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Happy Monday, folks.
Sarah stepped out of the cab and into the rain, slamming the door behind her. I sat in the cab for a moment, my arm outstretched after her but paralyzed from shock. The cabbie leaned back to look at me. He asked me something, his hollow voice booming in my head. I was too focused on breathing, too focused on wrapping my mind around what had just happened. I didn‘t hear him. He waited a few moments before he shook his head and turned back to face the front of the cab. My arm fell heavily down to my side, dropping like dead weight.
I looked out the window, and through the layer of fog on the glass I saw that we had come to a stop in front of an old movie theater. The patrons were spilling out onto the streets after the last showing of the night, the revival of an old Hitchcock movie starring Cary Grant. The sidewalk was a tangle of overcoats and umbrellas, but through the fog on the window I saw a flash of Sarah’s rain jacket disappearing into the crowd. My mind screamed for me to get up, to follow her, to grab hold of her and tell her what I had failed to say before she left the cab, but I still couldn’t move.
“Well? What’s it gonna be, buddy?” the cabbie asked again. He tapped on the dial that displayed the fare for the mileage we had accrued from when he picked us up. “Time is money.”
“I… I don’t…” I stammered. My mind was in overdrive, revving too high in too low of a gear, just trying to catch up. A horn blasted impatiently from the car behind us in traffic, and I turned my head instinctively. The noise jolted me back to the fast reality that Sarah was gone, slipping further and further away from me with each second. As if the brakes on my body had been lifted, I slid across the seat, grabbed for the door handle and kicked it open.
“Sarah! Wait!” I yelled.
“Hey! You’ve still got to pay your fare!” the cabbie cried.
Halfway out of the cab now, I dug into my pocket and grabbed my wallet. Rain splashed down my neck, and stained the bills and receipts in my wallet as I thumbed through it. I grabbed a few bills and threw them over the partition, hoping it was enough. The cabbie yelled in protest, but the noise on the street drowned him out. I slammed the door closed and leapt out into the crowd after Sarah.
I pushed my way through, leaning into the rain. The weather added a different element to the sounds on the street, drumming heavily on the cars waiting in traffic and tapping staccato on every umbrella or raised fold of newspaper around me. A peal of thunder cracks in the sky, sounding like a massive tree being snapped in half. Despite its volume, the sound of the thunder goes mostly unnoticed, echoing off the surrounding architecture.
One of the few good things about living in the city is that people are used to being shouldered or elbowed by rushing passersby on the sidewalk. There is always going to be someone who is in more of a hurry than you are, who is paying more attention to their own agenda or the person on the other end of their cell phone than to care whether or not they brush shoulders or flat out collide with someone. You’d be wasting your breath to complain each time it happened, so it is universally accepted as a fact of life, and ignored. I used this to my advantage, squeezing between and forcing my way through anyone who was in my way of getting to Sarah.
I could see her up ahead, maybe twenty or thirty feet away from me, hands burrowed deep into her pockets. The collar of her coat was raised around her neck, shoulders hunched together to ward off the chill from the rain. She stuck close to the buildings on the far side of the walk, almost leaning into them as she walked, shying away from people around her. Her feet fell heavy on the concrete, sloshing through the puddles as if they weren’t there at all.
I called out to her.
A few people nearby looked up, confused, and turned to see who I was yelling at. A large cluster of tourists paused by a sign displaying a public transit map, extending themselves into the middle of the sidewalk. I tried to muscle my way through them, but they were huddled together too close. I scrambled around them and broke free.
“Sarah! Just wait a second!”
She turned her head back towards me. Her face was wracked with pain, the tears in her eyes evident in the yellowish light cast by the streetlamps. She brushed her hand across her forehead, pushing aside the strands of hair that had become stuck here.
“Leave me alone, Shane,” she said darkly. Her voice was trembling, on the verge of cracking. She turned slowly forward, and quickened her pace.
There was finally a gap in the crowd leaving the theater, so I dropped into a run. The distance between us shrank quickly, but it felt like there was still something insurmountable between us. I reached out and placed my hand on her shoulder. She jumped as if my hand was red hot, and wrenched away from under it.
“Sarah, would you just give me a minute? Please?”
She stopped walking and spun around to face me.
“What, Shane?” she snapped. “What do you want?”
She crossed her arms in front of her and looked at me expectantly. I took a moment to catch my breath.
“You‘re… pregnant,” I said. The words felt foreign on my lips.
“Yes, Shane. I’m pregnant. You didn’t seem too thrilled to hear that back in the cab.”
