The leviathan slips in and out of the waves. White as bone. White as the moon that’s slipped from the sky. A creature so big you never see it in its entirety. Leah imagines she hears it singing and shivers.
Walking down the beach, Leah steps on a darker patch of sand and feels, rather than sees, that she’s walked into a small tide pool. She looks down to find her feet disappearing, the edges of her nightgown snatching the slow water in this bit of captured ocean, which now clings wetly to her as she lifts her feet from it. The sand makes sucking sounds as she walks carefully out of the pool. She makes her way to a damp spit of beach fringing the shore. She steadies herself, gripping her toes into the sand to find balance. The leviathan still makes its rippling way between the waves. Leah frames it with her fingers then moves her fingers to her eyes. Only an inch—she can make it miniscule with her mind. She smiles at the thought.
When she looks back, the whale has slipped into the waters and not an inch of it can be glimpsed by a human standing on the beach. Behind her the house is dark. It seems like sticks propped up on the seawall, really. A succession of boards balanced on rocks form a stairway. But Harry’s an architect and he never would have left her in a foundering house, would he? So it must be an illusion, or her insecurity, that makes her hear every creaking floorboard as an invitation to collapse.
She’s new to it, to the house, the neighbors. The nearest house is only a quarter of a mile. Close enough that they’d have remarked on the lights had she turned them on, on the music, had she given in to her impulse to play a CD. She’d wanted them to move to a house in a less developed part of Long Island, some place where they could be on their own, away from people who would make remarks about their house, about the things Leah planted in the garden, about her. But Harry had insisted on the Hamptons. “We’re buying a brand,” he had teased, including her in his folly. She didn’t press the matter. Although she wasn’t so new to the marriage anymore, still it felt new, uncomfortable, like a shirt she’d bought that didn’t look quite the way she imagined it would on her. She imagined she needed to wear it more for it to become comfortable.
Harry’s gone for the week visiting a client site in Miami. Leah’s been alone in the house, with only the baby inside her. She’s embarrassed that she hasn’t done half the things that Harry’s left her to do. She hasn’t set up the phone service. Half of the moving boxes remain unpacked. The rooms are half-painted with sample colors. Everything done or not done in halves. She tells herself that having the house painted now would not be good for the baby.
Leah thinks of the child as hers, not Harry’s. Though Harry wants it more, fears it less than she does. He’s taken time to buy things for the smaller guest room in the house, now the baby’s room. The baby crib, a rocker and bassinet. Leah had wanted to keep the baby crib in their room. On this one, she hadn’t wanted to give in, but she’d accepted delaying the matter until the baby arrived.
Her fertility doesn’t make her feel powerful. Still the baby is hers. She feels its amphibious yearnings deep inside her. It’s a creature that Harry hasn’t reckoned with yet. He hasn’t defined it yet, hasn’t decided its needs and for now Leah can say she knows it better. Leah knows it’s a girl. She listens to the sound of the ocean and imagines it is the sound of the baby’s heartbeat, sure and strong and filled with secrets.
Inside the house and for a period of days, Leah’s been voiceless. She blames it on her visit to her nearest neighbors, the MacPhees, before the weekend. Harry had thought it would be a good idea for her to introduce herself while he was away. She’d decided to walk, because it had seemed closer to cut across the beach than to drive along the bumpy service road, though midway through her trek, she’d regretted it. Her pale blond hair, growing out of a severe haircut, had clung damply to her scalp. Stray bits had kept escaping from the two short pony tails she’d fashioned. She’d chewed on the strands nervously as she’d clambered up the crude stairs up the seawall when she finally arrived at the foot of the sprawling cedar home. Why had everybody in this community decided on rustic when it came to stairs?
Wiping the sweat from her face with a sleeve, Leah had felt keenly then that her jeans and blouse were too tight. At three months, she still hadn’t shopped for proper maternity clothes. Carrying her offering of a basket of jams and homemade bread across the beach in the midmorning heat, she’d grown red and frazzled. The buttons of her blouse strained against her breasts. She was sure that there where sweat stains under her arms, at her back.
