Like liquid, she thought, watching the man's hands fly across the piano keyboard. She was sitting in the first row. Not a very good front row seat. Most of his hand movements were obstructed by his shoulders.
Like liquid, she thought all the same. Also, like a magician.
Some years later, typing, she realized the connection between the water and the magician. Her water broke as she was transcribing a letter for her employer, and she asked to be excused from her desk.
“Now?” the employer asked.
“I'm in labor, I think,” she replied.
She continued typing. The contractions came fast. By the time her employer finished-- “Sincerely yours” --the baby plummeted onto the floor and remained there, waiting for an encouraging slap or any sort of encouragement to take an independent breath.
She stared at the employer. The employer, who heard the sound of birth and—startled--swiveled back to face her, stared back.
“For god's sake, woman,” her employer said.
Her fingers moved like liquid across the keyboard before her, typing FOR GOD S SAKE WOMAN.
“No jesus no. Pick it up. The... that, there.”
She knew where the gesture from her employer ended, but she was afraid to look. She was afraid to think. She kept her fingers hovering over the home keys, and her fingers trembled.
“The baby. Pick up the baby.”
“The letter is done. Take the rest of the day off, if you like.”
She printed out the letter. Cut the cord. Scooped up her baby. Returned home for the day.
It wasn't often she took an early day. She didn't know what to do with herself at first, but the infant now breathing against her chest gave her a suggestion. The infant kneaded against her chest and screamed out suggestions like a needy cat. Gently, as she walked from work to the train, she lowered one corner of her dress, lifted out a breast from her bra, and offered it to the infant. The infant took the breast. The infant became silent. Passers-by glanced at her with expressions she didn't bother to decipher.
Once she got home, she cleaned herself and the infant. She called her mother, who was glad to hear the letter had been finished.
Then she called the father, who told her never to call again.
Then she called the father, who told her never to call again.
She thought about the way the pianist's fingers moved like liquid, and how the notes appeared even when she could not see the fingers. She thought of magicians, pulling rabbits out of hats.
“I knew you were coming,” she told the infant resting in a pool of blankets on her bed. “But warn me next time.”
Both she and the infant locked eyes for the first time, and both acknowledged there would not be a next time. How silly. The cord was cut. The breast was suckled. The infant was washed, the afterbirth was ejected on 2nd Ave, and the letter was signed 'Sincerely yours'. All that needed to be done up to the point where she locked eyes with the infant had been done. What remained was what was to come.
The father knocked on the door a few nights later. She slid out of bed. The apartment was one room if you forget the bathroom, and so everything was where she needed it to be: the bed, the sink, the couch, a computer, an oven, and the infant in a mini-fort made of wood and cloth and feathers. She slid out of bed with only one thought: Please stay asleep, infant. Please don't let the knock at the door make you cry.
Her breasts were sore. Her body was sore. Each day she returned to her employer, and each day she typed dictated letters, and each day she carried the infant with her. When the infant screamed, she pulled down a corner of her dress and slid from her bra a swollen breast. And there was silence. And dictation. And no one said anything, but used their faces to express everything.
Her employer gave her two weeks to find someone to deal with the infant. “If in that two weeks you don't find anyone, you'll be dealing with it yourself.”
The infant was at the time on the employer's floor, crying for her. In her lap was the computer she used to type out the employer's messages. Her breasts ached, but her fingers continued moving like liquid and she caught herself typing, “Dear Sir: It is with great sorrow that we report that if in two weeks you don't find anyone, you'll be dealing with it yourself.”
She quickly deleted the sentence, and resumed transcribing. Resumed typing.
Her breasts continued to ache. The infant continued to cry.
Another conversation with her mother did not end as well as she hoped. Her mother was elderly. Going deaf—but aren't we all—but not yet senile. “Grandchild!” her mother exclaimed. “But how is the job?”
“Mom, we already went through this.”
“Anyone can get a child! But is the job okay?”
She slid from the bed on the first knock, and tripped over a toy the infant was too young yet to enjoy.
It was an easy walk from the bed to the door. Toy aside, there weren't many obstructions. No doors, no walls, no halls. And the infant remained asleep, which was good. She didn't wan't the infant to retain even the slightest hint of confrontation between the father and herself. “Remain pure,” she whispered. “You just keep dreaming.”
The light from the street waved in and out of the apartment as each car a floor below pushed past the building. She felt as if she were under water, moving toward an escape hatch. The closer she got to the door—hoping always hoping for the father to keep his next knock to himself—the more she felt as if she were in liquid.
She felt as if she were a magician.
Hands, moving, making magic and art.
The infant moved. She could hear the light cover rustle as the shoulders of the infant shifted.
“Don't,” she thought. She didn't say the word. She thought it.
She knew from the sound of fabric the infant had tossed off the light cover. She knew from the sound of breath the infant was about to wake up.
Through water she made it to the door. One hand closed on the knob and the other on the latch and she turned both at once. Fingers worked, and as the door opened, as if magically, the father was standing in the hallway, backlit by a dim light and holding a stuffed bear that had seen days far better than she had seen.
“What the hell, babe” was all the father said.
She took a step into the dim light. Behind her there was another intake of air.
The infant erupted. A scream so primal she was sure ancestors heard it.
“No hell,” she shouted.
“I wanted to give you this,” the father said, shoving the stuffed bear at her.
“Scream,” the infant said.
She took a look at the father. At the bear. She considered all the letters she had typed over the past few weeks. She said this: “That bear is a contract.”
The bear went into hibernation into the father's coat. She shut the door. She was now in the liquid and the magic.