A Beginning
A Short Story by Alice Clark
Written using the suggestion "War"
Originally featured on 11-24-2009
As part of our series "The Words That Seem to Justify Anything"

It had been twenty-four hours since the first contraction. Katie, who had been a slim boned, petite girl, was now swollen, and a double chin that had never existed, was now permanently there as she bore down. John watched and was terrified in his skin. There was liquid on the floor and Katie was a bright red with blotches and smears and he remembered her when she was eighteen in an Easter dress and felt he had ruined something.

John looked at the top of the baby’s head, just barely crowning, covered in blood and fluid, and it was the first time he realized that this was bruising Katie. He saw that she was swollen, in deep shades of purple and red, and was bleeding as she tore. It became apparent that the baby was not coming and they decided to go in and get it, and the forceps tore Katie and she winced, but no one explained anything and it was intrusive and painful and they pulled the baby and when the baby finally was caught in the doctor’s arms, it was covered in meconium and her head was deformed and bleeding at the temples from the forceps. It was like nothing either had seen in any facebook photos or what they had seen when they had visited their infant nephews and nieces. The baby looked odd and Katie held it on her belly and was just glad to be done and cried and cried.

John said to her, “we won’t have any others, we won’t do this again” and Katie told him to calm down and that it would be alright. And he went and got some coffee and left Katie. As the nurses cleaned the baby, Katie leaned her head back and put her hand back on her stomach and felt the scar of stretching, the fat pad that the baby had created to protect itself. She slept for a few moments and when the baby was in the nursery, Katie stood up to shower and saw something older in her face, a vein pushed out in her forehead. She hoped that it would go back, that she had just been through a lot and would heal.

When Katie and the baby went home two days later, the house was full of dirty dishes and laundry. John walked the house, pacing, asking Katie what she needed. She was torn and on medication and the baby was a particularly fussy one, losing weight by the day, and Katie struggled to breastfeed because everything hurt, and something was wrong and her sore breasts were bleeding when the baby fed. Katie cried that first night home, saying she was really tired, but the baby also cried its high pitched animal noise and John kept picking it up, rocking her too fast and too hard, and just kept saying, “what does she want? What does she want?” and it scared them both.

The first two nights passed like this and Katie wanted John to go to work so she could sit with the baby in silence, hoping it would calm it. John said he wanted to stay though, to be there for her, and they decided that Katie and the baby should go to her mother’s. John dropped her off and took the car seat with the baby inside into the house and kissed Katie’s cheek and left. They decided he should go be with men, a hunting trip, and let the women heal themselves.

He did not call and the grandmother tucked Katie into her childhood bed and took the baby as her own for those first days and it started gaining weight on formula. The grandmother ran her fingers through Katie’s hair as she slept and hummed deep, comforting, female songs of loss. Katie had packed only pre-maternity clothes, having not gained much weight and thinking they would fit soon, so a sister was sent to buy bigger sizes, as they did not fit. Four days later Katie woke up and breathed and settled into a rocker, holding that baby and was now a mother. She looked swollen and pulled down and if you closely examined her face, you could see where her cheeks used to have taughtness and her jawline lay under fat. Her stomach had loose skin folds and the vein in her forehead was there every day and she found that when John did return after a week, as he held her while standing in the doorway of the grandmother’s house, she felt shame and loss.

Read More By Alice Clark

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