Zaria went into the living room and found her husband Paul there. The moment had come, call it a gut feeling.
“Honey,” she said. “I think it’s time we had a chat.”
“A chat?” said Paul, “What about?”
“Well, we as in all three of us.”
“Oh? Has it been four months already?”
“Wow, time flies. I’ll get the gloves.”
From there Paul went into the bedroom and found the communication gloves under a pile of paperwork and self-help books. He came back to her enthusiastic with the gloves already on. “Okay,” he said, “let’s do this.”
Zaria lifted her shirt and Paul readied the gloves.
“Wait,” said Zaria. “I’m scared.”
“Don’t be,” he said. “It’ll be fine.”
“But what if-if…” She couldn’t finish, a memory hit her.
“No, don’t think like that,” said Paul. “Please don’t think like that.”
“Okay, I won’t.” She exhaled. “I’m ready.”
Paul placed gloved hands on her belly and breathed slowly, in and out. Zaria followed her husband, slow breaths, in and out. The gloves did the work, scanning her belly, a silent search.
“Hello,” said Paul, “anyone home?”
They waited and breathed, in and out. Both of them with racing thoughts, Zaria’s much darker than Paul’s. But she couldn’t be blamed for that. The dark thoughts reflected reality. That reality made her question every little thing, and turn hope into nothing more than a whimper.
“Hello,” said Paul. “Are you asleep?”
“Paul I—” Zaria started but a voice interrupted.
“…H-hello?” said the voice.
Paul’s eyes lit up. “Hey there, were you sleep?”
“Yes,” said the voice.
“I’m sorry. I won’t disturb you for long, I just—we just…” Paul had to find the words or rather find the right way to say them.
“Breath,” said Zaria.
“I am, I’m just… Okay, all right.”
Zaria took over, “Hello in there.”
“Hello,” said the voice. “Who is this?”
“Well, we’re—” Zaria stopped. She reminded herself that she could only say the words once all had been confirmed. She could not overstep the boundaries and claim herself to be what she wanted. They needed consent; all parties needed to be in agreement. That was the law. The couple knew this and understood, but how could they explain this to a child, one yet to be born? If a future life does not consent, then a mother must do as Zaria had done before.
Paul was ready now. “Before we answer that, I have questions for you.”
“Okay,” said the voice.
“At some point you can leave where you are if you want to. Do you want to?”
“I don’t know,” said the voice.
Zaria closed her eyes.
Paul rephrased. “Would you like to come here and meet us?”
“I’m not sure,” said the voice. “What’s out there?”
“Lots of things!” And Paul took time to explain things of the world. He talked about the trees and the animals. He talked about the different seasons and types of weather. He talked about the sun, the moon, and the stars. He talked about roller coasters, cartoons, friendship, family, and varieties of food. He got carried away. Zaria cleared her throat and Paul’s excited eyes went from her belly up to her flustered face.
He mouthed an apology to her. “So yeah,” he said, “lots of stuff. We would love for you to see them and experience them and let us take care of you.”
“Take care?” said the voice.
“Oh yes,” said Zaria. “Feed you and clean you and teach you many things.”
“I eat here,” said the voice.
“But wouldn’t you like to feed yourself?” said Zaria.
The voice took a moment before simply saying, “Yes.”
“Well out here you can and eventually you can walk using your own feet. Walk from place to place. You’ll grow and grow every day. You’ll have so much fun,” said Zaria.
“Fun?” said the voice.
“Oh yes,” she said. “Lots of fun. You won’t be so cramped in there either.”
“To be fair,” said Paul, “it can be fun, but we also want you to know that outside life comes with pleasures as well as… heartbreaks.”
Zaria looked at Paul. Not knowing what direction he would take, her eyes searched for him but his were fixed on her belly.
He continued. “Life outside is amazing and beautiful, but there can also be trouble. I’m telling you this to be fair to you. Sometimes life can beat you down. Not purposely of course, but this is the way of the world. I know I’ve spoken about the good things, the beautiful things, but there’s also some bad.”
“Bad?” said the voice.
“Bad people mostly. Some people are… well, how they are. When you get older, you’ll have to deal with pain and heartbreak and pressure and disappointment. These are all facts of life. I want you to know that going through these things will not be your fault. Everyone at some point went through certain struggles.”
“But we can overcome those struggles,” said Zaria. “We promise to do the best we can to help you in any way we can.”
“That is, if you want us to,” said Paul.
“If you truly want us to. This is your choice,” said Zaria.
The voice went quiet, as if considering, before finally saying, “I think I would. I think I’d like to experience life… in the outside world. It sounds interesting.”
Zaria shed a tear that paused at her chin and fell on Paul like a raindrop.
“So,” said the voice, “can you tell me who you are now?”
“We’re…” Paul started, then whispered Zaria’s name. She was looking up at the ceiling and repeating the words “thank you.” Paul whispered for her once more and Zaria looked down at him with tearful eyes. Some of the tears went from her and fell on his face. He nodded to her for confirmation.
“If you’ll have us,” she started. “We are your parents.”
Paul smiled. Finally hearing the word from her in a way that wasn’t sad or angry, said in a way that came from a place of happiness, rather than agony.
“Parents?” said the voice.
“Protectors,” said Paul, “caregivers, the ones who will love you always.”
“That sounds nice,” said the voice.
There was a silence in the living room. The couple let the moment linger until the voice broke the silence.
“I’m tired,” said the voice. “Can I go back to sleep?”
“Oh yes,” said Zaria. “Please do.”
“We’ll be seeing you,” said Paul.
“Okay,” said the voice. “Be seeing you too.”
“We love you,” said Paul.
“We love you,” said Zaria.
Paul took his hands away from Zaria’s stomach, ending the connection.
“Paul, what are you doing?”
“I wanted that to be the last thing they heard before sleeping.”
“Oh… yeah, that’s nice,” her voice trembled.
Paul took off the gloves and set them aside. “See, it all worked out.”
“Paul,” she said. “I can’t believe, that… that…” She couldn’t finish.
“I know,” he said. “It’s wonderful.”
Zaria rubbed her belly, round like the moon.
“You know,” said Paul. “I had to follow the rules.”
“I know, you had to confirm. It’s just… I didn’t want them to be dissuaded.”
“Yeah, but now we know for sure.”
“That’s right, they want to be born. Can you believe that? Our baby wants to be born!”
Paul wrapped his arms around her.
“Finally,” said Zaria, “finally a child.”
Warm life radiated between them.
Paul let his tears fall. “Finally,” he said.
The couple held on to each other, neither wanting to let go because it all felt so dreamlike and unreal. Finally they would have a family, finally a child that wanted life. Finally they could stop thinking that they had done something wrong or were somehow unfit to be parents, somehow unworthy of such an honor.
They could prove themselves now and make up for lost time, make up for lost children. The memories were still fresh, and those memories brought pain, especially the one who did not respond. But the past is only that, best forgotten, for the willing parents who have gone through so much. Ready and loving arms awaited the child, and happiness would soon come to the worthy couple.
Rickey Rivers Jr was born and raised in Alabama. He is a writer and cancer survivor. His work has appeared in The Gray Sisters, JJ Outre Review, Hybrid Fiction (among other publications).
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WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH “Pre-Birth Agreement”:
This piece represents author Rickey Rivers Jr.’s fourth appearance in our magazine. And he has delivered a strong piece.
We periodically receive stories about expectant parents—and some where the child is lost at birth. As with all submissions, we look for something different on the theme. This one certainly fits the bill with its tight writing and dialogue and an emotionally satisfying ending.