As soon as Leah’d crossed the patio, Mrs. Ruth MacPhee had greeted Leah at the door with an expression of alarm. Undoubtedly, she’d suspected Leah of being somebody’s errant domestic servant or someone illiterate who had not absorbed the “No Solicitation” sign in the driveway. Mrs. MacPhee was dressed in a light blue linen blazer over a pink silk blouse and wore a matching skirt. She’d worked a perfect string of seed pearls around her neck, which was strong and tanned, and only slightly wrinkled, though she must have been in her late fifties. Even though it must have been eighty degrees out, Mrs. MacPhee had been wearing stockings and leather shoes. There was not a hint of moisture on the woman.
While Leah had stammered that she and Harry (not with her now) had moved to the house down the beach, Mrs. MacPhee had cast a measuring blue glance up and down the length of Leah’s attire, her own neatly coifed black hair, not moving an inch as she did so. She’d stared at Leah’s gift basket, then placed a tight smile on her face. “How lovely, dear,” she’d said, inviting Leah inside with an elegant gesture. Mrs. MacPhee had placed the basket on the table by the door with casual disrespect and invited Leah in for tea. Though she’d clearly been ready to go out (for if not, surely a maid would have answered the door), she was also clearly an individual others waited for.
The tea had been a miserable affair. While Mrs. MacPhee surveyed Leah over the bone white china tea cups, Leah had tried to fill herself with false cheer. She’d played the role of the plucky, pregnant wife, making do in a new house while her brilliant husband was gone. She’d kept trying to think of a graceful way to exit, but grace had fled. She’d found herself dull-witted and picking lint off her jeans, smote by the force of Mrs. MacPhee’s disinterest. When Mrs. MacPhee had finally gotten up, explaining politely that she’d been about to go out the door, after all, when Leah had dropped by, Leah’d bounded to her feet, practically knocking her own tea cup on the coffee table. Barely rescuing the china, she’d nodded and rushed to the door. She’d folded her arms self-consciously across her chest and smiled her way outside and back down the rickety steps, blinking back tears. “Stupid, stupid, stupid,” she’d muttered.
Though she’d felt slightly better walking on the beach, taking her shoes off and letting her hair loose, she’d thought about the lies she’d tell Harry when he came back from Florida. About how she’d visited the MacPhees, who had found her charming.
She’d managed to find a way not to talk to anyone for the rest of the week. She had her groceries delivered. She’d kept to the house or the beach. She’d let the beach speak to her and did not generally feel inclined to speak back.
But at 3 A.M., this night, suddenly, she’d been woken by her silence. She’d thought of calling Harry, but had feared it would undo her, the cell phone lost in the half rubble of the house. She’d clawed at the bed sheets and staggered from the bed, her center of gravity altered by the pregnancy. She’d looked at her feet over the small dome of her belly. The baby had felt heavy inside her, like a small fist pressed against her abdomen. She’d fled the creaking floorboards and without even grabbing a robe or slippers, slipped outside.
3 A.M. and now Leah stands alone in the dark on the beach, a stranger to the house that Harry’s brought for them. Leah wonders if she’d feel any different about it if Harry had actually built it. But Harry would never build a home and in any case, anything less than ten stories was beneath him unless it was museum or a church.
There’s some solace in this beach, even if the house is a disappointment, even if the neighbors are chilly. Leah can come out here and feel close to the ocean, gripping her toes into the sand, that the ocean teases it with a dark gesture of wild surf. The shore bubbles up here and there with small scuttling creatures that burrow back wetly into their shifting homes. Leah stretches out her arms and turns around, sweeping a slow, lazy circle. She meets the waves, then slips back. If she’s lost her voice, she still can dance, Salome to the Sea King. As she twirls, she looks down, and doesn’t comprehend at first, the red-black splatter on her legs, the drops that trickle down to the sea foam. They seem so innocuous, she stares at them uncomprehendingly. Then the fist in her abdomen clenches and she gasps in pain. Suddenly, she’s down on her haunches, her eyes wide with fear. She presses her knuckles to her mouth. “No, no, no,” she whispers.
