Alex McElroy

With bright little knives the doctors opened her stomach — Julie’s — and ripped the kid from her womb. The boy was sent to an impotent couple in Eugene, who named the child Sylvester. Julie named him Theo. She wasn’t allowed to contact the family.

The closed adoption was her parents’ decision. They were nervous, practical people, who felt vindicated by Julie’s condition. It confirmed what they’d always suspected. Their eldest was difficult. Weird. She needed a love that exceeded what their hearts could offer. At least they had Kelly, they thought. Their Supernova. Their scholar. Their second chance — my sweetheart.

Three months after the birth, Julie ran off to find Theo’s father: Greg Hayes. She sold some clothes and her phone to buy a backpack and bus ticket to Whitfield. She sat with her cheek to the window, its glass, fingerprint sticky, gripping her face. The bus careened through the pass. Doug firs speared the clouds. Snow fell. She nodded off, woke up muck-lipped and groggy at the Whitfield Greyhound station, a concrete bunker skirted by cracked plastic chairs bolted to asphalt. Her backpack had been stolen. But her wallet, thank God, remained lumped in her pocket.

Julie booked four nights at a motel called Paradise Loft. Her room smelled like roses watered with bleach. There were cats trapped in her wall. She phoned the front desk. “How do you know?” the manager asked. She held the receiver to the wall: the muffled distress of the mother, tender mews of her kittens. “You will get used to it,” he said. “Everyone does.”