Ye Chun selected “A Single Mark” by Reena Shah as the second place finalist in our 2021-2022 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers! She writes, “In ‘A Single Mark,’ a young mother, Deepa, accompanies her pregnant friend to a follow-up sonogram and senses her own seemingly comfortable life unravelling. As she negotiates between motherhood and selfhood, childhood and adulthood, home country and the new country where she is yet to feel a sense of belonging, she finds her waking hours increasingly disintegrate into a dreamscape where a dark-haired woman is free to roam across realms. Exquisitely nuanced and superbly particular, the story is a compelling narrative about maternity and migration, about the difficult and necessary process of reimagining and reinventing oneself.” Read Shah’s story below.
The baby was fine. Fine in the sense that it was growing and had all its limbs and organs and heartbeat. The word the radiologist used was “cosmetic.” No, “purely cosmetic.” The problems with the baby were pure. Pure problems.
Maybe it was wrong to bring the baby. Deepa could’ve called Louisa to watch the child, or one of her expecting friends eager for practice. She didn’t mind leaving Anu to go to the gym or buy groceries or swipe through racks at Marshall’s. In fact, she liked it.
Ruchi stared out the one window at a gray tree with bare, swollen limbs. The appointment was a follow up to double-check points and readings. A follow up to the routine sonogram, but Naren couldn’t take another day. Ruchi had explained all this over the phone. “Silly, no, over nothing?”
She’d been pleased Ruchi had called, that she thought of Deepa for these situations, an acknowledgement of need. “Ruch, the sonogram is the picture, not the test.”
A great many magazines fanned across side tables. Time and Life and Ladies Home Journal. Vogues from the spring. Pale, oversized faces with intent eyes and upturned mouths stared up at them, at the soft pastels and scuffed walls, the framed watercolors that Deepa found oppressive.
The baby walked in circles in the middle of the room, craning her neck at each person. One couple held hands and frowned. “Don’t fall,” the woman said.
Sometimes, Deepa stared at the child. Not just her face but an ankle, a shoulder, the soft bones in her wrists. On their own, each part was odd and simple—a curve of flesh covered in down. Sometimes, she wasn’t sure what to feel, whether grateful or lost.
“She’s such entertainment,” Ruchi said. “Like a doll.” She put a hand on her belly and grimaced.
“I think you’ll also have a girl.” Ruchi nodded, though Deepa suspected that she wanted a boy because Deepa had also wanted a boy but knew enough not to wish for it aloud.
Had it been Deepa’s appointment, Sanjay would have found a way to be there. He was attentive that way. He’d learned to make tea in the morning and let Deepa sleep an extra hour on Saturdays. He made a show of calling out in a voice full of cheer and good will when her mother phoned collect. They were the couple that had most naturally adopted the American habit of showing affection. In front of visitors, he grazed her shoulder, threw a casual arm around her waist. Kissed her on the lips, sometimes with force, sometimes dryly, to say good-bye.
Worm-like ripples fanned across Ruchi’s kameez. The fabric strained around her shoulders. Deepa had given Ruchi all her maternity clothes, dresses and shirts and jeans with elastic bands that could stretch over her growing belly. It made no sense that she didn’t use them. “I can give you all the baby clothes you’ll need,” Deepa said and picked up the magazine with Cher on the cover in nylon and feathers, face too long, owl-like eyes.