DisclaimerLa madrastra is the property of Televisa, not me. I make no profit, monetary or otherwise, from the composition or publication of this story.

The house is so quiet when they come home. All is still and untouched, perfect; nothing has changed. Fabiola knows that she shouldn't be surprised. After all, it was for exactly this reason that she had refused to make any preparations or tell anyone of her pregnancy. Three miscarriages had taught her a lot about grief and the ways that well-meaning people can make it worse. Fabiola had not been prepared to properly breathe again until the moment she held her baby in her arms. Still, at thirty-six weeks she had felt so close to success; she had dared to allow herself to daydream about bringing her baby home, about curling up with him in the sun next to the pool.

But their house is silent; there are no sounds of a baby crying, or laughing, or learning to talk. There are no dirty bottles in the sink; there are no toys scattered across the sunroom; there are no onesies neatly folded in the laundry room. Everything is the same, as if she had never been pregnant, as if she had never given birth to a living child, or banished him to Canada.

When they reach the staircase, Bruno stops and lifts her into his arms. He is very gentle as he carries her up the stairs, but he never looks at her, and he says nothing. They pass the guest bedroom that just five days earlier Fabiola had finally agreed to transform into a nursery. It is still decorated for adult visitors, with no sign of a crib or changing table, and Fabiola draws her arms tighter around Bruno's neck as they walk by. Their final stop is their bedroom; Fabiola tenses before they enter, because she remembers what happened the last time that she was in this room, but once inside she sees that Bruno has replaced their blood-soaked mattress and sheets. Everything is perfect, the same.

Bruno gingerly lowers her to her feet in front of their bed; after an awkward, soundless moment, Bruno leaves her side and begins to get ready for bed. Fabiola watches him wearily for a few seconds before turning to her dresser and pulling out a nightgown and underwear. She attempts to lift her dress over her head, but she has barely lifted her arms over her shoulders when a sharp pain sears through her lower belly, making her hunch forward in shock.

"Bruno?" she whispers, shattering the delicate silence. When he finally turns and meets her gaze, there are so many emotions shining from his eyes that Fabiola quickly looks down at her feet. "Could you please help me change?" He nods and slowly helps to ease her arms out of the dress before lifting it over her head. That task complete, he unclasps all of her jewelry and allows her to balance against him while she shimmies out of her underwear until she's standing completely nude in front of her mirror.

The house may be the same, but Fabiola can see that she herself is not. Her skin is pale, her face is drawn and tired, and her eyes have lost the sparkle that once made them captivating. She can still see some extra weight, too, that clings especially to her face and her abdomen. With great care, she peels the bandages from her lower belly, revealing a thin pink line marring her smooth flesh. She gingerly fingers the scar, realizing with horror that it will always be there, where no one but she and Bruno can see — the evidence of her sins inscribed onto her body.

She looks last at her breasts, hard and swollen with milk for a baby that, to the world, never existed. Tiny white droplets adorn her nipples, and when she reaches up to touch them her breasts ache even worse, longing to perform their function and feed her newborn. Fabiola's entire body just hurts, and without meaning to she begins to cry. It's fitting, she thinks; she had so thoughtlessly ingested so many drugs, poisons, that her baby's tiny body had been twisted and warped into something horrible and grotesque, and now his birth has left her body a wrecked shadow of itself.

She wants to tell Bruno to call the travel agency, that they're booking a flight for Canada and going to retrieve their son. She wants to take her baby into her arms and beg his forgiveness, tell him that she loves him and that she's so sorry for destroying his life before it even began. She wants to go back in time to those desolate months when she had been so sure that she would never bear the child for whom she longed so desperately and flush the drugs down the toilet, pour the booze down the sink, bury the cigarettes in mud.

She wants to be someone else, any other woman, because Fabiola knows that she is weak and will do none of these things. The guilt is slowly eating away at her insides, but she knows that if she were to look at her little boy's misshapen face every day and hear the other children's taunts, see the expressions on her friends' faces, the guilt would drive her insane. To all outsiders, Fabiola's life, home, and marriage are perfect, and she is far too reluctant to give up this illusion; it's all that she's ever had, and she will not sacrifice it now in exchange for more guilt.

So Fabiola says nothing as Bruno helps her to dress for bed. She doesn't beg him to take her to Canada now, or inquire about how to contact the institution's staff so that she can make sure that he's okay, or ask Bruno what name he chose for their son. When Bruno lets her nightgown fall around her body, hiding the evidence of their depravity, she chooses to hide her guilt as well, to bury it somewhere deep in her mind. All that she says to her husband is a hushed "thank you" before she crawls into their bed and pretends to sleep.