People once talked about the apocalypse as if it would have a tangible beginning. We remained unaware of its arrival for years, but now that we can look back it is easier to see the signs.
After I was born, my parents moved to a single story white house on Clyde Road. My sister Tina was born five years later. I visited her in the hospital with my father, but she never made it home and never saw the nursery my parents had prepared for her.
I was told that Tina had died from health problems, and discouraged from discussing her. My parents also said very little about her. My father devoted his first afternoon back home to clearing the baby furniture out of Tina’s bedroom. I watched through the kitchen window as he loaded the crib, dresser, and a whole box of baby clothes into the back of his pickup. When I asked where he was taking it, he told me gruffly that he was throwing it all away so that my mother wouldn’t be reminded of their loss.
Eventually, she did return home from the hospital and we resumed our normal lives. My parents never tried to have more children, although I learned later that they experienced an event in their lives which was becoming more and more common across the nation.
As the years passed, I said nothing about the loss of my baby sister. Whenever the subject of siblings came up, I would try my hardest not to mention Tina. Usually, it was easy, but sometimes on my sadder days I would have to catch myself or else I might say how much I missed the sister I never met. Or, how I wondered what it would be like to be somebody’s big brother.
My parents and I moved to a two story house several miles from Clyde Road. Dad said that the new scenery would help my mother to move on. I kind of understand what he meant. During the months following Tina’s death, I would pass by the empty room surprised to see my mother inside, crying. And, there were the mornings when she would leave me with my grandparents without an explanation. Finally evening would come, and my grandmother would need to call my father and ask him to pick me up. Mom would return later that night, never explaining where she had gone or what she had been doing. Sometimes, her return would spark an argument with my father. I never understood why he was always so angry. After all, it was only for one day, and at least I had been with my grandparents.
Late one night I was upstairs working on Geometry homework when there was a loud pounding on the back door. I peered out the window and saw my Uncle Frank’s pickup truck. Both Uncle Frank and Aunt Mary were standing outside of our garage. Frank leaned forward, as if trying to see through the access door’s window, then knocked on its frame again. My parents had been out for a couple of hours. Being twelve, they had trusted me to stay home on my own without getting into trouble.
I headed down the stairs, through the kitchen, and into our garage to let my Aunt and Uncle in.
“Shawn,” Frank said, sounding anxious. Mary stood next to him, one hand clasped around his shoulder, the other hand cradling her stomach. “Are your parents home?”
“No, but they should be back soon.” I said. I took a couple of steps back, and motioned to them. “Please, come in.” It was early February, and we were going through a cold snap. Neither of them looked as though they had dressed very warmly. Mary was shivering.
“We’re sorry to trouble you,” Frank said. “Mary started to have contractions later this afternoon, and we hoped to get some advice from your mother.”
I stared at Mary as I tried to process what I was hearing. I understood from health class and TV that contractions happened when a woman was about to have a baby, but I didn’t know that Mary and Frank were having a baby. “I’m sorry that they’re not here,” I said. “Maybe you should just go on to the hospital. When they come home, I’ll let my mom know and she can meet you there.”
“No, actually,” Frank said tensely. “We would prefer to wait for them here.”
“I don’t understand,” I began.
Mary suddenly let out a quick scream, and looked as if she was going to collapse onto the cement floor of the garage.
“It would be safer if we went inside, and found some place for her to lay down,” Frank said.
I couldn’t disagree.