Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

Kyle - a short story
New fiction from Robin Bradford
courtesy of Brain, Child magazine.

Love’s Truck Stops have the best restrooms. Anyone who’d traveled the straight gray line between Austin and Dallas as much as Jess knew that. But this morning, as one of the red and orange billboards approach- ed, she noticed for the first time that instead of an apostrophe nosing in between the E and S, there was a fat red heart. She was seeing things differently now. Or maybe the baby inside her wielded a power to change the world. The flat fields growing cotton, the scattering cows, green exit signs, even the trash blowing in the grass, were ripe with meaning. The baby turned inside her now, tickling, unannounced.

"Tired?" Rob asked, reaching for her across the wide space between the seats of the borrowed van. When he glanced over, his eyes off the road for just a moment, she imagined the van careening over the yellow line, onto the gravel shoulder, into the grassy ravine, their wheels spinning in the air. She smelled gasoline.

"I’m fine," she said, because they were not in the grassy ravine, they were merely hurling ahead at seventy-five miles per hour in a kinetic dance with other cars who were shifting lanes and trying to get there first. She tried to keep her focus inside the small world of the van, the shiny knobs, the brown plastic that was supposed to look like leather, the gaping back where the seats usually were. She made herself yawn.

Jess was almost thirty-five, the magic better-make-a-baby age. When they’d left the house at dawn, she forgot her sunglasses like she forgot everything lately. Now her eyes ached from squinting. She pulled the visor down and a small square of herself peered down like a guardian angel. She was nearly beautiful, but not quite. Other people could see it, like Rob, but she could only see the rough spots—scars, freckles, wrinkles, dark places. Rob was different. Sometimes she was startled by his beauty, like when you come upon a blue jay feather in the grass. His brown eyes, hair that curled at his neck, tan arms, muscular legs made him look much younger than almost fifty.

They were going to see Rob’s cousin. Joe and his wife Carla lived in Luckhart, a small town east of Dallas. They already had two kids and had offered their garage full of old baby things. Joe and Carla ran an antique store, buying cartons of furniture from estate sales and Europe. Joe spent most of his time in an open garage in back of the store, stripping and refinishing. His fingernails were always brown. Carla ran the front of the store, manning the cash register and the two boys. While they had the van, Rob and Jess had decided to look for a chest of drawers for their room. They were going to stay overnight in Dallas, where Rob grew up, and then they’d head home in the morning.

Jess had married Rob nearly three years before. They always thought that in order to be the people they imagined, they would need someone to join them. It was summer when they started making love with a goal and before the breeze cooled, Jess was pregnant. Nowadays, too late to turn back, Jess wondered in the mid- dle of the night if it were a mistake.

"You thought dating me was a mis- take," Rob would remind her in the dark.

They had met on a Saturday morning ride organized by a local bike club. Rob was a group leader. Hanging back with the slower riders, he called out helpful pointers and gave encouragement. Jess rode behind him for hours without even knowing his name. His tight, black, bike shorts made his butt and thighs look like they were made out of rope. Her bike shorts felt shiny and strange, sticking to her body like a second too-thick skin. She watched his butt muscles flex as he pedaled right ahead of her. When they started up a hill, he raised up off the seat and pumped, weight shifting left and right.

"I thought it was a waste of energy to stand up on hills," she gasped.

"Two schools of thought on that," he called back, slowing down to ride beside her.

There are two schools of thought on most things. Dating someone fifteen years older is like dating your father—or age doesn’t matter at all. If someone hasn’t married by their forties they never will—or it’s never too late to change if you really want to. Kids give new meaning to your life—or they trample it to bits.

