Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Summer 2023    poetry    all issues


Joel Filipe

B. Rosenberg
My Red Hot Cape Cod Summer

John Mort
Heart and Soul

Zoe Leonard
No Way Out But Down

Dustin Stamper
The Failure

Dan Winterson
Sit and Watch

Evan Manning
You, Me, Tomorrow and the Day Before

Brian Barrientez II

Vincent J. Masterson
Directions to the Shellback

Brandon Forinash
The Incredible Expanding Man

Corinne Tai
Eight Years

Pia Baur
Make Way for Ducklings

Craig Vander Hart
September Money

Alex Barr
Lentil Loaf and Spinach Salad

Writer's Site

Pia Baur

Make Way for Ducklings

We found Clara nesting in one of the flower boxes on our rooftop balcony, five floors up from the foundation of the house.

Lilah spotted her first and immediately bubbled with everything she had ever learned about ducks in preschool.

“In big cities, sometimes it happens to ducks,” she said knowingly, “they don’t think ahead enough and they nest in places they think are safe but are too high off the ground.”

Just one of the many perils of urbanization. We are part of the problem, I thought. I called San Francisco Public Works and was directed to the Office of Animal Care and Control. I put the employee on speakerphone and let the children explain the situation to her. I took careful notes as she advised us on what to do and Jonah followed suit. Lilah peered over our writing, as if supervising to ensure our thoroughness, even though she couldn’t actually read the notes.

Lilah and Jonah decided to call the duck Clara, and we thought of her as our own little Mrs. Mallard.

Clara had already laid her eggs so there was no hope of encouraging her to move. We would have to figure out how to help her. Allow the mother duck to acclimate. Keep your distance from her nest, but allow her to glimpse you once or twice a day. Do not put food out for her. Don’t get too close, for the next few weeks, just let her familiarize herself with your faces and voices.

At first, we only poked our heads out at bath time in the evening and during our wakeup routine in the mornings. The kids stood back in the far corner of the balcony, looked at Clara and waved. But by week two, we were eating our breakfast out on the roof. It was a nice spot to have our cereal and even though the mornings were fresh and foggy, the kids were excited to see Clara.

When Sean and I bought the house, interacting with wildlife like this hadn’t occurred to me. It wasn’t the kind of thing people thought of when living in the City. Of course there was wildlife in San Francisco; there were rabbit holes all across town, Golden Gate Park was the habitat of many other species, ducks included, and coyotes roamed the Presidio golf course at night.

The house Sean originally wanted was right by the Presidio and around the corner from the house where they filmed Mrs. Doubtfire, because even though it wasn’t Sea Cliff, it was the best block in Pacific Heights. I told him that the notion we needed a house that was nearly 6,000 sq. ft. was ridiculous, even more so because it had almost twice as many bathrooms as we had members in our family. Jonah was five then and Lilah was three.

“I guess we should have had more children before my vasectomy.” He laughed and clicked out of the listing in the browser window.

I’d argued, “The property taxes are more than what my annual salary used to be.”

“You worked a shitty job in non-profit,” he’d said. “But you won’t ever have to go back to work again anyway.”

I reminded him that I’d loved my job as a corrections social worker and he looked at me sheepishly until I agreed to tour it.

Four floors of living space, plus the lower garage and garden level, and a huge balcony on the roof with views of the Bay. It was those views that convinced me in the end. From there I could also see my neighbors’ roofs and more than one miniature putting green. That annoyed me, but being able to see the Pacific was captivating, like an invitation to feel infinite. Those ocean views would keep me happy, I thought. Something to aspire to, something that would prevent me from feeling trapped. I could see Alcatraz in the distance.

When Sean looked at me pleadingly, I mused, only half-serious, “I guess that means my mother could finally move in with us.”

He grinned then. “Sure. I think it’d be great for your mom to get out of Koreatown. And she could help watch the kids. Lessen your load. And maybe my parents could move in too. One big happy family.”

He was poking fun at the disastrous first meeting between his parents and my mom.

It had been our first Thanksgiving engaged, and I already sensed disaster when I heard the way my future mother-in-law introduced herself to my mom. “I am Jeanne Clough, I am the mother of Sean. Sean is my son.” She spoke with such exaggerated pronunciation that I winced, but before I could step in tactfully, my mother returned a polite greeting as if she hadn’t noticed. Jeanne replied by saying, “Your English is so good!”

