More Than My Everything
By: Leyuan Zhou
Brie wakes up from her nap with a jolt.
Pushing off the suffocating covers, all she can think about is the stickiness of the sweat on her back and another one of her now regular nightmares. Her head spins, and her eyes struggle to focus as she tries to recall the subject of her terrors. Nope. Forgot it again. But she thought she had heard the faint sound of an infant’s wailing in the background. It stops and all is silent.
Brie shudders and snaps herself back into reality. With a glance at her phone, her heart drops– she has missed her alarm.
Her eyes avert to the bedroom window, expecting to see the warm afternoon light pierce through the windowsill. But when Brie turns around, a thick, white blanket covers the transparent glass. The wind howls wildly outside, hurling snowflakes at her bedroom with such force that her window pounds violently, almost shattering into a million pieces. She completely forgot about her mother’s call earlier, warning her about the impending blizzard in her area. It is now 7:36 PM, and she was supposed to make an errand to the supermarket at 6:00 to shop for the essentials. Dammit.
Hastily, Brie jumps out of bed and rushes to the pantry. She doesn’t cook very often, but there is still a chance of finding some emergency food supply, she thinks. With a wisp of hope, she opens the door with anticipation, only to scan the entire pantry and find… nothing. Well, technically, there’s still half of a package of stale Cup Noodles, but that barely counts. A feeling of vague helplessness creeps upon her as she realizes that it would require venturing out into the menacing blizzard to survive the night.
Brie pulls out the first set of clothes she sees and creates a mismatched outfit from the top of her messy clothes pile, consisting of a tattered grey t-shirt and joggers. Her phone buzzes.
URGENT - WINTER WEATHER MESSAGE
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NEW YORK NY
356 PM EST WED JAN 1 2014
...A COASTAL STORM WILL BRING THE POTENTIAL FOR HEAVY SNOW...STRONG
WINDS AND DANGEROUSLY COLD WIND CHILLS THURSDAY EVENING THROUGH
PLEASE SEEK SHELTER IMMEDIATELY
For a fleeting moment, she hesitates. Would I die if I left? But she quickly dismisses the thought, giving no heed to the possible problems, and grabs her car keys as she steps out the door. Once outside, the bitter cold penetrates her jacket and pokes her with its icy fingers. The snow tantalizes her– licking her all over the face and seemingly sneaking under her clothes– eventually spreading into her entire body, sucking the heat out her bones. With chattering teeth, Brie pulls her jacket around her even tighter and sprints to her white Toyota Camry. She kickstarts the engine and drives off into the distance.
Half an hour later, Brie arrives at Whole Foods, her favorite supermarket. Actually, she used to work there as a cashier. Whole Foods was the only perpetual friend she had throughout her life, helping her get out of addiction, joblesses, and a toxic marriage. She heaves a sigh of relief, knowing that the first half of her journey was a success. Now, she just needs to go into the supermarket, buy her food, and go home. Easy.
With her jubilant mood, a blizzard wasn’t enough to stop Brie from prancing into the supermarket, picking out the freshest canned beef, canned beans and canned chicken noodle soup, as well as an extra 12-pack of cup noodles (just in case). Happy for her own efficiency, she seems to forget about the vicious snowstorm occurring just outside the safety of the supermarket.
Brie skips to the cash register, a place she knows like the back of her hand, and flippantly lays her items on the register without even glancing up. She expects to hear the beeping noise of the scanner as she fumbles through her wallet for her credit card, but when nothing sounds, Brie looks up.
She realizes that there was no cashier at the register. In fact, there were no cashiers at all. All of a sudden, her breaths become quick and uneasy, and she frantically begins scanning the supermarket to look for any signs of human life. Nothing. No one else is in the supermarket.
Brie realizes that she had been the only person to casually walk in the supermarket, nonchalantly pick cans off from the shelves, and pretend as if it were a normal day. Her mind wanders, and she stares bewilderedly at the cans laid neatly on the counter, waiting to be scanned. Should I take my food and leave without paying? No, that was considered stealing. Mother taught me to never steal. In the end, Brie decides to bag the food herself and leave a 50 dollar bill on the cash register, just as a symbol of her courtesy.
She leaves in a tempestuous state, anxious to get home and relax in the heaven of her cozy sectional sofa that was once owned by her husband. Sometimes, she can still smell the vague remnants of him, the man she gave up most of her life for, but who ended up ruining what was left of it. I was so foolish. Nevertheless, the pungent smell of cheap whisky and strong cigars lingers.
