‘Winds: NW 20 km/hr’, Stacy Sinclair

Illustrations © 2012 Rachel H. White



 [ Signing, © 2012 Rachel H. White ] Lamb curry. Or veal.

I definitely wanted meat, and maybe rice. With ketchup.

“Oh.”

The way the sonographer said it was so strange. Kind of a curt and confused orgasm. I pulled my eyes from the intense drama of the ventilation grate and turned towards her.

“What?” I turned more, ripping the flimsy paper gown where it sat bunched up around my still-flat stomach.

Tess—she wore an ID badge—swiveled the monitor toward the wall, and blocked it with her hips. Her scrubs were plastered with pink and blue bunny rabbits. They hopped all over her, obnoxious faces glaring.

“What’s wrong?”

“Get dressed, Mrs. Morello.” The image on screen reflected in her glasses, just white and grey blobs. Her eyes were fixed on the red phone that glistened on the wall.

“Oh, Christ.”

“Is there anyone?” She gestured toward the waiting room, her facial muscles sagging.

“My hus—” Keane was just outside, nervously flipping through an ancient copy of Tomorrow’s Parent. “Just tell me. Please.”

Hard silence. The low hum of machines.

I stared at the bunnies.

“Get dressed. Come back. I’m not supposed to—” Her eyes darted again. “Just get dressed.”

When I came back in, still buttoning my jeans, her back was turned. She had the red phone to her ear.

“Yes sir, I’m sure of it... of the Anomaly.” She gulped a mouthful of filtered air. “Yes, I’ll tell her.”

Her shoulders cracked and popped as she hung up. When she turned, she was smiling. It only sat there a second, that smile.

“Um, well, there appears to be...” Tess looked down at her screen.

“An Anomaly.” My mouth was dry. Sour. I swallowed and tried smiling myself, if only to make the situation less terrible for us both. “What kind?”

She shook her head. “I can’t say. I’m sorry. I’ve had to report it to The Institute. They’ll follow up with you within 48 hours. They’ll tell you what—”

“Can I have a picture?” I broke, just one tiny sob under my breath. “I told my husband we’d tape it to the front door so my neighbors would know why I was getting so fat.”

The quiet was unbearable.

“Why rabbits?” I asked her, pointing down at her shirt. “I don’t understand.”

She looked at me hard. There was mascara caked in her eye. Finally she blinked, and in a mousy, confused voice said, “For the babies, I guess.”

I turned to go.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “It’s my first.”

The doorknob was so cold. I pressed my palm into it hard, and it still felt like it was slipping.

“Mine too.”


We’d never really planned on having kids.

They were cute, but we were busy. We loved traveling. Keane’s mechanical engineering career was finally going somewhere. And the truth of it was that I loved things hard. The idea of moving through life having to constantly worry about an offspring’s location and wellbeing was crippling.

God knows, if we had been thinking about children, we wouldn’t have picked a fifth-floor walk-up on the east side of the city. Our roof was home to one of those giant billboards you see if you’re stuck on the expressway. For too long it had been leased out by a lube service. ‘ExpressLube: Prepare For Takeoff’ was written in this overbearing font above a graphic of an airport runway, lights blinking in sync up and down the board.

The night the baby was conceived, the blinking lights flooded our living room. It had been our seventh anniversary. As such, we were tangled passionately together in a ball on the afghan rug. My head was buried in the nape of Keane’s neck, but every once in a while I had to come up for air. The blinking lights provided snapshots in the dark.

Snap. The empty bottle of champagne.

Snap. The takeout boxes from Ho-Chan-Chimmeree.

Snap. The just-unwrapped scrapbook of our trip to the Philippines.

Images burnt forever to memory.

I have to make sense of things to make them okay, so this is how it goes in my head: Our baby had always been out there, somewhere in the night sky. It had been looking for a place to land, like a 747 circling LaGuardia in high winds. Floating through the universe, waiting, just waiting for clearance.


We lay on the bed, Keane and I and the unborn Anomaly. Rain pounded the window and spilled from the fire escape down onto the grates of our haphazard city balcony.

It was late August, so even though it was 7:30, it was still light; that lazy glow you get during a late summer storm.

I told Keane everything, which was not much. Just that no one picks up the red phone in the sonogram room for birthmarks or kidney problems.

The short, taboo section on Anomalies in my pregnancy book said that The Institute would only be contacted for ‘Signs of significant evolution.’ Not surprisingly, they hadn’t included pictures.

On the news a few months back, they featured a leaked biophysical profile of this one remarkable girl with two hearts, beating slow and steady as they spooned in her chest.

