Cécile
Barlier



FULL OF GRACE


It was the fall of 1985, just a few weeks after my husband and I had moved to Pasadena, California, all the way from our native Nantes. We were to spend the next three years there, as Michel had been appointed at Cal Tech to teach differential equations to the undergrads.

What Michel called his “equadiffs” would always be a complete mystery to me, although he had made several attempts to make proper introductions. He would point at the colorful graphs in his office, and I would watch with unlearned deference; fine, colored wrinkles beyond question, red and blue elegant intertwining lines with flowing names such as “Traveling waves and shocks,” “Energy in System,” “Veloc-force.”

Pasadena would be a shock wave indeed, and what had first sounded to me like the name of a Latin dance or a Brazilian seashore was in those early days the promise of even more. I couldn’t quite grasp the brightness of the place. Pasadena had sunlight so pervasive that no shade in the house could temper it. I had to lead a life with sunglasses, inside and out; weeks of uninterrupted sun. Of course, I had the nights to recover, nights with a quality of air as light and breezy as chocolate mousse. We slept naked.

By October, I was in my eighth month and big as a cruise liner. My swollen breasts were leading the way over an abdomen so stiff I expected the skin to burst anytime despite the daily use of lotion. My curvy rear end was at the stern of a body that had overgrown me beyond belief, and I kept touching the different parts of my anatomy like a dreamer trying to pinch herself back to reality. I was thirty-nine and pregnant for the first time.

Every morning, Michel would leave at dawn and kiss me on the small protuberant hook-bone at the nape of my neck. Under no circumstances would I miss the ritual even if my compressed bladder threatened a second Hiroshima: kiss first, bathroom next.

After he’d left, I’d wake up hungry as an ogress and walk to the diner down the block for the full American breakfast experience. The place was warm and woody, with square marble tables and fresh-cut flowers. There awaited worn metal teapots, silky egg yolks slightly veiled, soaked teabags on porcelain, handwritten menus on white boards; all different angles of the Promised Land. An ancient TV set was posted in a corner—always on. Tradition oblige.

The diner keeper was an old-fashioned beauty who reminded me of Irene Dunne in Love Affair. Her smile radiated like an Icelandic fireplace, and every now and then she’d ask: “So when are you due again, honey?”

It was one of those Indian summer mornings, and I was drowning crispy warm bread in my Benedicts while trying to read Time Magazine and occasionally lifting my head to watch the news. The boy had been sitting catty-corner to me under one of the windows. I watched him whenever I felt he wouldn’t notice. He had a pack of Lucky Strikes next to a large foamy cup of coffee, but more interestingly he wore the white collar of a Roman Catholic priest. With the milky skin of a redhead, albeit no trace of red in his washed blond hair, the boy looked terribly young. A youth incompatible with priesthood, I decided.

“You don’t look like you’re from around here,” he said from across the room, obviously noticing I had been watching.

“Probably because I’m not,” I responded.

That morning, we had the diner all to ourselves, and the three of us must have formed an odd triangle of a kind: the child priest, the Icelandic beauty, and me—the overgrown mother-to-be. It created a strange atmospheric imbalance, almost imperceptible, like the gravity of an ever-so-slightly slanted plane where marbles are put in slow motion. I stood up and strode between the tables toward the boy, a gush of motherly hormones giving me sudden confidence.

“Hi, I’m Hélène and there’s no hiding I’m from France. What’s your name?” I asked.

He stood up too quickly, almost kicking his chair to the floor in the process. He wasn’t wearing a full robe, just a black collarino and matching black pants, both floating a little on a thin frame. The Church hadn’t yet covered his body in full; the boy was still permitted a bit of manliness.

“Hi. Thomas,” he said.

He raised a hand in a begging gesture for me to catch it, and we shook hands like strangers are supposed to do on a first meet. It was a peculiar motion, exclusive, which made the diner and the Icelandic waitress lose color. Although it lasted only seconds, the focus was so intense that I felt like a child myself, my head tilted over a difficult drawing in progress, my tongue stuck from the corner of my mouth. We weren’t looking at each other; we were looking at our hands as if they were detached from us.

“Do you mind?” I said, gesturing to the chair across from him.

“Oh please, by all means!” he said and grabbed the back of the chair to make room, then placed it gently under me as I sat. I always liked the rules of etiquette—in that moment, the boy had marked ten points right off the bat.

“Are you from Pasadena yourself, Thomas?”

“No, I came here to study,” he said. “Besides, very few are true Pasadenian. The last of the natives must have left in the first half of the nineteenth century.”

