First Things First
He will walk towards you in a sky-blue shirt and you will know it’s him. His eyes will be wide and deep and beautiful. You will walk together past Mooney’s Bay, along the Ottawa River. The sun will warm your shoulders. When he tells you about the coast-side village he was born in, you will want to touch his cheek bones, to trace the embroidery on his collar. You won’t notice the dragon boat teams slicing through the water beside you, their shouts carrying through the willows. He will hold your hand. The sun will set. You will accept his invitation, climb into his car and follow him. You will want to go everywhere and anywhere. He will feel like home.
In a small reception hall above a restaurant in Chinatown, you will go out dancing. In a sauna-hot room, you will hear the bass and horns of old-time funk. You will let yourself be carried away. You will move in close to him. He will smell like cardamom and mint. You will watch him dance. He will show you himself through a seldom-open door: the up-turn of a smile, relaxed brow, eyes closed. He will be perfect to you there in the rhythm and the movement, his outline pressed into your heart.
The pregnancy test will show positive with a pulsing, glowing cross. In the bathroom at the office, before your first client, you will sit on the toilet and project an imaginary list onto the wall:
- Medical school application
- Parents’ reactions
- Biological clock
- You have only been dating a month and a half…
You will close your eyes and remember what he said about wanting to have a family. You will spend the morning flushed, straining to listen to other people’s stories of happenstance, triumph, random acts and failures; stories of earthquakes, exile, heartbreak and loneliness.
There will be electricity, an undercurrent, a hum throughout the day. It will crackle, radiating through your fingers, across your chest, down your legs. It will be undeniable, this charge. You will tell the cashier who packs your groceries, the teller at the bank, your neighbour unlocking his apartment door. It will be a booming, resounding ‘yes’. You will be happy that this is true, that this is true with him.
On a cool fall evening with rain glazing the orange-red elms, you will tell him.
“I took a test this morning,” you will start with. You will sit at a table for two at Chez Fatima, a small and bustling Moroccan bistro in Gatineau. He will pour his mint tea out of a heavy brass pot, long-spouted and shining. The loose mint leaves will smell fresh; they will ease your nervousness and nausea. He will not respond.
He will be quiet, eyes down-cast, nothing to read in his face. He will order a lamb tagine and you will wait. You will wait as the music starts, the doumbek taps filling the small room. You will wait as the belly dancer twirls between the tables in a peacock bloom of purples and blues, her luminous sequins sparkling. You will watch her, a cloudburst of hip lifts, undulations and veils. You will try to enjoy her serpentine curves as you wonder about what he will say. You will eat your aromatic suppers in silence.
You will wait through a cardamom custard and finally ask, “What are your thoughts?” He will fold his linen napkin and say, “It’s fine. This is OK. We can do this together”.
As you put on your coat the belly dancer’s drum solo will continue in your chest. Your relief, wonderings and anticipations will whirl in a figure-eight pattern like the dancer’s veils. You will secure your seat belt and lean back to close your eyes. The car will be silent as it takes the winding turn, Parliament Hill rising in the night sky.
What You May Be Wondering About
“What about moving in together?” you will ask him one morning, wrapping a cranberry-lemon muffin in a napkin. You will slip it into his coat pocket.
“I have no plans for that,” he will reply, as matter-of-fact as changing the channel on a T.V. He will look straight ahead at the elevator buttons. You will stand in your bathrobe, holding your apartment door open with your toe.
“I have no plans for that,” he will repeat without looking at you. This simple string of words will swirl up into a knotty vortex and thump against the wall, pound the fire exit door, flap up the dusty carpet and slap you in the face. Your heart will pound. In a hurry, he will step into the elevator and not say good-bye. Inside, you will pour yourself a glass of orange juice and wonder what planet you’re living on, where what you think is happening isn’t actually happening.
That afternoon, on a couch in your midwife’s bright office, you will relax and take a breath. She will take a medical history and ask about a birth plan. You will do your best to respond, a hiccup catching in your throat. You want to help, to be informed, to start somewhere, but the words that come are loose and free associations. A word salad.
Your plan is a faint outline, a teetering skeleton, a garbled voice. You haven’t a clue. Your midwife’s voice, her kind tone, will become a rope that you hold on to. You will decide to focus on it. It will serve to pull you out of the unexpected pool of water that surrounds you, rising. As you sit amongst the photos of newborns and young families, the colourful cushions and pamphlet stacks, you will not have a plan either.
The unexpected pain will present itself during an all-staff meeting. You will drive yourself to the Montfort hospital, remembering the route, keeping track of the time. You will focus on your breathing and tell yourself: it’s normal.
At the hospital, a resident will examine you, apologizing for the cold and discomfort. You will hold on to something above your head and wince. Your midwife will touch your shoulder. The amount of blood you find on the sheet beneath you will be shocking. Your belly will be connected to a fetal heart monitor with thick leather straps. You will try to guess at what the readings mean, the sounds and beeps. You overhear your midwife say: “She’s not a complainer. The pain is real.”
