon. I’m not ready to leave him yet.” “Luv, he isn’t here. You know that. I promised your husband that I’d look after you. You catching your death of cold in the middle of a chilly Manchester spring is not how I accomplish that task. You’re white as a sheet. I know you haven’t eaten a full meal in days. You’re not sleeping.” “I just lost my husband,” I wail, stepping back from my friend as my heel sinks into the soft earth.

“I’m sorry that I’m not giddy with excitement at the idea of living without him. I’m sorry if it puts a kink in your weekend plans.” Anyone else would smart from my zingers, and there have been a plethora of them lately. My family and friends have been on the receiving end more than once in recent weeks, and some have since granted me a wide berth. Not Simon. He knows me too well. He knows my defense mechanisms. Right now, I’ve activated every one in my arsenal. I need them if I’m to survive the next year. The next month. The next hour. His blue eyes regard me, their own depths laced with pain. Nigel’s loss affects him, too. He loved the man that loved me. But he knows there’s only one way to get me to move when I’ve locked in like a mountain goat—sarcasm and brutal honesty.

“Life sucks. Especially right now. And I understand you want to mire down and wallow in it. I applaud your dedication in that quest, Calliope. But you can wallow in a dry location with some food in your stomach. I’ll throw in some whiskey to sweeten the deal.” He pulls me back against him, tucking my head under his chin. “Let’s go toast an amazing man.” His words may not be pretty, but per usual, they do the trick. I drag my hand under my nose before offering a small shrug. “I miss him, Simon. It’s only been a week, but it feels like forever.” His grip tightens, his lips pressing to my hair. “It will get better. Not today and not tomorrow, but it will get better.

I promise you. Your heart will heal.” CHAPTERONE Calliope S TWENTY MONTHS LATER… imon, despite his best efforts, is a liar. My heart hasn’t healed, and Nigel has been gone for 614 days. Yes, I’m counting. Eventually, I hope to forget how many days he’s been away. I doubt that day will ever come. In my best friend’s defense, I am better. I’m not the wallowing widow from a year and a half earlier, unable to leave my husband’s gravesite. Wounds heal, but time only emphasizes the rough edges of the scars left behind. Scars that no amount of time can touch. Such is my life, twenty months after it ended. Yes, I’m still breathing, but that’s about as close as I tread to the world of the living most days. Still, I have my own minor victories. It only took me three months to put on pants.

It was a milestone achievement. But slowly, over the last million months, I’ve begun adapting to my new normal. I hate that term with a passion. There’s nothing normal about spending your life alone when you planned to spend it with the man of your dreams. It’s not like I kicked Nigel to the curb, eager for an upgrade. He was my everything. I fell in love with him the first time our eyes locked across the pub, and I knew nothing would ever be the same. Less than one second to realize the massive role this man would play in my life. Even Simon recognized our connection for what it was. True love. Unabashed true love. That kind of love happens once in a lifetime. Mine was stolen at the age of thirty-five. But my life, if you want to call it that, keeps plodding along. Sometimes when I search my reflection in the mirror, all I see is a face vaguely resembling someone I once knew.

I’m awash with emotions and pain, along with the lingering guilt that Nigel should have survived and I should be the one kicking up daisies. I’m on anti-depressants. Fairly standard, really, for someone in my situation. I swear that’s how the doctor termed it. I damn near slapped his face to the other side of his head.


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