by Thomas Shane
Where no sea runs, the waters of the heart
Push in their tides. – Dylan Thomas
Clair was thirty-six. When, to her astonishment, she conceived at last, she knew it the next morning and told her husband, Arthur. After ten years of marriage, he knew not to doubt her. He’d never known anyone so completely attuned to her body. The test, when she took it, was a formality. He’d gone with her to the doctor’s office because he didn’t want to miss the moment when it became official was all. “Congratulations,” the doctor told him. “You may kiss the bride.” Which he did.
On the way home they passed the hospital where the baby would be delivered “in the fullness of time,” as Arthur put it. There was an old black man standing at the corner wearing white cotton gloves, waving to the passing cars. Except for the gloves, which were the type with a little roll at the wrist like Mickey Mouse wears, and a white pith helmet, his clothes had the shabby look we associate with homelessness, but the man, stooping a little to see in the car, smiled broadly as they passed, his arm extended as if to hail a cab, and waved at them elegantly and slowly with one white-gloved hand.
“There’s love in his eyes,” Clair said. She had turned to look back as they drove on, and he was waving at her still, but with the other hand now. It was a ritualized, pantomiming sort of wave.
“And voodoo in his heart,” Arthur said. Only in Berkeley, he was thinking.
“Oh, that’s unkind.” Clair turned back around, stared at her husband’s profile. There was a hardness about his features now that didn’t used to be there. The way the corners of his mouth turned down. “Aren’t you happy?” she asked. She blamed the law—all that conflict. Not that she ever could be sure what he was thinking.
Arthur glanced at his wife. She looked like the day he’d married her, fit, bright-eyed, almost foolishly hopeful, still more girl than woman. The October sunlight, reflecting off the car’s metallic surfaces, sparkled in her dark hair and on her skin. Her green eyes shone.
“You’re glowing,” he said, and she blushed. They’d never really given up, exactly, on trying to have a child, but the odds were something they’d long since come to accept as being against them. He reached his hand out, brushed her cheek. “I’m the happiest man alive,” he said.
It was an easy pregnancy. Clair nibbled on goldfish crackers to fend off queasiness and went about her life pretty much as she’d done before, the only difference being that every day, when she remembered, felt to her like her birthday. In the beginning, she could entertain herself by forgetting and then remembering. After a while, though, forgetting was no longer possible.
She took pleasure in her body’s changes. She stood before the closet mirror and admired her swelling breasts, the small, firm bulge of her belly, the darkening outline of her veins. She believed she could hear the quickened rush of new blood in them, imagined the slow drip of hormones from swelling glands. She caressed the skin over her womb and pictured the development of the little person she was carrying, the tiny but distinct body parts emerging day by day.
She had never been particularly religious, but as she became more conscious of the life within her, her own breathing began to seem almost spiritual to her, and she found herself uttering little prayers as she inhaled, prayers like “Bless this baby” or “Watch over us.” When, in the twelfth week, the doctor handed her the stethoscope and she closed her eyes and heard the little one’s fast, insistent heartbeat for the first time, she experienced a burst of light behind her eyelids, and an immediate sensation of liquid warmth on her skin, as if air were itself a watery medium and she, like her baby, were enwombed in it. She was falling in love.
“How big is it now?” she asked the doctor. “It” was the wrong word, but she didn’t want to let on that she knew in her heart “it” was a girl.
“At this stage?” The doctor took her hand and pressed two thick fingers into the middle of her palm. “We’re talking, so big,” he said and smiled like God.
Later she tried to describe to Arthur what it was like to cradle a life inside you and the words “comfort and joy” popped out. He laughed, began to sing the carol, which made her blush. But it was what she felt, exactly.
Because of her age, the doctor had urged Clair to have an amniocentesis to screen for various chromosomal defects and, in particular, Down syndrome. She and Arthur met with a nurse counselor at a special clinic to discuss the pros and cons of the procedure. Viewed scientifically, this seemed to come down to a question of probabilities, when all was said and done, or rather improbabilities—much like getting pregnant in the first place. There was a 1 in 150 chance she was carrying a defective fetus, high enough to justify testing, which had become routine in recent years for women over thirty-five. On the other hand, because the procedure involved inserting a long needle through the abdomen and the wall of the uterus directly into the amniotic sac, there was some risk of damaging the fetus or triggering a spontaneous abortion. The handout they were given placed that risk at 1 in 200.
