The Winter Issue of Midwestern Gothic is always a solid way to ring in the new year. Getting the issue out is a little more challenging with the holidays and all the other activities falling around the launch date, but always well worth it. It was great getting back into our usual fiction / poetry groove with this issue, after taking a full four months to read all Ceative nonfiction submissions. And that photo for the cover! As I sit here writing this with the temps at subzero outside, I have a new appreciation, not just for the folks who are stuck outside living or working, but also for wild animals who really have no defense other than the clothes on their backs.
This time around, my favorite in the issue wasn’t humorous or light-hearted, as was the case with the past few issues. Nope, this one was all about losing a baby, and finding a way to move on. The exploration of how a person deals with a devastating loss while the friends and family who support them continue to live their lives was pitch perfect in this story. One one hand, you’ve got a mother who lost a child, and on the other her friend who is about to have one. While understandably tragic for one, how does the one who has the child not be affected similarly by the tragedy? All the joy of sharing the pregnancy with her friend has been sucked out, and my guess is that she’ll never be able to look at her own child without thinking of her friend’s depression. Here’s a short excerpt:
Two months after she put Baby Boy in the ground, Janice received the invitation for Anne’s baby shower. The front cover was a picture of Noah’s ark with all the animals two by two poking their heads through various windows. Some of them stood on the deck. Inside, “It’s a Girl!” was handwritten in Anne’s mother’s cursive above the date, time, and location. In the blank after “RSVP,” Anne’s mother had added, “Just come if you can, dear. We’re all praying for you.”
Janice put the invitation on the refrigerator backwards so that all she saw was the logo of the card company, Biblical Greetings. When her husband Hal came home from work that night, he slammed the refrigerator door taking out two cans of root beer, and the card fluttered to the ground and slid beneath the oven.
Shortly after the funeral, Hal decided to become a Big Brother. He sprang the idea on Janice, and before she’s had time to consider what it meant, Joli, an eleven-year-old boy with a Haitian mother, arrived at their home carrying a baseball glove. Three nights a week, when Joli’s mother worked second shift as a cashier, Hal picked the boy up from school and watched him until her mother came at 8:30 p.m. Hal and Joli would spend the time playing, drink exactly one can of root beer each with whatever dinner Janice made, and even brush their teeth for a full and proper two-minute interval, their grins winking at each other in the wide downstairs bathroom mirror.
At first, Janice liked the idea of the good her husband could do, but as weeks passed, she realized that Hal’s big-brothering was less about Joli and more about filling a Baby-Boy-sized hole and, what’s more, about avoiding Janice’s existence whenever possible. When Joli wasn’t there, Hal ate dinner in front of the television to watch hockey. His family’s genes had killed their son. Sometimes she blamed him for that too, but mostly, she was angry at his distance. He never touched her now. Instead he stayed up late, and when there was no hockey, he watched Toledo’s local high school sports channel or Sports Network News. He watched bowling. He watched poker.
Buy a copy of Midwestern Gothic Issue 12 and for the rest of the story and many others inspired by the Midwest.