When they met, Rob was living, like a cat, a borrowed life. He had once been a slick teenager cruising Dallas’s new suburbs, shoplifting from the nicest men’s store. Then a nighttime rebel, cruising for knife fights. He went to four colleges in two years, dodged the draft, and stopped cutting his hair. He sold flowers out of a bucket for a living. Then he followed his hippie friends down to Austin and started his own contracting business. Slow times, he drove around town in his sky-blue ’69 Chevy truck, clicking photos of old buildings. Some of them even ended up in the city history library. But drinking was his real art. He did it every day until his stomach hurt so much he couldn’t stand up. That was a long time ago. He started cycling as a cure. He’s ridden every little road within fifty miles of here. He even rode to Houston and back once.

At the end of the ride, Rob asked Jess out to eat. Everyone else was going, so she agreed. They shared a mound of nachos and he asked her for her phone number.

"In case I do that Kyle ride," he explained.

He was referring to a pretty twenty-five-mile loop she’d heard about that passed by Katherine Anne Porter’s childhood home in the little town of Kyle, south of Austin. Jess imagined peddling past Porter’s homicidal farmers and hopeless wives. Rob had never heard of Porter, but he knew the Kyle loop. She gave him her number, even though she’d already decided she wouldn’t go out with him. She had her reasons. One was: she had given up on men. She had always leaped from one relationship to the next like they were stepping stones. So she’d decided to stay away from them for a year and there were still seven months to go. The other reason was history: she only dated one kind of guy—despondent poets, pot-smoking painters, playwrights on unemployment.

When he asked, she said she worked at a bookstore, booking famous writers to speak to tiny audiences.

"I’m more of a visual person," Rob replied. "I made my bathroom into a darkroom."

She winced, just thinking about the smell of the chemicals.

"I can read," he quickly added. "But the letters don’t stay still—they’re always getting up and moving around."

She watched her reflection in his sunglasses while he talked. She looked healthy and relaxed. Then he scooted them back onto his head, and she saw his eyes close up for the first time. They made her feel looked-at. He saved the last hill of guacamole for her and she carved away at it with a chip.

After that, Rob pursued her with the confidence and focus that she’d learned are his best traits: he knows exactly what he wants and is patient enough to get it. He says he wasted his first thirty years so he could learn this single lesson. Of course, he called the next week.

"Sorry," she said, "I’m not dating—remember?" She was sitting at the tiny table in her two-room apartment.

"I thought you were joking."

"You’ll just have to wait until Thanksgiving."

"Well, you eat dinner, don’t you?" he laughed.

Two weeks later, Rob was licking garlic butter off her toes among the remains of a vast shrimp dinner he cooked in her tiny kitchen.

They never did the Kyle loop. For a while they kept meaning to, but then it became a joke, like if they did it now it could change everything. Somehow they would go backwards in time, undo their life together, and end up just friends, or worse yet, strangers.

Usually they saw Carla and Joe when Rob’s family gathered at his parents’ house at Christmas. Rob used to babysit Joe and his little sister when they were kids. When Jess came into the picture, Carla was already pregnant with their first. The next Christmas the tubby white-haired boy was walking and the next Christmas there was another. The boys doubled in size every year. Jess loved holding them as babies, but she mostly avoided them now, unsure what they liked.

When they saw the exit, they followed the directions Rob had taken down the night before, finally turning onto the old brick town square. They parked at a funny slant like the other cars.

"Long time no see!" Joe exclaimed, tall and skinny as a cowboy. They followed him into the dusty sunlight of the store, crammed with strangers’ old furniture, where he offered them both a Big Red. Rob took a can but Jess sipped a cup of water as she glanced around the warehouse. Right now they kept their things separately in the worn-out drawers they had each brought to their marriage. She had visions of a tall chest with clean lines, his underwear, dark and fraying, lying next to hers, light and flowered.

"Let me show you around," Joe said, leaning his elbow on a mirrored armoire. Jess followed them, squeezing past drawer handles and table corners. A kitchen hutch with tin doors butted up against a dark Victorian sofa. An ornately carved bed frame, missing its mattress, grew up around an Art Deco vanity with a crescent-moon-shaped mirror. A basketball game announcer boomed from a TV somewhere.

"What’s this?" she asked before a gigantic cherry armoire that would take up half their bedroom.

