By: Mathieu Cailler
At seventeen weeks, Larissa can feel her baby kick. Sharing food and water, flesh and blood has bonded her with her boy. With every ounce of added weight and new curve appearing on the ultrasound, the more aware she becomes of the world around him. She wants society to be perfect, and even though it never will be, there are still some things she can control.
Mr. and Mrs. Chaffey were generous people. They called Larissa daily, fetched her groceries, and, one time, even bought her new pillows and a water filter. “Anything for you,” Mrs. Chaffey always said. But as weeks turned into months and months became trimesters, Larissa’s premonition returned. The orange chrysanthemums she’d gifted them had started it all. Whenever she entered the Chaffeys’ home, she noticed the flowers on the tabletop, their petals drying and resting at the base of the pot. Why was it not being watered?
It upset her, but she tried to move forward. Her intuition was her greatest gift, though—
one, much like her cheekbones, that she’d done little to deserve. There was that time she changed meeting spots with a friend because she had an inkling of fear, and something did happen: A kitchen fire overtook the entire restaurant, killing one. She also had a premonition with a well-renowned photographer on a shoot in Brooklyn, and later, after the ad was shot, he’d invited her up for drinks, pinned her wrists above her head, and tried to kiss her. She’d managed to free herself by sinking her teeth into his right ear, then hurried down the fire escape.
She enters the waiting area, plops in a seat, and squeezes her duffel between her sneakers. She only has the one bag, stuffed with a week’s worth of clothes and a bunch of hotel-sized toiletries. It’s not much to show for two-plus years in America, but she’s had to act fast. Modeling happened in spurts—a gig here and there—but the world of go-sees and catwalks and cigarettes for dinner was never her thing, so she found work as a nanny. But when Caio, her brother, got sick, she needed more money, and a friend told her about the Chaffeys.
Just a simple transaction, Larissa told herself. She read over the Chaffeys’ contract, even had her friend whose English was superior comb over the thick paragraphs. I can do it, she thought. It will get Caio the help he needs as he waits for a kidney transplant. She thanked God. With Him she still spoke Portuguese: Obrigado, Deus.
While digging through her purse for a piece of gum, Larissa notices her blinking phone. She has two messages. The first one is from Mrs. Chaffey: Hi, Larissa. Hope this finds you well. How are you? Just calling to check in. Haven’t heard from you in a couple days, and I know you haven’t been feeling all that well. Is there anything I can do? Anything at all? Are you okay with money? I think I told you—yes, I’m sure I did—about the appointment with Dr. Thatcher on Wednesday. Remember we moved the time from 11:30 to 10:30. Do you want to carpool with us? We can pick you up on the way…
Larissa hangs up as an announcement pops from the loudspeakers. Her heart gallops. She taps her right foot on the ground and repeatedly brings her knees together and apart.
For four months now, these guttural pains, these notions have stayed with her and intensified. As she approached the Chaffeys’ home for another check-in, she saw Mr. Chaffey yell at a boy for riding his bike too close to his car. She tucked behind a neighbor’s cypress and crouched down. The timbre of his scream was menacing, and what worried her most was how gentle he was once she buzzed the doorbell, fetching her water and an orange—even peeling it for her, in one long coil—with a smile on his face. He’d gotten so skilled, Larissa thought, at camouflaging his rage that even she’d missed it at first—Mrs. Chaffey was still oblivious, or maybe just resigned—but now Larissa could spot it, flickering just beyond the rims of his blue irises, like pilot lights, always burning.
At twenty-seven, Larissa has known and seen plenty of pregnant women, and they’ve always been quick to let her know how difficult the process could be, but so far Larissa has enjoyed the course. Morning sickness hasn’t been an issue, and routine moments, like making herself farofa, seem to carry extra importance, as she cooks for two. She especially likes when she can feel her baby’s movements—which her doctor calls “quickenings”—while someone is chatting with her. Her baby always strikes the same spot, an inch left of her belly button, and the whole time, she smiles, thinking, You don’t know what’s happening inside me. It’s like she and the baby speak a tacit language, one in which only the two of them are fluent.
