He held the infant, forgetting what he ought to do next. Her
hands were perfect. But the gap between her big toes and the
that was there, like a missing tooth, and when he looked deeply
at her eyes he saw the Brushfield spots, as tiny and distinct as
of snow in the irises. He imagined her heart, the size of a plum
very possibly defective, and he thought of the nursery, so
painted, with its soft animals and single crib. He thought of
standing on the sidewalk before their brightly veiled home,
Our world will never be the same.
The baby's hand brushed his, and he started. Without volition he
began to move through the familiar patterns. He cut the cord and
checked her heart, her lungs. All the time he was thinking of
snow, the silver car floating into a ditch, the deep quiet of
clinic. Later, when he considered this nightand he would think
of it often, in the months and years to come: the turning point
life, the moments around which everything else would always
gatherwhat he remembered was the silence in the room and the
snow falling steadily outside. The silence was so deep and
that he felt himself floating to a new height, some point
above this room and then beyond, where he was one with the snow
and where this scene in the room was something unfolding in a
life, a life at which he was a random spectator, like a scene
glimpsed through a warmly lit window while walking on a darkened
street. That was what he would remember, that feeling of
endless space. The doctor in the ditch, and the lights of his
house burning far away.
"All right. Clean her up, please," he said, releasing the slight
weight of the infant into the nurse's arms. "But keep her in the
other room. I don't want my wife to know. Not right away."
The nurse nodded. She disappeared and then came back to lift
his son into the baby carrier they'd brought. The doctor was by
then intent on delivering the placentas, which came out
dark and thick, each the size of a small plate. Fraternal twins,
male and female, one visibly perfect and the other marked by an
extra chromosome in every cell of her body. What were the odds
that? His son lay in the carrier, his hands waving now and then,
fluid and random with the quick water motions of the womb. He
injected his wife with a sedative, then leaned down to repair
episiotomy. It was nearly dawn, light gathering faintly in the
He watched his hands move, thinking how well the stitches
were going in, as tiny as her own, as neat and even. She had
out a whole panel of the quilt because of one mistake, invisible
When the doctor finished, he found the nurse sitting in a rocker
in the waiting room, cradling the baby girl in her arms. She met
gaze without speaking, and he remembered the night she had
watched him as he slept.
"There's a place," he said, writing the name and address on
the back of an envelope. "I'd like you to take her there. When
light, I mean. I'll issue the birth certificate, and I'll call
to say you're
"But your wife," the nurse said, and he heard, from his distant
place, the surprise and disapproval in her voice.
He thought of his sister, pale and thin, trying to catch her
and his mother turning to the window to hide her tears.
"Don't you see?" he asked, his voice soft. "This poor child will
most likely have a serious heart defect. A fatal one. I'm trying
spare us all a terrible grief."
He spoke with conviction. He believed his own words. The
nurse sat staring at him, her expression surprised but otherwise
as he waited for her to say yes. In the state of mind he was
in it did not occur to him that she might say anything else. He
not imagine, as he would later that night, and in many nights to
come, the ways in which he was jeopardizing everything. Instead,
he felt impatient with her slowness and very tired all of a
and the clinic, so familiar, seemed strange around him, as if he
walking in a dream. The nurse studied him with her blue
eyes. He returned her gaze, unflinching, and at last she nodded,
a movement so slight as to be almost imperceptible.
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