Joe opened the doors and explained: "If you were a wealthy man at the turn of the century, this is what you’d take traveling between the continents."

Inside there were drawers labeled: Underwear, Ties, Pyjamas. Jess slid each one open gingerly, imagining the orderly, folded contents. While Rob and Joe talked about a trunk their grandmother had owned with built-in hangers and a matching hatbox, she imagined how tidy their life would be if they could just construct a drawer for each thing and label it. Maybe that way, nothing would be forgotten or left behind when this baby came. Her novels and yoga, his photographs and architecture books, their nights out hearing music, dancing, going to movies, eating dinner with friends. There would be a drawer for walking downtown arm-in-arm and stopping at a new restaurant for a cappuccino. Another one for getting up early to haul the bikes into his truck to the creek where they rode rocks and gullies and swam to cool off. And there would be rows of empty drawers to fill: the three of them lying in bed all day, visits to the park, baby pools, long walks at the lake behind a stroller. The closet would grow with them and contain all that they loved, offering shelter and equanim-ity and order.

But it was much too big and too expensive.

They finally chose a tall oak chest of drawers from the twenties with smooth round knobs and simple curving feet. Joe helped Rob load the chest into the van. Together they stacked the drawers inside on the floor. She felt silly not helping.

"Planning to stay for dinner?" Joe asked, slamming the van doors.

"Sorry," Rob answered. "We’re staying in Dallas tonight and tomorrow we’re heading home."

"Well, good luck with that baby," Joe called out. "I’ll call Carla and tell her you’re on your way."

Jess had always imagined Carla and Joe’s home as an old Victorian since they lived in a small town and loved antiques. But when she read Rob the directions, they ended up in front of an ordinary, low-slung, brick, ranch house. They stepped through the dark, overgrown entryway, and when Rob pushed the bell, a dog burst into deep barking. Despite Carla’s scolding, when the door opened a large collie leapt up, panting and lapping at the air.

"Pongo!" she shouted at the dog.

"Good to see ya!" she yelled at Jess and Rob.

Their living room was like a well-furnished cave. Dark oversized furniture lined the walls; on every surface a carved picture frame, chiming clock, or ceramic figurine rose like stalagmites. The dog burst past, chased by two white-haired boys. Puffs of fur floated down into the thick brown carpet. The stream of their movement reminded Jess of the tigers who chased each other so fast they turned into butter.

While the boys watched Barney, Carla took Jess and Rob out to the garage.

"I’m not gonna need this stuff any more," she boasted, pulling out a sack of plastic baby bottles decorated with Daffy Duck and Big Bird.

"Two is enough!" Carla joked, smiling and resting her hands on her hips.

Jess thought Carla seemed to have always been a mom, distracted in conversation and never sitting still for long. But right now, away from the boys, Carla seemed more relaxed and present. Suddenly it was easy to imagine her before the boys were born, a tall blonde from Wichita Falls with a good eye for collectibles.

Rob and Carla loaded the crib parts into the van while Jess carried the sacks.

"Want to come in for lemonade?" Carla offered when Rob had gotten everything arranged in the van.

While Carla mixed lemonade powder into water, Rob and Jess tried to start up conversation with the boys who weren’t old enough to remember them from the last Christmas.

"What are you watching?" she asked the bigger one.

He twisted around on the couch, glared at her, and returned to his show. Rob sat down next to the smaller one and began tickling him. Soon both boys were bouncing all over Rob on the couch. She went to help Carla in the kitchen, and they came back carrying the plastic pitcher of instant lemonade and small Tupperware cups. Just then, the younger boy stole Rob’s checkbook from his back pocket and made off down the hall. The older boy chased him and the dog trotted behind.

"Whew!" Carla sighed, turning off the TV. "So, what are you guys doing in Dallas?"

"There’s an exhibit of Native American art at the museum," Jess explained, remembering the billboard they’d passed with the huge headdress of eagle feathers and beads.

"Oh, that’ll be great," Carla enthused. "Better enjoy it! I don’t know the last time Joe and I did anything fun."