“Mine,” she says, more vehemently, to the ocean. She breathes in quickly, and tries to will the baby’s heartbeat back inside her. It could be nothing, she thinks. It could be normal. Or if not normal, then nothing. Her thoughts reel in circles. She pivots on her heels. She notices with alarm how far she’s walked from the house. Even if she got back there, she can’t fathom where she’s left the cell phone. Her skin prickles with the cold, and she rubs her hands up and down her arms. Even if she found the cell phone, she doesn’t even know the number of the local hospital. And she’s sure she buried the new phonebook. She tries to breathe in and out steadily. She can’t imagine this terror is good for the baby.
The MacPhees’ house is actually closer than her own. There are no lights, but its dark pinnacles seem comfortingly solid and Leah knows Mrs. MacPhee won’t turn her away, whatever she might think of her. Leah gets unsteadily to her feet and twists the front of her nightgown with her hands, a pink stain is embarrassingly spreading on the front of it. Leah is afraid of walking to the MacPhees, as if the act of doing something will show the baby she thinks nothing of it. But won’t the act of doing nothing be the same? Maybe this is normal, or can be fixed. Surely, people bleed sometimes during a pregnancy. But she thinks that when they do, it can’t be good. Leah starts walking slowly, taking measured steps. The moon peers coldly out from behind the clouds. The weight in Leah’s abdomen feels leaden. She clasps her hands to her belly as if to cup the child inside. “Hush, hush, sweet baby,” she whispers, “Mama will make this better.”
When she finally gets to the MacPhee’s stairway, she crumples to her knees and starts to shake, but she finds she can’t cry. “Help me,” she says, but her voice comes out in a croak. She looks for a rock and tries to throw it at a window, but it falls short and tumbles back down the stairs towards her. She starts to crawl, and though the splintered wood and rocks tear at her knees and shins, she feels that she’s doing less harm to the baby.
When she gets to the patio, she pants like a wild animal. A light comes on inside the house now, and Mrs. MacPhee peers out from behind curtains. Then she sees Leah. She opens the door, clutching her robe to her chest. Leah notices the brown spots on Mrs. MacPhee’s hands, the blue veins that crawl down her wrists. Even in the dark of the porch, Leah can see the crystal blueness of Mrs. MacPhee’s eyes that measures her and finds her lacking.
“Leah?” Mrs. MacPhee says, looking down at her. “What’s wrong?”
“Something. The baby. I’m bleeding.” Leah finally gets it out. She holds her nightgown in front of her, with its embarrassing stain. “Please,” she says. “Please.”
“I’ll call an ambulance,” Mrs. MacPhee says.
“No!” Leah gasps, “It’ll take to long. It’s already been too long. Please, can’t you drive me.”
Mrs. MacPhee is silent for a moment. She frowns. “Alright, she says. “Stay here.”
Leah laughs with an edge of hysteria—as if she could go anywhere—and Mrs. MacPhee frowns again. She goes inside the house and when she comes out, after a few minutes, she has a housecoat on, and a jacket, and carries a towel in her hands. She helps Leah to her feet, and they walk to Mrs. MacPhee’s BMW, parked in the driveway. Mrs. MacPhee flicks her key at it and the door unlocks. Mrs. MacPhee puts the towel on the passenger seat, and helps Leah in.
The hospital is five miles away. They take the service road and then merge onto route 128. Occasionally, Leah presses her head against the cool window on her side of the car and imagines she sees dark eyes peering out from between the trees that line the road. She hopes a deer doesn’t dart out in front of the car, but imagines that Mrs. MacPhee would expertly maneuver around it. She looks at Mrs. MacPhee and catches a sideways glance from her. “Have you called your husband, Leah?” Mrs. MacPhee asks.
“Harry? No,” Leah says, startled. For some reason, the mention of Harry’s name sends another cold wave of panic in her. She cups her belly in her hand protectively. Mrs. MacPhee reaches across Leah into the glove compartment and extracts her cell phone. “Here,” Mrs. MacPhee says.
Leah stares at it. “But, I don’t know where he is exactly.” Then, thinking it sounds more plausible, she says, “I really don’t want to worry him, if there’s nothing very wrong. This could be nothing.”
