"The Other Mother"
Finally, hours after Amanda was due back, there was a scrabbling sound at the door. I got up, then sat back down on the couch. Malena had fussed herself back to a temporary sliver of sleep.
Amanda flurried into the kitchen. She sighed even as she opened the door. She dumped a briefcase and a coat on the kitchen floor. Her face was etched with worry, and with something else. "I can't do this, I can't leave her," she said.
Just as I was thinking, "I can't do this, I can't keep taking her." But I didn't say it. Amanda was crying. I'd never seen her cry, even on the night her house was crushed, even the first morning away from her baby, even with relief on the nights she came late to pick her up. But she'd never been this late.
"Why are you so late?" I asked, more snappish than I'd intended.
"God, Thea," she said. She sat beside me and reached for Malena, unbuttoning her blouse. "There was a train accident. I tried to call, but there was no reception and then my battery died.
It was stupid, and I didn't know what to do. Someone was hit by the train. Someone was so sad he jumped in front of the train. And the brake screamed and there was this thunk, even way back in my car. We killed him.
I don't really want to think about it, but I still looked really quickly, when they finally let us onto the platform to walk to the shuttles. I won't tell you what it looked like." She gasped, sobbed a little more.
"We had to wait for hours, and I was late to start with, and then the bus got caught in traffic in Lyndhurst. It was so awful, his arm - I can't talk about this."
Malena had latched on, and Amanda's face softened with the relief and pleasure of nursing. In her cream-colored suit with her blouse unbuttoned, she leaned to the side while she nursed, slumping toward me, then resting against me.
It didn't feel wrong. I wasn't angry with her anymore. I was trying to be nicer, to like her more. That had been my first instinct, to like Amanda. She was certainly heavier than a child, but as temporarily wretched as a 2-year-old who's fallen off the bigger kids' slide at the playground. I let her lean. I could smell her milk, sweet and grassy.
"I can't leave her. It isn't worth it," she said again, turning her face to me. There was a ghost of plum-colored lipstick on her lips. I'd never noticed how soft her mouth looked, how the top lip peaked in a perfect bow.
"It's okay, sweetheart," I said forgetting for a second that she wasn't one of mine.
Invite Gwendolen to meet with your book club over the phone.