By RIck Krizman
It’s late in a long day and I’m standing in the hall outside the nursery of story ideas. There they are, lined up in their pods, twenty, thirty of them, behind the glass under the fluorescent lights while myself and a few other authors peer in with tired eyes.
“That one yours?” I ask George, a first-timer. He seems unsure. “Don’t sweat it,” I tell him, “they all look about the same at this stage.”
Aaron, as usual, knows exactly which one is his, already has the plot; pre-school at the Temple, Marlboro Prep, Stanford, then domestic drama in a tedious suburb, everything fraught, missing father, mother/daughter secrets, alcoholic brother. One-eyed aunt with a wooden leg? Haha, I’m kidding. He has no compunction about stealing from scripture or old TV shows. “Trust me,” he says. “People like hearing the same story over and over.” (Good for you, I think, but how do you know Grandma won’t show up with a gun?)
I have a couple stories under my belt but frankly, they didn’t turn out how I’d hoped. And this time, good lord, that first sonogram—stuttering heartbeat, indeterminate genre, no bigger than a blueberry—when I had to be honest if all this might be a bad idea.
A nurse backs through the swinging doors and delivers to me a swaddled bundle light as a loaf of Wonder Bread. I turn back a fold and see the fuzzy top of a tiny head, then the face, not much bigger than a chipmunk. Her cheek feels cold, and when I rest my ear against her chest I don’t hear a breath or a heartbeat. Then suddenly she gasps and her eyes fly open. I touch one shaky finger to her bottom lip and she starts screaming bloody murder.
“Mr. Bonneville,” says the second nurse with a clipboard. I hoist the noisy thing to my shoulder, patting its back until the bawling settles into chuffing sobs, then a hiccup-y gasping, and her first tears wet my neck. “Mr. Bonneville, we need a name before she can be released.” I nest little Jane Doe into the crook of my arm and swing her gently; she goes limp and her breathing eases into a light snore, her lips pulsing outward, kissing the air, dreaming of a nipple. “Mr. Bonneville.” The clipboard wobbles as I print the name I’d agonized over, but now it seems to belong to someone else and I cross it out. I set her down into her bassinet, thinking of Moses in his little basket. Her eyes are squeezed shut and her brow twitches as if practicing a frown. She raises her hands and her fingers undulate like she’s feeling her way through the darkness. Or signaling the Mothership. Or waving goodbye, who can tell, and I imagine dark water swelling into the bull rushes, floating her off into the tug of the current, where all I can do is run along the shore and listen for her name in the gurgling water.