The baby’s head fit in her palm like an apple. It cooed and spat. Catherine understood now why her mother had likened her own newborn head to Cezanne's post-impressionist apples. It made her hostile thinking of all the forced childhood museum trips, thinking she couldn’t be happy for just this moment, the one that was supposed to be the happiest of all moments, because she couldn’t stop thinking about those paintings. She couldn’t care less about the apples scattered about, in bowls, next to oranges, cradled in tablecloth — all those still lifes — and the baby, as if she could see them too, began to cry.
Baby Sasha was the youngest in a long line of apples. Catherine’s whole family was full of these shining faces. There were portraits and portraits of them, all smiles and cheekbones.
“She has red hair,” her husband, Bryden, noted, as the baby cried over him. This was a surprise to both parents: Bryden, blonde; and Catherine, brunette; but there were cousins on Bryden’s side that could explain the recessive trait.
“Our little apple.” The painkillers were speaking for Catherine. “Do you think all that red hair will stay with her?”
For Catherine, having Sasha brought a flood of recognition: what it must have been for her mother to hold her as a baby, and now, even though she had known it for years, it was undeniable that she had once been a twin. She didn’t tell this to Bryden, because she couldn’t explain it, but her body could remember.
Throughout the pregnancy, people would touch Catherine’s rounded belly without asking. They would smile so hard that their eyes seemed to bulge with their teeth. She had a hard time matching the aggression of their enthusiasm.
Bryden’s closest friend, Pat, was the only the one who didn’t look at them with anticipation. Everything with him was the same. He would visit their place for dinner and bring beers. He didn’t ask how they intended to set up a nursery, or whether they would be moving into a bigger place someday and having more kids. Pat was a goof. Catherine thought he looked like Archie, from the comics she grew up with, with all that wild red hair. He was the only one who didn’t beg for them to be any different, any more together than they had been before.
At the doctor, Catherine made sure that she was only having one baby. Twins ran in her family. “One girl,” the doctor would reassure her, but she still found herself holding sonograms to the light for clues of something that might appear or leave her.
After her morning sickness passed, Catherine would wake up in the middle of the night feeling like a shark was ripping her insides. When she asked her mother, Denise, what plagued her pregnancy, Denise pinched her wine glass and said: “Dandruff. The worst dandruff of my life.”
Catherine scratched her scalp in anticipation. She wanted to ask her mother what it was like to see her baby — Catherine’s twin — disappear from the sonograms back when it happened, but even during Catherine’s own pregnancy, the timing didn’t feel right.
Pat was the first to visit them at home after Sasha was born. Catherine stayed seated on the rocking chair, the only place their newborn wouldn’t cry, and tried to stay awake. Something had changed in the way Bryden interacted with Pat. He kept short sentences short. He made excuses to leave the room.
“Little red,” Pat mused, as Catherine offered Sasha into his arms. “She’s such a beauty.” He smiled at Catherine and then to Bryden, who returned an arbitrary smile and let his eyes turn to the corner of the room.
Catherine could see all the muscles in Bryden’s body pulling up as he retreated into his mind, like a bomb trying not to explode. Catherine looked up at Pat, redheaded Pat, with all that hair, holding Sasha, and could see where her husband’s mind had gone.
Bryden stopped inviting Pat over and Catherine felt strange inviting him over herself. She had Pat’s phone number primarily to contact Bryden, and that was the extent of their friendship. She was offended, honestly, that Bryden could even imagine she would have a secret affair with Pat, who the two of them adored, but was stubborn and too absorbed in himself to ask whether or not to bring over booze, or care enough to ask about their plans in the next few years — whether they wanted to have another kid, or someday buy a home.
They went weeks without seeing Pat, the longest they had been without him since they all met in college, and she could see Bryden getting better. He started sleeping close to her again. He started making clown faces for Sasha and smiling when she would laugh along. Catherine felt like this could be the time to bring it up — the way Bryden had looked at Pat — but worried it would be like opening a fresh cut to the air too soon.
In all truth, after seeing the empty look Bryden had for their daughter, Catherine didn’t want to leave Sasha alone with him. The look made Catherine think he was capable of doing anything without feeling. On his good days, she would occasionally leave them alone in a room together, and eventually, she felt maybe the problem was her — her own silly anxieties — and left the two alone while she went to pick up groceries for the week. The whole time at the supermarket she felt like she was walking up high on the edge of her worst thoughts and forgot the peanut butter she went out buy in the first place.
All the windows were dark when she brought the groceries home. She called Bryden’s name and flicked the lights on, hoisting the food-filled bags up onto their kitchen counter. There was red hair all over floor. She could see it now with the light. The grief swallowed her and she tried telling herself it wasn’t definite — it couldn’t be until she saw Sasha — but she was losing control over her breath and tears and what-ifs. She found herself in the nursery, which was lit only by the yellow streetlights outside, and there was Bryden holding Sasha — living, cooing Sasha — who was blowing wondrously big bubbles with her saliva.
“You shaved her head,” Catherine said, trying to get closer to take Sasha out of his arms.
“Catie, I know she isn’t mine.”
“She’s ours, Bryden”
“She isn’t mine with all that red hair.”
She felt like screaming loud enough about Bryden’s red headed cousins that all the neighbors could hear. How loud would she have to shout to convince him of the science behind recessive traits? She stopped herself, knowing it was the worst possible thing to add to the situation.
“You aren’t making any sense.” She approached Bryden, who backed toward the window.
“I don’t buy this thing you’re putting on.” He broke eye contact with Catherine and Sasha’s bubble making boiled into a cry, the kind of crying that wasn’t going to stop for a long while.
“Bryden, will you please let me hold her?” she could imagine all of Sasha’s warmth in her arms as the baby’s cries filled the space. “I can share my secret, but you’ve got to let me hold her.”
Catherine could feel the cool, yellow breeze coming from the window and hear sirens from one of the local fire engines burning outside. Bryden put Sasha in her arms. Their little apple. Their poor girl. Catherine felt there was no need to flick a light. Her mind was busy imagining all of the ways she could escape the house, down the stairs and away from this threat she couldn’t have imagined while holding sonograms to the light.
“I was supposed to be a twin.” Catherine admitted. She recited the secret as if it was someone else’s. “Nobody told me. I found it in one of my mom’s journals when I was eight: ‘We’re having twin girls!’” Bryden was quiet. Catherine felt he wasn’t listening. His mind was still on Pat and this strange possibility that the baby belonged to his friend.
“My mom doesn’t talk about it.” Catherine stared at Bryden for eye contact. “And I didn’t think about it much before Sasha, but now I think about it all the time. I used to go crazy worrying that another child would suddenly appear in me.” Catherine laughed, looking for Bryden to join her. It was funny admitting the fear out loud.
“That’s ridiculous.” Bryden finally spoke, annoyed that Catherine had moved their talk away from Sasha’s red hair, from Pat, and the mess in the kitchen.
“You’re not hearing me,” Catherine took her time and finally met Bryden’s eyes. “I’m telling you I know what it’s like to worry about things that don’t make sense.”