“What are we comparing here?” Arthur, who’d been in depositions all morning, wanted to know. He had been raised Catholic, had, in fact, been quite serious about it once, and remained instinctively suspicious of anything that smacked of trying to manipulate fate. “Has that ever happened that you know of? In your personal experience, I mean.”
The nurse smiled. “I’ve been here three and a half years, and it’s never happened that I’m aware of. You have to remember those numbers are based on national data. They cover a multitude—”
“Of sins.” Arthur rubbed his chin. “Well, what are we supposed to do if there is a problem?” He still had that lawyer’s edge in his tone. “Assuming, for the sake of argument, the test showed a chromosomal problem, that is.”
The nurse was very patient with them, explaining the things she’d been trained to explain. “You shouldn’t think you have to know the answer to that question now,” she said.
Clair was sitting on the edge of her chair, back straight, staring at her hands. She imagined the baby cradled there, in her palm.
“People often fear the worst,” the nurse went on, “especially with a first pregnancy. The test provides peace of mind more than anything.” But what if there was a problem? This was the question Arthur kept coming back to. He looked at his wife. It had been so long coming, this pregnancy.
“People find that it helps to know, in any case,” the nurse said, her voice quiet, consoling.
“Better the devil you know…” Arthur said under his breath, and Clair started, looked up at him.
The nurse explained to them about timing—the window for doing this was relatively narrow, apparently—and they told her they would sleep on it. That night, lying in bed, Arthur confessed. The prospect of having a Down-syndrome child filled him with horror. “I’m too damn selfish,” he said.
“No you’re not,” Clair said. She felt for his hand, held it softly in the small space between their thighs. “It’s only natural.”
It was an unseasonably warm December night. A soft puff of air made the curtains bell out from the narrow window above their bed. The wind chimes on the back porch tinkled.
“I just pray to God that everything will be normal,” Arthur whispered to his wife.
“Me too.” She locked her fingers in his. “Me too.”
Clair, who was always tired now at night, was the first to fall asleep. Arthur listened to her breathing, tried to silence his mind. Numbers, chances, odds—he couldn’t let go. They were playing a rigged game of roulette against an all-knowing House. He pictured the wheel spinning, the ball falling into the slot. If we don’t do it, we’re the 1 in 150, he told himself, you can bank on that. That’s how the game works. And if we do it…?
In the morning, over breakfast, they decided. “It’ll be fine,” Arthur told his wife.
“It will?” she said.
“Yes,” he said. “You heard the nurse, the risk is miniscule.” You think too much, people were always telling him. Let’s just get it over with, that’s all he was thinking now.
The test was performed at the end of the fifteenth week at the clinic. Arthur held Clair’s hand. The nurse moved the ultrasound device across her belly. They watched the image on the screen, a blue blur floating in a subaqueous shadow world.
“There,” the doctor pointed. It was not Clair’s regular doctor but someone who specialized in the procedure. “That’s your baby.”
The nurse smiled at Arthur. Clair looked up. Arthur smiled weakly at his wife. She squeezed his hand.
When the needle went in, she inhaled sharply. You aren’t supposed to feel it, but she did.
Then she felt a contraction.
Then, in no time at all, it was over.
On the way home, Clair began, very quietly, to cry. At first she was looking out the side window and the tears were running down her cheeks, but Arthur didn’t see this. Then she turned, looked at the road straight ahead. “I think I’m leaking,” she told him.
Arthur looked at her. “God damn it!” he cried out.
“No, don’t,” she said. Her hands lay limply in her lap. She bowed her head. “Don’t.”
He pulled the car over to the curb. He took out his handkerchief and dabbed at her cheeks, then handed it to her. “How do you know?”
“I can feel it,” she said. “On the way to the car I could feel it running down my leg.”
