Miranda felt the warmth of the sun kissing the crown of her head. As light poured in through a crack in her curtains, slowly creeping down to her eyes, she began to stir. She felt her dreamy calm melt away into an anxious rush of to-dos; the pile of laundry, the dishes in the sink, the kids… Miranda’s eyes shot wide open. She leaped out of bed to peer into the nursery. Empty. She ran down the stairs, stumbling into the kitchen to find Victor at the table with her-
“Charlotte,” Miranda released a heavy sigh of relief.
Victor turned and smiled, “Good morning, Mommy,” he spoke in a baby voice for Charlotte, then returned to his own, “Coffee’s in the pot.”
Miranda rested her hands on her husband’s shoulders and gently kissed his forehead, “Thank you. You’re my hero.”
The warm coffee burned her mouth and scalded her stomach as she guzzled it quickly. She stood in the far corner of the kitchen, watching Victor spoon mush into their daughter’s little lips. Charlotte wiggled and laughed, the food dribbling from the corners of her mouth. Her eyes were attentively fixed on him. She reached her stubby little fingers out to his face. As he leaned in and allowed her to anoint his cheeks with her mush covered hands, Miranda felt a familiar tinge of discomfort. Her heart ached. The hunger in her stomach turned to dull indifference. She felt the urge to go sit on Victor’s lap and seduce him. Memories of many mornings spent making love at this very table washed over her.
She drowned the sudden injection of hormones with another generous sip of coffee. It burned her throat, like a shot of whiskey. She choked and coughed.
“Oh, baby,” she heard Victor say.
“I’m okay,” she managed to croak.
“What a good baby…”
Miranda realized that he had not noticed. He was talking to Charlotte.
The caffeine raced through her veins. She stomped out the backdoor and smashed her coffee cup down against the concrete step. Watching it explode into a puddle of brown water and broken ceramic, she felt the bubble building inside her burst. “Ah… damnit,” she heard herself shout.
“Babe? You okay?” Victor’s voice came calmly from the table.
She starred down at her mess, “Uh… Uh-huh. Yup,” Miranda took the broom from its new home beside the door and swept the pieces of mug into a dustpan. “Don’t let the kids walk barefoot back here.”
She dumped the evidence into the garbage can, starring at the wet spot on the step. She fought the tears from coming. The sun was out. In less than an hour, it too would be gone.
Don’t linger. Don’t let this ruin your day. Forget. Start over.
Inside, Victor was wiping the mush from all of Charlotte’s little joints and crevasses with a wet cloth. “What a messy little girl. Messy… lucky you’re cute!” he smiled.
“I’m calling your mom to take the kids,” Miranda announced. “I have to go see the doctor.”
Now she had Victor’s full attention. He swung Charlotte up into one arm, “Yeah?”
“Yes,” Miranda confirmed. She watched Charlotte’s face, attentively fixated on Victor.
“Can I do anything for you?”
“You are already doing it all…”
“You say you felt jealous,” paused Dr. Camile, “Of your daughter.”
Miranda waited for her to say something more, but that was the complete statement. “Yes. She doesn’t even look at me. Victor is on auto-pilot. It’s like they moved on without me completely, and now I just feel like a burden… How can I ask him to take his attention away from her to notice me?”
“You say you feel like a burden. Can you describe why you chose that word?”
Her eyes darted around the room, “I’m here, aren’t I? When I have three loads of laundry piled up… Victor did the dishes, but it was my turn. His mom is with the kids instead of me- Because I had to go and break a fucking coffee cup first thing this morning!”
Now Dr. Camile was passing her a box of tissues. Miranda wept into three squares before finding the words to continue again. “…I just wanted him to put his arms around me.”
“Did you tell him?”
“Of course not! He’ll tell me nothing has changed. He can’t be there to constantly hold me, like a baby,” Miranda fell over, laying on her side against the couch. “She doesn’t even look at me. She doesn’t know I’m her mom.”
“Yes, Charlotte… Damnit. We never agreed to call her Charlotte. That was his mother’s idea! You know what he said? He said he wasn’t sure that I was going to live when he chose the name Charlotte!” Miranda let out a long high pitched moan. “He thought I was as good as dead! Maybe they’d be happier if I had… ”
Dr. Camile patiently waited several minutes as she sobbed into a mountain of tissues that she let fall to the floor. All the while, Miranda never stopped watching. Watching and waiting to catch the therapist tactfully sneak a check at the time. She did not. This was a small comfort.
When it felt as though she was completely depleted of hydration to produce more tears, Miranda pulled herself up to lean against the arm of the couch for support. “I’m sorry.”