Howling broke out from down the hall. Silence followed and then the cry rose again.

"Mom! Mom! Mom!" the younger one cried, staggering in, his face crumpled in tears.

"Oh, you’re not hurt!" Carla responded brightly.

The older boy entered, proudly waving the checkbook in the air.

"Dylan, give Rob back his checkbook," she ordered.

"No!" he replied, stared his mother in the eye, and dropped it into the pitcher of lemonade.

That night, from atop the restaurant at Reunion Center, Rob pointed out the skyscrapers, twinkling like satellites. Though he hadn’t lived in Dallas for twenty years, he showed off the city like it was family. She imagined bringing their baby, their son, here some day and Rob pointing out where he went to school, where he heard Wilson Pickett sing "Mustang Sally" and the hospital where his mother died. Later, in their motel room by the highway, Rob turned out the lights and they watched a movie about competing concert pianists who fall in love. Jess knew that a couple like that would never have children. Their careers were too important, their lives already perfect.

The next morning she dreamt they were paddling down a river in a longboat carved from a log, one like they’d seen at the museum that day. When they rounded a corner, she spied something in the tall weeds. When they got closer she saw it was a baby wrapped in a blanket. She scooped the baby up and was immediately filled with panic—she had no clothes, no diapers, and no idea what to do. She woke on her back, her heart pounding in her chest. She nearly woke Rob to tell him, but knew it was a typical pregnancy dream. She rolled over closer to him and let the warmth of his sleeping body comfort her.

It was nine, but with the motel room’s heavy drapes it could have been midnight. Showered and dressed, Rob kissed her and said he’d go find breakfast. Jess lay beneath the soft sheets and dozed. She’d read that in the last months of pregnancy you should treat yourself like a savings account, depositing sleep, time alone, special treats, so you would have a strong balance for the first few weeks of motherhood. For months, instead of getting up early Saturday morning to ride with Rob, she kissed him good-bye and rolled back into the darkness. Now this thought jolted her awake: already she and Rob had stopped sharing the thing that brought them together. She wondered if the baby was trying to pull her into his world, a place of darkness, nothingness, invasive potential.

When Rob came back with a Cowboy Breakfast and large juice, he reported it was cloudy and the wind was up. Since he bicycled, he was always watching the jet stream. She ate in bed while Rob packed up. She’d been hungry for months. Once, early on, she’d gone on some errands after work and gotten so hungry at the garden store, where there were seeds to grow things to eat but no actual food, that she started to cry. After that, Rob bought her some of the special chewy bars cyclists eat and she carried one with her wherever she went.

Rob set the bag by the door and came back with the coconut lotion.

"Want some?" he asked. "You fell asleep last night."

She took a last bite of toast and lay back on the bed. He pulled off the covers and there was her belly. It looked like someone else’s, someone who was eating too much, but it was hard inside, like a ball.

"You ever get scared?" she asked as he poured the cool liquid on her skin.

Rob had helped raise the son of a woman he lived with, so he knew something about being a parent.

"Kids know how to push all your buttons," he said. "But kids teach you the most important things you’ve forgotten."

She smiled back at him, knowing he was right. But she did not want her buttons pushed. She was not ready to drink from plastic.

"Mind if I watch the weather?" he asked, finishing up.

In the anonymous white motel bathroom, she realized what scared her most was losing this man now that she’d found him. She didn’t want to share him with anyone, even someone very tiny.

The day was warm with a bright glare under a heavy sky. Thunderstorms were expected all the way down to Austin. The back of the van was packed full of baby things. A crib mattress leaned against the far wall and the chest of drawers lay flat with the drawers stacked by the back doors. The disassembled baby crib clanked when they sped over a bump in the road. Grocery bags filled with bottles, bibs, and blankets filled the rest of the space.

