I was testifying at the hearing when I saw you sleeping.
Your meemaw beside you looked like an old tree, gnarled and bumpy from too many hard winters. The crocheted blanket that wrapped you round was two shades of pink: odd dye lots from the Dollar Salvage, and I knew just what she’d said as she bought them: “The baby won’t care if they don’t match.” And she was right. You don’t care.
The domed, painted ceiling above you is gold and blue. It looks calm and holy, the way the Sistine Chapel might look inside. Or maybe not. I’ve never been there. The only church I’ve seen is the one I was married in, and that one had a white drop ceiling. His mom picked it. It was near the Olive Garden. And even though we didn’t care about getting married I thank God every day she said what she said about custody and made us go. Thank you, Meemaw.
Because now my mama can’t take you, wherever they send me. My mama who wouldn’t quit that man, even after I told her what he did to me. She swore she was done with him, like she swore so many things, but then I came home and found him alone with you.
Things I always knew about you: that you will make it out of here alive. That you will be better than where you come from, better than all of us. Even if you’d looked like that man whose name I won’t say. I’d dream about that before, worrying I wouldn’t love you if you looked like him. It wouldn’t have mattered—I know that now—but you don’t. You’re caramel and curly. Nothing mean could ever look out of those wide brown eyes. When you dream, you dream a world where even the moon smiles down at you.
You wake, looking up at this gold-and-blue ceiling like it’s a skyful of stars, like you did that time at the carnival when I took you on the Ferris wheel, held close in my lap, and you weren’t scared at all. You looked up and waved your hands at the sky and my eyes blurred watching you, I loved you so hard, and you won’t remember that night, or me, most likely, but that was when I knew. I’d die to keep you safe. That night your face turned to rain.
Kathryn Kulpa is the author of Girls on Film, a winner of the Vella Chapbook Contest, published by Paper Nautilus. Her stories have appeared in Thrice Fiction, Reservoir, Monkeybicycle, and other journals. She leads writing workshops for teens and adults in Rhode Island and will be a visiting writer at Wheaton College in fall 2017.