In Sickness and in Death - By Lisa Bork

For Adam and Chelsea

I heard the baby crying, soft whimpers punctuated by fearful wails. My feet slipped off the bed and hit the floor, carrying me across familiar ground even while my eyes remained closed, exhaustion hanging on my body like a shroud. I pushed open the door and crossed to the side of her crib. My arms reached out for her. They met empty air. I searched the mattress, my hands skittering from the center to each vacant corner. The sheets were cold. A cloud of dust tickled my nose. I sneezed. My eyes flew open.

The room stood bare, as it had for almost four months, waiting for the child who would never return. She lived with her birthmother now, only a bittersweet memory for us.

I heard Ray in the doorway behind me. “Are you all right?”

“I heard Noelle crying. She was afraid.”

Ray’s warm hands cupped my shoulders. He leaned close. “She’s happy and healthy. You’ve got to let her go.”

I stiffened. “I did.”

Ray released me. “Not really. You’ve had the dream twice this month already.”

I tried to ease the tension with a joke. “I’m making progress. That’s half as many times as last month.”

The rocking chair creaked as my husband lowered his six-foot-three, 220-pound frame into it. I turned toward him in time to see his hand rub his temple. “Darlin’, Noelle didn’t die. We took a chance on the adoption, and we lost out. We were lucky to have her as long as we did. But we have to move on.”

I slid down to the floor, too tired to support my weight. “I moved on.”

Ray buried his forehead in his hands, his dark hair falling forward and hiding his face. “Not true. When was the last time you went into the shop? Cory doesn’t even call here anymore to ask your opinion or your permission. He’s running the whole show alone.”

I shifted, trying to find a more comfortable position on the hardwood floor. “Maybe I should offer to sell out to him. Hawking used sports cars doesn’t help the world. I should find something to do that helps people.”

“First you have to help yourself.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Ray raised his head from his hands, his expression etched with concern and something I couldn’t quite name. “You don’t shower. You don’t get dressed. You don’t clean or grocery shop. We don’t have sex. You don’t even know your sister is making a fool of herself all over town. All you do is watch television or stare out the window. It’s not normal and it’s not healthy, Jolene.”

When Ray used my given name, for the most part he was pissed or feeling the urge. I bet on pissed this time.

I fingered my over-sized sleep shirt. It smelled of body odor, and the yellow stain on the area covering my belly button showed up even in the moonlit room. My scalp itched. My toenails were like daggers. I didn’t care. My baby was gone.

“Here’s the deal, Jolene. Tomorrow morning you are going to get out of bed, shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, and go to work, where you will remain at least half the day. Then you’re going to go to the grocery store. I made the list up already. And when I get home, you’re going to have dinner on the table. If you don’t, I’m calling Dr. Albert and asking him about treatment programs.”

“Ray!” Okay, so I’d been a little down lately. He was overreacting, wasn’t he? But the creases edging the corners of his brown eyes had deepened over the last few months, giving him the perpetual worried look of a bulldog. Was that my fault?

“I’m serious, Jolene. This shit has got to stop.” The rocking chair banged into the wall as he left the room.

Seconds later, our bedroom door slammed.

I stretched out, the floor cool against my flushed cheek.

Resentment simmered inside me. I didn’t like being told what to do. Normally I would go out of my way to do the exact opposite, but Ray meant business this time. Worse, he was right.

He wouldn’t be enrolling me in any mental health programs. No way. I’d spent too much time in the mental health community while my sister Erica received treatment for her bipolar disorder, suicidal tendencies, and a myriad of other things, including shooting a man four months ago. Not to mention I’d spent three days in the psychiatric wing at the age of twelve after finding my mother’s dead body in the family garage. I feared