Where Life Begins
Adam says he’ll be back and there’s something about it, the way he can’t meet my eye, that tells me. But my scalp tingles from what Janine’s set in my hair and I join the others under domed dryers. Adam touches my arm, bobs to kiss my cheek before changing his mind. I smile, but already my eyes scan the headlines; that family with all the kids is in the spotlight again, the one whose oldest son is a perv.
When it starts, it sounds like popcorn, the way people always say, but not really. Too many too soon. A lull and then more. Janine, girls with dripping hair, drop to the floor.
At least it’s a strip mall, I think, not moving, dryer hot against my ears. Not a school.
The popping stops.
When the building quakes with something worse, I feel it inside — deep, in that place where life begins. I feel the building’s quake like my own. The magazine slides from my lap, splays to that picture of the couple’s grief creased with wear.
Someone screams, misplaced.
I think of Adam that morning at breakfast, how he made French toast with extra vanilla, the way I like, side of sausage, Earl Gray and wedge of lemon. I asked if he had interviews and he said he wanted to spend the day with me. I thought because it was his birthday.
I said, “I should be feeding you, not the other way around,” and he said,
“You’ve fed me the past twenty-five years. Now, it’s my turn.”
I believed him.
There’s the first time he left me, to see his father and his father’s young wife and their new baby, how scared he’d been at the gate to his plane, freckle-faced, eyes like moons. The feel of his fingers gripping mine when he said,
And I said, “It’s alright. You have a brother now.”
How he cried on the phone that night, sick for me and the bed we so often shared.
Was that it?
Chemicals burn my scalp. Welts spring.
There’s the first time I held him, how his brand-new cries sounded like a cat and I was worn enough that I thought there was a cat, mewling in the alley outside the window, before the doctor looked from behind the tent where I’d been cut and said,
And Adam’s father cried and kissed my face and my stomach roiled from medicine, the labor that’d gone too long, and I emptied all I had — which wasn’t much — into a tray the nurse held for me, and Adam’s father didn’t see because he’d gone already to cut the cord, so it was the nurse who stroked my hair and told me,
When they lay Adam across my chest, even as I felt my skin pulling behind the tent, the thread of needle sewing me together, I cried so hard everyone asked if I was in pain and I couldn’t answer for the tears, they came so fast, and I thought how this baby, this child, had never known pain but would one day and I would have to teach him, would hold his tiny baby body and coach him on what pain is and how to pull through. I thought how the world must have looked to him for the first time, how his room rocked, darkness a blanket, and then a slit made in the wall nearest his head, a flood of light. The roar of sound.
I held him to my chest and let my heart beat into his, because I couldn’t speak the words: This is the world and you are part of it and it’s better now because of you.
Stacy Trautwein Burns holds an MFA in creative writing from Colorado State University. Her work has been published in numerous journals, the most recent being Smokelong Quarterly, Hermeneutic Chaos, and Wyvern Lit. She lives in the Denver area, where she’s at work on a novel and spends the rest of her time writing short fiction and homeschooling her two children. You can read more about her at www.stacytrautweinburns.com.
(Next “Kill People” story: Duet for Robot Tenor Saxophonist and Human Tenor Saxophonist in D Minor by Daniel M. Shapiro)
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