Today we are pleased to present the third-place winner of our Short Story Award for New Writers: “Birth Stories” by Sarah Harris Wallman. We were immediately taken with this story which is told in short vignettes that chronicle the experiences of a group of neighborhood mothers in New Haven as the 2016 election draws near.
“Few of us could resist giving a full exegesis of our carefully chosen [baby] names. We liked literary and historical resonance. We dreaded the commonplace. We theorized what high school bullies would do with the raw material of these names; we imagined what they’d sound like in a history book, a profile in the Times, an obituary. These names would survive us when we weren’t around to tell the story of their birth. These names were the portion of destiny we got to choose.”
By the time the EMTs arrived, Clea was propped on her ruined towels with the baby on her chest, the pulsing purple cord still running between them. She didn’t want to cut it. She’d read studies, not that she could quote them just then, but she snarled at the EMTs like a feral raccoon and they agreed to wrap mother and child up together and carry them out on one stretcher. When she got the bill for two ambulance rides (really!), Clea used the fact of live cord to dispute the charge. We were one, she hissed into her phone at the customer service rep, head turned toward the shoulder that did not hold a sleeping Amaryllis, she was plugged in like a damn cell phone.
We all like Clea.
* * *
Monica hosted the potlucks at her apartment, once a month or more. They were a godsend. You can’t imagine how we longed for one another’s company, even though motherhood had rusted our conversational mechanism to the point where it was not unpleasant just to compare methods of combatting diaper rash. Most of us had advanced degrees. This was New Haven.
Monica was on her third child, and she knew best of all what we needed. She put out wine and plastic tumblers, a large bowl of rotini in oily walnut pesto. We all brought what we had time to grab: store-bought pies, cheeses, a half bag of clementines. The events of the day were discussed, of course, but some configuration of the women always ended up on the second-floor porch that overlooked the neighborhood, telling birth stories.