Cassie turned away from me and balled her hands into fists. "Well, you don't have to be so mean," she said, and I could hear that she was trying not to cry. "I've been through a lot tonight. It hurt a lot, you know, really, really a lot."
I took a deep breath and tried to calm myself down. "Okay, Cassie," I said. "I'm sorry. This is just kind of a shock." I reached out to take her arm, but she shook me away. "You're right," I said. "We should go to the hospital."
I looked at the baby, who was lying quietly in my arms. "We have to wrap her better," I said. "This towel is wet."
"I think she peed," said Cassie. "I didn't have any diapers. I didn't know they could pee so soon."
"Well, they can," I said. "Let me go get some blankets." With great care, I put the baby down on the bed and went down the stairs to the linen closet. My mind felt thick, as if my head were filled with clay. I tried to understand this new information, to lay it on top of the things I already knew and to read my memories through it. She'd been wearing loose clothes lately, I'd noticed that much. I thought she'd been gaining weight, but I didn't want to upset her by bringing it up. She'd been sleeping a lot and she was moody, but so what? It's not like that's exactly earth-shattering behavior for a seventeen-year-old.
I opened the linen closet and looked inside. I picked out a quilt that my grandmother had given me when Cassie was born; her own mother had made it for her as a wedding gift. It had been Cassie's favorite blanket in childhood, and she'd kept it on her bed until she reached adolescence.
As I picked it up, I was already imagining the things I would say to this baby one day. I would tell her, You were born under extraordinary circumstances. I would tell her, We wrapped you in a quilt that was older than our house.
I brought the blanket into Cassie's room and spread it on the bed. "But that's my blanket from Nana," she said. Her voice rose like a child's. "What if she pees again?"
I laid the baby on the quilt, the small, miraculous lump of her, and swaddled her as well as I could. "If she pees, she pees," I said. "Do you think we should bring this to the hospital?" Cassie asked, picking up the wastebasket by her desk. I looked inside at what it held. It was the placenta, dark and slick as a piece of raw liver.
"I don't think we need that," I said. I tried to think back to the books I had read before Cassie was born. "Wait, maybe we do. I think they need to check it to make sure the whole thing came out. I don't know."
"I'll just bring it," she said. The baby started to cry, a high, pure kitten-screech of a sound. We both looked down at her.
"She's probably hungry," I said. "I wonder if you should try to breastfeed her."
"No," she said, and her voice was hard and steady. "I don't want to." And I think that was when I knew we'd be giving her up.
The rules of the game are simple. For each segment, they fly us to a new city where we follow a trail of clues through various exotic (and, presumably, photogenic) locations until we're able to decipher what item we're looking for. Then each team sets out to find an object that qualifies. Every item we find has to remain with us until the end of the game, so the items are usually heavy or fragile or unwieldy; it adds to the drama. Losing or breaking a found object is grounds for disqualification. The last team to find the required object and make it to the finish line gets sent home.
At the end of each leg, Barbara interviews the team that's been eliminated, and she asks the following question: "You've lost the game, but what have you found?" I know the producers are looking for cheesy answers like "I found my inner strength," or "I found the true meaning of friendship," but that's not always what they get. The first ones eliminated were Mariah and Brian, a brother-and-sister team from San Francisco. Brian began acting strangely almost immediately; we found out later that he was schizophrenic - he was fine while he was taking his medication, but he'd stopped at some point during the game. (So much for all the producers' elaborate background checks.) The race ended for them in a museum of natural history in Quebec. We were looking for trilobites, but Brian became very agitated by a giant dinosaur skeleton that was on display, and he began to pelt it with trash from a nearby garbage can. He had to be forcibly removed from the premises. Afterward, Barbara found the two of them outside, sitting on the ground like children. Mariah was cradling Brian in her arms as he rocked back and forth unhappily. Barbara walked up to them - you have to give her credit for determination - and asked them her question. Brian looked up at Barbara, his face a frieze of misery. "I've found out you're a motherless dog," he said before Mariah waved the cameras away. I'd like to see how they're going to edit that.
Copyright © 2006 by Carolyn Parkhurst. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission of the publisher.
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