Arthur looked away. For a long moment he didn’t trust himself to speak. “What should we do?” he said finally. He spoke as calmly as he could.
“I’ve got to see Frank,” she said. Frank was her doctor.
“Jesus!” Arthur said. He gripped the wheel, closed his eyes. Then he took a deep breath, looked over his shoulder, and spun the car around. The tires squealed, and Clair caught her breath. For the first time since she became pregnant, she felt cold.
“It’s a slow leak. The doctor told her to lie flat and drink water all day to try and keep the fluid level up.”
Arthur was on the phone with his mother. Her hearing had deteriorated some in recent years, so he had to raise his voice, which made him sound cross.
“She’s in the back room. We set it up so she’s got a phone, and we rigged up this drafting table with short legs for using in bed so she can still do her work…. Yes…. Right…. Well, my job is to make sure she’s as comfortable as possible and to keep bringing her fresh pitchers of water…. Yuh … un-huh…. She’s supposed to be drinking constantly, which ought to be interesting. She’s like a camel, did you ever notice? I don’t think I’ve ever seen her finish a glass of water.”
It made Arthur nervous, talking to his mother, so he was going on a little. Clair could hear every word, even though he was on the kitchen phone.
“I know, Mom…. I know… I know you did…. A year after me, right?… Before Annie… I know.”
It was quiet, then he said something she couldn’t hear, then he repeated it.
“I said, it wasn’t exactly spontaneous. We had to have this test….Because Clair’s over thirty-five. They recommend it for women over thirty-five.”
Arthur told his mother about the amniocentesis. Here it comes, Clair thought.
“Right. Well, I wouldn’t say that, exactly. I wouldn’t say we were trying to play God….”
But of course that is exactly what he had said the first night.
He’d been sitting on the edge of the daybed while Clair sipped her water through a straw. He’d been making a visible effort to speak calmly, but as he kept talking he just kept getting madder.
“They didn’t even have this test a few years ago,” he said. He’d been brooding about it all day. “I’m sorry, but women have been giving birth since the beginning of time without this test.”
He wasn’t mad at her, he told her, but, Jesus, he was sure as hell mad at the doctor. “Just because they can do something, suddenly you have to do it.”
And he was mad at himself. Clair had told him she knew something was wrong the instant she felt the needle go in. “I knew it before that,” he said. “I just didn’t think it through. First of all, I don’t trust their numbers. Second of all, it isn’t about numbers.”
He stood up, began to pace. He was a thin man, quick, his gestures knifelike. “How can they justify risking the life of a normal fetus just to prove to themselves it really is normal?” He stopped at the table at the head of the bed, began tapping on it absentmindedly with his fingertips.
“I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that basically what they’re doing?” He drummed faster, then gave the table one hard knock with his knuckles. “Christ! I don’t care how small the risk is supposed to be.”
The printout of the sonogram they’d been given as a souvenir had slipped off the table when he knocked on it. He stooped, picked it up and stared at it. It was dark and blurred. It could be anything, he thought—an unidentified swimming object—and tossed it down. “Toys,” he said, shaking his head, “that’s what these things are, disgusting little doctor toys.”
He stood there, started to say something, then stopped, chin up, lips tight. Suppose it wasn’t normal, though? He tried again, slowly, deliberately. “You can’t tell me this test was the lesser evil. The lesser evil’s putting your faith in God, or whatever, and having the baby regardless.”
“I never said it was.”
“What…? Oh no, honey.” He lowered his voice, looked at his wife. “I know you didn’t.” His shoulders slumped. He took his glasses off, rubbed his eyes and forehead with both hands, like a man washing himself. He looked a little lost, like people who wear glasses always look without their glasses.
“I just meant that’s what they try to tell you with their long list of potential defects and whatnot. They scare you into it. When what you should be doing is having a little faith in life. Trust life, you know? Or, at the very least, trust the goddamn numbers.”
