Melissa Ostrom lives in rural Western New York, where she teaches English at a community college and serves as a public school curriculum consultant.
In August, two months before her due date, Jessica put on a swimming suit and shorts and bore her burgeoning stomach to the beach. The wind off Lake Ontario cooled her hot skin. She took out a paperback but absorbed less than a page before leaving the book splayed on the blanket.
Self-consciously, she walked past the lifeguard. She was eighteen, and he could not have been much younger than her, but her condition made her feel older, already a mother of someone. She tried not to waddle and waded into the water until it was deep enough to drown her. Then she floated on her back.
The belly, hers but also its own separate thing, a part perhaps belonging to a sea mammal, ballooned at the tremulous surface. The cloudless sky cupped the horizon. She stayed this way for a long time, in a state of doubled buoyancy, water lightening her, her body suspending a smaller body. The lake muffled the seagulls’ cries. Like wind-strewn pages torn from a book, the birds shattered the arch of blue.
When she felt chilled and lightened, she swam back to the shallows. Her body, in all its round weight, returned to her as soon as she stood. She trod carefully, holding her stomach, over the small rocks, silted and wetly shifting, then across the scorched sand toward her blanket.
The lifeguard watched her. Under his notice, she recognized more than her heaviness. She sensed her strangeness: fertility unsexed, an indefinable species.
His fingers traveled to his stomach, where his abdomen was so articulated with muscle it resembled armor. He looked away, but his hand stayed at his stomach.
That stomach. It reminded her of a hard shell, of the chitinous carapace that keeps the lobster from getting eaten.