Essays and poetry News Stories Student Productions

Student Production: “Our Son’s Burials”

My former wife and I are walking through the doors of the hospital. She is nine months pregnant and in labor. One room in our apartment is immaculately clean and ready to welcome our baby. In the middle of that room sits a crib with blocks, beads, and rattles on the floor around it. Baby clothes my wife has made are placed neatly on three chairs. Two boxes of diapers are in the corner.

Smoking one Camel after another, I’m in a small room next to the delivery room trying to concentrate on an article on the New York Knicks in Sports Illustrated. The doctor enters. I rise in anticipation. “Your son is dead,” he says. “My son is dead,” I think to myself. “He must take me for someone else. I have no son.” I can no longer see out of my glasses, and I almost knock him over as I run into the room to find my wife.

She is lying on the bed, rigid, with a face that expresses no emotion. Her dry eyes are open wide as she tells me in a calm voice: “I’m glad you can cry about it.” I stare at her, thinking I’ve married a woman of stone. Suddenly I realize that they have insulated her heart with drugs.

Like an apparition, the doctor appears at the door. “Come and look at your son,” he says. “I want you to see that he is perfectly formed.”
Despite my wife’s pleas, I insist that she stay in the hospital until the burial is over. The undertaker asks if I want a notification in the newspaper. In the middle of the page, I can see the birth announcements. Underneath the death notices. Right in-between, with flawless symmetry: “Boy born dead—but perfectly formed. No name. Age 0.” I buy a casket that looks like a large shoebox.

I’m at the graveside now. The priest is praying. My mind and heart are dry; my tongue is stuck to the roof of my mouth. I’m not sure that I want to, but I can’t get out the “Amen” that I think they are waiting for me to pronounce. I feel an enormous relief when they continue without me.

I bring my wife home. We talk about how we will have other children, how we will get over it. She asks me to go buy her a pack of cigarettes. I’m gone no more than 15 minutes. When I open the door, she is rooted there, motionless. “What is it?” I ask. Finally, she manages to get out in a hooded voice: “You’ve had your funeral; now, I’ll have mine.” Over the next three days, she put away every object in that impeccably prepared room, from which I was banished, that room that had been nine months in the making for the child we chose never to lay eyes on.

– Pat Henry