Hot, Thirsty and Nine Months
by Ali Berlow
She’d been up since 4 a.m. At almost nine months pregnant, she couldn’t sleep much past then on a hot, humid night. This was the one time in her life that she wished they had air-conditioning and not just fans. She went out to take a walk before it got too hot and then a quick swim—more like a float really—at Eastville Beach. Moon jellyfish—white and opaque—drifted and bumped around under her ample and fulfilling self.
During the heat of the day, when it seemed like everyone else was out enjoying the summer sailing, swimming, and sunning themselves, she wandered around the near-empty grocery store shuffling in her flipflops, lingering in the cool air and much relieved to be out of the sun. While humming to the piped-in tunes of WMVY, she read ingredients lists on things like Pop-Tarts, counted the varieties of spaghetti sauce, and paged through People magazine.
In the frozen food, she gazed at her reflection with simultaneous awe and dismay at the size of her belly and breasts. She had outdone and overgrown that beautiful-pregnant-woman phase. Her face had grown broad and distorted. Her ankles and hands were swollen and her center of gravity was heavy and low—much lower than the moss green tent of a sundress she was wearing could ever hide. She waddled like a peasant ready to give birth alone in some field.
The Brazilians stocking the shelves smiled at her roundness and cooed, “When’s the baby coming?” “Soon,” she’d say and whisper a prayer, Inshallah. Sooner than she could imagine, she’d be pushing a grocery cart with a baby, her own, in it. But today it was just her meandering down the aisles in a languid search for something, anything, to eat and drink that wouldn’t cause her heartburn or indigestion. She pretty much knew that this was a hopeless cause. She’d gone through cravings like artichoke hearts, frozen cheese pizzas, and fried oysters with Chipotle mayonnaise, and now nothing was appetizing anymore. The fetus was so big and took up so
much room that her stomach was compressed, and she couldn’t sit down to a meal. Standing up, she noshed all day, between the naps. It was hard to find things that tasted good and were healthy and easy to digest. Even simple fruit smoothies didn’t do it for her anymore. Her emotions swung and frayed like an old rope swing. She snapped at the produce manager’s comments about the case of organic lemons she ordered to make ginger lemonade. He told her that citrus was not good for the baby, that it was too acidic. She waved a twisted ginger root in his direction and explained that she was very, very thirsty. What could he know about it anyway? She questioned in her dark mood, pushing her way over to her favorite cashier, Wilma from Jamaica.
Wilma was peaceful. Wilma worked all the time, yet she was still comforting and positive. Her words, spoken with that lilting accent, rained calm. She didn’t say a thing about all those lemons spilling across her conveyor belt. She just talked about the hot weather and fruits from back home that she loved, rolling one lemon close to her smile to smell its aroma. And then the very-pregnant-white-woman, feeling a little lighter, waddled on home to take a much-needed relaxation.
Leg cramps woke her early again the next morning. Humid again. No fans were humming, the power was out. Down in her dark kitchen, she lit an oil lamp and poured a glass of lukewarm lemonade to quench her unquenchable thirst, but it only made 4 am feel lonelier and farther away despite her baby’s kicks.
Stepping out on her front step awaiting the dawn to grace calm, she found a small bundle with a note taped to it. “Julie Mangos” it read. “Positive nutrition for the mother.” The perfumes of stone fruit embraced the morning air surrounding her. “One love from my island to yours.” Signed, “Wilma.”