The time went quickly and though the sky looked forbidding, it didn’t rain. They talked about the exhibit they’d seen—the horse doll covered in rows of tiny beads, a boy’s leather jacket decorated with colored quills, and a bright red cradleboard patterned with leaves. Jess noticed that the things they liked the most related to children. She wondered if this would have been so a year ago. Finally they saw a billboard, bright orange with a red heart. Only two more miles. It used to be that Rob was the first one who needed to stop.

What was so great about Love’s was the European-style restrooms with private stalls. The shiny metal doors locked easily and the cool air smelled of lemons. Mirrors reflected one other so that the space seemed to go on forever. Jess pulled her t-shirt tight against her belly, turning to the side. She was proud of her belly but determined to fit back into her old jeans as soon as possible. With her t-shirt hanging loose, she noticed, you really couldn’t even tell she was pregnant. She joined Rob by the cash register. Holding hands, they stared at the stream of travelers passing in and out the row of glass doors.

"Want the keys?" Rob asked.

Shaking her head, Jess wandered over to the paperback bookrack. On closer look, she saw they were actually books on tape. Some were the kinds of trashy novels you would expect, Westerns and stories about detectives and spies, but she was surprised to find trendier titles like All the Pretty Horses and The English Patient read by famous actors. There was even Toni Morrison’s latest which she’d been meaning to read.

"When we have a car with a cassette player, let’s get some books on tape, okay?" she suggested eagerly to Rob.

A moment passed.

"Children’s stories, too," she added.

Rob nodded and smoothed her hair.

He paid for the gas, a bag of peanuts, and two bottles of juice. When they walked outside, the sky seemed to be clearing up. The wind was buoyant and teasing. In a square of grass by the parking lot, a woman was walking a small black puppy on a red leash. Two girls were petting the dog, a miniature Doberman with perfect features and skinny legs. Jess smiled as she walked past and the woman smiled back. Stretching her legs beside the van, Jess soaked in the sun while Rob unlocked his side. She looked back at the girls and the dog. Rob did, too. They already knew the baby was a boy, but they couldn’t help studying all children, as if to be good parents they must be able to love even strangers’ offspring. As Jess turned to climb back in the van, the woman passed by with the puppy in her arms.

"Cute dog," Jess remarked.

"Thanks," she said and Jess reached out and petted him. Rob came around the van and joined them.

"What’s its name?" Jess asked, letting the tiny pink tongue slick over her fingertips as she rubbed the puppy’s head.

"I haven’t named her yet," the woman explained. "I just got her yesterday. I’m going to let my daughter decide."

The woman was wearing a white sweater tucked into dark pressed jeans with a belt buckle that matched the big gold loops clutching her ears. Her hair was short but styled, and her eyes were such a brilliant green Jess thought she had to be wearing color contacts. She had a fit, upright figure and large scooping breasts.

The little dog wriggled its skinny black legs and nosed at the woman’s neck. Rob scratched the brown bib on the puppy’s throat.

"Robby?" the woman asked suddenly, looking up at Jess’s husband.

Only people who knew her husband as a boy call him that. It shocked her that he ever went by such a girlish version of his name.

"Yes?" Rob answered tentatively.

His dyslexia makes it hard for him to recall people’s names but Jess could tell he didn’t recognize the woman at all.

"Debbie," she reminded him eagerly. "Debbie Campbell—Bobby Campbell’s little sister."

A look of surprise, then shock, spread across Rob’s face.

"Debbie Campbell?"

Rob introduced Jess and explained they had been up in Dallas picking up furniture because they were going to have a baby.

"Rob and I went to high school together," Debbie offered. "We haven’t seen each other since graduation!"

"What are you up to?" Rob asked.

"I’m on my way to San Antonio," she said, motioning to a shiny maroon sports car. "My oldest daughter’s going to have a baby next month," she added. "The guy she was with turned out to be the irresponsible type, so she’s coming back to Tyler until she gets back on her feet."

"Did you know I had four kids, Robby?" she asked before either of them could respond. "I just divorced their father after nearly thirty years. We married right out of high school."

She shrugged and added: "It never ends, even when you think they’re gone."

