Solstice morning dawns drizzly, and still no word about the baby. I’m starting to wonder if Stella doesn’t plan to mention it at all while we’re here. We’re packing to head to Bolinas when Agnes says that I’ll have to be careful this year. I must look confused because she continues, The veil is so thin on this night. It’d be really easy to slip through, and end up in a life you don’t want. She smiles and hands me a holly wreath. You have to resist the temptation to let things happen to you.
I carry the wreath out to the borrowed Toyota, wondering if I’d have more of a backbone if Agnes had been my mother. I head inside to grab my own bag—double-checked to make sure the flask was still inside—thinking that if Agnes were my mother, I wouldn’t have to tote such a silly
talisman around. Not that it matters. We all have our attachments. Even Stella, who thinks she’s transcended the power of objects, can’t go anywhere without her zafu. Comfort, my
ass. She calls it practice, but I know an avoidance technique when I see one.
Once the rusty wagon is loaded, we drive up the 1, singing along to old Joni Mitchell cassette tapes. Wolf drives because Stella doesn’t want to, and Agnes, like me, doesn’t have a license, though I would guess hers didn’t get revoked because of crashing a friend’s car into a tree at the age of 19
after a night of heavy drinking. I haven’t driven since and have no plans to. Stella doesn’t know about the accident or how I was told I was lucky to survive. She thinks I let my license lapse after moving to the city, and I’ve never felt any need to enlighten her otherwise. If we move west, I wonder,
will I have to come clean?
As we unload beneath the redwoods, I feel, like I always
do here: tiny. An ant. Like I’m the most insignificant creature ever to step on this earth.
Ocean waves crash below, the tide rolling in, the noise
rising to the yurt where we’ll be camping out for the night.
Agnes’ friend, Jade, is a longhaired widow with watery green
eyes and a wavering smile. She looks as if the damp air has
entered every pore and plumped her from the inside out, no
wrinkles on her placid face. We’re the first to arrive for the
celebration, and she takes Agnes’ arm and leads her up to
the main house. Something about yarrow poultice.
Stella and Wolf carry everything into the yurt, and then
Stella comes out with her face vacant of any emotion, which
is, truthfully, how she’s spent most of this trip in regard to
me, and says, Let’s go for a walk.
Sure, I say and remember the seal from the other day. I
never told her about it, but given that she won’t meet my eye
as we head down to the shore, I can’t see that I want to now.
I keep a lookout on the water, though, hoping for more.
About the wine, Stella finally says.
I didn’t drink it, I say.
She rubs her forehead. Was I imagining the smell?
I— but what can I tell her that doesn’t sound ridiculous?
I took one sip. I choked. I’m sorry.
Stella looks out over the waves, wind whipping hair
across her cheeks. You’re pregnant, and you promised.
So did you.
Stella blends with the landscape, her shirt the same
silver-green as the beach grass. Even her body, the angular
length of it, fits here. I did, she says. I’m worried it’s too
Her words deflate me. What’s too much—the baby?
I’m worried about moving while you’re pregnant. All
I’m already stressed.
What about work? Our friends? What about your dad?
I thought we agreed the city is no place to raise a kid.
I guess I thought you might change your mind, you
know, once it took.
I touch my belly, which feels as choppy as the surf. Isay,
I want this.
Stella stares at the horizon, her expression unreadable.
Agnes will be so happy, she says.
I want to say, And what about you? But before I can
gather the nerve, she walks away up the beach and climbs
the wooden stairs. I keep along the water, despite the chill,
hoping for another seal. As if I might find an answer in its
liquid black eyes.
At dusk, we light the candles. Agnes starts the chant,
and the others join in. She leads us in honoring the
darkness and welcoming the light. She asks us to witness the shadow side, to understand its usefulness, to remember that without it, the light has no meaning. The
candles flicker to the cadence of Agnes’ voice, and there’s
this little twitch in my gut. I know the baby isn’t more than a
poppy seed, that there’s nothing, at this point, for me to feel
beyond my own hunger, but the flutter doesn’t let up. I press
my hand over it, wondering what it wants—wondering
what, after all, I want.
When we’re done in the circle, we break to eat and revel
around the fire. I can’t stop thinking about the flask, and
finally I retrieve it from the yurt. Stella’s watching me as I
come back toward the fire, and she squints to see what I’m
carrying. Has she always been watching so intently? Have I
been dancing with shadows all this time, obscuring my own
vision? I hold the flask out to her.
What’s going on? Stella asks, taking it.
I’m giving this to you, for now.
Kristen, you don’t need to—
I made a promise.
Stella rubs the engravings with her thumb and exhales
the same way I hear her do after a long meditation session,
then says, Farewell, New York City.
We can visit. Maybe head to Buffalo for the holidays.
Then, either with relief or fatigue or hormones, I start to cry.
You’re really sure of this, aren’t you?
I nod, too overwhelmed to say more.
Stella wraps her arms around me and says, I shouldn’t have doubted.
The next morning, groggy and smelling of woodsmoke,
we reload the Toyota and drive north to the state
park. The trees are massive, deep red like brick and as
solid. I stand and look up, look up the way I used to into my
mother’s unknowable face, but here I find awe, not fear.
Agnes says, Let’s hug the tree.
She’s been jubilant and overprotective since we broke
the news. I almost laugh, thinking she’s joking, but Stella
and Wolf take my hands, and we form a circle around the
base of the tree. I press my cheek, my belly, against the rough
bark and exhale. Nothing has ever felt so real.
We stand this way until Agnes, then Stella, then Wolf,
start chanting. I don’t know the words, and for once I don’t
let it bother me. The deal is sealed. I let the vibration fill me,
buoying the bubble in my belly. I’ll learn.
SARA RAUCH’s fiction and essays have appeared in Paper Darts, Hobart, Split Lip, So to Speak, Qu, Lunch Ticket, and other literary magazines, as well as in the anthologies Dear John, I Love Jane; Best Lesbian Romance 2014; and She’s Lost Control. She has covered books for Bustle, BitchMedia, Curve Magazine, Lambda Literary, The Rumpus, and more. In 2012, she founded the literary magazine Cactus Heart, which ran through 2016. She holds an MFA from Pacific University. Sara teaches writing at Pioneer Valley Writers’ Workshop and Grub Street and also works as an independent editor and manuscript consultant. What Shines from It, which won the Electric Book Award, is Sara’s first book. She lives with her family in Holyoke, Massachusetts. Find her online at sararauch.com, on Twitter at @sararauch, and on Instagram at @sara__rauch.
Gokul Prabhu is a graduate of Ashoka University, India, with a Postgraduate Diploma in English and creative writing. He works as an administrator and teaching assistant for the Writing and Communication facility at 9dot9 Education, and assists in academic planning for communication, writing and critical thinking courses across several higher-ed institutes in India. Prabhu’s creative and academic work fluctuates between themes of sexuality and silence, and he hopes to be a healthy mix of writer, educator and journalist in the future. He occasionally scribbles book reviews and interviews authors for Scroll.in, an award-winning Indian digital news publication.