Mrs. MacPhee narrows her eyes, but she nods. She understands the idea of preventing needless worry. They drive in silence the rest of the way. Leah closes her own eyes against her embarrassment. Mrs. MacPhee swings into the emergency entrance of the hospital and then helps Leah out of the car. Her eyes flick briefly to the towel on the seat, then away. She steers Leah by the elbow to the receptionist’s desk, where a heavy-set blond woman cracks gum loudly as she types on her computer keyboard. The woman looks up and takes in Leah and Mrs. MacPhee. “She needs to see someone,” Mrs. MacPhee says. She’s bleeding.” She turns to Leah, “How many months are you?”
“Three,” Leah stammers. The blond woman, the name on her name tag says, Rhodora, pushes a form at Leah and tells her to go behind a curtained area with the number “3” on it. Mrs. MacPhee nods at her. “Alright, dear,” Mrs. MacPhees says. “You’ll be alright now.” Leah looks up from the form. “Yes,” she whispers, “Thanks.” She finds she’s speaking to Mrs. MacPhee’s retreating back
Leah gives her name to the receptionist and asks for a pen. Rhodora sighs at her and shakes her head as if she’s seen too many penless people in the course of her duties. Leah goes behind the curtain and sits on a vinyl table that squeaks beneath her. She fills out the form, trying to provide the insurance information she remembers. She feels cold and sweaty because she doesn’t remember most of it and is afraid that they won’t help her or the baby. She thinks, they’ll see the address—surely, they’ll know that Harry can pay.
After awhile, an intern comes and stares at her as if she were floating in formaldehyde. He takes her blood pressure and he asks her questions that don’t seem to have anything to do with the baby. Then a nurse comes in who asks her angrily why she was talking to the intern. The nurse looks at Leah sharply, with a distrust cultivated by years of taking the blame.
After about an hour, a doctor comes in, a young Indian woman, who introduces herself as Dr. Patel. She takes Leah’s history and looks at her with suspicion when Leah tries to explain why she hasn’t found a new ob-gyn since she moved to Long Island. Dr. Patel regards Leah as if she were a crazy, spoiled rich woman, just another Hampton refugee. She purses her lips, and flicks her jet black her behind her shoulders. She writes something on her clipboard.
“But I’m here now,” Leah says. “You have to help me. I think there’s something wrong with the baby.” She clutches at the doctor’s lab coat.
The doctor looks at Leah, at first distastefully. Then her expression softens after a count of ten. As if she had to consider some things before she could take pity on poor careless Leah who seems to have lost bits of her baby in the foam by the beach. She pats the table that Leah’s sitting on and tells her to wait. “A nurse will come by with an ultrasound machine,” she says. The doctor steps outside the curtain and Leah hears her speak in a low voice to the gruff nurse who had come by before. The two of them laugh softly and Leah shivers. The doctor returns and feels Leah’s abdomen. Leah winces and the doctor writes something down on her clipboard. “Were you feeling pain before?”
“On the beach,” Leah admits. “I had cramps. But I get cramps. I thought that was just something that happened.” She hunches her shoulders feeling more and more like a stupid child. The doctor frowns and examines her cervix. She writes something else on her clipboard. She puts it down on a small metal cart and feels Leah’s abdomen again. “Do you drink?” the doctor asks. “Take drugs?” No and no, Leah answers. She wonders if Dr. Patel believes her.
Leah withdraws from the scene until all she can see is the movement of the Doctor’s fluttering hands. A nurse comes in, a different one, with a cart bearing the ultrasound device and plugs it into the wall. The nurse takes a cold jelly from a jar and rubs it on Leah’s belly. Her gray hair falls over her eyes but she smiles at Leah kindly. Dr. Patel grabs the ultrasound wand and presses it gently against Leah’s skin. The nurse shifts the monitor so that the doctor can see it better. Leah cranes her head to see but can’t make out what the black and white image means. The doctor frowns and lifts the wand, again moving it over Leah’s belly in slow circles. This ritual doesn’t save Leah though and when the doctor speaks at last, it’s to tell Leah what she already knows.
“There’s no heartbeat. The baby’s dead.”
