Photo by Francesco Ungaro: https://www.pexels.com/photo/blue-green-orange-and-red-rainbow-design-decoration-673648/
Writing inspired by the SWC creative writing prompt: Write a story about the moment before a momentous occasion or a big explosion, those few seconds before all hell breaks loose.
The Dragon Inhales
by Greta Lane
Trigger warning: pregnancy loss
Two walls of the pastel obstetrician’s office were papered with babies. Fat babies, cute babies, old-man looking babies. Bald babies festooned with those ridiculous baby bows; suit-wearing babies propped up on blankets, the drool miraculously photoshopped out. Newborns impossibly wrapped in linen: little sleeping acorns posed under the gaze of their adoring parents.
Amy’s gaze swept the walls of babies, which were interspersed with rainbow-themed thank-you cards. Amy idly wondered what a “rainbow-baby” was before the thought drifted away in lieu of another. Would she become one of those parents who insisted on bizarre baby photo sessions? Or, worse, the cringe-y, belly clutching pregnancy photo shoots? No – she and Ryan would be the same as they always had been. Normal. Normal-er than these people. Who sends a “thank you” to your OB? It’s not like they were the ones who gave you the baby, or…
The thought disappeared. Amy was only ten weeks along, but she already had pregnancy brain. A bubble of joy worked its way up at that realization. She had pregnancy brain. And soon she would have indigestion and swollen ankles and a beautiful, giant belly. She was joining an exclusive, albeit massive, club; a membership she didn’t know she wanted before the invitation arrived in a pink plus sign propped on the bathroom sink.
The exam room door opened and a faded woman in pink scrubs and sparkly crocs came in.
“Hello, Mrs….” She glanced down at the chart.
“Ms.,” Amy corrected automatically and then kicked herself. If ever there was a place to embrace the “Mrs.” chapeau, it was here, in the soft confines of the obstetrician’s office.
“Ms. Levi,” the nurse smiled. “This is your first time with us, correct? But you’re… ten weeks along?”
“Yes,” Amy replied, startled by the spark of guilt. Ten weeks along was later than most women waited before their first appointment. It wasn’t on purpose. Work had gotten busy and she’d put off making the appointment. Now here she was, not done with her first trimester and already a bad mom.
“You haven’t even had a sonogram, then! That’s the best part – everyone wants to see a picture of their little one.” The nurse bustled towards the door. “Let’s get a machine in here, all right? Get ready and hop up on the table while I go find one.”
Alone again in the office, Amy felt another pang of guilt, different from the last and strong enough to drive her to her feet. She stalked the tiny office. Amy should have brought Ryan. He’d be giddy to see the first sonogram! But if her husband were there, he would probably want to go to lunch together, or shop for baby things, or talk forever to the nurses and the ladies at the front desk. It was sweet, sure, but she had already taken the morning off for this appointment and simply didn’t have time for all that talking. There would be time for that later.
Amy stopped pacing the tiny room and looked at the door. When would the nurse come back? It had already been two minutes. She wanted to see her baby, and then get back to work. Amy let her eyes wander to the wall that wasn’t covered in baby pictures. Improbably, it was castle themed, with an imposing gray tower making up one half of the wall and a red cartoon dragon winding about the doorway on the other end of the wall. There was no fire coming out of the dragon’s snout, but its eyes were narrowed into a squint, its nose raised. The words came into Amy’s mind unbidden – “the dragon inhaled.” Was that a quote from a book? From a movie?
Amy shivered. The inhale was the moment before – the moment before fire rained down; before villages were torched and lives upended. “And the dragon inhaled.” This dragon even had one eyebrow raised, as in expectation. Eyebrows? Did dragons even have eyebrows? Again, the thought disappeared as Amy’s brain muddled from dragons to eyebrows to her next waxing appointment to the dentist appointment she needed to make, to …. And on it went, until the nurse came back in. Amy glanced at her watch – it had only been five minutes.
“Oh!” exclaimed the nurse, when she’d knocked perfunctorily and then come in, wheeling a sleek white machine. “You need to get ready for the sonogram.”
“Sure,” Amy hopped on the table and pulled up her overpriced blouse to expose her smooth belly. No problem – plenty of room for the nurse to squirt that weird jelly stuff on her belly and rub the sonogram handle in it.
The nurse smiled and tapped the side of the machine, where a long wand was holstered, looking for all the world like an elongated trailer hitch.
“Sweetie, you’re not very far along. We can’t see anything through your stomach. We need to use this.” Amy stifled a recoil. “Please take off your pants and underwear and get on the table.”
The romance was rapidly fading. Ten weeks along, and already things were being inserted in her nether regions. Amy sighed. If her friends’ tales were to be believed, she might as well get used to it.