Brie pushes open the exit door in a rush, expecting to speedily run to her car and load the two paper bags filled with groceries into the back seat, which had always been empty. The blizzard still doesn’t abide, but she feels optimistic about arriving home in one piece.
Suddenly, Brie sees a small wooden box blocking the pathway. She inches closer, assuming the contents to be a poor litter of puppies snuggled together. Instead, there in front of her, with his eyes closed in a peaceful sleep, is the most beautiful baby Brie has ever seen.
Brie’s eyes blur, and she can feel the corners of her mouth break into a smile as she slowly picks up the fragile baby from the box. He wakes up and giggles as Brie gently cradles him in her arms. His eyes are blue– not just any kind of blue, but a transparent, crystalline, Nordic blue that seems to see through Brie’s head and read her bustling thoughts. Brie becomes distracted as the wrinkly skin on his hand, covering the chubby fat underneath, firmly grasps her index finger, refusing to let go. His flimsy hair, a mass of blonde curls awkwardly positioned above his forehead, sways with the wind but seems perfectly groomed despite the harsh weather. “Mama…” the boy blurts. He couldn’t have been older than a year or so. Brie stares at him in amazement and feels her chest tighten. A lump begins to form in her throat, and her words get stuck in it.
Where are his parents? Brie digs under the blanket of the wooden box and finds a paper note, soaked in water from the storm.
“To whomever it may concern:
This is my baby boy; his name is Matthew. Though it is a painful decision, I have decided that I am unable to take care of him and give him the childhood he deserves. I hope you will have the empathy to accept him into your home and raise him with as much love as you can.”
Despite her brain saying NO, Brie carries the baby, still swaddled in her blanket, to her car. A tear rolls down her cheek as she imagines her own future, brightened up by a baby boy, and the boy’s future with a mother who can take care of him. The child lost his parents. I’m his only hope.
Brie puts the baby back into the wooden box and places him in the backseat of her Camry. She wraps her jacket around him for warmth and carefully fastens the seat belt over the box, making sure it is clasped properly. Matthew smiles as he joyfully waves his hands in front of him, showing two front teeth already growing on his top gums. Her heart picks up its pace as she makes a silent promise to love her new child, Matthew, forever. She leans forward and plants a gentle kiss on his fragile forehead. What happens after, she cannot explain.
With a flash in front of her eyes, everything disappears. Brie feels lightheaded; a wave of nausea hits her like a high-speed bullet. All of a sudden, her feet lift off the ground and she is unconscious. An unknown force squeezes her through her own memory, suffocating her until she feels like she is about to die, but is still holding on to a thin thread of life.
Brie opens her eyes. She sees the nurses clustered a few feet away, but they don’t know she is awake. She can’t make out the subject of their quiet murmuring because her mind is dazed by the surging pain in her stomach. The cold metal touching her back tells her that she is on an operating table, but she doesn’t know why.
Brie gasps as another surge of pain hits her, ripping through her stomach like a wild animal. She wants to leap off the table and run. Where to, she doesn’t know yet, but she would rather be anywhere but here. She tries to lift her arms and call for help, but they don’t move. Her body is fastened to the table. Trapped.
A man who looks like the doctor approaches her, checking his metallic instruments by clicking them back and forth. He looks down at Brie and inspects her taut stomach.
“The baby won’t survive, but we have to save her,” he commands. There is a certain urgency to his voice that scares Brie. There is something wrong with me.
The nurses tell her to breathe deeply as they shove an oxygen mask on her face. She has no choice but to do as they say; she knows she would die otherwise. The air she inhales isn’t oxygen– it smells chemical, but she soon forgets about it when it enters her lungs, relieving her of her pain, of her thoughts, of her presence. She doesn’t feel the sharpness of the blade carving into her stomach or the doctor tugging her baby out of her body. She only hears a pained wheezing sound as her newborn struggles to breathe. Then, almost abruptly, it stops.
Brie stands at her open car door next to the passenger seat, where Matthew is still staring at her with bright eyes, confused. She sees a few wet drops staining the leather seat and hastily wipes them dry with a tissue. The remnants of that memory quickly bring the emotions back, allowing more tears to roll down her still-wet cheeks. Don’t ever leave me, Matthew. Tear-streaked, she looks down at her child and smiles, hoping that he can understand.