Just two days ago, Mrs. Chaffey and Larissa spoke and laughed, discussed cravings and kickings. The phone rang, and Mrs. Chaffey chased it down, her bare feet pounding on the hardwood floor, rattling the dishes in the buffet. “Coming! Coming!” she said, as if her words would somehow carry to the caller. Larissa sipped her herbal tea and stared out the small kitchen window over the sink. Mr. Chaffey was gardening in his pajama bottoms, no shoes, and bare-chested. He leaned against a sharp shovel, whose blade reflected a spot of sun.
The symptoms of her foreboding returned: Coolness oozed over Larissa in the usual progression, starting at the small of her back, spiraling outwards to the top of her spine till it reached her neck, making her shiver. Her stomach simmered, and she dumped the rest of her tea into the sink.
She was wrong.
Just as the presentiment lifted and relief began to overtake her limbs, a garden snake that was no wider than a shoelace slithered through the backyard’s deep dirt grooves, away from Mr. Chaffey. Without hesitation, he tracked it down, plodding on bits of dry soil. Curls of rich dust floated upwards. He closed in on the snake as it neared a thicket of rosemary. Just before the snake could reach safety, he cocked his shovel back and speared the bright green creature. He managed to cut the snake in almost perfect halves, and both segments quivered for a few seconds before falling still.
Saliva pooled in Larissa’s throat. She couldn’t swallow.
Mr. Chaffey turned her way but didn’t bring his eyes toward the kitchen window. A gleam shone off his face—an air of pride, like he wanted people to take notice of his accomplishment.
She presses her phone to her ear and listens to the second message. Again, it’s Mrs. Chaffey. Hi, Larissa. It’s me. Not sure if you got my other message. Are you okay? I have to admit I just stopped by your place and used the spare key you gave me. I just wanted to make sure you weren’t sick or something. You weren’t there, and it was pretty early in the morning. I tidied up a bit, too. Sorry, just couldn’t help it. There were lots of towels on the floor and clothes scattered everywhere. I even put a load of laundry in for you. Hopefully, by the time you get home it’ll be done. Anyhow, call me.
Larissa gazes out the large window that showcases a sunlit runway. Jets are stationary one moment, then blasting forward and lifting into the air. Wheels tuck back into the planes’ shells instantly after takeoff. Pilots don’t give themselves second chances. They know the engines are capable. They know physics is on their side. And if tons of steel and fuel and people can soar across the atmosphere, rip through clouds, and evade the sun, then maybe, Larissa thinks, this is possible, too.
An airline employee who wears a cocked beret pinned into her brown locks speaks: “At this time, we’d like to invite our premier fliers, service members, and families with small children to board first.”
With her phone in hand, Larissa gets up and leans against her seat. She wiggles her numbing toes and plucks her ticket from her purse, where her fingers also come into contact with a sharp piece of paper. It’s her copy of the contract from the Chaffeys, crinkled and creased, the words gestational surrogate are bolded as well as 80,000 dollars. She wraps her phone in the document and drops them both into a trashcan, savoring the pop as they strike an aluminum can. She knows it’s someone else’s sperm, someone else’s egg, but she believes—and always will—that biology comes second to humanity.
Brazil is not far now. The smell of pork fat in feijoada and the bright punch of motorbikes’ gasoline feel close. She can see Caio’s chin dimple and her mother’s chipped smile.
“Now boarding passengers in Group B,” the woman says. “Group B.” Larissa heads to the front of the line, clutching her duffel. She hands her ticket to the attendant, and the woman drags the barcode across the scanner. The beep is sharp and rings in Larissa’s ears. “Have a nice flight,” the woman says. “And congratulations.”
Larissa smiles, stands tall, and begins the long walk through the loading bridge.
Mathieu Cailler’s poetry and prose have been widely featured in numerous national and international publications, including the Los Angeles Times and The Saturday Evening Post. A graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts, he is the recipient of a Short Story America Prize for Short Fiction and a Shakespeare Award for Poetry. He is the author of Clotheslines (Red Bird Press), Shhh (ELJ Publications), and Loss Angeles (Short Story America Press), which has been honored by the Hollywood, New York, London, Paris, Best Book, and International Book Awards. His newest book, May I Have This Dance? (About Editions), was recently named poetry winner of the New England Book Festival.