Maddie Clevenstine ~ There Was Something Growing

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.