Note: As our due date gets closer and closer, I find myself reading less and writing more; specifically, having the urge to write fiction. Maybe it is the impetus of new life! At any rate, I’ll share a couple of these stories over the next few weeks. Enjoy!
Golden leaves fell by twos and threes from the big maple, its branches stretching away from the kitchen window where he sat and watched. In the distance, he saw the boss man’s tractor hauling round bales of hale from one end of the field towards a flat-bed truck at the other. A groundhog looked on anxiously, standing up on its hind legs to get a better view.
He turned up his coffee mug and finished the dregs in one gulp.
Standing, he saw her enter the room. Actually, he saw her belly, swollen with their first child. Eight months. And he smiled.
“You look great.”
She nodded distractedly.
“Where are my damn keys? I swear, this baby is eating my brain.”
“Why don’t you let me drive you?”
“Don’t you have to feed calves?”
“Got somebody to fill in for me.”
At that, she smiled.
Soon the truck rattled to life, spewing exhaust from the tailpipe. He back up quickly, spun it around, and took off, kicking up gravel as he went.
“Honey, we’re not runnin’ late. What are you, nervous?”
He saw himself at eighteen, squatting behind home plate in the ninth inning, tying run on third. In his mind’s eye, he adjusted the catcher’s mask and remembered the churning inside his stomach like a washing machine. He pressed the accelerator without shifting gears, red-lining the RPMs on the old tachometer.
“No, I’m not,” he lied. “You?”
“Whoa, that was a big one! Here, feel right here!”
She grabbed his right wrist, pulling his hand off the steering wheel onto her belly.
“Jesus, I might need that hand to steer…”
He dropped the complaint with the baby’s kick.
“Baby’s tryin’ to tell you something. Sayin’ don’t worry, Daddy. Don’t worry! That’s how it talks, by kickin’!” She laughed. “Don’t worry, Daddy!”
The truck turned onto the four lane highway, cautiously now, carrying its precious cargo. She turned on the radio, found a familiar song, and began humming along.
“Babies can hear music, you know. Wonder if ours will be a singer someday?”
“If it takes after Mama.”
Driving east, he pulled the visor down. The truck was climbing the ridge, mimicking the sun’s ascent. He stared too long at the bright light reflected off the road, and spots formed in front of his eyes. He blinked quickly, trying to clear his vision. A heart beat too late.
Pure reaction. He slammed the brakes and cut the wheel hard to the right. The oncoming car hit the rear of the truck at an angle. As they spun, his life did not so much flash before his eyes, as he felt the presence of loved ones. Mom. Dad. Brother. The quintessential feeling of them pressed upon him, like walking into a room full of a familiar smell and knowing, instantly, its source and all the meaning that came with it.
He opened his eyes only when the spinning stopped. Tasting his own blood, he looked to his right. She was buckled in, face drained of color.
“Honey, we are in an accident.”
“Can you get out?”
She took a deep breath, unbuckled, pushed against the door. Wouldn’t budge. He could feel the panic rising in her, as she pulled the handle again to no avail. He turned and tried his side; the door opened with a creak. Gently, he put a hand on her shoulder.
When they came out into that bright morning sunshine, he saw that the truck had come to rest in the ditch against a speed limit sign, which sealed the passenger door shut. He smelled rubber. Saw smoke. And remembered. Eight months.
She had stumbled away from the truck and was kneeling in the grass, eyes shut tight, lips forming soundless words. Her hands, bloodied, were slowly tracing her belly like beach combers wave their metal detectors over the sand. Only she was hunting for signs of life.
Squatting beside her, he reached out to her belly, but at first contact, her hand swatted his away, a strangled cry rising in her throat. Her eyes flew open.
“Let me be.”
She growled from some place deep within her, from a time long ago. Her ancient strength silenced him, stilled him, stupefied him. Almost overwhelmed him. Yet he’d met her gaze, and managed to keep it. Her pupils dilated, he could see a tiny reflection of himself in her deep green. A little self, mute and dumb, trapped there. Maybe forever.
Until his image wavered, like a distant figure seen through the heat rising from the asphalt. Her eyes were filling with tears. One fell, breaking through the eyelash boundary, carrying mascara in a slow, deliberate, black line down her right cheek, curving towards her mouth. Only then did he realize she was speaking.
“Baby’s movin’. Baby’s movin’. Baby’s kickin’.”
Her bloody hands checking and re-checking, confirming and re-confirming.
And she laughed with such primordial force that he would later swear the buzzards circling overhead flew away in terror.