How sad he looks, Clair thought, his hardness drained away. Even though he was standing and she was lying down, she felt as though she were looking down on him from a height. “I don’t know,” she said. She was the one with the new life inside her. She was the one who felt the needle going in. “It could be awfully hard. It’s like you said yourself—”
He sat back down, reached for her hand. The doctor had told them that the tear in the amniotic sac could very well seal itself eventually. The way he explained it, it would be like a piece of clingy plastic wrap folding back on itself. That was the theory anyway.
He turned his wife’s hand over, ran his finger along the lifeline in her palm, then folded her hand in his, squeezed it. “I’m sorry,” he said.
Clair lifted his hand, pressed it against her cheek. She had already drawn a circle around herself, her baby. Arthur couldn’t possibly know. She brushed his hand against her cheek, lightly, conscious of the delicate short hairs on the back of his hand. “I have faith,” she told him. She was feeling drowsy, the air around her liquid, warm. “I have faith that we can do this.”
She kissed the back of her husband’s hand, closed her eyes. He was outside the circle, where doubt was. But there wasn’t room for anybody else inside.
When she opened her eyes and looked at him, there was something in her look he’d never seen before. He felt foolish suddenly, unworthy.
“I’ll lie here for the next five months if I have to. You just keep bringing me water.” She smiled, gave his hand a gentle squeeze. Then she looked at him for a long moment, just looked at him, her expression straight and serious. “We’re going to get through this,” she told him, her eyes fixed on his. “And we’re going to have this baby.”
It had been an unusually dry winter—well into January there’d still been no rain to speak of—but midway through Clair’s first week in bed, it began to rain, and it rained off and on for ten straight days. As she lay propped against her pillows, the makeshift drafting table angled across her lap, Clair watched the raindrops on the window next to her bed, how they would cling to the glass, the smallest, straining, little bulging drops, until the surface tension became too great, then fall away in little runnels that fed into a miniature stream at the bottom of the window frame. Life is water—her new prayer now—water life. She prayed when she drank, sipping every few minutes from a straw, and in the course of the day she drank pitcherful after pitcherful this way, camel or no camel.
It should have been hard for her to lie flat like this, hour after hour, day after day, but she focused herself inward on the life curled up inside her, and the days floated by as if in a dream. The routine was simple enough. Arthur would make sure she had everything she needed before going off to work in the morning. At noon one of the neighbors would come with lunch, and they would eat together, the neighbor sitting in a chair at the end of the bed, and then the neighbor would see to whatever housework there might be. In the evening, Arthur would bring dinner from their favorite Berkeley deli or one of the restaurants near his office in San Francisco, and they would sit together and watch television or read or talk. The cleaning woman was to continue to come on Fridays, as before.
She got up only to use the bathroom, which was exactly twenty steps from the bed. Usually, the water would begin to trickle down her leg before she got there. When it didn’t, she would check herself with a strip of the pink litmus paper the doctor had given her. The alkalinity of the amniotic fluid made it turn a dark blue-violet. It’s just a matter of time, she would tell herself, when she pulled the little strip of paper out. Negative thoughts were a luxury she was determined to deny herself.
Most days, she would work for an hour or two in the morning, and again in the afternoon. She’d been hired to produce a series of drawings of a Napa County winery, which proved a godsend. She worked from photographs she’d taken some weeks before of the winery and its cellars.
It was a fine old structure, built in the early part of the 20th century when they were still building them big out of stone and redwood and oak. There was a serenity about the place; it felt almost monastic. But then few things were as mystical as winemaking, Clair thought; it was a kind of alchemy, after all, ancient, elemental. As she sketched, she tried to capture the feeling the old building had given off, the sense of higher purpose. It was there in the weight and texture of the stone walls, the stillness and shadow of the interior spaces, the vaulted ceilings, the redwood beams, the long rows of oaken casks. Peace. Quietly, invisibly, a miracle was taking place, but it needed time. Patience, these old buildings seemed to say, it’s all in the waiting.
By late afternoon, having set her work aside for the day, she would lean her head back and just listen to the rain, and drift, invariably, off to sleep.
