Before the Sun Rose
She found our first home the day before I was born, meeting the realtor out front of an old victorian house, then following behind to a smaller unit, pink with green trim. The woman’s eyes gazed down at my mother’s stomach.
“A girl?” she asked.
The realtor nodded and looked toward the alleyway. In the distance, police sirens echoed off bricks.
“What would you think about getting a dog?” the realtor asked. “We don’t normally allow pets, but we could make an exception.”
“Dogs eat babies,” my mother said. And it was true, sometimes.
There wasn’t much to move in. My uncle drove over from San Pablo in the morning and helped my mother set up the crib in one corner of the bedroom.
“From Louise,” he said, laying a blue blanket over the crib mattress. “We have more, but she’s not ready . . .” His voice trailed off.
The stillborn. It was supposed to be Leon’s blanket.
At night, alone, my mother lay on a twin-sized mattress. The house was hot and the streetlamp lit up the bedroom window, casting shadows of bars across the floors. She pinned Leon’s blanket above the window. My blanket.
When her stomach began tightening, my mother turned on her side and cursed the name of the man who did this to her, or maybe a few names because she wasn’t ever sure. And somewhere between those screams, I emerged, purple and fat, screaming at her, relentlessly wanting milk, craving songs, needing that switch to click on when someone becomes a mother but it never did.
In the morning, the realtor returned and found a baby curled in a dog bowl on the front steps, howling. My mother was gone before the sun rose.
Denise is an Austrian-American writer, born in San Francisco, Ca. She received her BA in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University, where she was awarded the Frances Jaffer Poetry Prize in 2014. She currently lives in Vallejo, Ca, with her two young daughters and is a substitute teacher in low-income, urban high schools.