The cold spread through her like cracks in ice. She stood outside leaning against the old oak, her sweater pulled around her, sleeves tucking her hands safely in.
Against the mountain hung a gray mist that swallowed up birds and trees, and absorbed the light of the winter sun. The ridges looked sharp but clear, not menacing, only real.
Inside there was no movement. It was too early for kicks, even butterfly flutters. Imagining it though was itself a kick, because then she pictured toes, feet, tiny fingers, and even a face. She saw eyelids squeezed tightly shut. They would open for the first time to her, or they would never open at all.
She had decided, before she found out for sure, that if there was something, something, growing inside of her, she would do the only thing she could. She would do what could only be right for both of them. It was not difficult for her to see the best and only choice. She had no money. She had no father to give this new life. She had no hope for a future of double jobs, daycare, food stamps and postponed dreams.
She pulled a hand out of a sleeve and felt her belly. Protective, she gazed inwardly and heard herself hum. It wasn’t happening how she had decided. Her choices made no difference next to the sense of mothering that was growing as quickly as the cells of her unborn.
It was not showing yet; her jeans still fit her fine. But she felt a fullness. It was a becoming. Whether she liked it or not, it felt like a blossoming, something beautiful and natural. When she let her thoughts go, a sweet joy tickled into her. It was pure and lovely, and nothing, not even the longed for green of spring, made her heart stop like this.
* * *
“Are you here alone?” the woman asked her. She held a clipboard and a pen, ready to write out her answers, her explanation, her history, and all that had led up to this event.
“Yes,” Ann said. She looked around her, saw that most of them were there alone, and wondered why she would be asked a question that had such an obvious answer. She wanted to scream at the woman, didn’t she think that if she had someone at all, she wouldn’t be there? But she wondered that herself. Maybe she would still be there anyway.
“Yes,” she said again, and looked into the woman’s eyes, “I am here alone.”
While she filled out forms and checked off answers to more questions, she stole glimpses of the other women. She could find no pattern. There was one girl with a woman who looked to be her mother, holding her hand, letting the girl’s head rest against her.
Besides that though, they were all alone, all seeming to be locked in their own thoughts, probably already prosecuting themselves for what they were about to do.
Two women read magazines, the columns enough distraction to take their minds away from there. Ann watched them, wondering where they got the steel to make their hearts brace for this. Maybe they had been there before.
A woman who looked to be in her forties sat across from her, her feet placed together, a big purse on the floor beside them. The woman examined her fingernails, pushed the cuticles back. She wore a wedding band.
I am making myself do this, she thought, just like they are making themselves do this. Yes, I am alone, she repeated quietly to herself, and without thinking, put her hands over her belly.
In the room with the bright lights, she cried. The first man she had seen in the whole clinic was there, asking her if she was sure she wanted to do this. Inside, she saw a child’s face. It changed shape, color, size, the eyes were blue, then brown, then green. She held a hand and kissed away a tear. She made a promise, “Next time”.
Before she left she met with a woman who would counsel her through her grief, through her loss. There was a group she could meet with, and weekly visits until she could get on with her life again. She sat numbly, her head repeating to her that it had been the only true choice, while the woman counselor spoke in soft syllables. She understood, it was okay, it was right, even good. Ann knew the woman was only helping, how else could one help?
At home she wandered through the rooms, looking for something. She sat in front of the television, keeping the volume low because she kept hearing something behind it, but couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. By the old oak she saw a figure, someone small, who was then gone.
* * *
Through cold December she stood watching the mountain change. The gray that hung about it became large and swelled some days, and became skinny, tracing stripes across the rock face. Ann watched as the sun sank low, and the hills became darker and darker, veiled by the night. She would not stay to catch her first star.
She awoke each morning afraid to touch her belly. Standing day after day in the cold, the air tugging at her hair, chilling her skin, she wondered if she could ever heal, if she would ever want to.
December was an end and a beginning. The cold held her closely and whispered to her, that each day would come, change, and grow; into seasons and years, and she with them. And in every season, she would feel the thread of winter running through her.
Originally published at Mentress Moon, July 2000
© Nellie Levine