“You didn’t give me a chance to respond!” I said. “You were up out of the cab and halfway down the street before I could say anything!”
“The expression on your face said more than plenty,” she spat. “I have never seen anyone look so completely disgusted before.”
Her words stung, clawing deep in my chest. “Disgusted? I was shocked, not disgusted! We were in the middle of a completely different conversation, and you cut in and tell me that you‘re pregnant. How else would you expect me to respond?”
Sarah looked at me, her eyes probing deep within mine, ticking side to side. I could tell she was hurt, and it was all that I wanted to do to absolve that pain. How could I have reacted differently? My mind raced to find an answer to my own question, but came up empty.
“I don’t know,” she said at last. She sounded defeated, and her shoulders dropped. Aware that we were being watched by the crowd passing around us, she moved over to the side of the walk near the stoop of an old brownstone. We stood in silence and watched a bulk of the crowd pass by.
“How long have you known?” I asked quietly when most of the crowd had gone.
I breathed in sharply. Three months.
“Why did you wait until now to tell me?”
“I don’t know,” she said again. “I know I should have told you sooner, and I was going to tell you… But I just wanted to make sure it was real first. I was afraid of how you’d react if I told you before I knew for sure.”
She fiddled with the buttons on her jacket as she spoke. The wind was picking up now, causing the rain to slant in towards us, hard and cold and relentless. The streetlamp closest to us flickered bright for a moment and then faded out, casting a shadow that hid most of Sarah’s face.
“So it’s real, then,” I said.
Sarah reached into her pocket and pulled out a small square of glossy white paper. It was creased and wrinkled, worn from being carried around in her pocket, from being worked over with nervous fingers. She held it out towards me. The wind bit at the edges of the paper, trying to tease it out from between her fingers. I reached up to take it from her, and found my arms had suddenly gotten heavy.
It was an image from a sonogram, dated two weeks ago.
The profile of my baby’s head lay center on the page, surrounded by black and white static. I could see the outline of it’s skull, the fluid form of it’s torso and arms. I held the picture with both hands, and lost myself in it. The air rushed out of my lungs with an audible sigh, and suddenly I was reeling.
For the second time that evening, all I could hear was the beating of my heart in my ears. I couldn’t take my eyes from the picture of my child, my child. In my head now I hear the beating of a second heart; faster than mine, higher pitched, strong and steady. My child’s heart.
Our child’s heart.
I looked up at last, and Sarah…
Sarah was gone.
She must have slipped away while I was entranced by the image of our growing child. She must have feared the worst, thinking my silence meant that I wasn’t happy, instead that I was at a loss for words because of how excited I was, seeing the picture of our child for the first time. I looked fervently for her, scanning the faces of thinning crowd, searching for her.
I turned around to check the crowds behind me, but the sidewalk was empty. I looked down the street to the corner. The group of tourists that had been looking at the transit map were waiting to cross the street, one of them impatiently pushing the signal button.
The crosswalk sign lit up white, and I spotted Sarah at the front of the crowd.
She stepped off the curb and turned her head, and our eyes locked together. Her eyes, brilliant blue even in the dark, even at the distance between us, were heavy with tears. She swung her head back to face the open street before her, and began walking.
I ran. I ran as hard as I could to the corner to catch her, to stop her before she was lost among the people crossing the street with her.
I wasn’t fast enough.
She had reached the other side of the street by the time I got to the corner. I skidded to a stop on the curb, inches away from the traffic that started roaring past. I scanned the flow of traffic, searching for an opening that I could dash through, knowing that it surely would be suicide, but considering it anyways.
We locked eyes again, between the rain. I tried to call out to her, but my voice was lost, carried off on the wind and rain. The blur of traffic made me dizzy, but I wasn’t going to lose sight of her again.
“Hey, buddy, you’re standing too close to the edge,” someone said behind me. A strong hand gripped my shoulder and pulled me gently back from the curb. I fell back a few steps, and was turned forcibly to one side to catch my balance. I whipped my head back up to where Sarah had been standing, but she was gone.
The cycle of traffic let up as the lights changed from green to yellow, yellow to red. The crosswalk sign lit up again, and I walked numbly across the street. A growing pit in my stomach made my mouth seethe with nausea.
Sarah was gone.
I turned the city upside down that night, looking for her. I called her name until my throat was hoarse, until I had no voice at all. I collapsed on a bench on a nameless street in a long forsaken neighborhood, and stared at the picture of the sonogram.
My child. Our child, innocent and not yet complete.
I could not find Sarah anywhere. The rain that had given the night an edge of magic earlier now hid the tears I could no longer hold back.