The Institute said that it was hard enough to make sense of the Anomalies without the wide public confusion and apprehension fuelled by a media circus.

What I had seen didn’t scare me. Not like the blurry white and grey blobs in Tess’s glasses.

“Do you think it’s the boogieman?” I asked Keane, who kept closing his eyes and shaking his head.

He looked up from my belly. “Pardon?”

“I wish it was dark.” I traced a purple daisy on the duvet. “The way you look at us.”

“What did you say?”

“I can’t make this go away. We have to deal with it.”

“No.” He propped himself up on one elbow and looked at me, stone faced. “You said the way you look at us.”

“It’s just an idea to you, Keane.” My cheeks burned. “A little bit of amniotic fluid and a fetal pole. You weren’t there when she told... this kid is in me.

A field of pansies and daises between us; he wouldn’t come closer.

“We could run, you know.” I reached out for his hand. “I’ve heard there’s some areas in South America where...”

No. I hadn’t been one of those girls who’d started babysitting at the age of nine. I had no real confidence in my ability to nurture. To do so on our own, on the run, without any help...

“We’ll work with what we have, Keane.”

His eyes were wet. Transparent. I pulled him in so his head sat in my lap. He curled his legs into his chest.

The phone jarred us. We let it ring four times.


Concerto Number four? Five? My knowledge of Mozart needed dusting off, but I still knew the cadence of the music. I found myself swaying in my beautifully plush chair, instinctively at first, then mindfully. Anything for distraction. My shoulder kept rubbing up against Keane’s, his nicely ironed dress shirt.

He bolted up from his seat, the material making an embarrassing farting noise in the high-ceilinged elegance of The Institute. His shoes squeaked as he crossed the marble floor once again to the complimentary refreshment setup, and jammed his worn cup under the coffee percolator.

“I’m glad you’re taking advantage of the open bar,” I said.

He came back and sat down, closer now, with his arm around me.

We were both so nervous. You’d think we were meeting in-laws for the first time; strangely desperate for the approval of these people that for all intents and purposes held the future of our child in their hands.

I’d waxed, for Christ sakes.

“Should it be taking this long?” Keane tightened his double windsor. “We’ve been waiting –”

“Mr. and Mrs. Morello,” the receptionist called from behind her glass desk. She came around to meet us. We jumped up fast. Too fast? I asked Keane with a raise of my eyebrows.

I’d spent an entire Tuesday afternoon at a lab downtown, undergoing secondary screening, detailed imaging and an amniocentesis, but everyone had just acted so uncomfortably ordinary. Their poker faces had told me nothing, so now I looked for answers on the receptionist’s face, all the way through the lobby and up six floors on the elevator. I couldn’t help myself—when you’re desperate, you search for hope anywhere in the vicinity of ground zero, thinking it will radiate like fallout. You seek it, no matter how toxic.

The hall of consultation rooms stretched on forever, the receptionist’s stilettos crunching curtly on the berber. Each door was closer to the one before, the rooms diminishing in size. When we finally arrived at our room at the end of the hallway and had been left with some forms to sign, the receptionist closed the door behind us.

Keane smiled, full teeth.

“Maybe this means it’s not too bad. Maybe the bad cases get the big rooms. Like the ICU.”

Keane had sat in one of those big rooms with my four cousins and me as we watched my Aunt die, her chest falling silent after 22 days on oxygen.

A drunk driver had pulverized her spine. When they had first brought her to the hospital I was hopeful, but as soon as they moved her to the big room, the one with comfortable rocking chairs and glassed prints of serene beach scenes, I knew she wasn’t coming back.

She’d raised me. Had given me everything. All I could do was pull the plug.

I did not carry the weight of that day gracefully. It was my other baby; I coddled it, fussed over it, woke up in the night to deal with it, knowing full well it would never leave, never get tired of my attention. Keane said it was always there, playing in my shadow.

This room was small. Two leather chairs like the ones in the waiting room. A side table with a box of tissue. On the opposite wall, a light box, currently empty, and another chair, an office chair.

Maybe this kid would be ok.

There was no warning, no knock or approaching footsteps. The door opened with a whoosh of air that carried the out of place odors of pine and dryer sheets. Like a laundromat in the woods.

“Sorry to keep you waiting so long. Budget meetings.” He had tight brown curls and wore aftershave. I couldn’t see his face; he’d walked straight to the lightbox pulling images from a crisp manila envelope under his arm. He turned and reached across the short distance of the room with an outstretched hand.