The sun was in Debbie’s eyes so she moved away a little. The dog nodded towards Jess and she asked if she could hold him. While Debbie and Rob talked about people they’d known thirty years ago, Jess held the puppy’s warm, wriggling body next to hers. Jess noticed that as Rob listened to her, Debbie’s leaf-green eyes grew even brighter. Standing a few feet away from them, Jess felt glad to be married to this man. Glad he was not irresponsible. And she was glad to be carrying his tiny child inside, wriggling like this puppy.

Back on the highway, Jess pointed out a picnic area by the side of the road. She could see Debbie’s maroon car behind them in the side mirror.

"I made out with a guy once back there," she said.

She explained that the guy had answered her ad for a rider at Christmas. He was living with someone at the time and so was she. He had brown eyes and curly red hair that felt nice to her fingers, but she couldn’t remember his name now. After the eight-hour drive up to Oklahoma and seven hours back, they couldn’t stand it any longer. At dusk they pulled over and started kissing, pulling on each other’s bodies, rubbing themselves together, steaming up the windows until they both came inside their clothes. Then they straightened up in the rearview mirror and pulled back onto I-35. They drove to his apartment where his girlfriend came to the door and took his bag from his hand. She never saw him again.

Rob shook his head and laughed.

"So, tell me," she said, switching back to the subject of Debbie. "How did you know her? Did you date?"

"I was friends with her brother who was a year older," Rob answered. "She was in my class, but we never dated. Debbie was very straight, you know, the cheerleader type. We didn’t have anything in common."

"Did you have sex with her?"

She knew Rob. She knew you had to ask the right questions.

"Yes," he smiled, impressed. "Just once. She had perfect breasts."

"They’re still in good shape."

"She wanted to do it with all the lights out. Complete dark. She was afraid for a boy to see her naked."

"What’d you do?"

"I convinced her it was okay."

"That’s nice. You probably changed her life."

"It was a long, long time ago."

"I was still in elementary school," she confirmed.


"But you were a virgin when I was born, right?"


That suddenly seemed important to her.

Rob laughed.

The traffic seemed to slow all of a sudden and cars were all around them, occupying Rob’s attention. They had long ago lost sight of Debbie’s car.

"Pepper would be a good name for that puppy," she offered. "You know, because he’s black and peppy."

"That was so weird," Rob answered absently. "I should send her a card."

She knew he wouldn’t. For once, she was grateful for the things Rob wished to do but never got around to. Like replacing the squeaky brakes on his bike or sending his sister a birthday present.

Already they were in the outskirts of Austin so she turned on the radio and tuned in to their favorite station. Before them loomed the Tex-Mite bug, a large neon termite rotating high on a pole. It used to be near her apartment, the one she lived in when Rob and she began dating. But the company moved north of town, and now they only saw the bug when they drove to Dallas. As they passed it, Rob smiled at her and she leaned way over and kissed his rough cheek.

Her mind turned back to the name. There were still several months left to decide on it, but so far they couldn’t agree on what to call the baby. She would come home, excited about William and Henry, and Rob would look at her like she’d just told a joke. Then he’d share his latest idea, something bad like Fred or Stanley. They considered family names, but only came up with Victor and Wilbur.

When they turned onto the street that ran just north of their house, Jess noticed for the first time the surprising number of churches on this one stretch. They were built forty years ago when the neighborhood was new and teeming with families with faith. She wondered how they managed to stay open now, surrounded by college students and people like them who didn’t get up on Sunday morning.

Finally they reached the corner where the grocery store used to be and now they didn’t know what would move in, and then their corner with its apartment complex painted a placid blue. The Fabulux, script letters announced. They headed down the street, noting the small changes that had taken place in the two days they’d been gone: a neighbor’s newly-planted geraniums, a knocked-over trash can. She could hear their own bamboo wind chimes. They had moved into the small house as renters and then decided to buy it because the market was good. Her father had said it was a good "starter" house when he first saw it. That made her feel small, like they had already outgrown its few rooms and hadn’t noticed it.

