One August night when Susan was six months pregnant with Kate, she couldn't sleep and so we went outside to see what it was like and it was clear and beautiful and there was a cooling wind flowing up in the trees and there were fireflies in the meadows and we took each other's hand and started to walk together.
"Susan," I said after a while, "I can't wait to meet our kid." I touched her stomach through her maternity blouse. "Who are you in there?" I asked. "I'm your dad," I said. "Me and your mom can't wait to meet you and see who you are and find out about what you're like." Susan took my hand from her stomach and kissed it.
"Whoever it is, she's going to make us better people, isn't she?" Susan said. We never checked the gender of the baby. Susan knew it was a girl from the moment she learned she was pregnant.
"She is, Sue." I started to try to say something to her about how I was sorry I wasn't as good a husband as she deserved, or as good a partner, or as successful or ambitious.
"Susie, you know, I'm sorry, sorry that"
"Don't, Charlie," she said. "It's funny and sad, and a little scary. But it's okay, too." She stopped walking. We stood where one of Enon's oldest roads splits in two, one branch turning toward the center of the village, the other leading to the section called Egypt. Four small neat, old houses, each with a small barn, faced the intersection. A single streetlight stood at the divergence and moths and other insects swarmed around it. Susan took both my hands in hers. She leaned toward me and kissed me.
"I know I'm no bargain, either," she said.
"Tut tut! Not another word yourself, my dear. I understand. Let's just walk some more and be happy about the little cosmonaut on her way." It felt like Susan had been just about ready to lie to try to make me feel better, and that seemed awful. She wished better for us and that was like a blessing, in that moment, like love itself, if a little sideways, but that was enough.
"My legs feel restless even when I'm walking." She pressed the heels of her hands against the small of her back and arched and grunted. "Whew," she said. "This is some thing, Charlie, having a baby. Let's head home."
We walked home and I held the door open for Susan and moths followed us in. I took two bowls from the cabinet and two spoons from the drawer. I grabbed a carton of ice cream from the freezer and scooped some into the bowls and we both sat at the table savoring the cold sweet sugary crystalline ice cream while the moths bounced and plinked against the ceiling lamp above our heads.
The summer grew hotter and Susan grew larger. We could practically see Kate in outline. Whenever Kate moved, her elbows and knees and head and behind projected themselves in relief against Susan's stomach. Susan had a terrible time at night and could not get comfortable. I spent the last three weeks of the pregnancy sleeping on the couch in the living room. Whenever the box springs creaked more than once or twice or Susan groaned, I'd bring her a glass of ice water and see if she needed me to rearrange her pillows or get her a book or just stay with her for a little and sympathize. Sometimes I'd fall asleep sitting up and rouse to find Susan still awake, frowning and trying to settle into a comfortable position.
When Kate was finally born and Susan saw her for the first time, the faraway look in her eyes vanished. Kate brought Susan wholly and fully into this world. She made the tenuous threads that had held Susan and me together before obsolete. Kate's birth seemed to stop our drift away from one another, a process I had often contemplated before the news of Kate's arrival with the kind of melancholy one feels at an upcoming and inevitable sorrow. Kate bound us back together. Or, really, we were each separately fully bound to Kate and thereby to each other through our single, cherished daughter, and that was fine by us. After all, we did have a sort of real love for one another, or I did for Susan and she had a deep affection for me.
Excerpted from Enon by Paul Harding. Copyright © 2013 by Paul Harding. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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