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You Have to Pay for That

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I was walking in a shop and touching sweaters: beige, oatmeal, linen, eggshell. All the colors that make people feel like they should say things like, “I would’ve spilled coffee on that yesterday. You are so brave.” As if not caring about spills and knowing how to use bleach correctly was some real purple heart shit.

“Ma’am, ma’am,” a store clerk said. She pointed at my feet.

Somewhere between jeans and jewelry, a baby had fallen out of me. Placenta and blood and infant were on the faux-marble floor. The baby was fine. She was small and looking up at the world with dark, dark eyes. I was embarrassed that the first thing she saw was overhead fluorescent light: the kind that makes objects below it look worth double their price and the people below it seem as if they’re suffering from radiation sickness. I realized that was probably the first thing hospital babies saw too. That or a doctor’s blue scrubs or maybe their own blood.

We had only been together for a minute at most, but already I was unsure of the best way to be a person in front of her. When I had seen women in similar situations on TV shows, I had covered my eyes. I had whispered, “oh shit, girl.” Piano music swayed down the escalator. I could smell a perfume storm cloud in the distance. I scooped the baby up. Held it to my chest. Swaddled it in one of the sweaters. Ecru. She was calm, so I mirrored her. Now I know it’s supposed to be the other way around.

In my arms, the baby waved a hand. There was a small hole at the very top of her head. Inside, her brain was golden. I swear I could see light around it. All soft red and pinks. It was like being very close to a beautiful old landscape painting. Sunrise over the Pacific Ocean. I wanted to whisper something wonderful into that space. A thing the baby could remember when she was thirty and felt overweight and was drinking a glass of white wine and saying, “What is day to day life anyway? Isn’t it just the made up things we do to reaffirm the way everyone around us perceives existence?” But all I could think to whisper was, “Easy, easy.”

Tiny-House

Megan Giddings is a fiction editor at The Offing. Her short stories are forthcoming or have been recently published in Arts & Letters, Black Warrior Review, and Pleiades. More about her can be found at www.megangiddings.com.
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