Once she dreamed she was being borne on the current of a swift-flowing stream, her body supple as an eel and light. She swam without effort, with the least little stroke—the water her medium like air—sliding liquidly through rapids, between submerged trees and rocks, over falls—flying!—with a billion white bubbles bursting against her skin, like the tiniest mouths opening, the sweetest little tongues, searching her body for milk. When she woke, the rain had stopped. Out the window the clouds were white and puffy and bright against the washed blue sky. It made her squint to look at them, and for the first time she began, without warning, to feel sorry for herself. It had been two weeks. Her legs ached from inactivity, twitched. She began to itch all over, maddeningly, until she could think of nothing else. She wanted to jump out of her skin. She lay back on her pillows, stared up at the ceiling, closed her eyes. She tried to imagine herself under water again, the bright white water, churning. She took a deep breath, exhaled hard.
What was that? A shiver ran through her body. She lay still, eyes open now. Waited. It happened again. A fluttery little thump. The slightest little swishing cat’s tail of a knock. She held her breath, listened. The silence buzzed in her ears.
Then she felt it again. A little rolling movement deep inside her. Gas? No. Different. In the real center of her. A smile played across her lips, became bigger, stretched into a grin, and then the laughter started to bubble out, and she just laughed and laughed and laughed until she was sure she was going to pee all over the bed. “My baby!” She laughed, helpless. There were tears in her eyes. “I’m with you, honey!” The world was a blur. A hilarious blue blur. “Kick, baby, kick!”
Arthur looked out his office window at San Francisco Bay. The air, washed clean by all the rain, was so clear, he could see Mt. St. Helena fifty miles away. The clouds were pure white puffs. White sails dotted the bay. A huge tanker, red and black and white, was gliding slowly past Alcatraz. The sky, the bay, were vibrant blue. He stared at the Berkeley hills, rocked in his chair, thought about the brief he had to write, then buzzed his secretary. “I’m out of here,” he said.
On the way home he stopped at the gourmet market on Solano. Tonight, he was thinking, a change of pace. Make Clair faint. I’ll cook. He parked on the street. When he got out of the car, Clair’s doctor, Frank, was just closing the trunk of the car directly behind his.
“Beautiful day,” the doctor said. He was a robust, thickly built man, bursting with confidence, a little brusque in an old fashioned sort of way. His face had a shine to it the way many bald men’s faces do, and he squinted when he smiled.
“The best,” Arthur said. It took him by surprise, not that it should have, seeing Clair’s doctor out of context like this, in mufti, out in the world.
The doctor stepped around to the driver-side door of his car.
“How’d our Clair like getting a little good news for a change?” he asked.
Arthur sensed it had taken the other man till now to place him.
“News?” he said.
“You haven’t heard? I’m sorry. We got the test results today. Everything’s normal.”
“No, I…” They’re always one step ahead of you, these goddamn doctors. “Well…”
“She’s a courageous woman, Clair.” The doctor clasped his hands below his waist, nodded solemnly.
“The best,” Arthur said again, a false note, but he was barely listening now. Normal. The word echoed in his mind. Normal. It was like a verdict. Guilty.
“We’re all pulling for her,” the doctor offered.
He hesitated, Arthur. The long winter light held everything in high relief. The eucalyptus trees swayed, thick and dark, on the distant hillside behind the doctor’s head. The cars—the chrome of the doctor’s car door handle as he swung the door open—glinted. Long shadows striped the street. Arthur’s car engine made a ticking sound, cooling.
A car went past, a little close, and Arthur flattened himself against the side of his car. The doctor, one foot in the door, dipped his shoulder.
“What are the odds?” Arthur blurted and stopped him cold.
The doctor straightened.
“Man to man,” Arthur added.
Light was reflecting off of everything, Arthur’s glasses, his cheeks, shop windows, passing cars. He pressed on. “I mean, not to play the devil’s advocate, but what are the odds of saving a pregnancy like this?” He resented having to prompt the man, but the silence was unbearable. “When someone starts leaking like this, what chance is there, realistically?”
A woman was backing out of the market pulling a stroller behind her. She had to brace herself against the door to hold it open and pull the stroller at the same time. She was having a little trouble getting the stroller over the threshold, but she tilted it back on its two back wheels, gave it a jerk, and it came. When she squared around, looked up, the two men looked at the ground and then at each other. The baby, whiplashed, began, sputtering, to cry.
