We never slapped the tank. We just looked; Robin from his nylon nest, me crouching next to him, our eyes tracking the quick fish. Each silver body flipped, switched, then fled. His eyes raced to catch a path, to follow one through. But every flickering body that appeared disappeared, replaced by another. Quiet moviegoers, we watched until other noises called us away.
Like us, the fish aren’t home. The Great Barrier Reef is far from Mystic, where we were, fish gazing. But Google lets you look like you’re there, trained and breathing. Later, I looked, scanning the depth like a calm diver. I turned toward the reef to watch the living puzzle move. I turned toward the school to watch the fish read their home. And before I looked up to where breathing happens, I peeked at the blue miles facing us.
Robin likes whales. At the aquarium, Stewart strolled him to the window where the belugas press their soft spots. Children shrieked, ran away, then came back. Robin looked. Nearby, a placard claimed belugas are born gray, the color of their mother’s shadow, where they reside until they fade to white and drag their own.
Robin was born at 7:59am. Three weeks early, he was unsure: unsure how to breathe, unsure how to warm. He stayed tucked in the pocket of my issued gown for days, riding my ribs’ wave. He stayed under the shadow of my head until he bloomed pink and sighed.
The night before Robin’s birth Stewart had to help me wipe down every limb, every inch of stomach with an antiseptic cloth—prep for the C-section we anticipated. I lay in bed waiting, sticky but clean. Even then, I was amazed at how unremarkable the night was. I ate leftovers while my father read the paper. We moved from room to room, drinking water, setting alarms. Robin hiccupped.
We’d been waiting. For the last twenty weeks, my doctor asked I not lift anything, not exercise, not have sex. At 30 weeks 4 days, I woke up bleeding, and we moved around the dark house putting on shoes, grabbing keys. I think Stewart said something in the car, but I don’t know what it was. After that night, we stayed within a ten-minute radius of the hospital. Like fish from the reef, we’d trek just to return, humbled and afraid.
Placenta previa is a special kind of anxiety. Despite the message boards, the support groups, the specialists, no one can say what triggers a bleeding episode, which can lead to hemorrhaging and an early birth. No warning, every moment is an opportunity for fear. I’ve seen women try to pin it down. That morning I had to stand at work. Earlier, I picked up my toddler. I was driving too long. We wonder how still we could stay for months. We try to keep them tucked in a shadow that doesn’t leak.
We left Mystic remembering circling fish. On the way home, we stopped at a gazebo in a town we don’t know. Stewart took Robin’s hand, and they walked while dusk drew shadows around us.
I couldn’t have imagined this last year. I was afraid. Now, I study the scene like a deep-sea diver, breathing and grateful. I turn toward the boys to watch their hands seek balance. I turn toward the stairs to watch two flags pull away. And before I stand, I consider the blue miles facing us. That Robin has a brother. That fear comes. That a year is far. And Robin yelps from under Stewart’s long shade. And Robin walks.