It's hard to know exactly where the seed for a work of fiction originates. In 2007 I started writing The Sunshine When She's Gone, my first novel, about a father who absconds with his infant daughter for a long weekend, leaving his wife alone. In 2005, I was in fact a new mother, dreamy, sleep-deprived but also acutely aware of the sharp new changes in my life. The profundity of my newest relationship to an 8-pound, bald person I had just met, trumped all. Although in love, I was dimly aware that I was in love with my captor.
Esme kept me inside nursing most of the time. My passion and simultaneous sense of confinement were growing acute. When she was 3 months old we took our first family trip to London to visit my best friend who had also recently given birth. Flying over massive clouds while cuddling the baby and drinking ginger ale next to my husband I felt (quite literally) high and best of all, no longer isolated in my new heated affair.
That first day my husband "relieved" me and took off with the baby for a walk in the drizzle. I jumped up as if to stop him but I didn't. It felt too good to simply stand up, unencumbered. "You guys can bond, have tea," he said as he strapped Esme onto his chest and disappeared into the fog.
"Lucky you," my friend said and subsequently confessed that her husband did next to nothing to help her out. At first I felt light, buoyant and spent a while helping her make perfect Earl Gray, then sipping it with languor. I watched with slight envy while my friend burped her child and jiggled him to sleep on her shoulder. When she napped, I wandered the house, snooping here and there. I took a bath and then began to fret in earnest. They had been gone one hour. The sky began to darken to an ominous charcoal. A loud clap of thunder startled me as I stood by the window. I applied oil to my cuticles and slowly ate a banana. Then I returned to the window to fret. Large sheets of rain soaked the lane and the rows of identical creamy-white houses across the street. I was suddenly very disoriented without them, very alien in fact without her. They were wet and cold. They had to come back so I could warm her up!
When they did arrive after nearly three hours, my bra was beginning to drench with breast milk. Tears -- of rage and relief -- sprung to my eyes as they walked up the stoop and I saw her tiny pink ankle emerging from the bottom of his thin blazer. The rain had kept them, he explained and they'd stopped in a pub. A pub? I could barely speak -- the way he had made me worry, the vast gulf of fear that had consumed me. I took her into my arms and settled into a chair to feed her. "I'm sorry," he said, breathing into my hair. He was out of breath from running home.
"Look," I said showing him the wet spot on my shirt. I was leaking all over.
"It's OK, she's fine," he said and he went to change his clothes for, he too, was soaked. I settled into the chair and my dampness, her mouth tightening around me. I had crossed the Atlantic but I knew I wasn't going anywhere.