“I’m Doctor Beachum.” He was young. “Call me Mike.”

That meant we were going to be spending enough time together to know about each other’s lives. I didn’t want to know about Mike’s hot Asian girlfriend or his medical rotation in the mountains of Peru.

“Hello Doctor.” I made the formal distinction, and shot a quick glance at Keane. He nodded. He had an intrinsic understanding of my hang-ups. He’d given himself over to them willingly since we’d met eight years ago in that department store café as I sliced the burnt crusts off my grilled-cheese sandwich. “How are you?”

“No. Not now. No small talk.” Doctor Beachum finished mounting the fifth and final image. His movement slowed; he sat delicately in the office chair. “Lets get through this first. Then we’ll get to know each other.”


Turned out Mike didn’t have an Asian girlfriend. He had an African boyfriend. He took his Mom to the market every Saturday morning so she could buy the freshest fish for Sunday dinner.

Fuck.

Doctor Mike—the name we settled on—met with us in the small room at the end of the hallway because he was new; the low man on The Institute’s totem pole. We didn’t care. Keane and I were in completely foreign territory, and gratefully accepted the guidance of the only person around that spoke our language.

“Wings” he said. He brought up his penlight, pointing to thin blobs on the ultrasound image. “Humerus. Radius. Metacarpus.”

We stared at him.

“We’ve spoken with a number of biologists and they’ve never seen this exact physiology.”

“But... why?” Keane said.

“That’s the question that brought every single one of us here.” Doctor Mike folded his hands in his lap and looked down at his thumbs. “You have to understand... in the context of human evolution, this is a phenomenon in its infancy.”

Keane pointed to himself, his hands faintly trembling. “Its not like we developed opposable thumbs overnight, or even in one or two generations. It took centuries. This seems so sudden. Why is this happening now?” His eyes darted to the dark, mysterious form of our child. “Why is this happening to—”

“To us,” I finished. I grabbed Keane’s hand and pulled it down and into my lap, my own hand overtop. I nodded at Doctor Mike. “And what do we do about it.”

The doctor took a pen from his lab coat and clicked it frenetically it in his lap. “Well, I’m glad you asked. First, and I’m required by law to ask you this question, would you like to terminate the pregnancy?”

Air sat frozen in my lungs.

Doctor Mike looked directly at me. “It’s a perfectly viable option. The easier option, most would say. In fact, over eighty percent of—”

“No.” I didn’t even look at Keane. “No, we do not wish to terminate the pregnancy. What’s next?”

“The waivers.”

“Waivers,” I repeated, steeling myself.

“If a patient wishes to continue the pregnancy to term, they will be allowed to do so only if they provide express written consent that once the child is born, it will enter into the guardianship of The Institute until the age of eighteen.”


I signed till the ink ran dry. I didn’t look at Keane, but squeezed the bony tip of his kneecap to keep me steady. As soon as I finished with a paper, I passed it to him and he followed. Not because he was a push-over or some whipped school boy, but because he trusted me. I don’t understand relationships where the woman is domineering and the man is in a constantly repeating loop of yes dear, of course honey. Those women think they’re strong, but strength doesn’t come from being overbearing. You have to give the people you love their freedom, and have faith that you can still find a way to walk the same path.

Still, I was embarrassed about it later, on the cab ride home. How I hadn’t even asked Keane, just gone ahead and done what I needed to do.

“Of course you did.” He looked out the window at the crowd crossing the street. “I’ve never seen that look in your eyes before, Carmen. It was ferocious.” A little smile. “No matter what I felt, I wasn’t going to be the one getting in your way.”

“What did you feel?” I asked, as steam puffed from the hotdog truck on the corner. “Keane, I want to know.”

“Wings.” He shook his head again. “I felt like I was falling.”


The first and second trimesters went by so fast, time slipping through my swollen fingers. I occasionally wondered if it was like this for all pregnant women, but mostly enjoyed wallowing in the idea that it was the nature of my particular beast.

I controlled neither the unusual stuff, like the special tests at The Institute, nor the mundane stuff, like the god-awful mood swings. Keane and I started referring to these as my “moments” after learning the designation from a friend whose toddler would play happily for a period before becoming suddenly, inexplicably overwhelmed.

I had more moments than I liked to admit.

My friend Darla confessed tearfully over coffee one day that she’d had an Anomaly aborted. She spoke quietly, directly at her non-dairy creamer.

“It... he... he had a second head, Carmen. I’m not ashamed—” She swirled her spoon, flinching at each clink of metal on mug. “I mean why would something like that ever exist? How could something like that ever mean something good?”

