MARGARET IS NESTLED BESIDE HER HUSBAND, her exhausted mind whirling with images. She envisions her huge-bellied body mounted, like a golden figurehead, on an ancient galleon. She is Margaret the Magnificent, skimming across the metallic lake – hair biting her neck, sails snapping against the mast.
Wallop. The heavy mast smashes her stomach, hurling her backwards into blackness. Falling, falling into the void, slammed like a doomed fish, on the bottom of the boat. Clutching her tender belly, Margaret suffers the sky’s dissolve into a pastel white; the room appears.
Early morning. The sound of her cry, her pain, fades to the other world. Here the virgin light lies gently across the covers. Safe in bed, her husband Peter snores comfortably beside her. Her huge belly swells the covers like a monster emerging from the deep.
Margaret sits up, awake now, slips from bed, pulls a worn grey cardigan around her shoulders, and lumbers to the door. Was it her imagination, or has it started?
Her sleep-puffy face stares at her from the bathroom mirror, the short blond curls tousled from the restless night, the fragile pink nightie stretched across her bloated belly. Is the being hidden inside her ready to emerge at last? What if, as the doctor warned, she is too old and something goes wrong? She wills to hold the golden morning, to hold time.
Movement, again. For the last few weeks the baby had been contorting inside her, restless to get free. Her daughter stared in wonder at her shaking shirt, put her hand on the swollen belly, and jumped when a foot moved. “It kicked,” the child cried in amazement. The mother attempted to explain; although she understood the theory, she too was skeptical.
Settled on the toilet, the woman glances over a tattered magazine her eyes resting on an illustration of éclairs that, even in the early morning, look appealing. Should she clip the recipe? She’d probably never make it, but clipping it showed resolve.
As she stands, the peculiar spasm crosses her stomach again, building to a crescendo. This might be it. Or perhaps not; perhaps it is only another false alarm. She leans on the counter, closes her eyes, and breathes, and then slowly struggles down the stairs grumbling at the cobwebs in the corners. Everything has gotten out of hand recently. Not enough energy in the old body; she feels lethargic, spent.
The sun across the kitchen floor revives her spirit as do the breakfast bowls and cereal boxes set out neatly on the tables. She settles into a wooden chair and basks in the morning peace. Not long now, not long until the quiet will be cut by impatient cries of baby demanding to be nursed and later, the laughter of baby’s discoveries. It is difficult to remember the time before Sarah, to think that the independent three- year-old was once inside her. In her wisdom, her daughter does not acknowledge a time before her birth.
Opening the refrigerator, Margaret smiles at the clutter of art taped to the door: brave suns, rainbows, round faces like the cavemen drew all those years ago while the cavewomen lay waiting to split open and divulge the ripe fruit.
A knife pierces her stomach; her shoulders sink forward. This is it. Another wave of pain, slowly growing, no mistaking it now, no other pain like it. Taking over. Relax, she cautions herself, leaning forward against the cold metallic door. A colored paper floats to the ground.
Hearing movement behind her, she turns and greets the young man—the babysitter in waiting—hesitating at the door, “I was just leaving. Shall I stay?”
“This may be it. Can you wait and see?”
“Sure, no hurry,” munching honey soaked bread. “Have you seen my sneakers?”
“They may be in the living room.”
She pours herself a generous glass of orange juice; the tangy flavor cools her throat. Another spasm swells her belly, moving across her body. She shudders, takes a deep breath, and nervously dials the doctor’s number, which her mother–self had wisely posted near the phone, then mounts the stairs and cracks open the bedroom door. Peter’s steady snore pours out of the somnolent room.
“Peter. This is it.”
The man leaps up, “What?”
“This is it. She’s coming.”
Peter gropes at the cluttered bedside table for his glasses. “Let’s get going,” he urges, fighting to escape the bed sheets.