“Interesting you would say that…” I whispered.

“You mean interesting that an American would make any historical reference at all?” he said abruptly.

I paused and observed him, not gratifying him with a response that would have been either untruthful or would appear so in any case. I was growing curious of this mixture of shy politeness and awkward passion.

His face had moved forward over his neck, which now exhibited a web of tendons and veins framing the protruding Adam’s apple. His eyes had opened up, and their color was as puzzling as the boy himself—a paragon of in-between: a greenish brown gleaming toward blue under the direct light flowing from the window.

I had decided to let the boy reflect on his question and how he had thrown it at me from a slingshot of his soul. Soul was, after all, the groundwork from which he had chosen to elevate his career, and it was fair that his question would fire right back. The silence was deliciously awkward.

“I don’t know why I said that,” he said now in a low voice, a red surge flowing from the white rectangle of his collar straight up to the cheekbones. There was some firework under his skin.

I started laughing, one of those deep and honest laughs that rose from below the lungs. It was uncontrollable, like a hiccup, an irritation of the nerves that kept building itself up to an apogee. This wasn’t a discreet chuckle—nothing Anglo-Saxon about it. It was pure Latin guttural hysteria, which fired across the room and ricocheted against the walls.

I overpowered him and it didn’t take long for him to join me. The boy had guts. He kept pulling at his Catholic collar while his eyes had disappeared under an array of solar wrinkles. I liked that.

“It’s good to laugh,” I said at last while leaning back in my chair and grabbing my oversized girth with both hands.

“It is,” the boy said and wiped what looked like tears on either side of his eyes. “May I say something?” he added.

“Anything except asking for permission to say it,” I said.

“You make an iconic pregnant lady.” He paused. “What I mean to say…” His face and neck were red again. He could not utter the words.

I was both startled and flattered by this inconsequential flirt, liberated because of my pregnancy, liberated because of his faith. We both had good excuses. The young man had managed to confuse himself as to who we were: a man and a woman in a diner making conversation for the first time. I had no desire to help him out. I looked at him in the eyes.

He started again. “You see,” he said, “you look just like the image of pregnancy.”

“Aha. And how could this be iconic? Some people consider my condition embarrassing and improper to look at. The pregnant woman belongs in her home and not in some nice and cozy diner.”

Thomas was looking at his fingers now. I could tell the Icelandic beauty was listening in from behind the bar, wiping wineglasses that were sparkling and dry already.

“Do you come here often, Thomas? I don’t think I’ve seen you before.”

“I usually stay and eat at the seminary. I had the day off and wandered about. It’s a long walk from there.” The redness in his face was starting to fade as he toyed with his pack of Luckies.

“You can smoke if you want to. I really wouldn’t mind; I might even appreciate it. I haven’t smoked in ages.”

“But you shouldn’t and so I shouldn’t.”

“Wisely spoken.” I smiled and realized I must have been smiling the whole time. I felt vibrant, like a purring cat.

“So how long do you have to go before ordination?”

“I’m in the second year of my Master of Divinity. I still have awhile to go.” He stopped. “Look…” he started, “I apologize for what I said earlier. It wasn’t appropriate. About the pregnancy… I spend so much time in the seminary, I forget how to be in the world. Please forget it.”

“I will,” I said.

He got up to leave. “I’d better head back. It’s getting late and I have to study.”

“I’ll treat you to your coffee,” I said. “No strings attached. You go and study.” I waved a dismissive hand sweep.

“Okay,” he said. “Thank you very much.”

Thomas had spoken like a car that wouldn’t start, with lots of pauses and an ignition that failed to do the trick. He went out and I watched him walk behind the diner’s window in the splashing sunlight. In one of the top corners, a flock of pigeons flew by. When the Icelandic beauty gave me my change back, I could read cold judgment in her eyes. I had scored low with her that morning, and I felt the need to tip big.

The following evening, while chatting with Michel, I talked about my morning encounter. Somehow, in the telling, I must have seemed protective of Thomas, as if anticipating some anti-clerical remark from Michel—defending a faith and a clergy that I had rejected throughout the first half of my life. I found myself praising Thomas’ vocational impulse and his courage in carrying on with it.

“Vocation…” He paused. “What did he look like?”

“Who?”

“Who do you think? The priest-to-be, the guy from the diner of course!”

“Oh, Michel… And how does this have anything to do with anything?”

“Everything. It has everything to do with everything.”

“Well, good, I suppose. In an odd kind of way.”

