The fruit in my hand is ripe. Soft. It's flesh yields under my thumb. I slide the knife as shallow as I can and the peel's surface buckles, tiny ripples rolling across solid skin.
The knife moves easily and the peel falls, ringlets shorn into the sink. Now the fruit is slippery, juicy, naked in my palm. I chunk it into fork-sized pieces and separate them equally into bowls. One slice has a blemish, though -- a bruise. From my thumb? Did I drop it earlier or maybe set it down too hard? Was it packed too tightly, under too much pressure?
I don't know.
But I pop it into my mouth -- none of the kids will eat something that looks even slightly irregular. It tastes sweet, just like I expected.
I can't settle on a name until I see what she looks like.
He laughs. Just pull out a newborn picture of any of her sisters if you really want to know.
I look down at the skin pulled tight across my belly. Somehow, even this fourth time around, I've escaped stretchmarks. It doesn't seem possible. Perhaps they'll show up yet.
I imagine the girl folded within my womb. She reveals her position easily -- even though I can't see her, she's not hiding at all. Here are her feet, pushing hard just below my ribs, always on the right. Her spine presses against my whole left side and her weight shifts when I roll over in bed. She sinks like a rock and settles into the other soft shore. She expands her chest up and down up and down -- breathing practice. And -- oh -- she turns her head and I wonder how she doesn't burst this bubble.
She feels whole. Bones and skin, face and limbs, and a mind just waiting to open to the world I see, ready to collect on its pages all the beautiful pain and excruciating joy of a life worth living.
But for now she's breathing under water, submerged beneath a skin I can't see through.
I wonder what she looks like.
I wonder what her name will be.
When she was a newborn, she rarely cried. She stayed awake in the night, though, staring at me with eyes that looked black as midnight and deep as the universe expanding in all directions.
I don't know why I didn't just lay her down and doze off myself -- like I said, she rarely cried. But I couldn't stop holding her. I just kept staring into her eyes and what I saw there was written in another language. But still, I should have taken notes.
The morning light would ignite her eyes blue again, a pale fire draped in front of those windows to the soul that seemed so wide open in the night.
Now she sleeps all night. She doesn't even call for water anymore when she wakes up thirsty at 2 a.m. or request a companion in the dark if she has to go to the bathroom. She just races across the hallway on her own, bare feet pounding ahead of the shadows she sees as tendrils reaching out to snare her.
She's getting so tall.
In the morning, sometimes, her eyes flash with a stubborn fire and with all that smoke I can't see the source of the emotions boiling beneath her surface.
I don't know what to say. It's usually the wrong thing.
She exists outside me completely. I've already counted her fingers and toes -- they've always been all there. I've already plumbed the depths of her eyes and felt the enigma of a soul separate from mine. And her skin is not going to slip off. I wouldn't want it to.
But I know her name. I know what I've given her. What I'm still giving her.
And so I will watch her unfold, doing my best to hold whatever she wants me to.