His quiet breath is in my ear. Slowly we rock, back and forth, back and forth.
Together we begin to feel calm. Everything has felt so rushed until now.
He was born, I held him in my arms, and then we were driving, driving, on the long way home. I should put him in his crib to sleep now that he is breathing slowly, deeply, but I can hardly bring myself to let him go. So many years of wanting and waiting. His nursery is not yet finished he came sooner than expected and who could have known that it would be a little boy. Lots of time to hang the cars and tractors on the walls now. My milk has been slow to come in. They say some women have a harder time producing.
I nurse him but still he cries for more. All I can do is pump and swallow my tiny little pills. Soon. It is all I can hope.
I look down at the little bundle in my lap. Who can tell who he looks like under all that wrinkled skin, those tightly closed eyes, those peaceful lips? I hope in time he will look like me. I dont remember what his father looked like. It doesnt really matter to me now. Soon we will both be asleep in this chair, our breath sounding as one.
My neighbours will be surprised to see the two of us Im sure. We have rarely crossed paths over these winter months, all of us rushing here and there in our bulky coats and mitts, parking in our attached garages. No time to small talk in the winter. I will wave to them when I'm walking with my troller this spring. Come and see my baby, I will say. Perhaps I will meet those neighbourhood moms who walk together all summer, meet at the park for play dates, have each other over for tea on cold winter days.
I stopped work awhile ago. I was too exhausted from worry. Too nervous about the big day to concentrate. They werent happy that I left. No farewell party or parting gifts. But I dont need to work there again. Perhaps I will stop in some day for a visit. No hard feelings. Come and look at my baby, I will say. I know I will need to find another job sometime. Maybe in another place. Its hard to say how long I can stay here.
My time at the hospital wasnt as difficult as I had predicted. I only needed to focus, to avoid distraction, to stop myself from thinking too much. The most difficult part was going through it alone. Im not sure I could do it again. The day passed in a blur of noise and motion. Hours passed, people came and went in and out of rooms. Doctors, nurses, parents, lab techs, cleaning staff. I felt lost in the web of pre-natal and post-natal worlds.
My legs are stiff today. The drive home was long and uncomfortable. I didn't want to stop for fear of waking the baby. Best to get home quickly.
Get set up in our new life. I really need to sleep now, but the adrenaline still courses through me and I am unable to. All I can do is stare at this small baby in my arms and marvel at the miracle that brought us together.
We rock back and forth, back and forth. It is so calming to hear him breathing. He startles now and then his arms flailing backwards as if he is falling but then he sucks his lip again and is back into a deep slumber. I wonder if this is how everyone looks in sleep. Ive never slept next to another body for long enough to know. Or to be known. Perhaps someday. For now I watch over this tiny soul as he sleeps.
Tomorrow I will go to the store and buy more supplies. I hadn't really planned on having him so soon. I bought a tiny jacket, and he has his little hat from the hospital. So we will bundle up together and head to the store. I will make my list tonight after I lay him in his crib. I still can't bring myself to set him down. I listen to the cars spinning their tires on the slushy road outside. I cant seem to stop listening, to stop looking out the window. I need to sleep, to relax. Perhaps a bath with a little music might calm me.
There is a knock at the door. It is too late for flower deliveries or mistaken fast food, too unlikely to be friends at the door. I have told no one about the baby yet. I place him in the basinet and tighten the belt on my robe. Slowly I descend the stairs to the door and open it a crack. Two men are standing on my front step. They point their flashlights at my face.
They demand to come in, to search the house, to ask me some questions.
"Shh, shh, you'll wake the baby," I say. But they continue to speak loudly.
They want to know about the baby. Where is he now? Has he been harmed? Why did I steal him? "Shh, shh, you'll wake the baby," I say again. They pull my hands behind my back. I feel the cool of handcuffs tightening on my wrists. A young officer steps forward, moving softly into the living room.
He lifts the baby from his basinet and carries him past me. He does not look at me like the others do. I wont wake the baby he says. It is the only reassurance he can offer.
They lead me from the house. I suppose the neighbours will be surprised to see me after all. Nothing is as I had expected. I cant see the baby now, can't feel his gentle milky breath on me. We no longer sound as one. Gently the young officer lowers my head into the car. The red and blue lights dance in the darkness. The bittersweet last dance. It is now, in the backseat of the car, that I feel it. The tiny tingle in my breast. My milk has come in.
YOU COULD BE NEXT
Enter your bold, brilliant and brief fiction in the 9th-Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Send us your best in 1,500 words or fewer. The deadline is Dec. 1, 2008, and the entry fee is $12 a story. Mail your entry to: Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition, 700 East State St., Iola, WI 54990. For more information on the contest or to enter online, visit writersdigest.com/competitions.
THE SHORT LIST
The 8th-Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition attracted 6,805 entries. Judges Gina Ochsner, Debby Mayne and J.A. Konrath helped narrow the field. Finalists were judged and ranked by Writer’s Digest editors. Click below to read the top five stories (coming soon).
1 Robert Brandt, Saginaw, Mich., "The Procedure"
2 Marsha Brantley, Cleveland, Tenn., “Dirty Little Secrets”
3 Kirk Barrett, Evanston, Ill., “Sarajevo Roses”
4 Kara Graham, Lethbridge, AB, Canada, “The Last Dance”
5 Rekha Rao, Pisa, Italy, “Kite Maker”
6 Richard Holeton, Montara, Calif., “Year of the Pig”
7 Carl L. Williams, Houston, Texas, “One Last Taste Of Home”
8 Holly Current, Cincinnati, Ohio, “Burnt Offering”
9 Marsha Brubaker, Warren, Mich., “Jerry”
10 Ryan Edel, Raleigh, N.C., “My Brother the Hero”
11 Quirino Valdez Garza, Jr., Pearland, Texas, “Coyote: A Family’s Journey”
12 Hannah Rogers, Milford, Ohio, “Batman Band-Aids”
13 Alicia Stankay, Ambridge, Pa., “Reflections”
14 Grant Flint, Richmond, Calif., “Aunt Effie and the Great Depression”
15 Stephen Woodfin, Kilgore, Texas, “He Ain’t Leaving; He’s Gone”
16 Richard Goyette, Jasper, Ga., “The Dragon Hunter”
17 Rebecca LuElla Miller, Whittier, Calif., “Haj”
18 Johnny Skrabala, Richmond, Va., “Typecasting”
19 Samantha Johnson, Mililani, Hawaii, “The Child”
20 Lisa Eisenbrey, Austin, Texas, “Bob”
21 Robert Norton, Portland, Ore., “Marie’s Lovely Picture”
22 Kate Simonsen, Richmond, Va., “Employee Benefits”
23 Rebecca Benston, Springfield, Ohio, “The End”
24 Robert Couture, Boston, Mass., “To Swing”
25 William Long, State College, Pa., “On The Night That John James Shot The Dog”
NOTE: To receive a book containing the full manuscripts of the top 25 winners, send a check or money order for $6 to the 8th-Annual WD Short Short Story Collection, 700 East State St., Iola, WI 54990.