Rob backed the van slowly up the drive so the back doors would be close to the garage door. While he got the garage unlocked, Jess headed to the bathroom. When she opened the front door, the two cats pushed past her, blinking and stretching. Then they bounded across the yard like grasshoppers. When she met Rob in the living room he was spinning his childhood light-up globe. The nearby curio cabinet had been his grandmother’s, carefully moved from Iowa years ago. Upon it stood an old mound pot in the shape of a frog that someone in his family had found before he was born. Next to it stood a small flowered vase with a piece of masking tape on the bottom and scraggly handwriting. The hand belonged to Jess’s great-grandmother and the vase had been her only wedding present. In the kitchen, Jess noticed the blue and yellow stained glass, glowing like both the sun and moon, a wedding gift from Joe and Carla from their store.

Dark clouds were rolling in, so they started unloading the van. Rob carried most of the weight, while Jess held open doors. She emptied the contents of the old dresser drawers onto the bed in a mound and he scooted the old piece into the hall. In slid the new chest, shiny oak with simple curves. Then came the crib, all of its flat parts that somehow fit together, and the plastic-covered mattress printed with pastel teddy bears. For now, they leaned it against the wall in the study. The sacks of baby things—bibs they couldn’t imagine a use for, bottles without nipples, booties someone crocheted and tied with fraying ribbons—they piled in a corner.

They were in the van when it started to rain. Jess was gathering trash in the front, while Rob cleaned up the back with a hand-vac. Suddenly water poured down like a curtain around them. When they were done, Rob locked the van’s front doors and pulled the side door shut. Now only the back was open to a sheet of rain and the garage. Though they were in their own driveway, it felt like they were cut off from their lives, unreachable. They lay down together, amazed at how much space there was in the empty van. Jess stretched her arms above her head and there was still plenty of room. She could hear the cats mewing on the front porch, ready to give up their freedom to get out of the rain. All of these things—the seventy-year-old dresser waiting to be filled, the baby clothes that hadn’t been worn in years, the crib that bore the teeth marks of babies that had grown—made her think of the puppy. When would they decide? A puppy needs a name. Without one, it could get lost forever.

Just then, Rob rolled over and kissed her, a long deep kiss that reached inside, past their baby, tiny but already fully formed. Jess wished she were sure. Was there ever a good time to completely change your life? There was one day, she remembered, when clouds and wind and a sputter of rain meant she was no longer alone. That day when they finally kissed each other to make it true, someone beat on drums. Now the rain was beating on the roof of the van, beating away the fear. Once, not very long ago, she aspired to live alone in her tidy apartment with its city view, forever. Now that seemed like a miniature life. She loved the webs of connection pulling gently across her, like the comfort of a seatbelt low across the hips. This part of her life was and wasn’t how she expected it. Now Rob was crouching over her, lifting away her clothes. She brushed her hair from her eyes and opened herself to him.
Robin Bradford is an Austin short story writer and essayist. Among the prizes she has won are a Dobie Paisano fellowship and an O. Henry Award. Her stories have recently appeared in Boston Review, Quarterly West, Glimmer Train, and austinmama.com. She teaches short story writing in the University of Texas Extension Program and works as communications director for an affordable housing organization.

When I was six months pregnant, my husband and I took a road trip to pick up furniture from a relative. Each moment of the trip unfolded with dangerous detail, like those science films in which a flower rips open in seconds. Everything seemed to point to our unknown future as parents. Of course, now that our son is five, all that anxiety and plastic-loathing seems ridiculous. But I think for many people who have lived their lives a certain way for many years, the unknowable changes parenting will bring are terrifying. I am happy to report that we do not drink from plastic!
-Robin Bradford

This story courtesy of Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers. Brain, Child, the only literary magazine dedicated to motherhood, is for women whose souls need something stronger than chicken soup. Check out more, or subscribe to the quarterly, at www.brainchildmag.com