“I thought so. Vocation would only take you so far.”

“Thanks, Michel. It’s great that you see such depth in me, in my behavior out in the world, especially when I’m eight months along.”

“So what? You wouldn’t flirt because you’re pregnant? Is that what you want me to believe? You look dangerously good, Hélène, especially now.” A sinuous smile was swimming across Michel’s face.

“Oh, please…” I stiffened as I stood in front of him.

“Oh, please…” he repeated as he was closing in on me, his hands landing on my outstretched skin.

“Flirt with me,” he ordered.


***

That night, I couldn’t fall asleep. I kept trying to convince myself that I was getting some rest by just lying in bed; that, at some point, my mind would grow weary of my body. There were too many obstacles. My pregnant body was one, which at this point only permitted one specific side position with a pillow stuffed between my thighs. My mind was another, racing along Michel’s light snoring, racing along his hands on me, racing along Thomas’s cloudless face when he laughed.

At around 2 a.m., I got up and went into the kitchen to drink a glass of water. I filled the glass from the refrigerator’s dispenser, and in the dark, some water must have spilled and formed a small puddle. As I stepped away from the fridge, my bare feet got wet. For a second I believed my water had broken, and I checked myself, but there was nothing.

I went onto the terrace to breathe some air—softer than any I had breathed that year. In the corner of the night, I listened to the sound of freight trains and isolated cars—manmade machines that were heading somewhere. “Give me your ears,” the machines were saying. “God says for me to tell you that all of you must report here if they want to deliver.” The Pasadena night had become a giant delivery room.


***


Over the next three days, I pretended to have forgotten about Thomas.

I stayed home for the most part and procrastinated and looked out the seventeen windows of our house.

At some point, I started packing for the hospital. This was the one thing that all guidebooks about pregnancy agreed upon: Pack your belongings so that you are ready when it comes. For some reason, I couldn’t comprehend the instructions and kept undoing and redoing the same tasks.

Most books suggested packing two different bags: one for what was needed during labor and another for what wouldn’t be needed until after giving birth. I found it confusing. I placed two nightgowns in the same bag despite repeated advice to keep one for before and a fresh one for after. In the end and when I was done with it, I lifted one bag with each hand and figured the labor bag was much lighter than the after-birth bag.

On the fourth day I decided to spend the morning reading the Pasadena Star-News through and through. At the end of the local cultural section, my eyes got caught by a tiny column. The font was so small that I had to get Michel’s reading glasses to decipher. It read:

On November 2nd, Rev. Tobias E. will be celebrating a solemn requiem mass for All Souls’ Day at the St. Andrews Catholic Church. Joseph P. and Thomas F. from the Fuller Theological Seminary will serve mass for this special event. The choir of Holy Family will perform. This traditional mass is anticipated with much excitement from all the members of Pasadena’s Catholic community.

When Michel came back from work late that afternoon, he blew the door open and caught me by surprise as I was coming down the stairs. For a second, I felt guilty. His coat still on, he announced that some hotshot from Cal Tech wanted him to contribute to an upcoming publication in a prestigious mathematical review. This was major.

“There’s one serious downside,” he pursued.

“Which is?”

“I have to attend a conference in Oxford the first week of November.”

“And?”

“And you’re due on November 12th.”

“Right. Right…but you’ll surely be back by then.”

“What if I don’t? What if you go into labor early?”

“What if you don’t go? What if you don’t write your article? What if your career goes down the drain due to bad timing? There’s no debate here. I can manage on this end.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“Think about it then,” I threatened, knowing full well that he had decided to go.

He took me out for a walk that night. It was hazy outside and the streetlights created an oblique and sepia halo under the oak trees, as if the two of us were strolling along the entrails of the city. The streets were empty and Michel must have decided to ignore the sidewalks to lead us onto the middle of the road, where the echo of our steps was louder. We walked under the realization that no place in Europe would ever offer such carnal eeriness. As we got back home, I felt as though my skin was covered in a very fine maternal dew.

“Do you feel happy here?” he asked as I was fumbling for the key inside my purse.

“Oh, yes! I like the air, I like the light. It’s very beautiful.”

“I’m not asking about the weather, Hélène. I know you’re pretty isolated here. In Nantes, we had friends, dinner parties, heated conversations. Do you miss all that?”

“I do and I don’t. I mean, I know it’s temporary. I think I’m getting used to my own company. I ponder a lot over a lot—like a mirror. It’s a good thing.”

