Her baby is a joke. It's too small to be taken seriously, just a tiny bundle of cells dividing. For another week or two, it will still be smaller than the benign tumor she had removed from her breast two years ago, a realization that leads to touching the place where that lump once was whenever she's alone. She jokes about this to her friends, who don't find it funny. She doesn't really either, but she can't stop herself from sharing. About her tumor-sized baby, which just keeps growing and growing and growing, taking over her body. This time, no one wants her to stop it or get rid it. This time, people say congratulations and hug her instead of pretending she's contagious, instead of forgetting her number until they hear she's better. Just like before, she's only angry because everyone assumes they already know exactly how she feels about the things that happen to her. She is careful to keep her true feelings to herself, to see that just like with the tumor, there is much that she could lose.
Her baby is a seed, just barely planted but already pushing roots through its waxy coat, searching for purchase inside her. She pictures it flowering but knows it'll be years and years before her baby is old enough for flowers, for seeds of its own. Her doctor emphasizes nutrition, suggests she drink six to eight glasses of water every day. She doesn't respond, doesn't tell him how many more she's already drinking. At home, she holds her face under the faucet, her throat pried open to swallow all the water she can. When she stands, her face and neck and shirt are soaked through, but it's still not enough. She puts her lips back to the flowing water and drinks as deep as she can, as deep as she know she must.
Her baby is a stone, and she wonders, How can I love a stone? It is cool and dark, something formed not in an instant—as she always assumed her baby would be—but instead over an age, an epoch. Everything about her pregnancy feels slower than she'd imagined it would. She pictures her stone skipping across the hidden darkness of a lake, each point of contact a ripple expanding and then disappearing. She practices skipping stones herself while she waits for the baby to come, transforming every ditch and puddle and pond and lake into a microcosm, into a point of departure, a possible place where one day she will have to let go.
Her baby is a thunderstorm. It is a bundle of negatively and positively charged ions about to interact violently. It is a hurricane or a monsoon or a tsunami, but she doesn't know which, doesn't know how to tell the difference. She feels it churning inside, growing stronger with each revolution. If her water breaks now while this baby is inside her, it will not be covered by her homeowner's insurance. The National Guard will arrive to try and contain her baby, but they will not be enough. Their levees will not hold. What happens after the baby comes will be different than what happened before. Whole countries she once knew will be swept away, their inhabitants scattered and replaced by new citizens, by other mothers and other children she has not yet met but who she knows she will spend the rest of her life in the company of.
Her baby is a bird, mottled with gray and brown feathers that will only last as long as its infancy. Its mouth is open wide, waiting expectantly. Sometimes when she lies still in her quiet apartment, she can hear cawing from her round belly. She has cravings, contemplates eating quarters, little bits of tin foil, even a pair of silver earrings. She hopes her baby is building a beautiful nest inside of her. She wants to give it everything it needs so that it might never leave. Nest as a lie, as false hope. Her baby is a bird of prey, something she has never been this close to before. All those talons. All that beak. It hooks her, devours her. They're both so hungry. She eats and eats. Before this, she never knew birds had tongues.
Her baby is a knife. A dagger. A broadsword, sharp and terrible. Her baby is a dangerous thing and she knows that if she isn't careful then one day it will hurt her, hurt others. When it kicks, she feels its edges pressed against the walls of its sheath, drawing more blood in a sea of blood. She is careful when she walks not to bump into things, not to put herself in harm's way. She wonders what it will feel like to push it from her body, to have the doctor tug her baby out of her as from a stone.
Her baby is a furred thing, alternately bristled and then soft. She hopes it isn't shedding, wonders how she'll ever get all that hair out of her if it is. She searches online for images of badgers and then wolverines, looking for something to recognize in their faces. She types the words creatures that burrow, then adds a question mark and tries again. The baby is so warm inside her, curled in on itself. Like her, it waits for winter to end, for a day when all the breath its been holding can finally be expelled like a dank heat fogging the air of a still too cold morning. Sometimes, when the baby rolls over and makes itself known, she can almost smell it.
Now the water breaking. Now the dilation of the cervix. Now the first real contraction, more potent than any of the false warnings she experienced before. Now the worry that this is too early, that she hasn't learned yet what her baby is supposed to be. Now the lack of thought and the loss of discernable time. Now the pain, which is sharp and dull and fast and slow, which is both waves and particles at the same time. Now the hurry, the burst into motion after the near year of waiting. Now the push, the pushing, the rushing stretch of her suddenly elastic body expanding to do this thing, to give birth to this baby. Now the joke, the seed, the stone, the storm, the bird, the sword. Now the tiny mammal, warm-blooded and hot and yes, now the head covered in hair. Now the shoulders, now the torso and the arms. Now the hipbones and the thighs and the knees and the feet. Now the first breath. Now the eyes opening. Now the cry, calling out to her like déjà vu, like the recognition of someone from a dream.
Now the baby.
Now the baby.
Now the baby, an event repeating for the rest of her life.
Her baby is a boy. Her baby is a girl. Her baby is potential energy changing to kinetic, is a person gaining momentum. Her baby is a possibility, or, rather, a string of possibilities and potentialities stretching forward from her toward something still unknowable. With the baby in her arms, she smiles. She coos. She tells her baby that it can be whatever it wants to be. She tells her baby that no matter what it turns out to be, she will always recognize it when it comes back to her. There is no shape that could hide her baby from her, no form that would make her turn her back on it. She says this like a promise, swears it like she can make it true, like it's just that easy. Some days, no matter what she says, her baby cries and cries and cries.
Copyright©2008 Matt Bell
Matt Bell lives in Ann Arbor, MI, with his wife Jessica. His story "Alex Trebek Never Eats Fried Chicken" from STORYGLOSSIA Issue 23, was awarded best story of the year in the most recent Million Writers Award. His fiction has appeared or is upcoming in Meridian, Barrelhouse,, Monkeybicycle, Keyhole, and Best American Fantasy 2008, and his chapbook How the Broken Lead the Blind will be released from Willows Wept Press in January 2009. He is a web editor for Hobart, and can be found online at www.mdbell.com.