A CONVERSATION OVERHEARD

cafe eavesdropping

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There is a little carousel with round amber lights and colorful, plastic horsies spinning round and round on the moving platform. The horsies bob up and down as if they were lonely buoys in the sea Next to the carousel there is an Anglophone-style coffeeshop with colorful saucers and families nestled into tables outside.  

The woman with angled, black hair has no shame. She has tired eyes. Her eyes became tired five months ago “I had the child in the Uber,” she says.  

“In the Uber?” the friend says, leaning in gently to show she is listening.  

“In the Uber,” she confirms. “And,” she says with a twitch starting in the left wrinkle of her mouth, “she was still alive.” 

“You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to,” the friend says. The horsies on the carousel go round and round. The children scream with delight and one little girl with pigtails and an ice-cream dress screams for her maman.  

“No, it’s okay. I’ve started going to grief counseling,” she replies. 

“What’s that, exactly?” says the friend. 

“It’s where mothers come to grieve their dead children. Like AA, but for mothers in mourning. We all have a different journey. I’m an outgoing person, you know. It killed me, but I wouldn’t just stay in bed and cry all day and never see my friends--” The friend nods. “I mean, I would cry—every day--but I need to go to parties and I need to have my morning walk and so I started seeking help early, you know?” Round and round and round the horsies go. The friend doesn’t take her eyes off of her. “Some would say too early. But really, Rosie, I just had to,” she says, “I had to read every book out there--I’ve always been sensitive, and I’m not stupid--I knew what it was that I was going through. It was grief, plain and simple, and I wasn’t the first and I wouldn’t be the last to grieve a dead child. But you wouldn’t believe the pain, Rosie, you really wouldn’t.”  

She stops, as if Rosie must know of the pain she’s talking about, and must know that it cannot be uttered out loud. She is teary. She picks up a wrinkled, brown packet of rolling tobacco, and begins to fold the stringy clumps of tobacco into a delicate sheet of rolling paper. She does this to buy herself time before she must speak again. She licks the sticky part at the top and balances it in between her lips,  and lights the end. 

“You know, I was going to be such a good mother. I was already an at-risk patient, what with my age and all-- you know. Well, I mean, you know.”  

Rosie nods.  

“Anyways,” she continues, “by the time I’d pushed her out, the Uber had stopped and called an ambulance. Benoit was beside me. I think he had a little flask of brandy that he was sipping. He was just about as helpless as I was. We both couldn’t move.” She inhales the smoke for a second longer than is normal for a person to inhale their cigarette smoke, and then she lets it out with a cool, calm breath. The cigarette goes out. She relights it. The carousel goes round and round, and the children laugh and laugh. And then the children scream, all at once, on cue, but she doesn’t stop talking.   

“The ambulance came, and I couldn’t see, I couldn’t see, Rosie, I don’t remember anything--only that she was taken from me.” She looks down and picks up her sunglasses from the rickety coffee table and shoves them above her ears, and the children are screaming, and now all of their mothers have disappeared; and they dismount the plastic horsies and they scatter in different directions to go find their mothers.  

“Honey, we can talk about this later,” Rosie says, noticing the screaming, scattering children. Rosie reaches across the table and picks up her friend’s slender wrist. 

“No, no, I want you to know how it was,” she says, “someone has to know how it was.” She has not noticed the screaming children.  “It was like this--by the time another ambulance had come to take me to the hospital, she was dead. She was already dead, Rosie, but they took a picture. Do you want to see?” Rosie doesn’t answer, but the woman pulls out her phone and she shows Rosie the picture, and Rosie says,  

“She’s so pink and small. She’s beautiful.” 

“This was four minutes after she died. I think she was beautiful. People don’t like me to show the picture. They think it’s inappropriate, but I mean, she doesn’t even look dead. She looks like she’s still alive--she looks just like any other, living newborn” 

“I’m so sorry,” Rosie says.  

“Thank you, Rosie.” Rosie nods and sips the last dregs of her coffee.  The woman brings the cigarette back to her lips to take a drag. The empty carousel goes round and round and round and plays its tinkly lullaby music. 

 
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