The following is an excerpt from a work in progress by Fiona Clifford
Driving to the hospital, Laura and Fred didn’t have a name picked out for the baby. After the birth, someone eased the slippery, screaming bundle onto her chest. Fred’s face hovered into view, his voice excitedly informing her that the bundle was actually a girl. Maybe it was the drugs, but Laura had a vision of her baby girl as a bird. Swooping and dipping across a late afternoon sky. Fading to a speck, flying off to a place where it was always warm.
Laura had a vision of her baby girl swooping and dipping across the sky.
Fading to a speck.
When the vision cleared, Laura returned to her sweaty, disheveled place in the delivery room. Fred still waiting for the name. So she named their daughter Wren.
Before Wren’s arrival, there were no arguments over what to name the baby. Fred simply washed his hands of the task. Listen, he liked to say. I’ve lived for 32 years as a Fred. Every last scrap of originality has been forced out of me. You pick the name. I know I’ll only pick the wrong one.
But each time Laura picked up the Name Your Baby book, the lines of neatly alphabetized options made her eyes cross.
Anxiety for the impending delivery swelled in proportion with her belly. Midwife Janie suggested finding a nice image. A Caribbean destination ripped from a travel magazine. A postcard. “Whenever you start in on those old fears,” Janie soothed, “take out the picture and meditate. You know, really feel yourself there. If you can train your mind to relax in the face of imminent pain, it will be that much easier to access your haven during the delivery. Create the haven in the picture within yourself.”
Janie, with her easy smile and welcoming face, looked as if she had never spent a single minute worrying about what would happen next.Laura went home and heaved open the closet door anyway, one hand resting on her baby bump as she pulled down shoeboxes of mementos. Cardboard seams worn through, half-contained photos sliding against each other. Eager to be seen again. She found a photo of the beach with a misty quality, as if the photographer held a piece of gauze before the lens. A diminishing row of summer homes rose from spiked dune grass, their west-facing windows holding the fiery reflection of sunset.
Laura examined the beach picture, yet couldn’t remember taking it. She walked to the living room, where Fred muttered to himself over a crossword.
“Hey Fred,” she said, still trying to match a location to the photo. When Fred made no reply she glanced up. “Fred?” She moved over to stand by the arm of his chair, watching as he erased an answer – ASP – then carefully wrote it again. The sharp peak of his A, each letter perfectly centered within the puzzle’s white boxes. She touched his shoulder and he jumped, breaking his pencil in surprise.
“My God, Laura, you scared me. What’s the matter?”
“Nothing.” Maybe she shouldn’t bother showing him the photo. “Look what I found. Wouldn’t you just love to live by the ocean like this?”
Fred plucked the picture from her fingers, studied it briefly, then passed it back with a watery smile. “You know I can’t handle too much sun. And I love it here. I love you here. I could never leave this.”
Oh well, she thought, propping the photo against the lamp on her side of the bed. While Fred brushed his teeth, Laura braced against a dull wave of nausea. The sweeping flush of heat contrasted with the clammy line of sweat along her hairline. She waited for the twinge to bloom into a mountain of pain. Rolled onto her side and forced herself to walk into the beach picture. Into a scene where the sunset still held enough strength to color the world. Laura stretched out carefully across the sand, absorbing its comforting grains. Tides exhaled beyond the blank canvas of her closed eyes.