Leah wants to confess everything then.
That she had been afraid of it and it died.
That she had wondered if it would need her and it died.
That she had wondered if it would look like Harry and if she would love it less. And it died.
“Will I bleed more?” Leah asks.
Will the last bits of my girl leave me in a rush of blood or will she drip from me slowly, as if she hates to go and linger damply on my legs like a kiss?
“What’s going to happen?” Leah asks instead.
She doesn’t want to seem crazy. Though she speaks calmly, the doctor still looks at her as if she’s disturbed. But the nurse touches her hand briefly.
“Dear, we’ll have to take it out. You’ll have to schedule a D&C.”
“Oh,” Leah says.
She’s silent for a moment.
“Can’t you do it now, I mean I’m here,” Leah says.
The doctor looks annoyed. “We are all very busy. You’ll have to schedule something.”
“You mean I’ll have to go home and carry her dead inside me?”
The doctor doesn’t answer her. The nurse looks pained.
“Do you need something?” The doctor asks.
“Do I need something?” Leah repeats stupidly.
“To help you sleep dear,” the nurse says.
“Sure,” Leah says bitterly.
The doctor scribbles furiously on her clipboard then tears off a piece with a prescription.
They leave her alone to get dressed and Leah walks stiffly to the receptionist’s desk, clutching the prescription. She asks about scheduling a D&C and the Rhodora tells her to call later in the day, since the nurse who handles the surgeons’ schedules will be in then. Rhodora asks her who her OB-GYN is and Leah admits again she doesn’t have one. Rhodora raises her eyebrows and turns to her computer, cracking her gum. “Let’s see,” she says, not unkindly. “It looks like some of the doctors on staff may be able to take an extra patient. When you call back later, ask the girl who answers the phone who’s got openings.”
Leah takes in what Rhodora says, watching the young women’s mouth move as if she were reading lips. Leah interrupts her, “Do you have any spare clothes around? I have to take a cab home.”
Rhodora eyes widen as she takes Leah in. “Oh, honey,” she says after a long pause. “Look, I have some sweatpants and a shirt you can change into. I keep them here for when I run. And I haven’t done that in a long time,” she laughs, trying to make it easier for Leah. “They’re big, but…” She shrugs.
Rhodora reaches into the drawer and holds out the wadded clothing. She’s not a neat girl.
Leah takes it. “Thanks,” she mutters. She feels she should say more, but she doesn’t have it in her. She walks to the ladies room, where she tries to clean up a bit. There’s no one in the bathroom and it smells like Lysol and sadness. Leah puts the paper with her prescription on it on the sink. She takes her nightgown off and shoves it into the aluminum garbage mounted in the wall. She stares at herself in the mirror. Her belly still curves. She blinks her eyes to see if it’s all been a terrible dream. How could she have lost her baby so easily? Her eyes are dry and itchy and she rubs at them furiously with her fists. Leah puts on the sweatpants and velour shirt. She has to roll up the cuffs of the pants and the shirt sleeves, but these borrowed clothes feel like the first bit of comfort she’s had in a while. She grabs the crumpled paper the doctor had written her prescription on from the sink.
Leah leaves the bathroom barefoot and waves to Rhodora, but the young woman’s no longer at the desk. There’s been a shift change.
Leah walks to the doors at the hospital entrance to see if she can find a cab waiting. She notices that the sky’s turned pink and startles as the doors whoosh shut behind her. There are cars moving in the parking lot. Doctors and nurses in blue scrubs walk purposefully towards her; the day shift has started. They clutch coffee cups or cigarettes waiting to be flicked away at the last minute. Leah moves to the left to get out of the way. No one pays much attention to her. She looks up and sees the moon lingering in the sky.
She uncrumples the prescription in her hand. She wonders if it lets anyone know how careless she’s been.
Dianne Rees is a writer and attorney who lives in California. Her works have appeared in Vestal Review, Spillway Review, Farmhouse Magazine, The Scruffy Dog Review, Planet Magazine, Universe Pathways and Bewildering Stories and are forthcoming in The Harrow and Amalgamae.
© 2007, Dianne Rees