“Little Bear’s Apgar Score” by Caroline Bock
Are you a parent going through the Terrible Twos? Did you live through them and survive? Terrible Twosdays is a place to commiserate over the unending shenanigans of your Darling Children (as the online parenting communities say). Nonfiction stories will be considered, so long as names have been changed to protect the guilty. Inspired by our best-selling gift book for parents, Go the Fuck to Sleep, Terrible Twosdays joins the roster of our other online short fiction series. Unlike Mondays Are Murder and Thursdaze, we’re looking for stories with a light and mischievous feel, all about the day-to-day challenges of parenting. As with our other flash fiction series, stories must not exceed 750 words.
This week, Caroline Bock relates the story of one woman’s birth experience.
The baby is beautiful, but then isn’t every baby?
But it’s not really beautiful. Its face is red, and its head is oversized, swollen, and dripping with newborn hair and blood.
“Is it?” says one nurse to another.
“Is it what?” Jane screams.
“Look at its toes,” instructs the doctor.
“Let me see her feet,” Jane implores. Her husband looks even more confused and startled than usual. “What’s wrong? Find out what’s wrong!” Jane is flat on her back, restrained with IVs. Minutes before, she was the important one—giving birth, undergoing IVF (four cycles in two years), shooting herself up like an addict on a jag with fertility drugs—and now she’s abandoned.
She smells blood—her blood, the placenta. She struggles to sit up but can’t even lift her head. She wants to see how she looks—it can’t be good.
“All the tests,” she shouts at the ceiling. “I took them all.” Jane is forty-four years old; this baby will be her first and only, and she researched it all: the possibility of genetic defects, of chromosomal abnormalities, all of it. She knew the risks were high at her age, but she was having this baby.
“Get her!” Jane orders her husband. She had already warned him that she expected him to be the kind of father that was there for his child. They had only been married a little over two years. Both of them had given up on ever finding someone, and then at a conference, they had noticed one another. Almost out of exhaustion, they decided it was good enough: the conversation at the hotel bar, how they looked together, the sex.
But in recent weeks she suspected him of having an affair with a coworker even though he said that they “were only friends and have been for years.” Nine months pregnant, she had followed him to his Friday happy hour and spied on him among a gaggle of other computer geeks. It all looked innocent.
From a corner booth, hidden from their sight, she stroked her stomach, sipped seltzer, and thought she heard the baby speaking to her: “I’m hungry, do you hear me? Let’s go home and eat the pizza in the fridge—not the pepperoni slices, the mushroom ones. You can warm it up if you want, or I’ll just eat it as is.”
The voice finally pushed her up and out the door, insisting: “I’m hungry. Now. Eat something, do you hear me?” On the street, Jane approached a food truck crowded with men, the smell of meat appealing and nauseating. She pushed her stomach to the front of the line and gobbled up a gyro to quiet her.
“They’re examining her,” her husband says, sweating, the blue scrubs stuck to his T-shirt and shorts. “They’re doing the Apgar test.”
Her first test. She had to pass it—even though Jane had promised herself that she wasn’t going to be that mother who obsessed over grades and SAT scores.
“What is going on? What’s taking so long? This is our child; you have to be more assertive. Start now.”
“Please, Janey, sweetie, calm down. They’re working on her.” Working on her—like she was car in need of a new plug or tire.
They didn’t have a name for her yet. They had been arguing over names—Lucy for her mother, Abigail after his mother. They had tried other names and realized that celebrities had taken them all—Shiloh and Vivienne (Angelina Jolie), Seraphina (Jennifer Garner)—and she had despaired: there were no other names left.
The baby’s mewing cries turn high-pitched. Jane’s heart leaps—and without warning, her breasts leak clear fluid, so close to blood.
“She’s such a striking baby,” says the doctor. “The look of her startled us.”
The nurse hands the swaddled baby to him; the baby wails.
“Give her to me,” Jane insists. He slides the baby into her arms. Her little girl is howling, struggling against the blue-and-white blanket’s restraints. She had received a ten on the Apgar, a perfect score. Her eyes open and glare at Jane, as if indignant at the prodding and questioning, and then the baby speaks again: “Where exactly am I? And by the way, the name is Ursula. Is there food here? Don’t you think I’d be hungry after all that?”
Jane smiles at her, placing Ursula at her breast. This is her beautiful baby.
Look for Before My Eyes by CAROLINE BOCK, the new young adult novel called, “gripping” by Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews and an “Unflinching thriller . . . thought-provoking” by Bookpages. Now available everywhere books/ebooks are from St. Martin’s Press. Appropriate for ages 14 and above and adults of all ages. More at www.carolinebock.com.
Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Terrible Twosdays flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should focus on the challenges of parenting. Ideally, stories should be about children aged 0 to 5, but any age (up to early teens) is acceptable. Stories may be fiction or nonfiction.
—Include the child’s age at the time of the story next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Aug 26, 2014
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