“Maybe. I’d like to spend more time with you. You’ve changed. Not in a bad way. You’re radiant, radioactive. I didn’t know you that way. I need more time with you, and soon we’ll have less.”

“Hurry then! Get to know the new me.” I held his wrists and placed his hands over my breasts like a puppeteer, a way of ending a conversation. I wasn’t ready to talk.


***


November 2nd that year was a Saturday, and Michel had been in England for two days. He would not return until the following Wednesday.

I had been sitting one hour in front of my closet, debating what to wear, and had settled for a black dress that my body overfilled. My body overfilled everything; my personal space bubble had inflated like an expanding universe, leaving no room for anyone or anything. The expansion had been slow in the first few months of the pregnancy, but in the last weeks, I had felt the speeding spell of some dark energy. My body had become phenomenal; the lightest breeze would spark an explosion of voracity. I was ripe as the ripest fruit, craving thick juices.

I took public transportation to get to St. Andrews. Although the buzz from the bus was mellow between stations, each stop was abrupt, and I felt the need to hold my belly as if it would make a difference. A man had left me his seat when I first came on board; his eyes had lingered on me a bit too long. I extracted a book from my purse and pretended to be reading.

The ride took about half an hour, and I kept reading the same page over and over with no patience for the words. When the bus reached the St. Andrews stop, the driver slammed on the brakes, and I was catapulted to the exit. An older black woman grabbed me by the arm to prevent my fall and cursed the driver, calling him a child-murderer. An argument between them ensued, but the doors closed behind me, and the bus went on its way. For a few minutes, I stood there on the street, stunned by my own nerve for having crossed town to come this way. And then, as scattered groups of people were walking in the direction of the church and I was alone, leaning on the glass wall of the bus stop, Thomas reappeared.

“Good to see you here. Will you attend the service?”

I looked up. “How are you?”

“Fine,” he said. “I will be serving mass today. It is a special service, you know. You should attend if you can—unless you have other plans.”

“I have every intention to go. I came on the bus and nearly got killed—my own Way of Sorrows.” I smiled.

“I’m sorry to hear that. Why don’t I accompany you to the last station then? I’ll find you a good seat.” He smiled—a shy, sweet and sour smile, as though he and I had a longstanding history that drew its strength from shared danger and late dinner conversations.

At first, the ostensible closeness repelled me, and I walked maintaining a fair distance between us, and then the distaste melted into a general sense of uneasiness at the thought of the pair of us: a young man in a white robe and a very pregnant woman in a black fitted dress. Yet something was making me walk further, on my own tightrope, as though each step was eating up the last of my pride. Thomas had altered his pace to match my own, and I felt disproportionate relief as we entered the church.

Inside, the silence and the sight of the water font plunged down into a part of myself that I had long disowned. Thomas dipped the tips of his fingers into the water and then turned around to touch my own fingers with his. He did this without passion. His gesture was quick and unaffected: the automatic repetition of a ritual that had become a mindless part of him.

I crossed myself and rehearsed mentally the words I didn’t know I still had. “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

I took a seat in the third row, where Thomas had led me to, before he disappeared behind a side door next to the altar. There were fifteen minutes to go before mass, leaving me ample time to digest what was happening.

The Roman arches and the rose window brought recollections of a childhood I had buried deep beneath the years of happy marriage with Michel and the less happy years of longing for a child who wouldn’t come. The child had come at last, and now I had followed a man of the cloth into a church, a man who was too young to be called a man.

The baby was kicking hard to prevent me from indulging in my reverie. I stroked my stomach back and forth and shushed. The child stopped kicking and fell asleep. With the meditation forced upon me by the circumstance, I acknowledged the awakening of another child; a pitiless child I had shut off in a black closet of my conscience. I mothered a growing desire, and the same desire mothered me.

Soon the doors to the church were closed, and the priest walked in from where Thomas had vanished earlier. Thomas and another boy followed and posted themselves on one side of the altar with their backs to us. I glanced at Thomas’s neck and then made myself look at the priest. He had a pedantic voice, which invited us into a period of silence for personal prayers in the stillness of our hearts.

Silence was then broken and the priest started reading:

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”

His sermon went on, and he commented on the various reads of the Apocalypse and soon lost me in the sameness of his tone. My eyes had adjusted to the dimly lit space, and I noticed a statue of the Virgin not too far from me with her palms offered and her eyes shut. I watched Thomas again, and I thought he was watching me watching, but he looked down and coughed in his fist, and I couldn’t be sure. I willed him to watch me again, but he wouldn’t.

