By Bob Liter
I was making her favorite cake," my wife whispered, "the pink one with the confetti and the red frosting, when I heard her screaming. The mixer was running. I heard Molly scream above the mixer."
I squeezed my wife's cold hand and said, "I know, dear. Don't think about it."
We were sitting in the right front pew of St. John's Lutheran Church. Her mother was beside her, her father beyond that. My mother sat next to me, dad beyond. Four years ago Sue became my wife. We were married in this same church. Our parents were there then, too. Sue was so happy. Her eyes were even brighter than usual. She wanted and got all the traditional things, the garter, the tossed bouquet, the tin cans tied to the car.
We led everyone to believe we were going to the Caribbean for our honeymoon. Instead we spent the two weeks in our half-finished house, seeing the sights of our hometown in the daytime, hiking in the pine forest on
nearby Dead Mountain and living and loving in the house at night. No one except the contractor, Mike Mateo, knew, and he was sworn to secrecy.
When we got back from our first afternoon walk, Mike waved us over to where he was working.
"Look out for bears when you're traipsing around that mountain," he said. "Dangerous business."
He removed a New York Yankees hat from his partially bald head and wiped his brow with a large handkerchief he pulled from an overall pocket.
”Sue's eyes widened. "Really?"
She glanced at me as if for protection.
"I've lived here most of my life, and I haven't seen a bear in ten years," I said. "We don't go that deep into the woods anyway." Actually I saw one at a distance just a couple of weeks ago, but there was no need to frighten Sue by telling her that. Mike was just trying to scare us. He thought it was funny when he told us the cost of our house would nearly double. When we complained bitterly he said, "Aha, gotcha. Only kidding."
I think Molly was conceived the night we made love on the hardwood floor in the living room the week before the house was finished. Light from a full moon seeped through the big front window, casting shadows. Sue lay naked on an air mattress, a vision I'll never forget.
"Molly could have been conceived any of the many other times," she said. “What about the day we got Lum?"
Lum, a puppy of uncertain parentage, showed up one day while we were in the front yard admiring our just finished wrap-around porch.
"He's so clumsy!" Sue smiled at the dog. She said then. "We'll call it Lum. See how it lumbers around trying to get you to pet it.”
Lum was a problem even then. When we tried to make love that night he was all over us. I had to tie him in the kitchen. He cried most of the night.
”It can be dangerous keeping a dog around a new baby,” I said.
"Look at Lum. He's the most loving puppy I've ever seen. He'll protect Molly. He would never hurt her," Sue said.
Molly held onto Lum as she took her first uncertain steps. He walked away from her at first, but he actually seemed to understand her need to balance by holding on to him. He walked slowly beside her as she moved about the living room. When she fell he stopped and waited patiently beside her. He sometimes knocked her over onto the rug as they romped. Molly laughed and climbed to a standing position for more.
Lum growled at any stranger who came near her. When we had visitors we put him in the basement.
In the church, I put my arm around Sue's shoulder. Surely the pastor would appear soon and get on with it. Sue shuddered and continued, "I raced out the backdoor and saw Lum, growling and snapping at this horrid black thing. Molly had stopped screaming."
"You mustn't think about that, dear." Her mother, Irene, patted her hand.
"It was my fault," Sue whispered.
"But Sue," I said, "The yard was fenced in, who would every think . . . you must not blame yourself. It’s over. You’ve got to forget it."
Eventually the service ended. The children came boiling up from their Sunday school classes in the basement. Molly wasn't among them. Sue's shoulders stiffened and then relaxed. She held her arms out. Molly, the last kid up the stairs, rushed into Sue’s arms.
Our parents, who hadn’t seen Molly for a month or so, gathered around, eager to say hello to their granddaughter.
Bob Liter is a retired journalist who has seven novels published by Renaissance E Books. Renebooks.com) He may be contacted at his web site: firstname.lastname@example.org