Kaylee’s Ghost By Rochelle Jewel Shapiro
Miriam squirmed on the dusty carpet of the lying-in hospital in Baltimore, her bunched-up raincoat her pillow. Her only child, Cara, was in the labor room with her husband, Dan, having their first child, and Miriam was frankly going crazy. She had already walked her soles off in the four hours she’d been here, but her husband, Rory, was still pacing. His size fourteen shoes passed her line of vision every few moments. She should have been here three weeks ago. Cara was three weeks overdue. The doctor had urged Cara to let him induce labor, but she had refused. She wanted to be terribly modern, do everything naturally, even though Miriam thought modern was more like what her own grandmother would have done during the time of the tsar. Rory looked down at Miriam. He hadn’t slept either. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, but they didn’t look any clearer. She had lost count of how many cups of coffee he’d drunk. “Mim,” he said, “while you dozed off I checked upstairs. The couch there doesn’t have wooden arms separating every seat. You can lie across it instead of on the floor.” “I want to be close by,” Miriam said. “I want to be here for the first cry.”
“You’re always close by, Mim.” It was true. Nine months and three weeks ago, Miriam had bolted up in bed, an image rousting her from sleep. “Rory, I just saw a stork standing at the foot of Cara’s bed. She’s pregnant.” “Go to sleep,” he’d mumbled. “Every image doesn’t have to be a premonition,” and he pulled the covers back over his head. After that, Miriam was so giddy that it was hard for her not to immediately phone her daughter. She hadn’t wanted to let Cara know that she knew anything. Having a psychic as a mother was, as Cara had so often said, “a spoiler.” For weeks the image had come back, erupting when Miriam was doing the dishes or going to sleep, always the same, a stork looking quizzically at her as if to say, What are you waiting for? But Miriam knew her daughter, and she knew the pregnancy wasn’t hers to announce, but Cara’s. Six weeks later Cara had phoned to say, “Don’t you dare tell anyone this, not even Dad. I don’t want to get everyone worked up until I’m sure.” Cara had been married four years and had been focusing on her business designing hats that she manufactured to sell in boutiques around the world. It killed Miriam when people had begun to look at Cara’s stomach, and say, “Well, anything in there yet?” It reminded her of when, at sixteen, Cara had shot up to 5′10″ and people felt compelled to ask her, “How’s the weather up there?” “Oh, I shouldn’t dare tell anyone about what?” Miriam had said, forcing a yawn. “I just took a pregnancy test and passed with a plus sign.” Miriam couldn’t help the way her heart rocketed in her chest, the way her mouth
flew open. She had known Cara was pregnant all along, but sharing it was something different. A child! A child! Every time she heard it, it sounded like music. “Cara, I’m so excited,” she said. “I don’t want you to be excited until I know for sure.” Miriam didn’t want Cara to be anxious. Anxiety had a negative effect on a fetus. “Be sure, honey,” she blurted. “You knew!” Cara said, accusingly. Busted, Miriam thought, wrapping the phone cord around her wrist. “Yes, I knew.” “Well, please wait until I go to the doctor before you jump to any more conclusions,” Cara said, her voice tight. “Of course,” Miriam answered, and right away, like a future sonogram, she saw a pink bud in Cara’s womb. A little girl was on the way. A girl! She could take her shopping and to the park. She thought of her own bubbie, who had taught her to see spirits in mirrors and puddles, to sense the colors around people and what they meant. Bubbie had taught her how to look to the right to see the past and the left, the future. Oh, they’d had had the most wonderful times together. “I won’t say another word,” Miriam told Cara. Well, that had been a long time ago. Throughout Cara’s pregnancy, Miriam had known when Cara was going to have morning sickness, when she would stain and panic. Miriam had also known it wouldn’t be anything, but she kept her mouth shut, because the more silent she was, the more Cara opened up to her. Now Rory reached his hand down to Miriam. “Come on,” he said, wagging his
