The rusted-out chain creaked rhythmically as Laura swung back and forth, holding a fluffy, pale green blanket. It was just after dawn and the playground was still quiet. Wood chips clung to her bare feet as she pushed off for another swing of the pendulum.
The last piles of snow were melting, and the warm air heralded an early spring.
The words landed among blades of grass where Laura couldn’t hear them, so she kept swinging.
“Let me see her.”
With a tear-stained and swollen face pounded with despair, Laura pulled aside a portion of the blanket. Her baby lay motionless in her arms. Her skin was a mottled bright pink and pale gray with deep red, crusted lips.
“She’s beautiful, Laura,” Anna said nodding, as she draped a thick sweater on Laura’s shoulders. Anna sat on the swing next to her and they were silent for some time.
“I wanted to name her Layla,” Laura finally said.
“I love that name.”
“It’s the one from that song, you know…” Laura pressed pale fingers to her forehead, struggling to remember.
“Yes. I know the one.”
Laura smiled and began rocking the baby. She pulled back the blanket to graze her finger against the baby’s cheek. “This is not like the last time, you know. It wasn’t my fault this time.”
“No, it was not.”
“I couldn’t… cope that time. He wouldn’t stop. He just wouldn’t stop crying. I was still recovering from the other baby. I just…”
“I know. I know.”
“I didn’t know it would be so hard!”
Blood dripped from Laura’s swing seat, disappearing into the mulch. Anna turned away toward the sunrise across the lake and Laura followed her gaze. They sat silently once more. Laura’s breathing eventually slowed and she was still as the water.
“Let’s get you two home,” Anna said with a pat on the shoulder.
Laura braced herself against Anna to rise from the swing, careful to guard the baby’s head. They stepped onto the sidewalk.
“You can keep this one. But we will need the next one. You do know that, right?”
Laura was tearful and saddened but resigned. “When will I get to keep a live one?”
Anna stopped and stroked Laura’s hair gently. She hushed Laura and pressed their foreheads together. “We’ll see…” Anna said. Then her eyes lit up. “Oh! You forgot something!”
Anna jogged back to the swing where the placenta lay in a small pool of flaking blood. “This is the best part!” she guffawed. “The boys would kill me if I didn’t bring this back.” Shaking her head, amused, she ushered Laura and her baby into an idling van. They climbed in, slammed the door shut, and drove away just as a school bus arrived.
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