“Well, Arthur—I’m sorry, it is Arthur, right?”
Arthur tried to smile.
The doctor hesitated, began to say something, stopped. He’d been discussing the case with a colleague over lunch, as it happened. Where there’s bleeding, miscarriage can sometimes be prevented by bed rest, why not under these circumstances? Theoretically, the amnion could heal itself. Right, the colleague had said. And for your next miracle?
“Man to man”—the bigger man looked hard at Arthur—“I’d say it was a long shot.”
How long? Arthur wanted to know. Or have we finally dropped the pretense of numbers? “Has anyone ever done it?”
The doctor pursed his lips, then barely perceptibly shook his head. “There isn’t that much data, but…well…to be honest…”
Arthur looked down at his feet, then caught himself, looked at the doctor, but not quite in his eyes.
“Clair…if you’re asking in my experience…? Clair would be the first.”
Arthur stepped quietly into the back room. Clair was dozing, but immediately woke up. “Arthur,” she said, smiling, stretched out her hands. “I’ve quickened.”
He looked at her, lying on the bed, grinning.
“Remind me, now…”
“She moved. The baby moved. She was kicking inside me. It was hilarious.”
Arthur couldn’t think what to say. “She?”
Clair told him about the call from the doctor’s office. It had completely slipped his mind that they’d be finding out the sex. He looked at his wife, her bright, trusting, hopeful face. False hopes, he thought, they’re feeding you false hopes. That night, sleeping alongside her, something he’d just begun to do again, he dreamed she sat up and vomited in the bed, a brown vomit, like lentil soup. In the vomit, face down, was a shriveled little bruised-looking creature, still as a stone.
He awoke in a sweat. Clair was sleeping on her side, one knee raised, pressing into his ribs. Taking care not to wake her he nudged her on the leg and shoulder, until, responding, she rolled over on her back. He spent the rest of the night in the chair watching his wife sleep. When she rolled over on her side again, he let her stay like that.
In the morning, he brought her breakfast. “You know, Clair, whatever happens—”
“Arthur. Sssh.” Clair pressed her hands against the sides of her belly.
“Are you okay?”
Clair gently massaged herself, smiled like a drunk. “She’s got the hiccups.”
Her first dream was a dream without images, a blue, quiet, hidden dream, a dream as smooth and white and infinite as an egg. She was curled up in a ball, her hands floating by her face, her knees against her chest, one foot almost touching the soft triangle of her crown. She awoke to rumblings, softly rolled her head. She listened. Voices. A particular voice. Like being in the belly of a cello, it went right through her, that voice. But to her amphibian brain, adding a hundred thousand new cells a minute, even the silence hummed; so she hummed along with it, a ghostly, infrasonic chant of remnant seas. She swam. Time passed. As the spirit moved her, she flexed and swiveled, pitched and rolled, gyred. Sleep blending into wake, wake back into sleep. The world a reddish shimmer, then dark again. She stretched, kicked out her legs like a frog, and her heels bumped, recoiled. Two fine sensations: touch and the absence of touch. She pooched out her lips, opened her mouth, swallowed. Salt. She slept, pissed, woke. Time passed.
She was an active baby, kicked all the time, to hear Clair describe it. The hiccups, too, were a regular thing. In fact they seemed to recur with some predictability at about the same time every day. At night Clair would report to Arthur. “I feel like I’m really getting to know her now. She’s a real fighter, this one.”
Arthur would look at Clair, at the conviction in her eyes, and not know what to say. He kept bringing the water though. And the days kept adding up.
Halfway through the fourth week, he took her to see the doctor. She’d set a record, apparently, hanging on this long after starting to leak—for Doctor Frank’s practice anyway, and his two partners’. One of the nurses told her this now, to encourage her. When Arthur learned this, the lawyer in him wanted to point out the inconsistency—if nobody’d done it before, what hope had there been from the beginning?—but the fact was, it now looked as if she could go on indefinitely if she had to. The baby was growing, was almost twelve inches long. In another few weeks she would be viable.
