(a new project. open to comments)

The woman was born in Toronto.

No. The baby. The baby was born during a storm. The night of the birth the rain came down like it had something to say. It was loud and unyielding, coming in waves that ended in exclamations marks. The baby was born in the darkness and warmth of candlelight, wrapped now in a towel printed with umbrellas. The birth had been uncomplicated and the midwives were tending to their paperwork and tea, and the woman lay in her bed cradling her new son.

The rain came down hard, filling the room with its song of pitter and patter and the woman closed her eyes while thunder outside rumbled away. The storm was moving on now, had only visited long enough for her know that there was great power outside while she had found great power inside to bring this baby home.

She pushed the towel away from the baby’s head to observe his wet hair. She longed to fluff the wet matte on his head with her fingers but stopped herself. Instead she breathed in the scent of him, knowing it was mixed with the inside of her. She breathed in the scent and held it as far down her lungs as she could before exhaling. She gently touched his forehead with her lips and thought about his body being half her. His smell, his hair, his blood was full of her. She replaced the towel to cover his head and rested her own against the wall, looking away and choking on emotion.

She had decided long ago to give up her baby. It was a decision she had thought of, given weight to, but that she had also accepted as the only option for a woman in her situation. Her situation meant not much of anything. No money, no job, no man, no family, no friends, no education, no direction. No No No. You don’t have a baby when everything is No. Even she was smart enough to know that.

Giving up the baby was the only thing she felt she was doing right. Getting pregnant had been wrong, being alone had been wrong, being conflicted had been wrong. Giving the baby away made sense and made the world comfortable and sympathetic to her. She received a few extra smiles at church and a few concerned words of wisdom from talkative strangers. For the first time in a long time, Laurel was included in the world, at the expense of the expulsion of her unborn.

Laurel looked around her bedroom. Her bed was a mattress on the floor. Pictures sat on a shelf across from her that she had constructed out of a board of wood and two cinder blocks. Some were in frames, most were not. Most were taped to the wall, all in an attempt to be level to each other, but were left wanting. A single lamp was in the corner to her right, too far away to turn off while in bed, so it rarely got used. A closet stood menacingly in the adjacent corner, now filled with everything she could shove into it, in preparation for the comings and goings of her midwives over the last couple of days. To have opened the sliding door of the small storage space would have meant to see everything from clothing to books, to shoeboxes filled with albums, calendars, medication, bibles, chocolate bars, unfinished hobbies, unopened letters, government documents and a barrage of coupons.

Laurel stared across the room at the shelf of smiling out at her. Some smiles were genuine, like the one of her sister holding a puppy. At 8 years old, Margot had been ecstatic to finally have the puppy she’d been begging and pleading for. Laurel had been 12 at the time, and was far more interested in showing the boy next door the colour of her training bra. The puppy had been a relief for Laurel, a way to ease the constant attention Margot seemed to need to pay her. She took the picture herself, caught up in the happiness of her sister’s moment and didn’t even need to say ‘cheese’ to produce the ear to ear smile beaming at her. Laurel stared at Margot’s face and then forced herself to look away. Sometimes a genuine smile is too painful to look at.

Beside Margot was an old photo taped to the wall, it’s corners bent and the colours faded by years of exposure. Despite it’s age, it still captured the dark eyes and tight smile of Laurel’s mother. This smile was not genuine, but was rather accompanied by an echo of instruction as though one could hear the crisp cracking of a man’s voice demanding a performance. The young woman in the photo had turned the corners of her mouth upwards, but everything else about her was dragging down. Her shoulders slumped inwards and her chin begged to be out of view. Dark eyebrows furrowed together and her energy poured into the ground – not like Margot’s buoyant smile that seemed to lift her off the earth. With upturned lips and downturned everything else, only her mother’s eyes stayed level. Black eyes that pierced through her father, through his camera, through the paper and landed right in the back of Laurel’s throat. Those eyes that survived the cracking whip, the crisp commands, the dark nights of her childhood stared into Laurel and she stared back until her eyes stung.

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