Sean actually put his face into his hand, although I wasn’t sure if he was laughing or grimacing. He was used to Jeanne’s antics, but my mother hadn’t known much about my in-laws before meeting them.

She smiled. “I was born in L.A., Jeanne.”

“But Ellie said you moved to study at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music—”

Jeanne looked to me, except she had an accusatory expression as if I had purposefully left out information.

“I could use a refill,” Mom said to no one in particular.

“I have you covered, Mom,” Sean said, and held up another bottle of red. Sean was a fan of my mom’s. He called her Mom, and called his own mother Jeanne.

Of course neither of our mothers moved in with us, but I did set up one of the bedrooms for my mom and she was one of the first to visit us after the move.

“This is your dream house, isn’t it, Ellie?” she said. It was meant rhetorically, she believed it was. And I wanted to believe it too. Believe that I was living out my dreams, in the house of my dreams.

I’d been in and out of a lot of different mansions during my childhood, when I was too young to be home alone, and Mom brought me with her to work. She gave piano lessons to the children of the Wealthy. I was allowed to stick around as long as I was quiet. Most employers were sympathetic towards Mom when they found out she was a single mother.

Some took a liking to me. They gave me fancy organic freshly prepared snacks from their kitchens, and sometimes if my mother’s students had younger siblings close to my age, I was even allowed to play with their much nicer toys. But I always knew that what was reality for my mother’s students, was, for me, a fleeting fantasy.

So when Sean and I toured the house and I wandered through the rooms, I realized I’d broken through that barrier that had separated the two worlds I’d known. My children were now those children with nicer toys, who could afford private piano teachers.

I couldn’t explain it, but buying the house felt like some kind of betrayal of my childhood self. For Sean, it seemed to be something like a victory—his risky start-up adventures had paid off and he’d achieved the coveted Bay Area Dream of a start-up that actually took off. We hadn’t just broken deep into the middle class, we’d sprinted our way into an income tax bracket that neither of us had ever touched before. Our children would be much better off than either of us had ever been.

A few months before we enrolled Lilah in kindergarten, I found out I was pregnant for a third time.

Sean scratched his forehead.

“Would you still have married me if you’d known I’m this fertile?”

I laughed and kissed him.

Whether or not to carry the pregnancy to term wasn’t a long debate for us. We were more than financially stable, I was healthy, we both loved children, and if we needed help, we could afford it. Still. I realized that my half-baked hopes of going back to work would be shelved again for at least another year-and-a-half. I’d been unlucky in my job hunt when I’d decided to work again once Lilah was in daycare, and by the time our third would be of preschool age, I’d have additional years out of the workforce stacked against me.

We told the kids the day after I had my Ob/Gyn appointment confirming my pregnancy. I was nine weeks along. I showed them the ultrasound once we knew it would be a boy.

“It’s a brother sandwich!” Lilah said.

“No, you’re in the middle, so it’s a sister-sandwich!” Jonah said.

I let them help me with names.

“It’s got to have a silent ‘h’!” Jonah said during a brainstorming session. When she was first born, Sean had been against “Lilah” because it was yet another name with a silent letter, and rooted hard for “Lily,” which I’d vetoed because I went by Ellie and the two names sounded too similar.

We settled on Micah near the end. It felt like a token that defined our family. The silent h at the end.

During my second year at UC Berkeley, I took an astronomy class to fulfill my General Education Requirement credits for Science. It was a Physics class intended for non-majors, so there was just enough math to meet the requirements. There was an optional lab portion for the class that I decided to sign up for after the first lecture.

Still early in the semester, I noticed a new student in the relatively small lab. He sat a few rows in front of me, but twice during class, I caught him turning around, so subtly that he might have just been trying to get at an impossible itch on his back, but his eyes darted furtively towards me. After class, when I unlocked my bicycle, I saw him only a few feet away, also unlocking his bike.

“What do you think of the class?” He asked me.

“I’m taking it for a science G.E. I’m an English major. But I’ve always liked astronomy and it seems fun so far. Are you taking it as a GE too?”

“I’m a computer science major, I don’t actually need the credits, but all students who enroll in an astronomy class get to jump ahead on the sign-up list to use the Keck Observatory.”

