My mother’s little treasure lay hidden in a blue, faux leather jewelry box, just large enough to have once held a ring or, perhaps, a pair of earrings. I found it nestled in a corner of her dresser drawer, peeled away its tissue paper swaddling, and exposed the desiccated vestige of my own umbilical cord.
After my mother’s funeral, my father slumped in our living room, removed his hearing aids, and stared at family and friends. While an aunt brewed coffee in the kitchen, I brought in canapés on platters, and then excused myself. A murmur of condoling voices rode whiffs of smoky java, and followed me upstairs, into the sultry stillness of my mother’s bedroom. I shut the door, drew back the curtains and unlatched the windows, and let light and air stream in.
Once, she’d cupped her hand around the withered stub, and let me prod it with my finger, and I’d gazed in childish wonderment as she explained the knob had fallen from my navel, like the velvet-covered button from my Sunday coat. A Rowntree’s Black Magic carton, emptied of assorted chocolates, hid other keepsakes: a cloth and paper bracelet with our surname penned on it in ink; a silky tapered curl, wrapped and tied with narrow satin ribbon, snipped before my hair turned dark; a picture of a laughing infant, saved from a magazine, the angel-girl she’d prayed for when I was growing in her belly—each an embodiment of a wish come true.
My father would not have been allowed to witness my nativity. If he’d attempted to invade the inner sanctum of obstetrics during his wife’s labor, the matron would’ve blocked and rebuked him, sent him down the corridor to an anteroom on the periphery of the ward. Yet, my father was not seated in this outpost, nor was he pacing up and down the hallways—at the moment of my birth, he was nowhere in or near the building. At the break of dawn, after a sleepless night that followed on the previous evening when my mother had announced it would soon be time, he’d transported her by taxi to the hospital and then, without her knowledge, returned home to rest. Once there, a renal colic overcame him—not his first, but by far his worst—and, at about the same time my mother thrust me, in a slick of blood and vernix, from her womb, my father, doubled over on a toilet, passed a giant kidney stone.
He appeared next morning, ashen-faced, at her bedside. My mother, already worried, now alarmed, asked him what was wrong. He answered: Nothing.
They brought me home a few days later, removed the bottom drawer from a chest, placed it between two chairs, and padded it with pillows. My mother laid me down, bundled in a blanket and, finally, my father confessed to his ordeal.
If any record of my weight and length at birth had once existed, its numbers and units, dry statistics that defy the spin of storytelling, were neither celebrated nor recalled. My mother never spoke of what transpired in the delivery room, and it’s very likely, disassociated from her throes, in an induced, narcotic, twilight sleep, she retained no memory of the struggle.
My father stored his kidney stone in a cork-stoppered bottle. He often took it out, jiggled it around, displayed it to visitors, and recounted the chronicle of its painful passage—even to a plumber who’d repaired our kitchen sink.
With immoderate braggadocio, he paraded his calcareous pebble like a first-born son—until, one day, it was mislaid.
Or, maybe, my mother threw it out.