The summer she was pregnant, she took to napping in the afternoon, slipping between the white sheets fully clothed and falling asleep with such violence it was as if her soul sprang un-tethered from her body and left it, inert and lolling as a corpse. She would wake just as quickly, her mouth dry and her tongue swollen, and her soul or spirit or whatever it was that made her body alive would find its way back to her and she would gently test toes and fingertips to remember what it was like to use them. She could not lie still after she woke; she would be out of bed and down the stairs in a second, gulping water and craving fruit. If it was early in the week, she’d eat plums or berries, the fruit from the market that didn’t require a day or two to ripen, but by Thursday or Friday she was eating the Bartlett pears, pressing on her tongue their strange mixture of graininess and liquid.
In her second trimester, her mother came to visit, and Nancy would spend all afternoon cooking dinner and setting the table. She made giant, puffy loaves of whole wheat bread, lightening the rising with gluten and white vinegar, and wrapping the bread in a damp towel as it came out of the oven so that the crust would soften the way her husband liked it. She bought a whole chicken every week and took pleasure in dismantling it, reserving a sharp knife for this single use, and always setting aside the backbone and breastbone so she could make stock. Her husband wanted sweet stuff, so at first she shredded zucchini and crookneck squash and made bread, and then, as the year waned, she roasted sugary pie pumpkins to mix into store-bought crusts. Her mother was not helpful, but she was welcome, and Nancy loaded the dishwasher every night and felt satisfied but restless.
It was toward the end of the second trimester, as her belly arced underneath her shirt and her ankles disappeared (with good timing, as it was time to put away sandals) that the restlessness began to grow into something more. Pregnancy required so much introspection from her, so much listening to the inside of herself, and it also required the gradual acknowledgement of the foreign being growing within, so that for the longest time she could not tell the difference between her unborn child and a part of herself she had never yet met. All of the things she could have been, held in the suspension of maybe, a vision of herself as a hallway full of doors that could still be opened but would soon be locked forever. She had suspected this person the way a child suspects the heavy breath of an intruder in a dark closet, the way a blind person feels for a wall he knows is there. The way, in the short story, the invalid saw the woman behind the wallpaper, blistering and bubbling her way out.
So. There was another Nancy, composed of the same history, the same DNA, the same experiences—movies watched, meals eaten, trips taken. She could not bear the multiplicity, could not bear to think that there was an exact her who had not become pregnant existing and living a parallel life wherein certain things were still possible.
She took a trip. Some friends of hers, a group of Turkish women, invited her to Turkey. Her husband could not come, so she took his sister.
She read Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk while she was there, bundled in sweaters and thermal underwear. She tried to escape the other person living in her body, but as she sat cross-legged on pillows on the third floor of a narrow restaurant before a table groaning with gamy lamb and salty eggplant, she felt movement in her stomach. The other other showed herself as they browsed a used bookstore in Taksim Square and her hand found a copy of Le Rouge et Le Noir. She had never read Stendhal, but she remembered golden, dusty afternoons in Welch Hall studying French literature—she remembered Rimbaud, Rabelais, Roland, and Camus’ existential discarding of the passé simple: “Aujourd’hui, maman est morte.”1 Inside her, the woman who reveled in private silence receded even more, and she imagined the different self: a mother, a woman with a child, a merging and a diminution. When they took an after-dinner cruise on the Bosporus, she stood at the rail and now she imagined herself to be one of the hulls of the mansions on the shore that had burned to the ground that Pamuk had described in Istanbul, a spectacle for passersby: “If he preferred fires that started at night, it was because they made for better viewing.”
In the Hittite Hotel in Kusadasi, not fifteen kilometers from Ephesus, nor ten from the final house of the Virgin Mary, surrounded by pines and fire-scorched hills, she lay in her narrow little bed and she slowly erased the part of herself that insisted on separation. An episode of The Simpsons flickered on TV, but Homer speaking in Turkish was jarring, so the volume was low. She took the Nancy that needed solitude, the part that daydreamed and lived on nothing so much as what could have been and what could still be, and she forgot the cherry blossoms on the squat and curving trees, and she forgot the little King Charles spaniel that had followed her through the crumbled ruins of Perge, and she forgot the promises she had whispered to herself in the Selcuk theater at Aspendos, because there was nothing to be done about it. Already she did not belong to herself; in the coming years, this part of her would bleach like an overexposed photograph, flaring past brightness to blank space, gone but leaving traces.
In Izmir, as the year’s early sun warmed the Mediterranean, she bought the child a carpet. She sat in a chair like a throne while the salesman unfurled rugs at her feet, and she sipped apple tea and rested the saucer on the shelf of her belly. The carpet she bought, hand-knotted and dyed, tiny because it was all she could afford, would soon lie on the floor next to the crib. She will stand barefoot here for years, through this infancy and the next, feet pressed firmly into something—what was it? She will hardly remember—hand patting the sleeping child, singular and wondrous, new.
1Today, Mother died.
Nancy Wayson Dinan holds an MFA from the Ohio State University. She is currently a PhD student at Texas Tech University, where she serves as a managing editor for Iron Horse Literary Review. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Texas Observer, Waccamaw, and Watershed Review.