I’ll be in labor soon. I know because I can see the baby shifting in my gut, unwinding from its bean-shaped slumber. I can see it because I’m a ghost. But I’m not a doctor. I don’t know its sex. Maybe it doesn’t have one, and maybe that’s a good thing.
My head is full of a static emptiness, completely void of the to-dos and worries that seem so much more important when coupled with a beating heart. Now I know how utterly ridiculous it was of me to spend all those nights crying over not being able to have children. Look at me now—I’m a pregnant ghost. People sometimes get what they want in the end if they just let it go, give the fumble of worry and sadness and desire to the bigger picture. In my case, it’s after the end, in the endless loop that is the perimeter of life, when I get what I want.
I’m in labor now. My baby is upside-down. There’s a pulling throughout my body that tells me I’m about to let go of something.
I haunt a subway. I like the constant reset of faces and behavior, the starting and stopping, the salty smell of rushing around. And once people settle down, they’re in pause, in between destinations, and I swear they feel me. If their eyes roll over me, they look back as if they’ve missed something.
There’s a woman who has been riding most of the day. She has acted as if she’s going to exit—gathered her things as we approached certain stops—but never stood with the crowd. Her thin sweater hangs with a nametag: LON. She has dark hair that looks as if it’s been rained on but hasn’t. Her face reminds me of pottery—carefully crafted, desired, but imperfect in that human-error sort of way. I sit next to her because no one else has.
“Do you know how to deliver a baby?” I ask.
No response. Her right hand begins to hold her left wrist, like a hammer, as if she is about to nail something into place. Was that in response to me?
“Excuse me,” I say, “Lon? Clap twice if you can hear me.”
Lon’s stiff, wide eyes remain open. She takes a deep breath through her nose, holds it, and releases it gradually. She repeats. She’s trying to stay calm, that’s good. Perhaps this will increase my chances in being heard. The baby is lower now. There’s pressure. Whatever I’m made of is contracting like gills. Lon is rubbing her hands together now as if there’s soap in the air. She seems as though she wants to cry.
“Lon,” I say. “Come on, I need you. Is Lon your full name? What’s your full name?”
And then I instantly know it. Lonna. I don’t know how I remember, but I do. She used to bag my groceries years ago, in my twenties, when I lived with my parents and bought their groceries at this little corner store as a substitute for rent. It was around that time when I discovered that I wasn’t capable of bearing a child. And I guess that’s why I moved home—to prolong my own childhood was the best I could do. But my parents were over it. I was to buy groceries for the house with the money I’d earned as a nanny the last several years, a lifestyle I’d elected over education. I never went to that corner store at the same time of day, but Lonna was always there, bagging canned goods and cereal with a preciseness that killed me—she took pride in the crumb life had offered her. Lonna’s careful peace infuriated me. I figured out where she lived. I followed her home. I watched her take her shoes off before opening the front door. I saw each light illuminate and fade as she moved through each room. There was an empty can next to my foot. I kicked it, listened to it clang down the quiet street. I started checking Lonna’s mailbox while she was at work. A man named Michael Pasqual wrote to her. The letters of her name—Lonna Sims—fused together on the envelope, as did her address. The stamps were always stuck on crooked. The hurried handwriting of Michael Pasqual’s messages was honest. He begged her to come to him, that he loved her. I continued checking Lonna’s mailbox. Every time I saw that crooked stamp, and every time I pocketed the unopened letter. I stole them all. Kept them on my kitchen table to re-read over morning coffee. Eventually, Michael Pasqual stopped writing to Lonna, and Lonna stopped going to work. I asked the cashier about her one day, and he only shook his head and shrugged. I couldn’t sleep after that. I walked by Lonna’s house one night, the middle of the night, and saw her raking leaves. If Lonna was doing yard work in the middle of the night, she probably couldn’t sleep, and maybe she couldn’t sleep because she was scared, or lonely, or insecure. Maybe I’d contributed to this. She didn’t know Michael Pasqual had been writing to her. Maybe she felt unloved, which is the worst thing to feel.
Now, on the subway, I’m on my knees. My baby’s shoulders are out, but I can’t focus. I’m kissing Lonna’s feet, Lonna whose name has shortened to Lon. I’m hugging her legs, securing any energy I have left into her joints, trying to smooth out her aches and pains if she has any. I’m feeling my way up to her heart. It beats against my white palm. I’m sorry, I say. I didn’t realize. Lon never looks at me because I’m not there, but she pulls a compact mirror out of her bag and powders her nose with the grace of a woman who knows herself, and I know our paths have separated, that they’ve always been separate. The thin scream of the brakes jolts everyone out of their collective trance. Lon stands and walks to the door. A man kisses a woman a few seats over, and I don’t turn to get a better look. I am holding my baby now. Its small eyes are new to things, trusting. It blinks twice.
Photo By: Luke Addison