Alma Lemieux wakes each morning to memories of her daughter Cynthia. First she remembers the joy with which her husband Herbert greeted the news of her pregnancy, the first flutters in her abdomen, the ever waxing convexity, the pains of birth, how small the child was nested in her arms that first time, the challenge of the latch, and the satisfaction of feeding.
Images, sounds and sensations then flash at random from various stages of Cynthia’s growth and development: First words, first steps, the way she would read her books in a peculiarly adult voice, how her knees and elbows jutted into Alma whenever she changed beds after a bad dream. The first rays of day always catch Alma smiling at reminiscences of this sort.
Then, as she has every morning for the last thirty years, Alma remembers Cynthia’s death, from just the day before.
People disappear from Alma’s life. Herbert was the first. The first day that she woke bawling, Cynthia, oh, Cynthia!, he asked Who’s Cynthia?, told her There is no baby, but remained at her side, holding her, trying to explain, asking for explanations. He even stayed home from work and fixed dinner, acts which he believed showed great care.
On the second day, it was as if the first day had never happened. Cynthia had, once more, died the night before. Herbert tried to snap her out of it. After seven such cycles of remembrance and oblivion, he gave up, leaving Alma only slightly bruised.
As Alma has aged, Cynthia has grown. The causes of death mature as well: a neonatal infection, crib death, influenza, congenital heart defects, suicide, automobile accidents, bad men, drugs, cancer. Last night, Cynthia died in childbirth, and they could not save the baby. This morning, Alma Lemieux is mourning the death of her nameless granddaughter as well.
One of the last people to disappear was Father Lavalle at Peter and Paul. He spoke of how the Lord tries our souls as he had once tried Job, tests our faith and our will to goodness. He speculated that this might be some sort of penance. If Alma could remember Father Lavalle’s counsel, or if she could remember what she might have done or said to merit such unending torment, she might be able to reconcile herself to the prospect of one day meeting Cynthia sheltered under the wings of an angel.
But she remembers only this: Cynthia’s pride in her first paycheck, how beautiful she was on prom night, the fight they had the next morning and all the words she wishes she could retract. Whatever they inject into her in this hospital does not still the memories, nor the forgetting and reconstruction as she sleeps at night. It only keeps her catatonic, unable to scream.