"Did you see?" said Dr. Knoeller.
"A little boy!" Edward told her.
He was small and skinny, 6 pounds and change, 20 inches long.
In the hospital room, we tried out names.
"August," Edward said. "We could call him Augie, or Gus. Gus, I think."
That night, when Edward went home to get some sleep, I tried it out. The baby was in his plastic hospital bassinet, swaddled into a neat and uncanny little package. I could only see his head in its mint green cap. "Hello, Gus," I said. "Hello, Gussie. Hello, Gusling. Hello, Gosling."
Sometime around 2 a.m., it had settled in my mind, and so I told the baby the story of his older brother. I really did. This isn't literary fancifulness. He was a little, little baby, and I told him the story out loud, not knowing when we might tell him again. I wanted him to know how glad we were to see him, and how sad we were that he'd never know his older brother.
"I think your name is Gus," I told him, and of course now I can't imagine why we thought his name could ever be anything else.
And now I'm thinking of that Florida lady again, the one who wanted a book about the lighter side of a child's death, and I know: All she wanted was permission to remember her child with pleasure, instead of grief. To remember that he was dead but to remember him without pain. He's dead but of course she still loves him and that love isn't morbid or bloodstained or unsightly, it doesn't need to be shoved away.
It isn't so much to ask.
Excerpt adapted from the book An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir, by Elizabeth McCracken. © 2008 by Elizabeth McCracken. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York. All rights reserved.
Elizabeth McCracken is the author of Here's Your Hat What's Your Hurry, The Giant's House, and Niagara Falls All Over Again. This fall, she will be a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.