The prof had mentioned the observatory in that very lecture. Twin telescopes on Mauna Kea in Hawaii owned by the University of California.

“So you already signed up for a time slot to use them?”

“I did it as soon as I enrolled in this class. The waitlist’s about six months long. I’m gonna go during spring break.”

“You’re gonna go all the way to Hawaii?”

“Sure. Do you want to come with?”

“Is this a roundabout way to ask me to have coffee with you?”

“I guess what I’m actually doing is asking you to coffee with me in Hawaii.”

I laughed, but I couldn’t look away. “Six months is a long wait.”

“I can think of lots of fun things to do to kill time til then.”

I laughed again, then wondered if I should give him my number or if he was about to ask for mine.

“I’m Sean Clough.”

“Elizabeth.” I hesitated. “My friends call me Ellie.”

He handed me a slip of paper from his back pocket that had a phone number scribbled on it. “You can text me, but I’m also not afraid of talking on the phone, the way so many people in our generation are.”

That week, I asked for more shifts at the Law Bookstore. I took his comment as a joke, but I thought of how great it would be if I did actually travel during spring break. I told myself that regardless of whether I ultimately went on the proposed trip, I should make it a point to travel anyway.

“That was really bold of you,” I told him later.

“I had that piece of paper in my pocket since the first class when I saw you. I just had a feeling.”

“What feeling?”

“That you were the right person. That you were smart enough to call me out and challenge me, but also generous enough to give me a chance.”

He could insert flattery in such a way that it never felt overdone, even if it was sentimental. A skill I knew I’d never have.

But later I thought of how he had somehow folded me into his life, starting with that moment. He’d been the one to sign up to use the observatory. I had come along on his trip. It’d been his plan and I was his satellite.

Sean tried to join us for breakfast on the roof as often as he could. He encouraged Jonah to read out the most interesting portions from the books about mallard ducks that he’d checked out from the library (I’d vetoed Sean’s idea that he task his executive assistant with buying books about duck behavior). Every now and then Lilah would interject.

“Why do ducks lay eggs but humans don’t?”

“We do have eggs in a way,” I said. “They’re called ova. And in a way, I did hatch you, except I hatched you inside my body, and then you came out of me, the way Clara laid her eggs. Humans do things kind of in reverse order from ducks.”

“Is there a duckling in every egg? Are there ducklings in the eggs we buy at the store?” Lilah asked.

“We buy chicken eggs,” Jonah said and rolled his eyes.

“Where’s the daddy duck? Isn’t he supposed to help?” Lilah asked.

I looked at Sean, but he was staring into his coffee cup.

“Maybe he comes when we’re not looking?” I said.

Jonah read from his book, “Male mallard ducks are called ‘drakes.’ They secrete oils that help their outer feathers be waterproof, but twice a year, they molt. Molting is when they shed their flight feathers. When they molt, they are grounded for several weeks until their feathers grow back.”

“So maybe the daddy molted and he can’t fly up to our roof right now?”

“The drake doesn’t abandon his ducklings or his mate. It’s just that his role in the mating habits of ducks is over. He molts, then joins another flock and the female incubates the eggs and raises the ducklings. That’s just how ducks are.”

“Is that from your book?” Sean asked, and Jonah nodded.

Lilah was so bent on dispelling the mystery of whether Mr. Mallard visited when we weren’t there that she decided she wanted to spend all weekend on the roof watching the nest to see if Clara’s mate would come.

“Daddy, will you stay up here with me?”

“Sure, Lils,” he said.

Since I was pregnant, he was trying to make extra effort to be around me and the children on weekends. It wasn’t as if he would be able to go on paternity leave. When you have a thousand people looking to you for direction, and there’s literally no one who signs your time off requests, only a board of trustees who talk about the value of their shares, employment takes on a different meaning than bringing home paychecks.

We laid down a tarp, got out the camping things, and set everything up to sleep outside on the balcony. Once the children were asleep in the sleeping bags, I rolled over onto my side to face Sean. “Do you ever think you’ll just cash out and retire early? A lot of people just sell off their shares and go and work on hobbies and philanthropy instead.”

“I get that this unplanned pregnancy is a lot to handle, but me quitting now would make zero sense. We’re in a position to give our children so much more.”