fingers. “Lying on the floor like that, you look homeless. I’ll get you as soon as I hear anything.” Miriam took his hand and let him pull her up. “Ow,” she said. One of her long red curls, now threaded with white, had managed to wind its way around a button of her raincoat. Rory unwound it and pulled her to her feet. Her knees creaked. She took her rumpled raincoat and went upstairs. There was the couch Rory had told her about, just waiting for her. She felt a pang for abandoning her clients, especially her weekly one, Kaylee, who Miriam could sense was filling up her voicemail with urgent messages to get right back to her, even though it was the middle of the night. But Miriam was too immersed in Cara’s labor and too exhausted to do one thing about it. She lay down on the couch, too antsy to fall asleep. The waiting room was clean, but she felt like vacuuming the carpet, dusting the end tables. Was she getting the nesting instinct? A volcano of sympathetic labor erupted in her lower back. She had had back labor with Cara. Before three weeks ago, when Cara should have given birth, Miriam had worried about whether her granddaughter would be psychic. Her own mother had worried about the same thing when she was born. Her mother hadn’t wanted a daughter who was a “babushka lady” from the Dark Ages like her father’s mother. When Miriam was pregnant with Cara, her mother had told her that Bubbie had predicted Miriam would be born with a caul. Miriam’s mother had been scared it was a disease. “A caul,” Bubbie had explained, “happens when the water sac doesn’t break and you see the baby’s head right through it.” “See, I was right,” Bubbie had said after Miriam was born. “My granddaughter
had the caul.” “Who knows?” Miriam’s mother had said. “I was happily knocked out with twilight sleep,” but Bubbie still maintained that her vision was accurate, and Miriam had believed her. Miriam had wondered whether Cara would be born with a caul as well, but her daughter, with her green eyes, took after Miriam’s mother’s side of the family, the side who had only used tea leaves to brew tea. When Cara became pregnant, Miriam obsessed over whether or not Cara’s baby would be born with the caul. She wanted it so badly, she couldn’t tell if what she was seeing—the thin veil over the baby’s face—was really there, or if she were wishing it so. A caul didn’t just mean that the baby had a gift; it was a connection, just as Miriam had been connected to her bubbie. Now, though, all Miriam could think about was whether something terrible could have happened as a result of her granddaughter being in the womb too long. Each week that Cara had gone back to the doctor, he had tried to talk her into inducing labor. He had even made her sign a form saying that he wasn’t responsible if she didn’t let him induce the baby, but Cara was stubborn. She had been so determined that she would go to Cornell that she hadn’t even applied elsewhere. And when she’d spotted Dan walking on the Triphammer Bridge over the falls on campus, saw his brawny build, blond hair, hazel eyes, the cleft in his chin, she’d said, “That’s the guy I’m going to marry.” Maybe Cara was psychic after all. Maybe she was the sort who only got information for herself instead of “sticking her nose into other people’s business,” which was how Miriam’s mother had described Miriam’s gift. Maybe some inner knowing had directed Cara to not listen to her doctor.
“The doctors and the undertakers are partners,” Bubbie used to say. Miriam wished she hadn’t thought of an undertaker. Her worry about whether or not her granddaughter would be psychic now seemed better than worrying that something had gone wrong with the baby or with Cara. Even if her granddaughter had Miriam’s pale blue eyes, it didn’t necessarily mean that she’d be psychic. But Miriam’s Aunt Chaia, who had been psychic, had had those same eyes, and her life had turned out so miserably that now Miriam spit three times to ward off bad luck. She got up from the couch and dug her palms into her low back, but the volcano of pain kept erupting, as if she were in the last stage of labor. Suddenly she heard a commotion and heard Rory call her name. She dashed downstairs without her raincoat. Nurses and doctors were running into the birthing room. She grabbed a nurse. “My daughter’s in there,” she said, her heart in her throat. “Cara Sachs. What’s happening?” But the nurse shrugged her off and hurried through the swinging doors. Miriam wanted to go in too, but she had street clothes on instead of scrubs, and worse, she’d been lying on the dirty carpet. “Mim, what’s going on in there?” Rory asked, mopping his brow with his hankie. “Did something happen to Cara? To the baby?” Rochelle Jewel Shapiro is the author of Miriam the Medium (Simon & Schuster, 2004) which was nominated for the Harold U. Ribelow Award and translated into Dutch and sold in Belgium, Holland and the U.K. She teaches writing at UCLA Extension and like her heroine, she is a phone psychic who lives in Great Neck, NY. She's had articles written about her in Redbook, The Jerusalem Post, the NY Times, TV Gid (A Dutch magazine), and her own essays about her psychic experiences appeared in The New York Times (Lives) and Newsweek (My Turn). Learn more at http://rochellejewelshapiro.com/.