“There is no need to apologize. You recognized that you needed help, and you acted responsibly. You entrusted your children with their grandmother, who you know is a safe caregiver, and you came to therapy. This is the plan that we discussed, and you followed it appropriately,” Dr. Camile turned the corners of her lips slightly upward. “You were in a coma for the first eight months of Charlotte’s life. Naturally, she became quite close to her father and grandmother during that time. However, as you spend time with her, she will transition. The two of you will build a rapport.”
“I didn’t have to build a rapport with Jeffery. He knew from the moment he was born who his mommy is!” Miranda caught herself becoming excited again. She breathed deeply, slowed her speech. “He still knows me, my little man. He never forgot me.”
“Children are different. Even if you had been there, Charlotte may not behave the same as Jeffery.”
Tears began to flow down her cheeks, “Maybe he’d be talking by now… Maybe I screwed him up!” A well of tears was wringing every last drop of water out of her body. “I didn’t know how to be a mother! How could I… I’m just as fucked up as mine!”
Dr. Camile waited, but Miranda was finished speaking. “There are several different topics here to discuss. We have talked about your childhood in the past. You have not mentioned that Jeffery is not talking.”
“He isn’t. The pediatrician said he should have 50-100 words by now. He has five! Momma, Da, Guh, ball, and go.” For the first time, Miranda could not bring herself to look the therapist in the eye. She hung her head in shame. “I wasn’t there for him.”
“Well, it is not my field of expertise, but he is… how old now?”
“So the pediatrician is telling you averages, statistics; but not all children develop at the same rate. Einstein did not speak until he was four,” Dr. Camile leaned closer, “His mother and father are both intelligent people who went to college.”
At this, Miranda hissed a puff of white noise through her lips, “I didn’t graduate.”
“You were accepted to a good university. You earned credits. You have the option to return in the future. Not everyone can make that claim.”
The patient kept her eyes to the floor.
“Rather than judging yourself based upon the goals you are still working towards, let’s discuss the progress you’ve made. What are some things that make you proud?”
Miranda said the first thing that came into her mind, “I love my husband. He’s a good husband.”
“Victor is a good man. Before your coma, you came to this practice saying you were not confident in your marriage.”
“I thought he married me because he knocked me up.”
“Now… Since he’s been taking care of the kids without me… He’s changed. He grew up. He even looks older.” Miranda glanced down at her phone, admiring the old photograph of them on one of their first dates that she kept as her background. “Only three years ago…”
“A lot changes in three years. Imagine how much your children will grow in three more years. By then, Charlotte will not even remember a time when you were not around.”
Miranda let out a heavy determined sigh, “I wanna go get my kids.”
Finally, Dr. Camile consulted her watch, “Our hour is nearly finished.”
“Thank you. I need to go now,” She did not wait for formalities. Miranda grabbed her things and swiftly sped out the door, waving, “I’ll call you. Bye.”
Victor arrived home that evening with a large cardboard box. In the back yard he found Miranda laying on a blanket on the ground, little Charlotte cradled in her arms, sleeping. Jeffery sat nearby lining up train cars in the grass.
He felt something unfamiliar, something he had not felt in many months; a grin curling up his mouth, crows’ feet plunging in the corners of his eyes. Relief. He put the box down on the cement and spooned himself around Miranda, “Hello family. Anybody miss me?”
Miranda cooed, taking his hand in hers and placing it against her cheek. Jeffery tumbled over to the people pile and hugged his parents.
“Careful,” Miranda sheltered her baby from being squeezed too tight as Jeffery put his arms around the group. “What a good big brother, Jeffery.”
Victor kissed Miranda’s forehead.
“Are you hungry? I already fed the kids,” she stated.
He was surprised. This was a first. “Oh, no, I’m good. I grabbed something on the way,” he nearly apologized, anticipating Miranda’s disappointment.
“Okay,” she smiled, “I’m going to put this little sleeping beauty in her crib and get little man into a bath.”
He felt her leave his arms. “You need a hand?”
“Nah, I can manage,” she delicately scooped Charlotte into her arms, cocooning the child tightly against her chest. “Come on, Jeffery. We can play boats in the bath tub.”
As she passed the cardboard box, she caught a glimpse of its contents; a dozen old coffee mugs. “What’s this?”
Victor stood and gathered the blanket. “Mom had them, from when she was teaching.”
As she looked them over, Miranda saw they each had a picture of pencils or apples or chalkboards. Each marked “World’s Best Teacher” or “#1 Teacher”. “I guess a lot of students liked her.”
Victor touched the small of Miranda’s back. She felt her body tingle and relax all at the same time. “I stopped to talk to her. She was worried; the way you asked her to suddenly take the kids, then went and got them back so quickly… We talked and figured, if you need something to break once in a while…”
He saw tears stream down her cheeks but a smile on her face, “Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”