What was his intention in all of this? Would he risk something with me? What was something in a priest-to-be’s mind? Had he decided never to attempt anything as a natural consequence of his vows? Did he feel pleasure from the traction of his vetoes? I was troubled, but only for a few minutes—that is, until I realized that, a few feet away from me and before the statue of Mary, a votive candle had fallen, and a flame was spreading.

Before long, someone in the back screamed, and it collided rather comically with the monotonous sermon. People stood and started to run toward the exits, while the priest tried to call for calm; Thomas and his acolyte had been there at once and were laboring to put out the fire using the drapery that had covered the front of the altar. This proved insufficient, and as the flames threatened to poke through the drapery again, Thomas took his robe off and used it to cover the last of the burning. His body shone under the lanterns. Maybe he looked back from above his shoulder as I walked out.

Half an hour later, I was sitting on a bench just outside the church next to a fountain. A fire truck was still parked in the front, but the incident had been contained with no real damage or injury. I saw Thomas headed across the street. He now wore a tight V-neck T-shirt and a pair of khakis that could not be his.

On instinct, he turned his head and crossed back toward me.

“I’m sorry. When I said it was going to be a special service, this is not what I intended. I hope you’re okay.”

“We’re just fine. We survived, once again. How about you?”

“No harm done. I’ll just have to grow new eyelashes and get a new robe.”

I noticed the tips of his lashes were burnt.

“I’m glad. Maybe we should meet in some neutral territory next time: not my diner, not your church. What do you think?” I rubbed my lower back as I spoke, which made my stomach protrude even more.

“I think that’s right…right,” he said with an empty stare above my head.

“I’ll tell you what: Here’s my address and phone number. We can have coffee if you feel like it. Do it soon though. In my condition this invitation expires before long.”

Thomas took the piece of paper I was handing him.

“Merci,” he said before he was gone.

This last word touched me more than it had to. I thought about its homophone in English and wondered if I was still capable of mercy, if some part of me would stop what the other had started. It was a fleeting thought, soon buried under the effort of carrying my own weight as I walked back to the bus heading home.

That afternoon, I drank three large cups of watery decaf and busied myself without spirit around the baby’s room. At twilight, I sat on the velvet-covered rocker and tried to look at what Thomas had stirred in me and what I intended to do with it. I began to wonder how much more tension my body would endure—a tension that I knew I had created and nurtured. I nourished half-baked hopes: hopes for my desire to be transmissible like a disease; hopes for contact beneath my cracking skin; hopes for freedom, which included freeing myself from the child I carried. What mother would I be if inhabited by this sad madness? Would my hopes pass through the placenta? Did the baby know about me like an inmate would know about his jailer? Who was I, then, to attempt seducing Thomas on a whim? A soon-to-be old woman in search of reassurance? Out of the recollections of my childhood that my visit to the church had triggered, I heard my own mother humming in my ear: “You have the name of a great lover.” This was her response to my complaint about a name that I thought was flat and nonresonant. I thought, my mother knew that about me; she had known more than I ever cared to believe.

Late that night when I was in bed, the phone rang and I decided not to pick up, knowing that it would be Michel. I placed a pillow over my head and waited for the rings to subside. It stopped and after ten minutes it started again. I regretted not having unplugged the phone the first time and picked up the receiver.

“Why didn’t you pick up, Hélène? I was half dead with anguish that something had happened.”

“I didn’t hear,” I heard myself say.

“Then put the damn phone next to the bed!”

I got out of bed and walked to the window with the phone in hand.

“I don’t believe this. Who are you to talk to me like that? Honestly, who are you, Michel?”

There was a pause on either side of the receiver, and I went on.

“How can you do that? You’re screaming at me! All the way from England! All the way from across the ocean! You’re screaming at me because I made you think for five minutes that you had missed the day! Great comfort I should take in your little anguish. My husband’s worried, oh my God! Why didn’t I think of putting the phone next to the bed in case he decided to call in the middle of the night? How could I be so selfish as to instill the doubt in his mind that maybe—maybe our child was born?” I hung up and unplugged this time.

Of course I didn’t sleep. I was enraged. A rage so physical that it turned my fists into knots and my nails into prongs.

I was ready for them: all of them. My anger needed room and I spaced out in it.

I pictured Michel and his self-centered angst for not being there where he should have been. I had pushed him to go. I had tested him and the result was limpid—clearer than my third home pregnancy test: Michel would always put his career first. At least I knew what to expect. Had I not known all along?

