“Hide and Seek”

I knew I lost the baby when my jeans zipped up again.

“Shit,” I pressed the palms of my hands to my stomach where it should be, where it had been for the past eight months, but there was nothing but air and a loose cotton shirt stretched out, slightly, in the middle.

My husband turned over in bed, his face bright red and creased like a newborn’s. “I can’t fucking believe I lost it,” I said, trying not to wake him. It had been there for last night’s stuffed peppers and then ran a Rockette kickline all the way through Law and Order.

“Honey,” I said, finally shaking his slack shoulder. “I lost the baby.”

He burrowed more firmly to the pillow. “Again?” His voice full feathers.

“It must be around here somewhere,” I said. There was nothing in the sink or the shower. In the toilet, a floating cigarette stub proved Norm hadn’t quit the way he’d claimed. Mimi, hungry for breakfast, nipped at my ankles with teeth genetically predisposed for killing rats.

The baby wasn’t in the pants I’d worn yesterday, the ones with the stretchy cotton insert. It was strange to bend easily and look under the bed without banging into my own knees.

“Shit, shit,” I said. Mimi sat abruptly behind me, tail jigging a contained wag.

Not in the guest room, not in the den.

I remembered stories I’d been told as a child. Urban legends of kids playing hide and seek in back lots and climbing into old refrigerators that closed them in tight. They’d have a few hours of air and after that, God would reach down his Green Giant fist and snatch up their souls. The solution was removing the doors by their hinges.

In our fridge, the milk was almost gone. A pickle jar hosted a lone oblong occupant.

There were nursery rhymes I’d wanted to tell it. Jack and Jill. Jack and the Beanstalk. Jack Frost and his penchant for noses.

No babies in the coffee pot.

No babies in the drier.

No babies in the garbage can,

the oven or deep fryer.

Maybe it’s hiding, I thought, patting my sides, my breasts, my back. But I was empty. My center hollow and ringing and cold.

The first time I’d lost one, we went to the doctor, sure it was some mistake. The second time I’d blamed caffeinated coffee. The third time was supposed to be the charm.

Mimi yipped and tripped and nipped somewhere below my knees and followed me to the basement. The chest freezer was full of dead meat, so I stacked the plastic wrapped haunches and rump roasts and chops to one side and crept into the place where they’d been.

“Play dead,” I told Mimi, and she rolled over on the concrete, whining with her paws in the air. Then I closed the door into a frosty dark that smelled of rot and waited, wracked with cold, to be found.

–“Hide and Seek” originally appeared in New South

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About Katie Cortese

Katie Cortese lives in Lubbock, TX where she is an Assistant Professor in Fiction Writing at Texas Tech University. She writes fiction, poetry, and essays, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Sport Literate, Crab Orchard Review, The Tusculum Review, Gulf Coast, Nano Fiction, Main Street Rag, Willow Springs, Zone 3, Passages North, Carve Magazine, Cimarron Review, and elsewhere. Her stories have received first prize in River Styx’s Schlafly Beer Micro-Fiction Contest and third prize in Narrative Magazine‘s Spring Story Contest. She holds a PhD from Florida State university, an MFA from Arizona State University, and has earned scholarships to attend the New York State Summer Writers Institute and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. The former editor-in-chief of The Southeast Review, she now serves as the fiction editor for Iron Horse Literary Review. Her current projects include a short story collection, flash fiction collection, and a historical novel set in Boston’s Italian North End during the early twentieth century.