the womb

She sat down heavily on the bed, holding the plastic wand in front of her, staring at it. These things weren't always accurate, she reminded herself. But her body also was telling her that something new was happening, the beginning of something that was so small, barely noticeable now, but something that would soon be very big. Bigger than she could contain. Bigger than herself even, much bigger. She fell back and laid there feeling horribly small and weak.

It seemed like she laid that way for hours, not wanting to look at the clock and see how late it was and he still wasn't home. But she knew it was time to get up and take off her clothes and crawl into bed again. It was the second night in a row she would go to sleep without her husband beside her. But, in a way, she was relieved he wasn't there. She couldn't bear to tell him what the pregnancy test had told her.

Losing his job had been hard enough, and with the economy the way it was there was no telling when he'd find another one. The idleness was tormenting him. And if it wasn't for her working, they would be in serious financial trouble as well. But he hadn't stayed out late drinking until she'd told him what her boss had said.

Maybe she shouldn't have. But she'd needed to tell someone, and it certainly affected him as well and he had a right to know. She'd also hoped a male perspective might help her figure it out. It wasn't the stereotypical case of sexual harassment. She had worked for Carl for years; she thought of him as a friend―and even after what he said she didn't hate or fear him so much as despise his weakness. He loved her, that's what he said. He'd always loved her. But now Carl's wife had found out how he felt and was demanding that he "get rid of the temptation." What could he do, he'd begged. He didn't want to lose his wife, who was adamant that she be immediately transferred or let go, and there just wasn't anywhere to transfer her. He said it would be easier for her to get another job if she quit rather than being fired. But she knew it would also be easier for him that way. Apparently Carl hadn't considered quitting himself―but she really didn't want him to lose his job either, did she? He was so pitiful in his helplessness. But his helplessness was crushing her. Especially coming right now, when John was out of a job. John's first reaction was to say he'd crush Carl with his own hands, then he'd wanted to call a lawyer and see if there was a case against the company. It had taken hours of arguing before he'd agreed to let her handle it.

And she still thought this was important, though she wasn't sure yet what she would do, what she could do. She didn't feel right about litigation. Or going over Carl's head. She didn't like to treat people that way, especially friends―even former friends. But now, with a child coming... it was like circumstances were closing in on her. Leaving her no options. And with John acting angry and hurt and vengeful, she felt more alone than ever. She could imagine his feelings of impotence: His inability to provide, and now her rejection of his attempts to protect her. But this was her job, her relationships, her situation, pressing her for a response. And she was in the best position to see and understand all that was involved and what the implications might be. Unfortunately, this also meant she saw clearer than anyone else the impossibility of her situation. God, what had she done to deserve this? She crawled under the covers and pulled herself into a ball. John still wasn't home.

Then she felt a strange stirring in the darkness. Movement. Something was happening. She tried to turn and look but the warm dark was close around her, and now it seemed to be pressing. She tried to push back. But she couldn't even make room to move and then everything around her was up against her fragile body, crushing her. The violence of the assault shocked her. She panicked. Then the pressure suddenly released, but her heart continued to race. What was that? She'd never experienced anything like it before. It was like reality itself was attacking her.

Silence, except for the pounding of her heart. Then movement again in the dark. And immediately her body was powerfully gripped and squeezed a second time, her head jammed against something hard so quickly and forcefully that she thought her neck might break. Then the crushing force was gone. She squirmed, trying to escape, but couldn't. She was held. She remembered being held in safety and comfort, as in a warm embrace, but now she felt held in a prison―all alone in a prison where the walls were caving in. Again the incredible pressure fell on her. Again and again, each time more violently and with shorter breaks in between. Until she no longer was expecting them to end. She was just bracing for the one that would crush the life out of her. Then it came. The thrust was so hard it compressed her skull, squeezing her brain, and then the dark wasn't just around her but behind her eyes and she let it rush over her and just went limp. Oh God...

And suddenly everything was light. And she could see. She'd been born.

Her last memory as she awoke was of her lying at her mother's soft, warm breast, listening to the steady heartbeat that had comforted her in the womb. That and the priest. She shut off the alarm clock. She remembered the priest because that was the strangest part of her dream. The priest from her church was in the delivery room for some reason; she recognized his deep, sonorous voice as he was reading, repeating... what was it? "In Him we live and move and have our being." Over and over.

She laid there for a while then slid out of bed, being careful not to wake John. He was snoring softly. She watched him for several minutes before going to get dressed for work. She wondered what he would say tonight.

"That's not love, Carl," she said, standing directly in front of his large desk. "That's not what love does. Love might make you give up your job, or maybe stand up to your wife. But love doesn't tell me I have to choose between quitting and getting fired. That has nothing to do with love." He didn't argue; she waited, but he didn't say anything at all. He couldn't even look at her. "I'm not going to quit. And if you fire me, I'm not going to sue or complain to anyone. Even you." Again she was tempted to mention John's unemployment and the child that was coming―then reminded herself why she was here. She wasn't here to beg. "I'm just going to tell you right now that it's wrong. Please don't do it. I'm not saying that for myself; I'm saying it for you. If you do this I know you'll regret it. Please don't." OK, maybe she was here to beg. "Carl," she said gently, and he looked up. "You don't have to do this. I know it seems to you like your only option, but there has to be another way. And I'll help if you let me. Because I do love you, Carl. And your wife. That's how I know this isn't the only way―because it's not love." She looked deep into his helpless eyes, trying to reach something. "I'm asking you to love, Carl."

As she turned and started for the door, the dark rushed in on her again, pressing. John's weakness, Carl's weakness, her child's weakness, her own weakness rushed over her, darkness behind her eyes, and the door seemed to be getting smaller and smaller. But an incredible force was behind her, pushing. She let it. And suddenly the door was opening and she was through.

And everything was light.

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