Shattered is a submission for a flash-fiction challenge. It’s been a long while. Something about the one Chuck Wendig offered up for this week inspired me. I didn’t resist.
The challenge is a first-sentence challenge. Chuck sourced his readership for opening sentences (he received hundreds upon hundreds), and then narrowed the submissions down to 10.
The challenge asks us to choose one of the 10 as an opening sentence for a 1,000- to 2,000-word story. The sentence I was guided to is:
The first breath shattered her world, the second shattered her heart. (Fred Yost)
The first breath shattered her world, the second shattered her heart. How the breaths came to be was unfathomable, even though she knew what to expect.
The day had started off as planned. No food. No caffeine. Clear liquids only. Avoid stress. Check, check, check, and good luck with that.
If her stomach grumbled for food, she didn’t notice. She’d been caffeine-free for over a year. Water and herbal tea were her go-to drinks, so that was easy.
Avoiding stress was an appreciated intent. Her daily meditation practice had definitely made an impact on that. Today’s meditation had made less of an impact than in all the days prior.
Maybe she needed to meditate again. Maybe she could get to that empty place and just get lost forever in its comforting lightness. That would be a good thing, wouldn’t it?
It wasn’t to be. The day felt heavy, which was probably to be expected. She noted that she felt heavy, too. That was also to be expected, given the circumstances, except that there was an emptiness in the heaviness that she would given anything to avoid. It was cruel, that emptiness.
A knock at the front door startled her out of the spiral of her reverie. She nudged the overnight bag closer to the wall, and swung the door open.
“Hi, Izzy-Belle. Are you ready?”
There was a reason Miranda was her best friend. Who else but a best friend could support her through this day?
Her mother couldn’t, and not just because she lived half a continent away. Her sister couldn’t, because it was too emotionally unsettling (and probably bad luck). Her ex-lover wouldn’t, even if he could; even if he was her still-lover.
Miranda was her person. Her presence today proved it as much as anything else in their adventure-filled 20-year history.
“I’ll be ready as soon as I refill my water bottle. Come on in.”
Izzy padded the short distance to her kitchen sink and made quick work of filling the bottle and capping it tightly while her gaze played over a squirrel attempting to thwart the squirrel-proof bird feeder stand. Its cleverly persistent antics didn’t register so much as a blip on her amusement scale.
She paused only long enough to triple-check that everything was in its place. The last thing she wanted was to come home to any sort of a mess, even one as minor as a dish in the drainer. This, she could control.
“You okay, honey?”
Izzy nodded. “All set. It’s time. Let’s go.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ✦ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The questions from all the various nurses and doctors who met with Izzy once she was admitted exuded compassion. Thankfully for her, the compassion was tempered by professionalism that worked like Elmer’s glue to hold her together.
The prostaglandin was administered and, as predicted given the stage she was in, contractions started soon after and progressed with appreciable swiftness.
Miranda stayed close until she was allowed to be closer. She wedged herself into a corner of the room, hands on her phone fielding queries from friends and family, and eyes on Izzy. When given the nod from Izzy’s attending, she set up camp at the head of the birthing bed for the duration.
11 hours past the time of Miranda’s encampment, Izzy was ready to push. She did so only because the surgical alternative would have meant a longer hospital stay.
There was little pain, since she’d agreed to a chemically-supported birth. Given different circumstances, she’d have chosen a natural birth.
She held tight to Miranda’s hand, and focused her energy on pushing. She pushed until she was exhausted, and then she pushed some more because she imagined that to give up now would be catastrophic to what remained of her wellbeing.
“Almost there, Izzy.” Dr. Weber appeared in her field of vision. “You’re doing great. You’re very brave.”
It was probably just as well that it was time to push again, making it impossible for Izzy to respond to the well-meant words of encouragement. And it was probably just as well that Dr. Weber was right about her being “almost there.” Because she’d pretty much reached the limits of her body and mind.
Once she was “there,” there were no cheerleading calls of, “Here comes the head” from the other side of the surgical curtain that was put in place to shield Izzy and Miranda from the proceedings. There was no elated announcement of success when the baby was fully free of Izzy’s body. There was no newborn wail; no warm and wiggly form placed on Izzy’s chest.
Instead, past a moment of prolonged silence that Izzy would later define as “truly deafening,” there was a collective and reflexive intake of breath when the medical staff saw the impossibly malformed baby in its entirety.
It was a breath that shattered the splinter of unreasonable hope Izzy had secretly held. And it was a breath that induced a reflective intake of breath from Izzy as her heart shattered.
So much for Elmer’s glue. So much for miracles.
Thank God for Miranda, and blessed darkness.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ✦ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“No! Please! Not my baby,” Izzy sobbed.
“Izzy! Izzy, honey.” Brendan pulled his wife up against him, rocking her gently. “You’re dreaming, Iz… Just dreaming. Do you hear me?”
He stifled the urge to laugh. “Where are we?”
“How many weeks are you?”
“Good.” He felt the baby kick where Izzy’s abdomen met his, and guided one of her hands to the spot. “Feel that? She’s letting you know she’s okay. Can you feel her?”
Izzy nodded her head, sniffling. “Our miracle baby… Sometimes, it feels like it happened in another lifetime. Sometimes, it feels like yesterday. These dreams don’t help.”
Brendan kissed her head and continued rocking. “Dr. Weber says it’s normal.”
“Normal sucks. Oof.”
“Good one, huh? She’s strong. Like her mother. Soccer player.”
“She is strong. Like her father. Figure skater.”
“Olympics, either way.”
“Olympics, both ways. Summer and Winter games.”
“I love you, Iz.”
Izzy took a breath and felt her heart swell; felt it heal a little more. “I love you.”