By Nancy Moir
Women sit around the rim of a waiting room, elbow-to-elbow: short, tall, dark, pale. A stack of National Geographics elevates the table; an old-fashioned clock annotates the silence. The air smells of latex. The carpet is rough with sand.
Behind the plexiglass, the receptionist is painted in watercolors. I slide my identification into the slot.
“Please sit and wait for your name to be called,” she says.
I sit and leaf through an article on spider monkeys.
A nurse leads me into another room. Lights are clustered over the gurney. She reviews my records.
“Do you have a preference about what you want to carry?”
I look at the vials of colored liquid that line the shelves that scale the wall. I imagine playing them like a xylophone.
“Surprise me,” I say.
She inserts a needle above my wrist, flushes the line with saline, then calls an orderly to take me to the OR.
I have to eat before I can leave.
A buffet table bisects the room. A woman pulls strands of algae from a wooden raft propped above a metal dish. I take a plate. Vegetables, crickets, mealworms, saucers full of seeds, sushi. I use a set of tongs to stack the latter onto my plate. “What are you having?” I ask her.
I nod. A ruffle of black hair falls over her face. “They say I can incubate them longer than their natural mothers,” she says, then smiles and layers her plate with bamboo.
I close my eyes and dream I am in the middle of an ocean. I inhale water but do not drown.
My friend Francesca accompanies me to my checkups. Her hand is warm, and mine is damp. I apologize, but she shakes her head, curls her lip into a smile. She has long canines and fiery red hair. The doctor is evaluating her against the placards on the wall. She could carry fennec foxes, they decide.
“Do you hear that?” I ask the doctor.
“What?” they ask, smiling like they’ve been dazed.
They shake their head, lean in, then back. My focus shifts inward, then out.
“No,” they say. “The offspring is developing normally,” they say. “Everything looks good.”
“How long until I give birth?”
They scan the implant that they have embedded at my hip; they look at the machines, the wall. “By summer.”
Francesca leads me onto the street and waves me back to my apartment. I shield my eyes from the illuminated signs on the skyscrapers; I cover my nose as I pass the street food vendors. I want to walk to the ocean, but it’s too far. I fill the tub with water and soak until the sun goes down.
Summer is almost here.
I sit in the park and watch a stream of water trickle out from the refuse. A skim of oil identifies its route.
The chickadees won’t eat from my hands anymore. The waterfowl are curious. A cormorant lands in front of me, dancing from foot to foot.
A man sits on the other side of the bench, a device hidden within his sleeve. “A6251,” he says.
I nod. That’s my ID.
He holds out the device, tilting its screen towards me, a fuzzy gray image of my womb, the fetus a blob with a dark eye and a dorsal fin.
“You’ve been following me.”
He offers me his hand. I ignore it, and stand on my own.
The cormorant rises; a flock of seagulls plunges into the sky.
Panda lady is in the waiting room. The hair on the top of her scalp has grayed. It pokes under the rim of her hat.
My escort leads me into a room filled with a tank of water. A nurse reaches for my wrist—“No, no,” I say, pulling away. “I said I wanted to be awake.” The nurse looks at the doctors, and they nod.
I undress and submerge myself in the water. The lights dim; a hand reaches into the water to fill it with waves. My ears are flooded with the songs of dolphins.
The doctors drift around me, immersing shapeless silver gloves into the water, fastening me in place with tubes and wires. I am floating without effort, my limbs above me. My head feels light.
My offspring twitches from within, pressing up against me. I place a hand on my belly. The nurse spreads my legs. I feel her pull, repeatedly, along with my exhalations. Part of me is breaking away.
“And there she is.”
I look down over myself, the waves of bloody water. I pull the calf onto my stomach. She is glossy, taut, warm. I cradle her head.
“What is she—?” I ask, tears washing from my eyes.
“A Māui dolphin,” the nurse whispers
I’m too distracted to see the needle; I just feel myself falling, my grip on her loosening, the room fading out until only a single light, like a pulse, remains in the back of my eye.
At night, I sleep submerged, haunted by the songs.
I see Panda lady one day. Her hair is white except for two gray disks above her ears. She is moving slowly.
“Does it still haunt you?” I ask.
She pretends not to know what I’m talking about.
I book a flight to New Zealand. I take the window seat and stare down through the clouds until they thin, revealing water. I feel like I’m falling.
The beach is deserted, the previous day’s footprints flattened. Further down, the sand itself has been swept away, baring a glistening rock face and two moored boats. I open my mouth to release a series of clicks from my throat. The water is roiling with wind and a smattering of rain.
From up on the rocks, I see the crests of the water for miles. And within them, a pod of dolphins, moving swiftly, rising up through the water, slick skin silvered by the moonlight.
I dive in.