“Unbelievable,” Arthur said, on the drive home. He was smiling, shaking his head. He had avoided speaking to the doctor himself.
“Oh you of little faith,” Clair said, pointing her chin and looking away.
“Well…” He chuckled.
Clair laughed, pressed her hands against the sides of her belly. “You know something, Arthur?” She had turned to look at him, at his profile, hoping it would be his nose, which was thin, pointed, rather than hers, which belled at the nostrils some, that the baby would inherit. “This must be a very special baby.”
Arthur looked at her, her green eyes wide with wonder. All these weeks she hadn’t uttered a single complaint. “And a very lucky one,” he said, reaching his hand across to hers. “At least in her choice of mothers.”
Clair blushed, looked down. Arthur took his hand away. They rode in silence for a while, a contented-seeming silence, Arthur watching the road, Clair staring out the window.
“Do you think they get to choose?” she asked finally.
“Hmm?” Arthur glanced her way, but she was still staring out the window, and her thoughts had run on ahead.
“It’s a miracle, isn’t it,” she said now, turning as she said this, to look at him.
“Well, I don’t know.” They were going through an intersection, and he kept his eyes on the road. “Nobody else has ever done it, apparently.”
“No. I mean, all of it. Everything. Life.” Her eyes were welling up.
“Ah,” he said and reached to touch her cheek. He was tempted to make a joke, something about how she’d been drinking too much, but what came out was, “Hope waters the heart.”
“Who said that?” she asked, and with a fingertip lightly damped her eyes.
“I don’t know. Somebody. Some poet probably. Or maybe just me. I looked at you and that’s what came out.”
“Well, that’s very sweet,” she said, and now it was her turn to touch his cheek.
“Well, I’d say it was a miracle.” He smiled. Where did that come from? “Or a mystery anyway.” Meaning everything. “But the last thing I want to do is jinx it, so that’s the last you’ll hear from me on the subject.”
Clair smiled. She felt a rolling sensation in her belly, but she kept it to herself.
Later, her eyes moving rapidly under the lids, her heart thumping, she dreamed of a tiny bubble upwelling out of darkness. Could she sense it, the silent drip behind her head? The danger? Wouldn’t that have been just like her? Staring up from her crib at her starry bedroom ceiling, listening to the faucet dripping in the bathroom sink down the hall. Over the sound of the wind chimes, tinkling.
How special was she, after all? Half-a-million tiny eggs already tucked away in her tiny pockets. Dreaming of things she’d never seen. The flight of geese. Red fish in a well. Dark trees bursting into flames.
Dreams she’s come close to recalling any number of times, but never quite. The dream of the silent shadow figures stretching off in both directions, leading here, and away from here.
Was it luck when she threw her head back, pinning the bubble membrane against the wall of the womb like a plastic-lined mattress cover against a mattress, and the dripping stopped?
Arthur was in trial, sitting at the counsel’s table, when a clerk passed him the phone message slip. It was from Clair. “I’m in the pink,” the message read. How nice, he thought. This couldn’t wait?
He was taking notes for a cross-examination he was looking forward to. “There are limits to human knowledge,” the witness, a pompous man, had just finished saying. To save the court’s time, Arthur was thinking, we’re prepared to stipulate to that. Then it hit him. The litmus paper. Pink. He hit the table with the flat of his hand, jerked back in his chair.
“Counsel?” the judge asked.
“Excuse me, your honor.” He clenched his jaws to keep from grinning like a fool. His eyes—he had to fight it—began to sting.
Then there was that other dream, her last dream in the womb, the one with the dark man in the funny white hat, with the glowing white gloves, smiling, waving.
At birth, a portion of the amniotic sac remained stuck to her head like an aviator’s helmet. “Aha!” the doctor said. “A caul.”
“It’s good luck,” the nurse, an older woman, said.
Clair cried. So did Arthur.
“Protection against death by drowning,” the other, younger, nurse told them. She was from Nova Scotia, of all places. “And what a good strong voice she has, for being heard above a squall.”
They laughed, and were crying and laughing both. It was just the beginning.