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You wake up, panting. An ache has settled in the small of your back and the pressure is spreading. You hiss to get breath out of your lungs. The sheets are damp beneath you. Goo sticks to your thighs. What is that?
“Is it time?” Brian pops up in bed beside you. For a moment, you forget the pain. For a moment, all you feel is the warmth of his body and how his hands cradle your face the way he used to when you were his. But you haven’t seen him since the breakup. Did he change his mind?
“What–” you mean to ask him what are you doing here, but you’re forced to hiss and gasp and hiss again as the pain rolls through you.
“Don’t move! I’ll grab the hospital bag!” He kicks the blankets down, and all you can see is your stomach. You think you must be dreaming, but the pain is too real. You are pregnant. You can’t be pregnant. You’ve been on birth control since the ninth grade. Brian is back, bag in hand, at the next scream.
“Breathe! You have to get up because we are past the point of my being able to carry you.” Stupid joke. Brian is nervous, but there is something about the way he hops around. He’s excited too. You don’t want to follow him. You’re still trying to figure out what the hell is happening. Brian tugs on your elbow guiding you to your feet. At least you think you’re on your feet, you can’t see them past your bloated belly. Goo slides down your legs. What the fuck is that? The stretchy material of your nightgown is stained around your crotch from your water breaking, but there are other stains. Food stains. Drink stains. When was the last time you showered? That exhausting thought has you wanting to sit back down and shut your eyes, but here comes the pain again. This time you make no noise. The screams are all inside. It makes you want to crumple to the ground. You do crumple to the ground.
Brian is saying something again, but you can’t make out the words. His voice is soft and low. For a second, there is only him and you. For a second, there is only the love in his touch massaging your shoulder. Then the second is gone and there is only pain. He somehow gets you to your feet waddling down the hall. You’re thirsty. You’re nauseous. You think you are dying. You might be dying. This might be a dying hallucination. Your brain could be shutting down. You can’t think about that. You are all body now.
Brian gets you into a minivan parked in Betty’s spot, your little yellow bug’s spot. Betty’s pink fuzzy dice hang from the van’s mirror. What happened to Betty? He buckles your seatbelt despite your hands slapping his away. It’s too tight. The belt squeezes your bladder, it squeezes your stomach, there is so much pressure.
“How– why is this happening?”
“I know. It’s my fault. Yes, I did this to you. That’s what you’re trying to say, right?” That is not what you were trying to say, but all of your focus is now on the pain and the panting. He pulls up to the hospital and puts you into a wheelchair before yelling for some doctor. Your doctor. Before you know it, you are stripped of your nightgown and in the cold starchy fabric of hospital provided clothing. Strangers spread your legs.
“It’s too late for an epidural.” You were not planning on an epidural. You had not planned for any of this. When you went to bed last night, you did so with an empty womb and a face warmed by wine. When you went to bed last night, you did so alone. Now, you are here. Brian is here. He squeezes your hand and pushes damp hair from your sweaty forehead.
“It’s time to push,” someone says from between your legs.
Brian kisses your head and breathes loudly, the way he thinks you should. He tells you he loves you and how happy he is. You are giving him exactly what he wanted. What you said you would never want. The reason you went to bed alone last night. He thought you’d change your mind. He wasted the last four years of his life thinking you’d change your mind. In the beginning, he said you were enough. You were not enough for him. He wanted more. He wanted this. You have to push. You don’t want to push, but your body does. Brian drops your hand. He inches closer to your open legs.
“I hope it’s a boy,” he says.
“How-” did I get here.
“What-” happened to my plan.
“We-” broke up. I didn’t want this. I don’t want this.
“What-” happened to Betty.
“Why is this happening?” You manage to get out through a grunt just shy of a scream.
“I know,” he says this over and over like it is supposed to comfort you. I know. What does he know? Does he know how it is even possible for you to be in this situation: to wake up in a life you never wanted – a life you were willing to lose him to avoid? What does he comprehend about the situation between your legs, about the pressure and stretching and the tearing of skin? About trying to push a strange being that does not belong to you out of you? About the pain that keeps growing and growing every instinct pulling you in on yourself? Contracting. These are contractions. Each one longer than the last. The man between your legs is saying something. He’s saying something but you can’t make out the words. Something is wrong. With you? With the baby?
“Yes. Do it,” Brian says pecking your head quickly. You barely notice the pinch of the needle amongst all of the pressure. Brian’s eyes snap back to your stomach as scissors are placed in the doctor’s hand. You hold your breath, and the monitors beep louder.
“Breathe,” one of the strangers between your legs says, “You have to breathe.” They are right, of course. You feel faint. Your face flashes hot to cold. You could pass out right now. Maybe that would be better. You could close your eyes and wake up from this nightmare. Brian shakes your shoulder. He pushes and pulls you until you open your mouth and inhale as your body contracts. Then he is gone. He is moving toward the source of the pain. Toward the life he always wanted. The thing he waited four years for. The reason you could not be his. The doctor is speaking again, but all you hear is “forceps.” You vaguely remember your mother’s story about forceps, and the words tearing and incontinence come to mind.
“No,” you say, but the large metal spoon shaped things are already in his hand disappearing between your legs. You shake and try to pull back, but Brian is there holding your shoulders.
“I know,” he says. The pressure builds and you think you can feel your insides ripping. The doctor drops the forceps on a trey beside him.
“Breathe,” he says, “It’s over now,” he says. But it’s not. Another contraction rolls through you. The people around you are all saying push. Over and over, “push” and “breathe.” You scream to get the air out, but it doesn’t help. It hurts. You can’t feel your tears anymore, but you know they’re there. Your face scrunches. Your eyes shut. You are holding your breath again. Brian shakes you harder and harder until you open your mouth and breathe.
You collapse back against the bed as it is pulled out of you. The people between your legs are gone. Brian is gone. The room is too quiet. Cold air touches your burning skin. It’s over, but your body is still shaking. The blood drains from your face. You can’t keep your eyes open anymore. The room is so quiet. Why is it so quiet?
A small cry sounds and the room seems to exhale its held breath. Brian is saying something, but you are distracted by the cries. They place it on your chest still wet from being inside of you. It cries and they lift your arms so that you are holding it. You look to Brian, but he is not looking at you. His attention is on the crying one. On the little being that has distracted everyone, even you, from the things still happening to your body. He reaches out, eyes filled with tears, toward his happiness.
About Riley Krembil
Riley Krembil is a Canadian writer who had the proud, short-lived, status of “Alien” according to her student visa paperwork. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with an MFA in Fiction Writing. Her work has appeared in Molotov Cocktail, Coffin Bell Journal, and Breadcrumbs Magazine.