After the door clicked closed behind the nurse, Amy removed her bottom layers and gingerly hopped on the paper covered table, unfolding another paper to drape over her knees. Amy’s gaze wandered up to the wall again, to the dragon who lurked around the doorway. The beast’s eyes were squeezed tight, snout flared. “And the dragon inhaled.” Then what, Amy wondered. What happened after the dragon inhaled?
The nurse returned to the little room, flicking the machine to life and adjusting dials while she explained the sonogram procedure. Amy was itchy with impatience and suddenly uneasy. The dragon, the babies, the missed morning of work – she wanted to shout at the nurse to get on with it. It couldn’t be that complicated. They put the wand inside and wiggled it around and if Amy could brave the discomfort, she was allowed to see pictures of her baby.
“Lean back and relax, please.”
Amy leaned back. The position offered ample view of the baby-covered wall and the odd pictures of linen-wrapped baby bundles. They were even stranger than the “chef-hat wearing baby in a soup pot” pictures, which Amy considered silly, if oddly cannibalistic.
“Open your legs, please.”
Amy’s knees fell apart by a scant foot. The paper tent in front of her grew until it covered her view of the nurse.
“A little more, please. And try to relax.”
She eeked her legs open a little more. One section of the wall looming over her paper-covered knees had been painted with a rainbow, a cloud of baby pictures anchoring each end. Amy stifled a contemptuous sniff. Rainbows weren’t her thing. Fake hair bows glued atop bald baby heads weren’t her thing. Weirdly posed, linen-wrapped photos weren’t her thing. But babies? Babies were starting to become her thing. The kernel of joy that started in her belly surprised her, bubbling up to explode in her chest. It almost squashed the unkind thoughts about two of the baby pictures taped side by side on the rainbow end nearest her. They were spectacularly ugly babies – siblings, by the looks of it. Her baby wouldn’t look like that. He would be perfect.
“There’s a lot of rainbows in here,” Amy commented, to take her mind off the probing wand. “Is that the theme of the practice? I saw some in the hallway, too.”
“Mmm,” the nurse was distracted, turning the wand this way and that. She pulled it out and added some more jelly, then reinserted. “Rainbows are for rainbow babies – the babies born after loss.” The nurse bit off the last word, the double-s shortened and clipped. She abruptly pulled out the wand and patted Amy’s knee. “I’ll just go get the doctor in here to read the results.”
“Is everything okay?” Amy asked, “Can I see the pictures?”
“It’s procedure – the doctor will read the images for you.”
Amy leaned back on the table with a crinkle. Just procedure.
The doctor came in a moment later, closing the door firmly behind her. Amy peeked around her paper covered knees to see the dragon framing the doorway above the doctor’s wrinkled face, its pursed dragon mouth barely restrained. It was supposed to be whistling, Amy realized; there were brightly colored music notes coming out of its snout. The jaunty notes did nothing to dispel the overall impression of menace.
“You can sit up, Ms. Levit,” the doctor said, smiling kindly. Too kindly? Why wasn’t she sticking the wand back up Amy’s cooch? It took Amy’s ears several sentences to catch up.
“…. Lack of development we’d expect to see at ten weeks.” The doctor was pointing to the grainy green screen, her gray hair bobbing as she gestured.
Amy blinked. What was the doctor saying? It was like listening to Charlie Brown’s teacher.
“… does not appear viable.”
Amy leaned back in the middle of the doctor’s explanation, propping up her knees to block out the doctor’s kindly face and chapped lips. The butterfly stitched onto the pocket of her lab coat. Amy’s eyes raised to the door again, and the dragon’s snout taunted her, that inhale disguised as innocent whistling, when really, the dragon’s head was rearing back, sucking in air before the big fireball that would show those rainbows and ugly newborns and fake baby chefs in soup pots what was up.
“Ms. Levit,” the doctor exhaled, not meanly, but with an impatience that reminded Amy of the other patients in the honeycomb of exam rooms. All the other ladies waiting – the smug ones, like Amy, who didn’t understand that the grainy green screen giveth and taketh away; that a rude wand could explain what a rainbow baby was, far better than Amy wanted to know. She exhaled, too, breathing out all the secret joy, the desire for fake bows, and the hope she’d been harboring. The doctor’s voice pushed through her paper knees.
“Ms. Levit, do you have any questions?”
Amy shook her head, no, she didn’t have any questions. There was nothing she could ask that could change what happened after the dragon’s inhale: the fire that took away next month’s morning sickness and weight gain and the pink plus sign Amy didn’t realize she’d already grown to love. Nothing that would change the fact that she’d come into the office with a baby and was leaving bereft.
Sunday Writers' Club member
"Greta Lane is an American writer who has spent three years enjoying the finer things of Viennese life: amazing coffee, wine, hiking; and Vienna's Sunday Writers Club community."
Photo by Simon Berger: https://www.pexels.com/photo/purple-flowers-in-bloom-1353126/