He had a feeling she would die soon when she asked about the wallpaper.

"It's not right, is it?"

Green florals accented a pink pattern and even with the paper hung and dry Hanna doubted it.

"It's important," she declared. "Everything matters. This will shape her."

Saul silently let his wife fret over the walls. But he felt the mania of her preoccupation rouse equally irrational forebodings in himself. She would be dead soon, he sensed. This was certain.

Later, he felt it again. One day, quite unexpectedly, Hanna determined to advertise for, interview, and contract a nanny. "A nanny?" Saul wildered, his voice breaking with premonition. "Why?" Their first child, he reminded. His income allowed her to stay home, he urged. But she insisted.

They hired a sincere college graduate with experience in childcare. The young woman's natural affection eased from her softly. And the purity of her motive allayed all other reservation. She would never bear her own children, they learned in the final interview. Back injuries from an auto accident barred her.

The presentiments this process gave Saul bedeviled him so thoroughly that he could not broach them with Hanna. To speak them aloud, he feared, might bring them to life. So, wakeful he would lie through the nights, counting Hanna's rasping breaths, touching for the baby's nocturnal twitch, sickening before a life without her. Hanna was everything to Saul. The merest idea of her death tightened him with nausea. Why had she created this eerie air over the pregnancy? Why the random, premature obsessions? But there they were. Saul could not rescind them.

"It's important," Hanna would repeat. "All of this will shape her. I'm happy, my dear, but you know I've made mistakes in my life. For her to make the right decisions, for her to have the courage to do what she really wants, she needs to be shaped correctly. Shaping is more important than instruction."

Ceaselessly Hanna talked like this, justifying her behavior with referrals to the botanist she had never become. She would balance her regrets then with ever-widening preparations for their daughter's development. Hanna agonized over what age the girl might enter vegetarianism, or even the fat content and brand of milk she might consume at age four.

Saul blinked into the wee hours. Hanna's myriad stratagems tormented him. He reminded himself pregnant women were notoriously impulsive. He convinced himself Hanna's schemes were not exceptional. He blamed his ominous pangs on separation anxiety, or on his own paternal hormones. From as many angles as minutes in the night Saul would counterpoint his fears. But still always he felt Hanna was about to die.

And then she died.

The doctor termed it a post-partum hemorrhage. Hanna's blood flow to the umbilical cord did not stop after the cord's removal. Drugs to contract the uterus had no affect. By the time their daughter cried her first breath Hanna was bleeding to death. Saul hovered, thin and blank, the doctors and nurses scrumming near. Hanna had simply mumbled herself to whiteness, then sunk away from him unconscious. She never awoke.

The trauma stripped Saul of all the misgivings which had portended it. The loss came so breathtakingly, and strangled his being so wrenchingly that those earlier premonitions perished in his grief, forgotten. Half-hearted and childish, they were, before what he now suffered. No omen could forewarn what he now suffered.

Not until six or seven years later, as little Hanna began to express her gathering will and formulate her own ideas, did Saul recall the apprehensions that preluded her birth. His circular turmoil, he remembered, and the unaccountable impulses of her mother. With little Hanna edging toward personhood, Saul began sorting through what, if anything, those signs had meant.

The nursery had been arranged with meticulous attention. The nanny sat in waiting and later became the baby's new mother. Often Saul and his new wife reviewed the inexhaustible checklists for "shaping" that Hanna had left. But each diet and lesson and activity resonated with the child's tastes and interests so harmoniously that altering or objecting to them seemed unnatural. Besides, little Hanna embraced them. Unfailingly the girl received her dead mother's sway with surety and readiness. Gleaming proudly she would say: "Yep! That's the way! I like it like that!" She seemed to have entered life eager for her mother's guidance.

These curiosities unsettled Saul. They piqued in him fresh quavers of eeriness. Awake he would lie half the night contemplating his daughter's passion for plant anatomy, her extraordinary retention of tree species names, and her startling physical resemblance to her mother. Haunted, he felt as he lie. Nightly he calmed his mind by attributing the parallels to heredity. Nightly, too, he challenged himself to define what such consonance between daughter and mother might mean. Eventually though he drove the swarming imponderables away, deserting them for a restless, insubstantial sleep.

Finally, one summer day, little Hanna answered all Saul's wondering. Beside him she fidgeted on a park bench, licking an ice cream. They laughed together as step-mother camped with the household dog across a footbridge. Little Hanna finished her treat, took Saul's fingers, and gripped them warmly. Brightly then, in a voice full of suddenness and command, she said, "Papa, tell me about my mother's mistakes."

Saul froze. He turned to her.

"I need to know about my mother's mistakes, Papa. I don't want to make them again."

And suddenly Saul stood beside his lost wife as she fretted over the wallpaper in the nursery. And suddenly he looked over her shoulder as she drafted page after page of preparations. Saul watched, too, as she probingly questioned and sensitively appraised prospective nannies. And he relived long evenings spent with her rehashing the missteps of her life.

Saul understood then that just as the uncanny suspicions he had felt before Hanna's death were correct, so were the uncanny suspicions he had felt since Hanna's death. He peered into the little girl's hungry, waiting eyes. And, because he still loved his dead wife dearly, he began to explain to her her mistakes as carefully and completely as he could.

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John Dishwasher