She looked at my stomach, a lumpy undulation under my stretched wool cardigan, and patted my shoulder. “Don’t mistake naivety for courage.”

It wasn’t all bad; there were milestones to celebrate.

When she first moved—yes, she—it wasn’t like kicking, but fluttering. Doctor Mike assured me the wings weren’t’ even fully formed yet, that this is how it felt for most women. All these bizarre sensations; it was humbling to attribute them to just being human.

On the day after that first flutter we had a little celebration—my daughter and I; Keane was dead set on attending some scientific panel on Anomalies at the University. He wanted me to go, too, but is sounded like a trumped-up anatomy class with free coffee and a lot of long-winded explanations. What was the point? I didn’t need to see something up on a projector screen when I could feel it inside me.

Anyway, after dinner, the baby and I treated ourselves to a hot chocolate. I sat by the frosty window and had a conversation with her about how autumn is by far the superior season because change breathes fresh air into the world.

The next day we got the invitation. A tour of the residences at The Institute.


Everyone, everything, was understated. Only about half the children had visible Anomalies. They wandered through the halls of classrooms and dorms, passing by so quick and casual that I didn’t have time to process their strangeness. Most kept their secrets hidden, under clothes or under skin.

I wanted to see the Anomalies. Really see. Where was the easy confidence that one enjoys within their own home?

“Doctor Mike” He turned to face me. “I don’t want to insult...” I lowered my voice. “It just seems this whole place is grappling with its identity.” I looked at Keane. His nodding head was pasty white.

Doctor Mike smiled his Harvard smile. “The purpose of this tour is to be realistic about what you can expect for your child, not to sugarcoat. Besides, I have something special to share. This way.”

Only as I got closer to the doors did I see the cardboard cutouts of pink and blue balloons taped to the glass.

I stopped cold.

I wanted my daughter. Wanted to get to know her, not through helpful tours or magical cameras inserted in my nether regions but by having a chance just to lie down and breathe. To feel this girl’s wings rise up and meet me.

Doctor Mike turned back from the doors. He took a few steps towards us, his hands up in a gently defensive posture, the kind hostage negotiators use when they’re trying to get people to step away from the ledge.

“It’s important,” he said. Then, looking right at me, “Carmen, you need this.”

“Come on.” Keane’s voice was soft as he grabbed my pinky finger with is his whole hand. “We’ll go together.”

There were just the two. A boy and a girl, born yesterday to different parents. They’d been brought from the hospital and were now alone with each other, side by side.

The girl looked normal. Her Anomaly had to do with highly cognitive brain function, the only evidence flickering behind closed eyes.

The boy was a revelation; he was hooked up to a unique respiration system within a case of water. He floated free, arms loose and relaxed, only occasionally, unconsciously grabbing at the gills at the side of his neck.

“Best get some gloves.” A nurse giggled. “Before he scratches those things right off.”

Doctor Mike disappeared to speak with a colleague, leaving Keane and me agape at the children. Keane had perched himself in front of the little girl. “Do you smell her, Carmen?” His voice was barely audible.

That smell was incredible. Like blood and powder and baked goods all wrapped up in a freshly laundered blanket. I breathed it in. Wanted to gulp it.

Keane covered his nose. Buried his chin in his chest.

Doctor Mike tapped me gently on the shoulder. “Enough for one day, yes?”

But it wasn’t. It never would be.

My husband moved unsteadily towards the elevator. I lingered, watching the little girl’s eyelids and wanting to walk in her dreams.


I knew it would be soon. I’d hoped for a scheduled C-section, but another unexplained facet of Anomalies was how their mother’s body seemed to morph along with the baby. Subtle shifting in internal organs and processes adapted the birth canal for the coming of the strange.

Still. The wings pinched when I sat down to lunch. They were getting too big and were jammed up into my ribs. Such a strange thing to say, to feel, but those wings belonged to my daughter, were as much a part of her as her pinprick ovaries and nubby ears.

With each summersault of movement, each hiccupped breath, I closed my eyes, and pictured her skipping down the sidewalk in her best Sunday dress.

“How do you do that?” Keane asked over his pasta salad. He’d had a particularly hard morning, as people do when they’re carrying the weight of impending evolutionary and domestic change on their shoulders. Sometimes it’s hard to focus on driving to work or tipping the barista.

He was hunched over his plate, giving me a look. I’d been talking about the frills on the dress. Little white tennis shoes.

“How do I do what?”

“Pretend.”