The tests will turn out normal. You will warm your hands on the blanket and remember what he said to you over a chicken supper the night before: “You love me more than I love you. That’s normal. That’s how it’s supposed to happen.” You will remember taking a sip of soda water and saying nothing, no correction or objection. You will remember wanting to leave your plate, the restaurant, him, this new bizarre world behind. You will lie back on the bed, close your eyes and imagine what you wanted to say, what you could have said despite your throat so sore and tight: “It is not normal,” you would have complained, if given a second chance.
The ultrasound’s display will show her spine like a DNA helix dancing. You will watch the moving puzzle of her heart, blue and red with swirling streams, and be amazed. The technician will show you two parallel lines. Blink once, blink twice.
“It’s a girl”. You will be happy. In your excitement you will turn to him in the chair beside you and squeeze his hand. He will look at you and this will delight you because he will so rarely, by then. These past weeks will have brought his freezing-over, a gradual cooling and withholding of affection, conversation, touch. You will wonder, as you look back to your daughter pirouetting on the blue-lit monitor, what brought on this change? Her? You? A death in his family?
As you watch the quick and winking butterfly at the centre of her chest, the questions will quiet and fade. For a moment, you will stop noticing the iceberg that rips through the space between you, that space that not long before was fluid, warming and electric.
That evening, you will look at the sonogram photo of your daughter. In a box underneath your bed you will find your mosaic supplies and a bare wood photo frame. Late into the night you will glue the pieces of iridescent glass into a rainbow matrix. With each piece pressed you will imagine different parts of her: her hands, her feet, her surely kinky hair. In the glint of the coloured tesserae you will see your mother’s face, your grandmother’s hands. When the sun rises and the frame sits on your kitchen table to dry, you will choose her name: Kaliopi. You will fall asleep on the couch and dream of her: an artist at her easel with large and glowing eyes.
After The Baby Is Born
On a hot July night, while you lie on your couch watching The Colbert Report, your water will break. You will be surprised when it comes not in one swift wave but regularly, repeatedly, for hours. Your labour will be slow and elephant-like, hours-long at home. You will suck on raspberry popsicles and walk through the lush community garden behind your apartment building. He will walk with you and hold your hand as you breathe through the crest of the pain.
Almost forty-eight hours later you will drive to the hospital for an induction. The epidural will be painless and precise. You will faint as you always will when lying flat in your third trimester. The room will close in around you, the ceiling will contract, beige walls will turn grey. You will call out to your midwife and tell her that you are drifting, falling. She will wipe your face gently with a cool wet cloth. She will say: “Nikki, we are here. Nikki, there you are…”
When the induction fails and you are wheeled into an emergency c-section, you will remember this small gesture, a rickshaw in flood waters. It will accompany you through the remains of that day and into the early hours of the next when, his hand in yours, Kaliopi is born.
At the hospital, your midwife will hear something like a heart murmur. The nurse will dot her tiny bare chest with leads to an ECG. In a warmed bassinet, she will kick out her skinny legs and stretch out her arms while you vibrate in anticipation. Rooted, standing in your spot, the clock on the wall will stop. You will want to be able to see through the back of the paper printout that the doctor will hold. You will want it to levitate out of his hands and multiply into a flourish of doves that will lift her and bring her to you. The nurse will tell you there is no hole in her heart. You will swallow and forget everything but the weight of her in your elbow and the stamp of her on your skin.
A week later, at home, you will put her down to nap and find an email thread opened on your computer. He will write to a friend: “There is nothing between the two of us. I am here with her to be around my child.” The font will jump out at you like a 3D car chase, a five-alarm fire, a car bomb’s explosion. You will re-read it two and then three times. He will be sleeping in the other room.
It will be early in the morning and the Beijing Olympic kayak heat will be playing on TV. You will swallow a swill of humid summer air. Your hands will shake as you arrange the breast pump on the table beside you. Your gut will churn and your head will pound with his typed words and your lack of sleep.
Sitting on your couch, you will watch the kayaks gliding. You will watch the muscles in the athlete’s arms, the paddles slitting the water open. Their voices will strain with effort. This will be the backdrop, the sights and sounds of your world turning upside down, your flip-flop to an alternate universe where everything looks the same but is strange.
You will pick your baby up and put her fingers in your mouth, her dimpled knuckles. You will smell her neck and adjust her thin blanket. She will open her eyes and you will remember the river on the day you met her father, the racing boats in the water. You will whisper as you tell her the story of that day at Mooney’s Bay. You will wish that you could go back there and bring her with you, so she might see what you were like, how close you sat together.
Nikki Reklitis is a writer, social worker and mom from Ottawa, Canada. She is a first generation Canadian whose parents immigrated from Greece to Canada in the 1950’s. Her short fiction has appeared in Other Voices: Journal of Literary and Visual Arts (Edmonton, Alberta) and in Ottawa’s In/Words Magazine and Press. In May 2012, her postcard story The Traveller’s Chair, placed as a finalist with The Writer’s Union of Canada Postcard Story Competition. In 2013, her short story “Misdirection” was selected as a finalist and published in Sarah Selecky’s Little Bird Stories Volume 3 (a short fiction contest juried by author Alix Ohlin).