At Least

After she died, I was gifted my first At Least, placed gingerly in my hands, like frankincense, from someone faceless in the long line of condolences—their black bodies moving past us to the church door, her name typed on each program that fell to the recycling, an autumn leaf, an autumn leaf. I picked up her pictures out of the snow. The At Least was chipped spray paint gold, it bore the names of my surviving children and was taxed more than a car each year. It required smiles three times a day, another child within six months. I tried to take it back, but the store had too many; I could exchange it for one with a checkmark list of her special needs, or one with tallies for each day I held her on one side, tallies for her days in the grave on the other. I settled on the one that had a frowny face with wings, meaning both “free from pain” and “heaven bound” – “bound” in both senses of the word. I keep my At Least in the basement, for a white elephant or potluck, regiftable after I scrape off my name with my fingernails. 

Renee Emerson is the author of Keeping Me Still (Winter Goose Publishing) and Threshing Floor (Jacar Press). She lives in Missouri with her husband and four daughters; her fifth daughter passed away from a severe congenital heart defect in 2019. Her website and blog can be found at

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