I wanted to bite his head off, but he looked so drawn.

“It’s not pretending.” I gripped my fork harder. “Just because she’s going to be...” I tidied my peas. “Anyway, it doesn’t mean she won’t be human, too. That she won’t have normal things happen to her.”

“Normal.” Keane looked over his shoulder at the wall calendar. One of those ones you get from desperate/thankful realtors. Early spring sun cut across the March spread; a brick-clad semi with a pool. A family out back playing Frisbee with their Lab.

Here, Rover. Come.

Keane looked at me while pointing an index finger violently behind him. “Do you see all those red circles, honey?”

Seven of the remaining eleven days before my due date had been marked and dedicated for tests at The Institute.

“What do you think Doctor Mike is doing?” Dust particles fled in the wake of Keane’s long, precise exhalations. “Do you think they’re measuring her for her wedding dress?”

(Lace. A-line, I hoped.)

“I know very well what they’re doing.” I pulled my fork into the cubby of space between my bloated belly and the table. I dug my thumb into the prongs, one by one. “After all, Keane. It’s been me all along.”

Keane dropped his fork, mayo-soaked noodles making a wet, flaccid splat on the plate. “I’m the one sitting next to you. Watching this thing possess you.”

“Christ. Why don’t you tell me how you really feel.”

He pushed himself back from our rickety table. “What was I supposed to say, Carmen?” Now he stood, kicking back the chair so it fell. “That I wanted to end it?”

The baby rolled from left to right. Breath caught in my throat but I managed to get to my feet. “Keane, you said—”

“You don’t know how you looked.” His hands were steepled by his chest. “The moment you found about that kid, after the sonogram, you—”

“Got fat?”

“—Fell in love. Jesus. I know what you’re like when you fall in love.”

Laughing bitterly hurt. The pain cinched my abdomen and didn’t let go. I bent over the table.

“This little girl is not ours to hold.” He said quietly.

Didn’t he know about the runway and the roof? About our anniversary and the night sky? About the fucking fate of it all?

“How dare you.” My stomach rolled again, the baby beginning to corkscrew. I didn’t blame her for trying to escape. The pain peaked and then ebbed. It felt like a ball of tinfoil un-crinkling itself. “I’ve done everything in my power to save this girl—”

“I’m trying to save YOU.” He took five of his big lunging steps to where I was hunched over the table. He straightened me and my breath caught once again. “Don’t you see? I was there, Carmen. When you pulled the plug on your aunt. I know what this girl will—”

“What?” I screamed. The pain was coming again, harder.

“I can’t watch your heart be broken again.” Tears streaked across his face like the sun across the wall, falling, sinking slowly in the dying afternoon.

There was a pop. Something was breaking. Oh god, what—

Oh.

It trickled down onto our bare feet, blazing hot.


I knew it would hurt. I naively assumed, however, that given the extraordinary circumstances, it wasn’t going to make me feel so indescribably, vulnerably, human.

“Keane.” It came out as a warble. I dug my feet into the safety rails on the bed, rolling my toes around the cold metal. “Keane.” My throat was so dry, every word barbed wire. “ICE.”

He wouldn’t look at me. He didn’t know me. Not this me, sweating and scared and irrational. Instead he found the eyes of the first nurse that glanced his way.

They stuck close, the Institute nurses. It may not have been their turf, but what they lacked in home-field advantage, they made up for in cold, calculated efficiency, red scrubs glowing as they as they checked vitals and gave quiet encouragement.

The locals, the candy stripers, occasionally wandered down to our open door at the end of the ward to steal gazes filled with car-crash curiosity. Christ, I was half-blind with pain and I noticed them; how subtle did they think they were?

Not again. Not yet, not—

“Fuck.”

“Do you want something for the pain?” Keane stroked my arm like it was a hamster while his other hand toyed with the video camera he’d thunked down on the bed when we arrived. I’d insisted.

“Take out the camera, honey.” I smiled Tess’s sonogram smile. “Get an interview during the pre-game warm up.”

“Carmen,” he looked up at me. “No.”

“Don’t be scared of her. She’s your daughter,”

“Let’s not talk about this now, ok? You’re in pain.”

That was the strange thing. I was in pain, crazy with it, but sharp as a tack, too. It’s like one half of me was caught outside in a storm while the other half hid in a cellar, watching and listening the whole thing unfold through a crack in the door. Incredible.

“It’s now, Keane, or never. You know they’re going to take her—”

“I know, Carmen.” He looked away, out the window at the rain.

When had it started raining?”


