The woman learned she couldn’t have children. Her doctor said he was very sorry to tell her this, and patted her knee, and looked at her thoughtfully, like her inability to have children was a puzzle, or her condition was an interesting bit of information he could tell the other doctor’s staffed at the hospital, and they could all have a laugh over the poor woman and her poor, ill-formed uterus. He handed her tissues and she took them gratefully, though she wasn’t crying. When she left the doctor’s office she stuffed the tissues in her pockets. It was snowing heavily, and she held one hand over her stomach carefully, like she had seen pregnant woman do in movies. They probably did it as some act of protection for the fetus, though she had nothing in her belly to protect and never would have anything in her belly to protect. She thought she would feel empty, but she didn’t feel much of anything, which felt similar, though not exactly the same. She didn’t know what to call it, so she called this feeling nothing, and continued walking down the street with her hand on her belly. She passed men in business suits, women walking with their heads turned down, teenagers standing at the bus stop. Up ahead was a young mother holding a baby against her hip. She was leaning down and speaking to another child, a fat-fingered toddler. The toddler was crying, and it looked as if he had peed himself. The young mother looked worn out, and like she might fall over. When the woman got close enough she outstretched her hands and told the young mother she would hold the baby so the young mother could help the toddler. She told the young mother she had baby nieces she took care of, then held a hand to her stomach and told the young mother she was pregnant herself, and knew how to help. And like that, the young mother’s face brightened, and she handed the woman the baby. The woman didn’t know what made her lie, but it was easy, and it seemed to help the young mother, and she didn’t see any harm in lying when it also helped a person. She thought about this after she gave the baby back to the young mother and walked home. And when she got home her husband opened the door and kissed her on the temple and held her very close to him. He asked her how it went, and she could feel his body stiffen against hers. Maybe that’s why she opened her mouth and told her husband she was pregnant right now, and put his hands on her small belly and told him there was something growing there. And when he lifted her into the air and spun her around, she felt very light, as if she were actually flying, and she smiled into his shoulder. He started crying then and put her down and kissed her hard. She felt her stomach flutter, and her heart beat faster. He had happiness on his face, and she liked that she put it there. The next day, when she was out with her friends for lunch, she placed her hand on her small stomach and told her friends she was going to have a baby. She watched them squeal and lift themselves from their seats, pressing themselves in a circle around her, all trying to touch her belly at once. They told her they could already see that pregnancy glow, and her skin was practically shining. They said her baby would be beautiful, and she’d be a wonderful, and her baby could play with their babies. The whole restaurant turned to look at them then, and the other people eating their lunch started smiling at her and shouting their congratulations, and even the waitress, a young teenage girl, asked if she could touch her belly and giggled when she did. With everyone looking at her, the woman felt herself sitting up taller, and crossing her arms delicately, and looking out at the happy faces of the people and smiling because the life inside her was making a whole restaurant move together. And even though there wasn’t actually life, there was happiness. And so she started telling everyone: the old college friend she ran into while grocery shopping, who embraced her tightly. Her neighbors with their own children, who clapped at the prospective of another little one for their kids to play with. Her brother who jumped up and down and started telling passersby that he was going to be an uncle. Even those people, people being shouted at in the middle of street, seemed grateful to know the news. And then her parents, both old and tired now, both sitting in her childhood home balancing teacups in their hands. Her father said he never thought it was going to happen, that he thought the woman and her husband had decided not to try. He cried, though only a little, and he quickly wiped them away. And her mother whispered baby a few times, and then cried too, small aged tears that fell silently, and the woman rose and hugged her mother and felt happier than she had ever felt, because here she was giving her parents something they had always wanted but thought they would never have. All throughout her visit they talked about the baby, and when her parents asked if she wanted a baby girl or a baby boy, the woman said she just wanted a healthy baby, but she wouldn’t mind having a baby girl she could dress up, and they all laughed together. But it was really her husband who was the happiest of them all. He told all his coworkers, and his boss, and his family, and his friends. He bought the woman flowers every night when she came home, big bouquets full of bright colors. And at night, after he turned off the light, he kissed her mouth and then kissed her belly. He’d always loved babies, had talked about raising a house full of children, and the woman was glad she could give this to him. She loved when he talked to the baby, and most nights they would talk together, and she felt closer to him than she ever had. She imagined raising a child together. She knew they would be wonderful parents. And it continued this way, until the woman went out one day for groceries and saw a pregnant woman on the street weighed down by the size of her belly. The woman watched her waddle across the street, one hand on her stomach, breathing in and out slowly. The woman stood there for a long time, her hands hanging by her side, until the other woman, the pregnant woman, was out of sight. And then she walked home swiftly, and on the way she started crying, and by the time she got home she was sobbing, and when she opened the door there was her husband with his arrangement of flowers, and she fell on the ground. He came to her, and picked her up, and wiped her tears away. He asked what was wrong, and all she could think to say was that she had lost the baby, it was gone, she had miscarried, she was sorry. Her husband brought her in closer, and she could tell he was trying not to cry. He said it wasn’t her fault, she hadn’t done anything wrong, these things happened, they could try again and there could be another baby. And then the woman almost stopped crying, because she could feel him edging close to her lie and it frightened her, she didn’t want him to see it, so she started planning it all out again, how she could tell him this miscarriage had ruined her for good, and there would be no baby ever again, and she could wallow and hide in her bedroom because of this knowledge and she wouldn’t come out for weeks, and then she could emerge, fresh faced and glowing, with all of this behind her.
Maddie Clevenstine is from Greenville, South Carolina. Her work has previously appeared in The Adroit Journal. She is a graduate of The SC Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities.