Issue 8: Stillness vs. Frenzy
A Publication of the USF MFA in Writing Program


Pas de Deux

Lisa Harper


    Two weeks later Melissa emailed:
    That guy Kory called. He’s coming to San Francisco and wants you to call him.
    He wanted to dance.

    The winter I was pregnant, Kory and I spent much of our time, as we always had, sprawled on the floor in front of the stereo searching for music, music to dance to, music to listen to, music to teach to, music for a new routine. We’d follow a few bars of Louis Jordan or Gene Krupa, Kory would walk through a few steps, pretending to partner me and counting in his head, and I’d nod or suggest a trick I really liked. Pregnancy had not slowed down my dancing at all, and we were still social dancing and teaching several nights a week, though the performing had stopped. Aside from a self-imposed ban on aerials, I could dance just as fast and just as long as I always, had, the only difference being that my partners, Kory included, had to get used each week to my expanding girth, and most of my vintage clothes no longer fit.
    We had an obsessive habit of watching old video clips of dancers, short, grainy excerpts copied from old movies and edited together into compilations to which we gave names like “SwingTime” or “Hellzapoppin + early Frankie” or “Hollywood Style + Ella Mae Morse.” Some of our clips were very rare, pirated from the UCLA film archive with a handheld camera by an enterprising and preternaturally talented swing dancer. We watched these clips like people now listen to their ipods—repeatedly, obsessively. We watched and rewound and watched again in slow motion. We stole their moves and invented new ones.
    It was then, in these moments of stillness, when the baby erupted into life with a roiling, bubbling motion. “It’s like she’s dancing,” Kory said, which was both obvious and true. Other times I felt a clear, swift kick; sometimes a long, slow roll around the entire circumference of my middle. It was both odd and comforting, having this companion to carry around, signaling to me in her own private Morse code. Although nothing quite equaled the visions of the sonogram to confirm the fact of her existence, and its thrills, the quickening was more intimate, and more a guarantee of her being. Dead things didn’t move. Things that were alive did, and she was moving, moving, moving, all the time. Kory could feel her, now, and we both could see evidence of her, not just in the bump of my belly, but in its frequent contortions. It was easy for both of us to see and feel and, so, to know, that I was no longer singular. I was two, we were three.

    As early as the seventh week of pregnancy, a fetus will move in a twitching sort of way. By nine weeks of age, the fetus can move its limbs, and as the weeks progress, it will develop muscle tone, coordination, and strength. There is a distinct order to this development: first legs, then arms, then trunk. Up until around thirty-two weeks, the fetus is uncoordinated. It moves relatively slowly with writhing or twisting or flailing or flapping motions. To me, it often felt like a frenetic, boiling cauldron in my belly. Around the thirty-third week, the movements will become more coordinated and complex. Then, fetuses seem to kick deliberately, to punch and roll in one smooth motion. To stretch with confidence as if they were conscious. To maliciously stick a heel into the mother’s bladder, or under her ribs. Some ultrasounds show babies sucking their thumbs. Increasingly, the fetus can turn her head, move her hands, control her limbs.i  If you poke her, she may poke back.
    In February, the winter darkness broke. The sky stretched blue over the Pacific, and the chill evaporated. My spirits, cramped for so many weeks by the fog and rain, lifted. I ate lunch at the beach, watching green waves and sand. As if realizing that spring had come, the baby kicked and shuddered, stretched herself wide across my middle, as if she too were taking in that broad horizon.
    By early March her dance was strange and uncontrollable. Welcome and unwelcome, I loved it and hated it, marveled and was repelled by it. Most evenings, we watched my swollen belly come alive with kicks, prods, pokes, as if she were trying to escape. The physical fact of her, marked day after day by her incessant motion—that was what made her real to me. That was what reminded me that soon enough, she would be outside my body. Uncontained and probably uncontainable. Mine. I was never quite sure which was more frightening: to see my body so miraculously distended or to know that a child was about to dance its way into my life.
    She moved on her own time. When I was most still, she was most active. At dawn, in the late afternoon dusk, just before midnight. Sudden moments of surprise. A sigh, a hiccup, a small adjustment of leg or neck. A lodging of her head against my rib, a limb beneath my hip. There were small flutterings throughout the day, like the susurrus of a flock of settling doves.

 

 

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