The Book of Daniel by Louise Foster

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

close up of daffodils


It’s hard to know sometimes where a story begins. So instead I’ll start with the ending.

I have gone to the grave for fifteen years now. I unwrap a grocery-store bouquet and arrange it on the ground in front of the stone. I hold my palm on the stone, sometimes warm from the sun, sometimes cold and wet as the earth. Some years the daffodils are blooming. The grass is all grown in as though it has always been there.


The daffodils were blooming the day I came home. It was mid-April and suddenly, unseasonably hot. The rest of the woods were still shrugging off the frost and the winter damp, naked branches awkwardly exposed in the sunshine. The daffodils grew by the back door—my back door and not-mine all at the same time, like a stage set. Not-my back door. Not-my kitchen table. Not-my bed, in which at first I slept for nearly 24 hours, and then abandoned for weeks of sleepless nights. Not-my face in not-my bathroom mirror, pale and distracted. Not-my body, which in the shower that morning had a stoic flatness, and bled cruelly for weeks.


The day I recall in moments of bright clarity. Where’s the husband, where’s the husband, someone said. The uninvited minister stood at the foot of the bed, staring into the tent crafted around my bottom half. It is too late for the epidural, someone else said. The TV was on. Layers of voices: You need to push now. Hold my hand. Breathe. I see the head. Breathe. Push. Breathe. Push. Pushpushpush. Almost there, almost done. Breathe.

All the voices stopped at once. And then, just one, the only one that mattered: This child has no heartbeat.

The uninvited minister asked if there was a name, did the child have a name. I could not speak and a voice said Adam. In my head I was crying Daniel, Daniel, because that old Elton John song came on, not once but twice, on my way to the doctor’s office, and I sang and I cried Daniel you’re a star in the face of the sky but somewhere between the drugs and the grief and the exhaustion I could not sing or talk or even whisper.You should hold him, someone said. I held him, soundless.


There was a procedure the day before, to prepare my body to dilate once the labor came. They inserted dozens of tiny cotton cones—miniaturized tampons really—that would swell with the moisture from my body and push the aperture wider. One more, the nurse said. One more. We did not make small talk.


I do not recall making the decision, but I remember asking for more time. Easter was coming and I said maybe after the holiday, can I take until after the holiday? And all the doctors had the same look, stern and pitying, and said, the laws are very clear.

When it was decided, after weeks of wait and see and you hear stories all the time that doctors were wrong, I had to meet with a woman to complete paperwork for the state. She asked me the questions that would make me a statistic. Age. Marital status. Is this your first pregnancy. Do you understand the procedure. Did you make this decision of your own free will. Are you a victim of rape or incest. Lastly, have you considered adoption. I looked at her. I’m so sorry, that’s the question, I have to ask you the question—

No, I said.


I went to visit the priest. He was a kindly man, but confused by my story and my presence. I have never heard of such a thing, he said. Life is a gift from God.


I waited for the nurse to call after the test was run for the third time. The first two tests were identical. They involved piercing my abdomen, awake and unsedated, through the womb and into the child, to withdraw fluid from the kidneys. I felt the needle everywhere, felt it through to my spine, saw the frantic movement on the ultrasound guiding the doctor. A nurse held my hand and said scream if you want and I wanted to scream for so many, many reasons, but I did not. The nurse called. The results were confirmed. The nurse cried. Thank you, I said before hanging up, before I realized how strange that cordiality sounded.


It was a standard ultrasound, but conducted by a doctor as I was considered high-risk. We would learn the sex of the child. The father was jovial, unafraid to boast that he was hoping for a boy. Men who say they don’t care are lying, he said. I did not respond. It was winter and the exam room was cold. The doctor spoke in hushed tones as she pressed the device under my belly. It’s a boy, she said. There was no inflection in her voice. She coaxed the wand over me in different directions for a very long time. She called out body parts as she glided over them. Head. Feet. Heart. Bladder. Lastly,There’s something wrong with your baby.


For two days I had suffered with a pain in my lower back, a cross between a strained muscle and the beginning of a bad period. On the third day I called in sick to work, believing that a day in bed and a long, hot bath might help. It didn’t, and Tylenol didn’t either, and so before I called the doctor and they asked the routine question—is it possible that you’re pregnant—I bought a test kit, just to rule it out.

As I watched the lines in the window change from possible to probable to very, very definitely, I felt a coldness detach itself from the knot to the left of my spine and settle somewhere deep inside me, where our fears and our prophecies wait.


Louise Foster writes short fiction and nonfiction. She completed graduate work in writing at SUNY-Binghamton and resides in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

STORY IMAGE CREDIT:Flickr Creative Commons/Looseends

Share a Comment