ANNA GERALDINE PARET
FIRST THEY STOOD
Katie let Tom take her arm and guide her, lower her, onto a smooth rock. She sat facing the sea, humming softly, stroked her swollen belly and felt movement. He stepped forward and stood barefoot on the sand, waiting for the sun to rise, leaning slightly to one side because of his spindly left leg, misshapen from birth.
The sun appeared over the horizon, turning the water to molten metal, and seemed to pause in its largeness.
They had met at a party, three Christmases ago, and were married six months later. Soon, there was a baby inside her. Tom laid his head on her belly at night and they sang together. They loved each other with all the love the baby would spare.
The baby grew; Tom and Katie’s love swelled.
Katie began to take long walks. She walked to the shore so that her honeymoon baby could listen to the waves crashing. She walked in the woods so that her honeymoon baby could listen to the jay scolding, and she told him that he had done nothing wrong, could do nothing wrong. She walked round the garden and sat on the swing so that her honeymoon baby could hear the robins return. She told him that before long he would see the trees flower, the first flowers of the spring.
Movement caught Katie’s eye. A small crab was hoisting itself onto the sand. A wave broke gently and pulled it back into the ocean.
One day, Tom came home early and was surprised to see that Katie was there, not out walking. Lost in the soft red armchair, her baby still and quiet inside her, Katie rocked. She swayed, she moaned. She did not sing. Tom went down on his knees and put his head on her lap. She looked at his white face, wanting, but unable, to touch him.
Tom took her to the hospital and stayed at her side. Katie gripped the cold bar of the hospital bed and watched the nurse insert the needle into her arm, and watched the oxytocin drip. She felt a dull ache low in her belly, just above her dark hair. The pain came and went. Her cries died in her throat.
Tom made the arrangements with the hospital. He seemed stunned by the power of her grief, and he assumed the bureaucratic burden, didn’t ask her. All she had wanted was to take her baby deep into the woods, to stay there forever. But she had no will to resist, and she couldn’t find the words for Tom. So she lost her honeymoon baby once; now twice.
Katie watched the crab pull itself out again. She thought about the first creatures which came to land. They had raised themselves from the ocean and tried to stand. Tried to stand straight.
Then there was a new baby growing inside her. Katie sat on the swing in the garden humming softly to her baby, Tom watching through the window. She took her new baby to the woods to listen to the knocking of the woodpeckers, the chattering squirrels. She took her baby to the woods all winter long to tell him about the silent strength of the trees, the trees that were brooding on the edge of life.
In the middle of the winter, just three months ago, Katie had told her baby about ice. The snow was thick in the woods, thick and crusted with ice. Ice coated the tree branches, stopped the brook. Step after step, Katie broke the ice. She told her baby to listen to the crunching, to hear the icy leaves chiming in the wind. She walked through the snow with her arms out, swaying to keep her balance, talking to her baby.
Then—no flailing, no wild grabbing—in a heartbeat, one misstep, Katie was flat on her back. Pain seared up her spine, a charge racing through a wire. For an instant, she had no breath. The baby did not move.
Katie’s breath came back in a rush. Then she didn’t stop talking. She eased herself to her feet and teetered home, holding her belly. She begged, she soothed, she reassured. She begged and begged.
The ice melted and the trees flowered. Now Katie was bringing her baby to the shore, to listen to the waves, and to feel the warmth of the spring sun. She sat with her hands locked loosely under her swelling, and looked at Tom’s crooked stance.
First they stood. Then . . . how many evolutionary turns, how many mutations, did Nature take in the making of Man, in the making of Tom? How many wrong turns?
Katie caressed her belly and felt a strong kick. She knew then that her baby was perfect, his legs straight. Her baby kicked again and Katie knew that he would be born very soon. He would kick his way out.
ANNA GERALDINE PARET is English and has lived in America for over twenty years, in New York, California and Washington DC. She currently lives in Larchmont, New York with her cairn terrier, two teenage daughters and Puerto Rican husband, and is a member of Sarah Lawrence College Writing Institute. "First They Stood" is her first published story.