Then there was Thomas. Thomas and his clever ambivalence, his subtle flirting, his flammable youth under the white or black robe. Damn him if he thought his priesthood-to-be would protect him. He had put me on a burner, and I needed to bend him. I needed to see him crawl and beg.

In the end and by the first light of day, my body surrendered and I dozed off for a while.

Two hours later I got up and drew the curtains open. Thomas was there across the street on the sidewalk. He was smoking and looking around. He was moving his feet a lot; he seemed to be shooting little things into the gutter. He didn’t wear a robe or a collarino. He had a raincoat on and had lifted the collar up as in a fifties movie. It crossed my mind that he had envisioned this look as more manlike, and I found it quite hysterical under the dazzling sun. He was taking long puffs and blowing the smoke upward. People on the street walked past him, and no one seemed to notice; some of them would just angle their way around him. All of this I could witness without being spotted; the glass of my bedroom window shoveled the morning light right back onto the street. My next move was to push the window wide open to let the air and the rest come in.

Thomas looked up at once. He started saying something and then thought better of it. He put out his Lucky under his shoe and started crossing. It must have been my facial expression alone that made him lean back and dodge the blue Mustang whooshing by like a bullet. Mustang. Bang. Thomas leaned back and I leaned forward onto the window ledge and lost my balance. I grabbed one of the sides and somehow made it back inside, but the move had made me squish my abdomen onto the windowsill. Something had been ruptured, and a sharp, shocking sting fired off inside.

For what must have been a few minutes, I lay on the floor like a beached mammal with a pain so intense I thought I was blind. The pain was a fierce and shapeless light I was forced to behold. In some remote part of the house, Thomas was banging on a door and calling my name. Then something was smashed open, and he was there next to me, kneeling.

“Down on your knees…” I uttered with a faint smile.

“Shush. Where’s the phone?”

“Bedside…” I looked up in the right direction, and he picked up the receiver and started dialing.

“No tone! What’s going on? For God’s sake! What’s going on?”

“Unplugged.” Something was warm and spilling under me.

“Accident… Corner of Altadena and Casitas… We need an ambulance now. Now please! Okay.” Thomas put the receiver down and knelt next to me again.

“They’re coming, Hélène. Hang in there.” He reached out for my forehead and pushed out a strand of hair, pulling it behind my ear. This was the most physical we had ever gotten to be.

“I wanted you…I wanted you to crawl.”

“Don’t talk. You don’t have to talk. Just try to breathe slowly, okay?”

“Okay.” I closed my eyes for a while, and I tried to think of Thomas’s hand and how warm it was. I couldn’t stop wanting it. The pain wouldn’t defeat the want. The pain attracted the want like a magnet. I could not rid myself of it. I tried not to think about the warm fluid under me and the warm child inside me. I cried a bit.


***

In the emergency room, they didn’t ask a lot of questions. Thomas was allowed in there as if it was all-natural, as if our bond spoke for itself. They let him fill in the paperwork under my muted directions. Thomas was there until they pushed me on a gurney into an operating room with bright overhead lights. I saw him wave as they closed the green double doors on him. The woman doctor spoke like a machine gun. She said I had a placental abruption and they needed to get my child out fast. They put me to sleep.


***


When I emerged, Thomas was on a stool next to my bed. He spoke first.

“He made it.”

“A boy?”

“A baby boy.”

I wiped my face with both hands, stretching the skin to the side, holding it there—the Japanese look.

“I should go now. I’ll tell them you’re awake.”

“Will you come and visit?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m not meant to… Because…that’s it.”

“That’s it?” I lifted myself onto my elbows.

Thomas stood from the stool and almost made it fall just like he had on our first meet. He started for the door. He moved in slow motion, his shoes squeaking on the linoleum floor.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” I said as he reached the door. And I knew I was lying as I spoke the words. I knew I would be fine: a mother and a wife; a good life. Everything but a great lover. And then, resisting with all my will an impulse to scream and call him back, I swallowed hard.




Copyright © 2013 Cecile Barlier

 
Cecile Barlier was born in France and received her master’s degree from the Sorbonne University in Paris. For over a decade, she has lived in the United States, where she is raising her family and working as an entrepreneur. In addition to her time in France and the United States, she has traveled extensively and lived in Mexico, Spain, and England. She has been a regular student and occasional teacher at the Writer’s Studio in San Francisco for a number of years.

Her work is featured or is forthcoming in Amarillo Bay, Bacopa Literary Review (first place for fiction, 2012), Cerise Press, Knee-Jerk, and New Delta Review.