“Children don’t need money. I didn’t grow up with money. Children need their mother. And their father. They need you to be present.”

“It’s not like I can hand in a resignation to drop everything and tell someone else to finish what I started. I have to see this through.”

I didn’t know what to say to that.

“What if your mother came and stayed for a while when the baby’s born?”

“She can’t take off from her job either. She’s in the middle of a semester.”

“Let’s just try to enjoy tonight with the kids. We’re all present now. Let’s just be here.”

“Quack.” I tried to mimic the throaty sounds Clara made sometimes.

Shortly after Spring Break, after we got back from Hawaii, as summer approached, Sean and I decided we would introduce each other to our respective parental units.

Sean was as calm and confident as always. “The good thing about my parents is you won’t even have to try. I don’t care if they like you or not. Jeanne will make a face when you tell her you’re an English major and then she’ll probably try to quiz you about literature and attempt to show off that she knows some things too.”

“What about your dad?”

“He’ll just nod his head at everything. He’ll make bad jokes. Like how you’re too good-looking for me.”

“So if I don’t have to try, how should I act? I was raised the Korean way—you know, be so polite it makes everyone feel uncomfortable.”

He laughed when I said that. “Why don’t you try being rude for a change of pace? Just act out any rude inclinations you’ve ever had in your life that you repressed as a kid.”

“What? Like chew with my mouth open? Bite my cuticles? Smoke a joint at the table while everyone is eating?”

Neither of us had cars at that point, so we just took public trans. First BART across the Bay Bridge down to Daly City, and from there, CalTrain down to Palo Alto, where one of his parents would pick us up. All in all, it went well. Sean’s parents insisted we do some tourist-y things in the Peninsula and South Bay, taking us to the Winchester Mystery House. And then Jeanne dragged us to the Tech Museum in San Jose, despite the fact that it was for children. According to her, I was stuck in the Humanities, so it was important for me to round out my education and I could compensate by doing these types of things.

When we got back to Berkeley and I threw my duffel on Sean’s bed, I started laughing. “How did someone like you manage to grow from those two personalities?”

We laughed so hard that my abs hurt afterwards.

Then, when I suggested we go down to Los Angeles to meet my mom for Independence Day, he decided it was time to get a car.

“What? You or me get a car?”

“Pool our money?”

“But I have no idea what your driving record is like!”

“You don’t wanna go in on this with me until you know?”

I hesitated. “Then let’s get something both of us could afford on our own so we can buy the other out in case one of us wants to keep it later.”

I decided to take charge of the car search. On Craigslist I found a listing for an old Volkswagen Rabbit. Turns out it had been a commuter car for a teacher living in San Jose. It only had 40,000 miles on it and he was selling it for two grand.

“It’s stick,” Sean pointed out.

“Yeah, I can read.”

“So you know manual?”

“No, but I feel like I could probably learn by doing, right?”

“Oh god.”

We picked up the Rabbit and a week later we were on 101 South heading to LA. At the time, my mom was living in Glendale in a condo she had bought with my stepfather.

Even through the facade of politeness she usually had when meeting my friends, I could tell she liked him. By the end of our four-day stay, he was calling her “Mom” or even “Uhm-ma” and she made special dishes that even I rarely got to eat when I was home.

Though she’d explained that my stepfather had passed away from cancer years before, I kept expecting Sean to ask about my real father, but he didn’t. Even up to that point, I hadn’t spoken about him. The extent of it had been me declaring he wasn’t a part of the picture, that my mother had raised me on her own.

One morning when Jonah, Lilah, and I were watching the sunset and saying goodnight to Clara, we heard a faint peeping sound coming from her nest.

“Is it time?” Lilah was so eager, she started jumping up and down.

“Stop, you’ll scare Clara,” Jonah said and nudged her. Then he explained, citing his book again, “It happens in three stages: pipping, zipping, then hatching, where the duckling actually breaks the shell open. It’s gonna take a day or two, though.”

No doubt, Clara’s ducklings were close to hatching and we were prepared. We had two cardboard boxes, both carefully lined so they were soft. One for Clara, one for her ducklings.

