Web Site: Lynn Hones
The Agony of Mei Lei
By Lynn Hones
The baby lay still in Mei Lei’s intense grip as she looked into the cracked mirror leaning against the bare cement wall of the small bedroom. Her equally intense reflection stared back at her, in an almost frightening, hypnotic concentration. The mist gathered in the small valley, softening the sounds of the water buffalo rising to begin their day as backbreaking beasts of burden. Chills raked over her body, and she straightened one leg out from her crouched position on the dank, concrete floor. Pins and needles inflicted their slight pricks in her foot and she wiggled her toes to soften the discomfort. The familiar blue and green striped blanket draped around her shaking shoulders brought little relief to her shock riddled body.
“Mei Lei, come…come back to bed.” Startled that he spoke, she took her husband’s slow, steady breathing to be a signal of deep sleep and had missed the sharper, shorter breaths of wakefulness come from him.
Mindful of the fragile infant, she stood slowly and sat on the edge of their bed. Through the subtle light of dawn that crept in through the tiny hole that was their window, she saw pain radiating out of his weary eyes. But not only pain spread out from those two pools of brown that she loved so; she saw the powerful adoration he had for her, and it warmed her frozen heart, if only for a brief moment.
She laid next to her husband, putting the bundle between them as great, hot tears rolled down her face into the folds of the soft pillow strewn with her black hair. She had stared at her own face extensively in the mirror and then down at the baby. She memorized the heart shape of her infant’s sweet lips, the contour of her nose, so much like her husbands, and her dear, barely there eyebrows. She hoped to convey her essence into the infant, but she was no longer part of her. It didn’t share her spirit anymore. It had its own spirit now, and that infinitesimal spirit would impart its own mark upon the world without the help and guidance of its life-giving family.
They both reached out and lay a hand on the sleeping infant, and it stirred. Mei Lei opened her nightshirt and placed the baby’s warm, precious mouth over her cold nipple. Just as when the child rest within her, she felt one with this little being at this time. But, when the baby lay inside her womb, she didn’t know the sex of their offspring and could hold a scant amount of hope.
Her husband reached his hand over and stroked Mei Lei’s, soft face. Eyes, dark with grief, starred into hers, and they carried on a complete conversation without uttering a single word. Pulling up and resting on his elbow, he reached over to his wife and gave her a long, passionate kiss. They parted and he smiled wretchedly her way, before looking down at his daughter.
They created this living, breathing creature, and now they would have to let it go. It was as if they were giving away a part of themselves to an unknown, frightening future. Mei Lei could not smile back. She allowed deep shame to consume her. She had failed her husband and his family no matter how many times her husband told her it wasn’t so. Now, no hope remained. The baby must go.
The suburbs were abuzz with the sights and sounds of family life. Lawnmowers in the distance droned on endlessly and leaf blowers whined as they propelled unwanted grass clippings off of the new concrete driveways that had only last week been swept of their bothersome, unwanted grass clippings.
The sun cast an orange glow as she sat quietly watching the cubes in her iced tea melt as slowly away as her dreams. The new patio furniture felt nice to sit in, but was unfamiliar and she worked to claim it as her own. The smell of the factory remained on it, but soon it would feel homey, hers.
The cramps eased up slightly after taking two painkillers, but they did nothing to ease the sorrow and grief lying heavily upon her heart. After spending most of the day in bed, she lolled on the patio taking a respite from her daylong deluge of tears.
Where was the justice? She knew she wasn’t the only person in the world feeling empty and shoved into the heap of unanswered prayers, but she felt she was. Unrequited pleas that consumed and blackened her spirit, left her weak and drained.
Adopt, everyone told them. There are so many unwanted babies in the world. In China they only want boys. If it’s a girl, they just throw them down somewhere. They don’t even care. Perhaps it’s time to consider it, she thought.
She heard her husband coming into the house from work, his own disappointment held in check, knowing she already deemed herself a failure and his regret only fueled the fires of her agony. They would try no more. Too much time, money and emotion was the cost of their efforts to have a child and it took a toll on their marriage. A baby was not to be for them. Children’s voices laughed and squealed in the pool next door as her husband stepped out back and sat on the chaise lounge with her.
“Feeling any better?” he asked leaning over and kissing her on the cheek.
“Yeah, a little bit. Kinda nauseous. Did you bring dinner? The Stephenson’s grill is going and making me salivate. Food might help if I can get it down.” She smiled wanly.
They watched the neighbors put hamburgers over the coals, and she looked away painfully and let a lone stinging tear fall.
He loosened his tie. “Yep, Chinese, your favorite.”
“Funny,” she said, wiping at her eyes, “for some reason China’s been on my mind all day. Weird, huh?”
“You were probably just hoping I’d get some for dinner.” He went to get up, but turned toward her. “I love you Mary Leigh. I always have, I always will. God has His plans.”
“I know,” she said quietly. “It’s just so hard trying to figure them out.”
He placed a kiss on her lips, and the passion between the two brought their love into the surrounding air. It radiated around them and spread out into the world, into the universe, their incredible hopes, their inconceivable wants and needs.
Mei Lei’s husband rose and went into the kitchen where his mother worked on the morning meal. Sharp clangs of metal pots against the metal oven worked hard on Mei Lei’s ears, but she heard her mother-in-law clear her throat.
“This is what happens when you let them keep the baby too long,” she said to her son. “It is better the other way. Before the attachment gets too great. It only makes it harder when you give in to their tears.”
She heard her father-in-law’s deep voice next. “It is how things have to be. It would have been better for her not to have held the child at all.”
Her husband sniffed and spoke with a broken voice. “This day it will all be over,” He tried to sound strong, but failed. “The policy of one child per couple is meant to help our country, but is it worth such pain?” he added softly.
“You will try again,” his mother said. “You will have a son to care for you in old age, just as we have. I feel it to be true . When this baby grows, she would only leave you to care for her husband’s family. Where will that leave you?”
No more words came from the small kitchen and the baby’s sucking lulled her into a trance-like state. She slept until the time came to start the day.
The trip into the city seemed never-ending and each bump and creak of the engine caused Mei Lei’s stomach to turn. Far too many people sat on the hot, stuffy bus and gave rise to a pulsating, deep rhythm of immeasurable pain in her temples. Her chest hurt, the pain so great she wondered if she would die right there. Asleep peacefully in her arms, she could barely feel the weight of the tiny, precious package she held.
She had prayed to Buddha every minute of the pregnancy to make the child a boy. She lit incense, she begged, pleaded…
A man with two cages containing loud, cackling chickens boarded and sat next to her. Her husband moved closer and put his arm around her tender, frail shoulder and her head went down into the crook of his neck.
“No, no, no,” she said softly. The words spewed out in a tormented tone of voice, a voice sick with grief.
He didn’t speak, but simply squeezed her closer.
She had but one say in the situation and that was where to put the child. They would lay her in front of a temple.
Later, and in great haste, they wandered through the crawling streets looking for just such a place. If caught abandoning the baby they would be jailed and fined, they had to be careful.
The temple loomed large in front of them and they stopped.
He looked deep into Mei Lei’s deep, brown eyes and she saw the tears falling out of his. She kissed the top of the baby’s head, breathing in the smell of her fragrant, black hair before she handed her over to him. Her husband lowered his face next to the baby’s ear and whispered something only the baby and he shared.
The street, teemed with people, he looked right and then left. Slowly, he put the baby down, stood quickly, grabbed Mei Lei’s tender hand and they blended into the crowd. The baby lay sucking her fist, her beautiful, almond eyes staring out into a world of unknown possibilities and promise.
My short stories
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