Thirteen hours in. It was nothing. It was an eternity.

I was only aware of the exact number because the nurses kept saying it quietly and quickly, as if it was a marker on the road to hell.

“Am I there yet?” It could’ve been funny but it wasn’t. My cheeks burned while the skin on my arms prickled with cold.

The woman in the cellar had given up looking. She sat with her back against the wall, waiting anxiously for the storm to either die down or rip her away.

Everything was gone. Gone, gone, gone. Torn up by the roots. It was there in Keane’s eyes, far away: enough, now. Enough.

The head nurse, the one with unruly, arched eyebrows held council with herself between my legs.

“The baby.” She made a corkscrew motion with her hands. “Its unique physiology—it will fit below the pelvis, but it’s tough going. You’re nine and a half, honey.” She made a circle with the index finger and thumb on each hand. Bigger than the ones she’d made before, but not much. “Almost time.”

“I’m done,” I moaned.

Keane reached out, but I pushed him away. I hated him because he didn’t have to be me.

The pain swallowed me up again. I reached out blindly. Hoping to grab onto anything, hoping to not get lost.

The nurses ignored me. They were busy at the end of the bed, peeling my quivering legs apart. Hands were uncrinkling giant sheets of blue tissue paper, jamming it down on my gurney.

Keane was shaking his head. His cracked lips moved soundlessly. Why wasn’t he holding my hand?

“She’s the one. She’s the one who’s supposed to be changed. We—” I felt like I was going to gag. “We’re supposed to stay the—” The sound was cut off by the immediate urge to move every internal organ out; an uncontrollable, downward dry heave.

“That’s right. Carmen, You’ve got it.” The eyebrows were directly between my legs, looking up, cut deep and determined. “Now push.”


Again and again I dug in. Gasping for breath, I caught whiffs of human exertion. Half-moons of perspiration darkened the underarms of red scrubs.

The only progress was the whitening of knuckles. The jellying of limbs.

A nurse held one leg to her chest, while Keane had the other. His hips were cinched so tight against my hand that I felt the hard edges of the stupid multi-tool he always kept in his pocket.

Their touch was getting less delicate, frustration showing on their faces.

“It’s not working, is it?” I asked between pushes. “Is it the wings? Are they—”

And I tried again. There wasn’t effort behind it anymore. What had started as a fierce biological response backed by my own determination had petered out to a token squeeze, a rudimentary grunt.

Eyebrows was squinting at the source of my pain. There was a gloved hand on her shoulder, pushing her aside.

“Carmen, you need to focus. You need to listen to me, do you understand?”

In a room full of flushed cheeks and harried voices, Doctor Mike’s tenor was cold concrete.

“Doctor.” When did he get here? I started to weep. “Mike, I can’t.”

The nurse said something to him about the baby’s heart rate. About distress.

His hand reached out for my knee. He caressed it with an index finger. This would seem inappropriate, too intimate, if any sense of self-consciousness hadn’t been stripped away hour by hour, centimeter by centimeter.

“Carmen, you need to understand.” My knee was shaking so badly that he grabbed it with both hands. His tone was professional, but his eyes were wide; he was steadying us both. “There is no delicate way around the truth, my dear. Your daughter has wings fused to her spine.”

I moaned. “No, no, no.”

Doctor Mike gave a nod. “You’re holding on to her too tight, Carmen. You’ve done right by her, but you have to let go, now. You have to trust me.”

“This is hell.” I heard myself say. “No one should be here.” I looked at Keane. “We shouldn’t be here.”

“But you are here.” Doctor Mike said. “And the only way out is to punch straight through.” He nodded again, more frantically. “Right through, Carmen. Right now. For your little girl.”

“I can’t. I can’t.”

“Carmen, you must. Or the child will—”

“Her shoes have pink laces.” Keane’s eyes were wild. He was smiling through tears. “She’s skipping down the sidewalk in white sneakers with pink laces.”

“With her friends,” I whispered.

“With her friends. Her pigtails bob up and down.” Keane answered.

It was as though the walls were teetering, close to collapse.

“She’s on her way home.” My voice cracked, the walls cracked, falling. “She’s coming to see us.”

It was there again. The need. Keane was by my side and I was pushing, forcing my way through the rubble, screaming my little girl to life.


The ending should have been inbuilt. That’s how it is with pregnancy; one way or another, the trip comes to a close. No one ever considers this too deeply, because in most cases, the new adventure overshadows the finished journey.

