After the Vital Signs by Emily Livingstone

After the Vital Signs

My friend’s daughter, Gianna, wanted a pool party for her fifth birthday. And they had a pool. And the weather was fine. But Gianna’s mother, deaf to whining, packed her up and drove her to Chuck E. Cheese’s, where Gianna’s friends arrived with shiny gift bags. Soon, Gianna forgot about the pool. That night, the family slept in a hotel — a hotel with no pool — even though Chuck E. Cheese’s was only in the next town over. Gianna’s mother turned away from her husband’s snores to stare at the rise and fall of the little chest in the next bed, until finally, midnight came and went, and she could sleep. She could even try to forget what she’d been told in the exam room of her OB/GYN more than five years ago.

The women who go to that office know. Or most do. It doesn’t happen to everyone. There is a different feel to that one nurse, who comes in after your blood pressure’s already been taken, after they weigh you, after you pee in the cup, but before the doctor comes to measure your bump and rub it with the jelly so you can hear the heartbeat. She looks pretty normal, except her eyes are very dark, very intense, and she always has this shiny black clipboard, though no one sees the notes she has there. She looks down at it, greets you, then tells you when you have to save your child’s life. If you don’t want to know, if you don’t want to come in contact with whatever she is, you should go to a different doctor’s office. The doctors don’t mention it to the patients, and the patients don’t mention it to the doctors, though both sets whisper about it in the hallways to their own. The mothers who’ve seen the woman tell other women after wine, late at night, and their rosy faces go pale, and their eyes change, looking backward in time at the ghost, or the oracle, or whatever she is, and hearing her words again.

My daughter has been missing for two years. You probably have a lot of questions about that. I’m not going to answer them. I have looked for her. I am always looking. But what gives me hope is what the strange nurse told me eight years ago. My chance to save Iris’s life is approaching — a month and two days, on the bridge downtown, at nine pm, and it will be raining. That’s what I know. I go there now, but Iris is not there. There are no whiffs of her, no traces, no hairs, flecks, or cells that I can sense. But she will be there that night. That nurse was right all the other times, and my story will be one more check on her list, the same as the others on the clipboard.


After the Vital Signs


Emily Livingstone is a writer, tutor, mom, and English teacher on hiatus. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Molotov Cocktail, Necessary Fiction, Cleaver Magazine, Fiction Southeast, Syntax & Salt, and others. Her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, and Best of the Net. She tweets @Emi_Livingstone.


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