Robin has a fever. On our way back from the sitter’s, he sits in a red-cheeked funk, plump and agog. Bands of March sun blind him, then leave, then blind him again. He’s annoyed, but too distant to say so. I watch him through the bizarre network of mirrors we’ve built to indulge my paranoia: Is he choking? Is he breathing? Can he see me?
I wonder, if fevers consume, what’s his eating? What infant head tricks does 102 inspire? He never sits like this: hot, reflective. In hindsight, he never did. While I was pregnant, family kept asking: Does he move a lot? Is he active? I shrugged, having nothing to compare him to. Turns out, he did. He was. After dinner, Stewart and I watched the Olympics, and I’d sit fat, grinning, on the couch while Robin raced the athletes in Russia.
We almost bought a fetal Doppler to monitor his heartbeat. I’m shocked we never did. Like the car’s mirrored constellation, the Doppler could equip our worry: What’s he doing now? What’s he doing now? The answer, of course, was always: growing, sleeping, being. But given our year, we wondered.
In January, when I was about twenty weeks pregnant, my doctor called. I was back in New York for work, and I ducked into a side street to avoid the subway clamor. I remember the way my fingertips found the coarse groove in the bricks. I didn’t quite understand. Pelvic rest? No sex? No exercise? She had been watching my placenta for weeks, waiting for it to buoy, like a balloon, to its happy position. But it refused. Stubborn anchor, this one sat red and rooted over my cervix, blocking the exit, creating quite the fire hazard. I cut her short: What are the risks?
The risk is blood; well, hemorrhage. Many cases of placenta previa, my diagnosis, result in episodes of bleeding. One if you’re lucky, more if you’re not. As the cervix begins to thin in late pregnancy, bleeding becomes a greater hazard. Later, I’d learn the other risks were pre-term birth, blood transfusions, the NICU. Later, I’d learn the other risks were constant vigilance, unrest, perma-anxiety. And so began our pregnancy—the fraught one, the high-risk one. The one we say we survived.
We listened to Robin’s heartbeat once, for three hours, after a minor bleed saw us driving, numb and dumb, through each of Bennington’s early-morning yellow lights. We sat stiff in a hospital room while the nurses collected reams of Robin’s written heart. March sun exposed our pallor, then March sun went away. We sat, blanketed, blinded, in a room like an ocean, full of the dull, far-away sound of an unnamed heartbeat.
But Robin has a fever. I hum, feeling the sound reach my hands on the wheel, waiting for the sun to warm each bald, white knuckle. We sit, my son and I, in a moving greenhouse and wait for the fever to pass. One fallow field, another, then another. His eyes close. We move on.