Keane held our daughter, stroking the soft spot on her head where you could feel her heart beating. “When I was ten, the whole family went to Disneyland. Three days in the back of a station wagon. Our thighs were stuck to cheap vinyl, sweating. We spent twenty four miserable hours hot-boxing grape juice and cheese whiz, and once we saw Mickey it didn’t matter. It was all forgotten.” He nuzzled her with his chin, shaking his head. “I remember thinking, though, what if Disney had turned out to be a giant crater of nothing? That road trip would have gone down in the annals of hell.”

He handed her gently over to me. Her name was Simone, and she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever touched. She exceeded my expectations on a moment-by-moment basis. Pride welled up in my chest at the smallest things: the long nails on her fingers, the tiny white dots all over her nose.

Her wings were translucent and unmoving, blood pulsing through luscious pink veins.

Her tiny hands kept reaching back to find them.

I had thought the act of removing her from my body, expelling her from the grips of my insides, would be some sort of colossal step forward in coming to terms with the brevity and strangeness of our relationship. In hindsight, this was moronic. I was losing everything, my world emptying out of my body, draining out of my goddamn pores. I floated aimlessly, a boat without ballast, and yet still felt the weight of an indefinable anchor.

I handed the baby to Keane, who placed her gingerly in her glass cradle. It had been designed to be double high, with an optional lid in case of flight, but it was clear my daughter wasn’t going anywhere.

This is what really got me. Maybe if the wings had been flapping around, giving us some sort of sign, things would be easier. As it was, as she was, all I saw was a beautiful, vulnerable creature desperately out of her element.

We had five hours left.

The nurses in red ate tuna sandwiches at the main station out in the hallway, chatting comfortably now with the locals. They came into check us occasionally, but mostly they respected our need to be alone. There were reminders of what was coming, though. Doctor Mike had left a final package of consents and counseling info on my bedside table next to a bowl of foggy chicken soup.

Then there were the guards. Two hulking beasts with broad shoulders stood just outside the always-open door, their sidearms shining brightly in hospital halogen.

“She’s so amazing, Carmen.” Keane wheeled her closer.

They’d ripped holes in the back of her swaddling blankets for the wings to poke through.

His eyes were puffy. He’d only cried in front of me twice during the entirety of our relationship. Once, when I told him I would marry him, and today, when the peculiar, tragic product of that marriage slipped into our world.

“I didn’t expect—” He picked her up again to nuzzle her head into his neck. “I get it now, that’s all. That she’s ours.”

“And that’s why we have to protect her.” I looked away, out the window. We were on the fourth floor, looking over the roof of the adjoining 3-storey dialysis wing, which in turn looked over the attached 2-storey cancer centre. Together they created a giant, asphalt set of stairs.

When I looked back at Keane he’d stopped bouncing our daughter.

“Put her down, Keane. And come close.”


“Please.” Keane pleaded with the guards, standing between them, pulling at his hair. He had to work to be heard over my wailing. “She’s a wreck, she’s in mourning. Let me close the door.”

I amped up the histrionics, crying like a hyena, desperately exhausted and afraid that it wasn’t an act.

“No one on the ward needs to hear this,” Keane said. The guards looked at each other. They arched their backs. Rubbed their massive necks. In between, Keane was a harmless chipmunk. Christ, was I setting him up to be hurt?

I screamed louder.

“For pity’s sake!” yelled Keane, and this time he grabbed the door, not asking. The guards shuffled forward, too surprised to protest. Keane shoved the door closed behind him and hustled toward me, a tiny smirk spreading up his cheeks.

It was gone as soon as he looked at her.

Keane helped me from the bed. My belly was limp; as empty as it was heavy. I stood there for a minute, waiting for the ringing in my ears to stop, for normalcy to return, before remembering we’d moved beyond that. Keane slung our hospital bag over his shoulder. In the side pocket sat a tiny plush elephant, its tongue sticking out. We’d picked it out weeks ago at the toy store; an afternoon of walking in a dream world, knowing that today was inevitable.

As stable as I was going to get, I picked Simone up, supporting her flopping neck with one hand and jutting wings with the other. I tucked her into the crease in my arm.

“Let me carry, her, Carmen. You’re too weak.”

I stared him down. He relented quickly, moving to the window. He pulled out his multi-tool.

I cried loudly, masking the sound of him popping open the ancient window and cutting through the brittle chain-link barrier.

Together, we peeled back the mesh. The baby rooted at my breast.

The asphalt was shockingly hot, soft and tarry after a morning in the sun. I was still just wearing the wool socks I’d given birth in; blood streaked across the heel, up the arch. I put down one foot and was bracing to drop the second when I felt the rush of air behind me.

