The Gap by Shawn McClure

The Gap 

After the baby is born, when every last leaf has been blown from the skeletal trees, I begin to notice the nests. They are exposed, and some of them are partially dismantled from the wind. There is one set precariously in a branch that extends out over a busy road. I wonder how it feels to that mother bird, feeding those gaping beaks while cars whiz beneath.

My baby is strapped into her own nest of fleece and plastic. She sees the branch pass overhead through the rear windshield. I wonder if those newborn eyes are admiring the silhouette as she sucks her fist.

Our front door has a wide gap where the weather stripping fell out. I put a stray sock in the gap because heat is expensive, but my husband takes it out and puts it in the hamper. Every morning I wake to the heat blasting uselessly against the chill. Dawn shines through the gap. I sigh and put the sock back. It makes my arms ache, and a curious ridge of goosebumps rises along the back of both arms.

There is a tall Red Pine outside the baby’s window. In it, concealed by a tight cluster of pine boughs, is a large and messy nest of sticks. I sit in the rocking chair, nursing the baby, watching to see who lives in it. I’m hoping for crows, or maybe a hawk.

The dryer stopped working, so I hang the laundry on a rack on the patio. This time of year, the clothes freeze. I’m out there longer than I need to be, watching the nest from below, enchanted. I go back in the house when my fingers are numb. Feathers emerge from the ridge of goosebumps on my arms, and I hide them under long sleeves.

I always put the sock in the gap before bed. He takes it out when he goes out for a smoke. It becomes a silent battle waged in the night. Which of us will give in and buy the weather stripping?

He doesn’t sleep in our bed anymore, so it’s easy to hide the changes in my arms. I am at once thrilled and ashamed by the sight of myself in the mirror. It reminds me of puberty: awkward yet natural. I look at my wings, admiring the gleam of feathers. I am afraid to test them.

When the furnace breaks, he’s in a rage. I make a remark about the sock. “Get a job,” he snaps back. “Put her in day care. You get the weatherstripping. I do enough.”

He’s at work when the space heater goes. The water boiling on the stove offers a little heat and humidity to the frigid kitchen, but it is not enough. I get the baby and swaddle her tight. I drink a cup of steaming tea to warm up and go upstairs. I pull out my new wings and stretch.

I strap the baby to my chest in that carrier I received at the shower. My fear of heights pumps adrenaline into my blood. I launch myself from the windowsill into the January afternoon, not knowing if I will sink or soar. I open my eyes when I feel myself lift.

It turns out that flying is easy. I look down. I can’t see the gap in the door from up here, but I see the Red Pine and that nest. I feel my tiny girl squirm and sigh in her snug wrappings. I feel courageous, and pick up speed. Up ahead, where the blue fades to green, I can see the place we will fledge.

I think of my baby’s eyes, so much like the wondrous ponds of blue nestled in the landscape below. I think of that nest in the Red Pine, looking so much like a wreath, so much like a mother’s arms, empty but ready for a new life.


The Gap


Shawn McClure is a visual artist and writer who lives in central New Jersey with her family. Her work has been in Kindred Magazine, Calamus Journal, Noble/Gas Qtrly and other places around the web.


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