I've spoken occasionally of the cool woman who lives down the street behind my house. We were pregnant at the same time, and she also had a toddler, although her son was a bit younger than Bella. I had gauzy daydreams of the two of us, sitting outside in the sun with our babies, watching the toddlers fall over the dog. The last time I spoke to her was a week after Maddy died; her family appeared at the back door to inquire about "the baby" and I simply said "she died" as I fell in her hugely-pregnant arms, sobbing. We finally disentangled, and I closed the door, and her family filed out my back gate.
I have since spoken to her husband, and Mr. ABF can speak with both of them, but I cannot speak with her. I cannot look at her. I can hardly stand to think of her. Because I know the child, her daughter is always with her. I knew exactly when her baby was born, because I noticed strangers walking her son around the block. I looked out the window in disbelief on the first warm day when I saw her out pushing a double stroller by my back fence. I cross the street if I see her coming because I cannot bear to see her daughter, the being who parallels my ghost.
My neighbor often walks down to the corner and back, cup of tea or baby in her hand, as her son meanders along examining the plants, sidewalk, weather, dogs. The baby is always in the stroller, on her hip, over her shoulder. Today I was in the yard with Bella and the dogs when I saw her out of my peripheral vision, slowly making her way down the walk with a toddler.
But it wasn't her son. It was a small, blond girl, holding her mother's hand, testing out her feet.
This girl is my bellwether, gauge, yardstick, my internal barometer of all things Maddy -- where she would be, if things went as planned, and where I am now in my missing. I averted my gaze, walked under my enormous magnolia tree, looked up at the fragrant pink blossoms, and sobbed.