I craned my neck and saw red-faced nurses between the two rushing guards. They were stumbling over each other, eyes wide, arms reaching to hips.

I fell forward, my neck snapping around just in time to see the tiny details of rock and stone coming at me. My chin scraped, bounced, and hit again,

Without realizing, I’d curled my shoulder around the baby. She looked up at me, blinking ocean blue calm.

Glass shattered in my hair. I turned again, trying to get myself up, tripping. It took me a second to rewind and review: Keane had pushed me out. He’d charged forward and grabbed a chair.

Now he was on the floor, his shoulder bleeding. God, had he been shot? He was gesturing at us with his uninjured arm.

Go, he mouthed.

I picked myself up and ran for the edge of the roof, holding the baby so close I could feel the quick fluttering of her heart against the ragged rhythm of my own.

I stopped just short of the awning, looking down. There was no way I had enough strength in my legs to take it from a cold start. Better to run.

I took three steps backwards and made to take a couple fast lunges forward, but my mind and muscles were out of sync. I stumbled, one leg hiccupping after the next. I was falling toward the edge.

In those seconds that could have been hours I didn’t need to look down. I knew she was gone, could feel the absence on my chest and in it.

My God. What had I done?

A woman screamed. Audible gasps rang out below.

From the precipice, I forced myself to look.

My momentum had catapulted the baby past the corner of the adjoining roof, out into empty air.

There she hovered. Her wings were clumsy in the breeze, flapping wildly. Her curled body stretched itself out for the first time, forcing her swaddle to fall to the ground.

She just stared back at me.

Her eyes weren’t glassy and wandering, they fixed on me, on the only thing in the world she really knew. I was her touchstone, her beacon, her ExpressLube runway, her everything. I’d never been that before. It made me feel like I was out there with her. No ceiling.

Suddenly, she faltered. She was grabbing at her ears, her eyes. She flailed, exhausted and losing air.

I heard four or five quick, light footsteps crunching on the asphalt behind me, then felt a rush of air. The smell was familiar. Pine needles and dryer sheets.

Doctor Mike rose over my head in a single, impossible leap. He grabbed Simone at the apex, and sank gracefully to the ground.

No. No way.

He wore only boxer shorts. Two massive praying mantis-like limbs tucked themselves back against his muscular human thighs.

He looked up at me and nodded. I craned, watched him stride back under the awning toward the main entrance.

When hands grabbed me from behind, I didn’t fight.

I felt as light as a feather.


Late afternoon sun cut sharply across my sightline. I had to put hand to brow to see the good doctor leaping inhumanly across the screen.

I sat in my hospital bed, handcuffed and IVd, watching them replay it again and again on the news. What I should have seen as an intrusive breach of privacy felt like a celebration, a revelation. The best home movie ever recorded. This, this, was a birth.

 [ Leap, © 2012 Rachel H. White ] “Keane is fine.” The man of the hour sauntered into my room. His cheeks were flushed, whether from embarrassment, anger or exertion, I couldn’t tell. “Superficial wound. I took care of it myself. And your daughter is well. Incredible, in fact.”

“I know.” I turned off the TV.

When Mike got to my bedside, he stared at me for a good long while. Finally he crossed his arms and looked down at his legs. “I’ve convinced The Institute not to press charges, if you agree to...”

I nodded, laughing delicately under sore ribs. “She’s going to be a handful.”

“Clearly.” He sat with barely a creak of the horrible gurney. “You know, as my premiere patient, this was... let’s just say, all other births will have a hard time competing.”

“I’m guessing you’ve never...” I gestured downward.

“Not in public, no.” The red in his cheeks grew darker.

“A day of firsts, then.” I held up my Styrofoam cup and drank, staring into the water.

“A day of firsts.”

We listened to shoes squeaking in the hallway. To other babies coming to life.

He put his hand on my knee. “Carmen, growing up at The Institute, we’re taught to be fearful of other’s reactions to Anomalies, to be cautious of our extraordinariness, because we simply don’t have all the answers. What we did today was a big step. A hard step.”

He stood, picked up the signed papers on the table and headed for the door.

The sun was setting; the air coming in from the broken window carried the smell of fresh grass.

“I promise we’ll keep working to figure out why this is happening.” Mike had his hand on the doorknob and was looking back at me. “One day, we’ll understand the science.”

He glided out of the room, letting me appreciate the beauty of his strangeness.

Then I had to smile, because I knew. There are other reasons why the world changes.


© 2012, Stacy Sinclair

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