Category C: Highly Commended (2020) Monash Short Story Writing Competition
Author: Hannah Brown
Carla glanced around her and in one swift move, shoved the box under a head of broccoli and some freezer bags. Her basket felt very heavy all of a sudden, even though it was only half full. Carla was certain the other shopper’s eyes were burning through the green plastic as she hurried through the self-serve check out and back to her car, feeling an unsettling mix of embarrassment and anticipation.
It had almost been three years, and well-meaning people were beginning to wonder. Carla grimaced as she thought about the wide smile and empty words she gave in response to their questions, like she was interviewing for the position.
She caught sight of the box on the passenger seat and recalled the nonchalant shrug her doctor had given at her last appointment. “If you can even get pregnant” he’d said, like she’d asked what to have for dinner.
Carla shook her head and blinked to bring herself back to the present and with it, reality. The car behind her beeped its horn and she jolted around the corner. “Okay, okay!” Carla muttered. This is crazy, she thought, I’ve been late before, why would this time be any different? But try as she did to keep it away, the corners of her mouth slow-danced into an unmistakable grin.
A grin that didn’t leave as she fumbled with the pink packaging of the pregnancy test. Her trembling hands paused to read the blur of instructions and she counted to 5 dutifully. “One means no, two means ye-” Carla’s cheeks burned and she gasped and giggled simultaneously. There were two! Two lines! Two strong, vibrant lines of hope.
“They don’t normally do them that early,” the same doctor who had spoken about her fertility like a menu said. Carla didn’t care, she did her own research and booked herself into a clinic for women with mixed reviews. She had no reason to worry, things were progressing normally, again according to her research. But the app on her phone told her that this was a good time to hear the heartbeat of the blueberry growing inside her, and Carla couldn’t bear to wait any longer.
Certain her own heart would stop or jump out of her chest, or both, Carla entered the sterile waiting room. She glanced at the one other woman in the room, wondering of the etiquette. Should she try to catch her eye? Smile? After all, they could end up in a Mother’s Group together next year. Carla smiled at the thought.
A faded sign tacked to the wall said her bladder must be empty. Carla sheepishly made the trip three times before her name was finally called.
“Are you sure your dates are correct?” The ultrasound technician who introduced herself as Amhi frowned. Carla was sure. April 11th, Autumn, Diamond and Sweet Pea.
The screen was tilted towards her. She had researched enough to know what she should be seeing, and that wasn’t it. “I’m not pregnant?” Carla blurted. It was meant to be a statement but the squeak in her voice turned it into a question.
“No, you are!” Amhi nodded her head earnestly. “There’s just no baby”. A mother without a baby, Carla thought. She threw her head back into the pillow and sobbed.
This wasn’t supposed to happen, she didn’t want to join this club. She’d already signed up to the one where her growing baby was compared to cute fruit and vegetables, the one with the off-road prams and the organic bamboo swaddles. She had already planned the announcement. Carla felt the scratchy sheet beneath her and willed herself to stop spiraling.
Amhi patted her knee with a gloved hand. “I’ll let you get yourself dressed, come back in a week and we can check again”.
Despondent, Carla tugged her jeans on and buttoned them over her rounding stomach. After wiping the mascara from under her eyes, she left clutching a photograph that wouldn’t be framed like she’d planned.
“Have a nice day!” the middle-aged lady behind the counter called out cheerfully. Later, Carla would feel guilty that she had plainly ignored her.
Soothed by the Golden Girls, Carla absent-mindedly traced her tummy with her fingers. Familiar tears welled in her eyes and she brushed them away irritably. It frustrated her that they kept catching her off guard. “I’m fine!” She defended herself to Blanche and Rose.
Outside her window, a magpie warbled and the blossom tree was beginning to bud. She knew she wasn’t really fine, but it comforted her to know that the birds were still singing and the flowers still blooming. Something was right in the world after all.
Carla was surprised to feel it bubbling inside her, could it be, when she still felt so sad? But she knew its gentle whisper, had held tight to its promises before. Uncomfortable at first, she let it slowly warm her, like the early morning sunlight melting the frost from the night before. It wasn’t loud or assuming, it simply was. Hope.