January 1955

When she woke up and felt her belly instinctively, as she had done every morning for nine months, she knew something was wrong.  Then something felt sticky between her thighs, and she screamed in the dark of their bedroom.  It woke her husband from his typical deep slumber, but even before he reached over to pull the lamp cord on the bedside table, she could make out the bright red stain on their white down comforter in the blue moonlight.

The next time she woke she was in a hospital bed with a nurse hovering next to her bed, examining a clear bag of fluid running through an IV into her arm.

“Nurse, where’s my husband?”

******************

Eddie was at home, and at the moment Vicki woke up at St. Rita’s, was following a trail of her blood from their bedroom on the second floor down the back stairs.  He was walking slowly so as not to step in any of the drops, most of them so far only about the size of a pencil eraser.

As he walked, he couldn’t help remembering his conversation with the policeman, Detective Smith or Jones or something or other, two nights before, as they were loading Vicki into the ambulance.  He remembered the snow was falling around them in a strangely beautiful way.

“Mr. Cherry, can you tell me where the body is?”

“What?”

“I’m sorry sir, the baby?  I know this must be difficult for you right now, but-“

“The baby?  Well I don’t – you mean she’s not still…” he gestured somewhat helplessly toward his wife on the gurney.

The cop and the ambulance driver exchanged a raised eyebrow look that Eddie didn’t like at all.

“I’m very sorry, sir.  We’ll keep looking.”

And they had looked.  They searched all downstairs and the two upper floors of the house, and only found drops of blood upstairs and the ones down the back hall Eddie followed now.

When he got to the landing between the second floor and the kitchen, he almost stepped in the small puddle of blood, tacky now from sitting on the dark wood for two days and almost lost in the shadows in the dim hall light.  He pulled a flashlight out of his back pocket to examine it, and as the light traveled down the faded wallpaper – another item on his honey-do list – it picked up a dirty hand print on the wall.  Placing his own hand on top of it he found it was the size of Vicki’s hand.

In her hospital room that morning, he had asked her nurse for some soap and water and carefully worked a worn white wash cloth over her hands, which were strangely dirty.  Her fingernails in particular were almost caked in dirt, and most of her knuckles were scraped and raw.  The only time her hands ever got so dirty was in the summers when she weeded the garden after forgetting about it for a week or more.  She always liked feeling the dirt under her fingernails.  Right now the garden was buried under a good foot of snow.  Still, Vicki had found dirt somewhere to sink her nails into.

With his palm overlapping her palm print, Eddie leaned against the wall and looked up the back stairs, as he imagined his wife must have, stopping for a rest before returning to bed, leaving behind the ominous puddle no bigger than a half dollar.

“You stopped to rest,” he thought, trying to puzzle it out.  He closed his eyes for a moment, but all he kept seeing was their white bed sheets covered in blood.  They were still up there, most likely soaked through and ruining the mattress, but he wasn’t ready to take care of them just yet.

Eddie pushed himself off the wall and continued on his way down to the kitchen, where the flooring was black and white linoleum.  The trail of blood drops led him to the pantry door, but didn’t end there.  Once inside, Eddie pulled the string for the light and saw they disappeared under the braided rug that covered the door in the floor, the entrance to the old root cellar and the rest of the basement.  The rug, placed there to keep the draft out, typically lay completely covering the door, but that morning Eddie found it askew, with a corner of the door showing.

He pushed the rug aside and lifted up the door, its old hinges groaning at him.  A cool breeze emerged from the dark below, and crawled directly up his spine.  He didn’t want to go down.  He knew he had no choice, but he stood there, at the top of the stairs in the pantry, surrounded by canned vegetables and soups and cereal boxes, shining his flashlight into the depths below, wishing this was just part of a vivid dream he would soon wake up from and forget completely by the time he finished breakfast.  But there was nothing dream-like about the flickering lightbulb over his head, the cold draft wrapping itself around his legs, or the cans of new baby formula that would now go unused on the shelf in front of him.  He still didn’t want to go down.  But he knew he had to.  Because Vicki had fresh dirt under her nails on a snowy January morning, and their old basement had a dirt floor.

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