The Pregnant Women of Florida

 

Their navels pop out, poking like thumb-tips against the ribbing of their tank tops. A soft skirt, a pair of track pants, tiny shorts, waistband cupping the circumference of the belly’s bottom rim. No maternity jeans—this heat! A sundress, anything with cinched elastic, breeze.     Flip-flops with flattened rubber soles. The flapping accentuates their widened gaits.

They walk to the store. They walk to the gas station. They buy cokes or gatorade. They walk home. In the sun, their skins are damp, fresh, like the insides of stone fruits. Something about the sun feels right. Their surfaces feel bright with heat. The blood in their veins feels brighter, absorbing the light, humming, wanting to vibrate out to the air. The humidity makes the women feel like their bodies are semi-permeable membranes, as if their placentae were at equilibrium with the wet air.

They crave salt. They can’t keep it in. It beads out of them and dries on their stretching skins. They itch, they rub the grains. Sometimes, a woman can’t tell if she is terribly thirsty or if she longs for salt. After a walk, they might eat sun chips, drink a gatorade, rest on their sofas.

When energy returns they might take showers, and turn the water to a cool but not cold temperature. After the salt is rinsed off and the women feel refreshed, they might turn the tap a little warmer and sit down for a moment, to feel the cold tub on their backs and the warm water on their bellies. They place hands on either side, checking width, and then rest both hands on its front in peace.

A woman might feel a baby kicking, or she might not. Either way, the belly is firm in a new way. The belly obscures the view in a new way. And their breasts. Their breasts are in their fields of vision. In the tub, as if shopping for produce, she might lift a breast—heavy.

There they rest, just the two of them—the woman in the bath, her baby in her, each floating in a taut pool. Alone, this is her quietest moment. A woman may cringe, fearing a knock on the door. Some boyfriend or husband might be coming home soon. A woman may live with parents, siblings, the siblings’ children, a Nana. Or a woman may live alone. The knock doesn’t come.

After a bath,  they crave sweetness. They want fruit. From the store or the farmer’s market or a roadside stand, fruit surrounds them. They bring home cherries, blueberries, grapes, plums, a mango—it’s the softest, the juiciest, the easiest ones they want.

A pregnant woman will put a whole fruit in her mouth and then pull out a pit with two fingers. Rip an orange in half at the navel. Not melons, too much labor. No apples; to pierce an apple with the teeth is too violent—the snap of teeth breaking skin, the scrape of the tattered edge in the mouth. In pregnancy, tender gums bleed easily.

They keep bowls on their countertops full of stones. Each cherry eaten is a ping, ping, ping into the bowl. The salt, the sugar, moisture, fiber, the warm sweet colors. The women hold water. Women swell, feeling like fruit in the sun. She wants a peach, and before she bites, she sniffs and puts her cheek against it. A woman waits for her baby’s cheek. The peach warms against her. And then with a knife they cleave. Here, the story of their bodies—wet meat shining, a stone in the center, red streaks radiating from the core. Hidden from view, in the center of the stone is the seed.