Excerpt from Great With Child
Falling into a rut in the road, pregnant, unmarried Abigail Thomas realized the literal gravity of her circumstances. Now in her sixth month, awkward and lumbering, she might have to rely on others to keep any sort of balance. She raised her eyes up and saw a handsome man, hauling her up on her swollen feet. It was warm for mid-October. Abigail was sweating in her “business” maternity wear – aubergine twill, black pearls on ears and neck, support stockings with a weirdly large belly balloon. The morning traffic whizzed by.
“Are you all right?” Abigail found herself leaning against the man’s torso. She held on to his shoulders. Slowly, they parted as she straightened.
“Thanks,” she responded, her voice quavering. “I don’t know what happened.”
“You tripped into a pothole. You nearly got run over!”
“Oh….” Abigail felt so lightheaded now that she could hardly speak. This was unusual for her. The world seemed a blur that no words could begin to define.
“Must be hard for you,” said the young man who had helped her, checking Abigail up and down.
“What’s hard? This?” She pointed nonchalantly to the roundness at her waist. “Don’t worry about it.”
“You sure?” His voice sounded kind.
“I am just a little upset,” she admitted, tonguing a tear off her lip. “My knee hurts – oh, God, ugh!” She was noticing the blood and the torn stocking
Abigail would not always be vulnerable like this. There was only a limited time for pregnancy; afterwards, she would certainly be normal again. She would have the baby, drop the extra pounds, and reclaim her good old balance. She wouldn’t be subject to these awful, unpredictable pratfalls.
Just the other day, she had nearly fallen down on the subway. No one had given her a seat, which she took as a politically correct statement that mothers-to-be are not invalids, just “differently able.” Especially those in business clothing, primly enclosed in their corporate armor. She’d been trying to read her Manhattan Law Journal while soaring down the dark path to midtown. Abigail thought she felt fine; she thought she had the rocking and the pitching and the stopping in control. In the end, though, she had landed in the lap of a sour-faced woman in glasses. These were her humiliations for the time being.
“Here, let me just –” said the young man, leaning around to stroke briskly down her back. Abigail’s jacket had picked up greyish street grit. He dusted her shoulders, too, his head near her face as he leaned over to get all the spots.
Woozily, Abigail explored her Good Samaritan. He was of a good height – not too tall, and not too short. His thick hair was shiny and wheat-colored. She was close enough to smell him, and he smelled good, like fresh bread and cucumbers. In the base of her stomach Abigail realized she was starving. Could a nauseous woman feel hunger? During pregnancy, apparently, yes.
“Would you like me to call your husband or something?” he offered. Abigail, who suddenly couldn’t walk a straight line, let him take her arm.
“I’m not – I’m not married,” she said, aware of his firm touch through her suit sleeve. Then she toppled again, this time nearly taking the man down with her. He held her up and steadied her.
“Do you want to sit somewhere – maybe get something to eat?”
Had he read her mind?
“I’m so late for work,” she murmured half-heartedly.
“You should take it easy; you’ve had a shock,” he said, as she limped alongside him, gripping his arm.
“I’ll be fine,” she said, with what she hoped was conviction, stopping to feel if her leg was still bleeding. It was, but at least the flow was finally slowing down. “You fall, you get up.”
He didn’t quite believe that. There she was, no wedding ring. A single woman — an unwanted pregnancy, perhaps. There was a little tremor in her voice.
“You’re happy to take life as it comes, huh?”
Abigail raised her small, pretty face and met his eyes.
“Happy?” she repeated in wonderment. It was such an old-fashioned word. People used it lightly nowadays, but for her, it had deeper meanings. She wanted happiness; she actually pursued it (as was recommended by the constitution), but it always seemed to evade her.
Abigail looked closely at the stranger, noticing that he hadn’t shaved. The tiny hairs that were growing from his skin were a mixture of brown, sand, and gold. She felt like touching them, the way they stood like little wheat stalks together. She thought it, he, would feel familiar. He had an approachable quality.
“Well, I’m happy right now, to be helping you,” he said, smiling. His eyes were wide and willing. They were shining, almost glittering; if she looked really closely, Abigail could see herself in them.
Her father, a hardscrabble emigrant from South Wales, had no use for frivolity. He used to say, “happiness is for half-wits.” By this word he labeled contented housewives, frolicking children, and what he anachronistically called “ethnics.” Was he himself one of the ethnics? In his native U.K., yes. Like the Irish (the Arabs, the Pakistanis, the West Indian blacks, and the Jews), the Welsh were considered alien, a dark elfin folk who liked to drink, sing and weep. Even in America, where such things hardly signified (as long as you had money), Owen Thomas’s ruddy face, light bulb-shaped nose, and curly black hair seemed an embarrassment to him. Until it had thinned and unkinked through age, he had gelled his hair backward into a helmet of impenetrable dignity. A neat, thin mustache completed the look of natty self-regard. But none of this made him anything close to “happy.”