The employee from the Animal Care and Control office had cautioned us that the time immediately after the ducklings hatched would be tricky. We would have to separate Clara from her ducklings, but at the right time. They needed to imprint on her and she would wait for all of them to hatch completely. Within twelve hours of hatching, they would be able to walk and swim, and Clara would take them to water where they could feed.

Hatching would take a while. What we were observing was only pipping.

“They’re starting to breathe on their own now,” Jonah said. “They’re using their lungs and detaching from the membranes inside the egg and over the next twelve hours, they’ll absorb the nutrients in the yolk.”

“What about our egg? What’s it doing now?” Lilah asked and poked my belly lightly. She had started calling the baby “our egg,” and now we all said it.

When Sean called to check in while traveling on business, he’d say, “How’s our egg?”

“All of our eggs, hatched and non-hatched-yet are good. They’re eating like cruise ship passengers during the all-day-breakfast buffet.”

“You’re less nauseous now?”

“I’ve been really spoiled by the chef you hired. My puke is more nutritious than a salad from Pluto’s.”

“I’ll be back soon. Hopefully in time for the birth,” he said. He promised he’d be home as soon as I reported the first contraction. I wasn’t due for another month, so I wasn’t anticipating the risk of him being absent, though I wished he was there now. Clara’s ducklings were hatching.

We checked on Clara continuously that day, but she was agitated. We were told not to take her or her ducklings down to water until they had all absorbed their yolk sacs, so there was a lot of waiting.

Jonah asked me if it was this way with humans too, which inevitably made me laugh. Labor consists primarily of waiting. “It’s more waiting than pushing,” I said. With him, I explained to Jonah, I’d worked up until the very last moment before going on maternity leave. I felt the very first contractions early on a Sunday morning and finally delivered him in the middle of the night that Tuesday. I’d been told that the contractions would be lighter at first and spaced far apart, but would move closer together and become more intense. I could monitor them and once they were three to four minutes apart I should come to the hospital to be admitted.

Up until then, Sean had been keeping a rigorous schedule, hustling to meet with investors and developers, but he was so eager to be there for our first baby’s birth that he put everything on hold. Like me, he had been surprised by how much of labor involved simply waiting until it was time to push and deliver the baby, but he stayed by my side with a stopwatch. My Ob/Gyn had given me a few tips, one of which included lounging in the bathtub. Sean filled it with water for me. It felt more comfortable because it made me feel lighter, and then there was the thought that I was floating in liquid, just as my baby was floating in his embryonic sack. Sean sat there by the bathtub as if I was a patient in a bed. He had a notepad and his stopwatch to track my contractions and even pulled a book off our shelves and read to me when I asked him for a distraction.

He read Moby Dick. “Do books about water help or hurt?” He asked, making me laugh.

The next twenty-four hours were fuzzy for me, the only way I was reminded of them was through a photo my mother took at the hospital. Sean and I are beaming; I still don’t know whether it was the hospital lighting, skillful retouching on my mother’s part, or the after effects of childbirth, but we’re practically glowing, looking at Jonah lying on top of my chest.

Sean went to the shop and asked for a reprint so he could keep one in his office.

But with Lilah I went into labor two weeks early and Sean was on the East Coast at a meeting with his partners. We tried to face-time so that he could see the baby, but the Wi-Fi connection at the hospital was too weak.

“This is why I do the work I do,” he’d said lightly. “For the sake of better connectivity.”

“So that you can use the internet to see your newborn daughter, rather than having to be present during her birth?”

“That’s not fair, Ellie. I was there for Jonah, from the very first contraction to the placenta.”

“I know,” I said.

But what I was thinking was, Why do you expect extra credit for being there just because you had the logistical choice not to be there? What makes you think that parenting exists in the form of transferrable credits? But I didn’t say those things.

Clara stood in her nest, calmly looking around at her young. Even during her time in our flower box we’d never been able to get close enough to Clara to count her eggs, but now as she finally moved off her eggs so they could commence pipping and zipping, there seemed to be seven.

We decided to let Clara and her ducklings out in the marshes at Crissy Field, about a mile from our house. I’d already gotten the baby carriage out of storage in preparation, so I told the children we’d just shuttle Clara and her ducks over to the marsh using the bassinet. I thought about driving our car over, but loading it, driving it over, and attempting to find parking, then carrying them to the marsh, while pregnant and with two children in tow, I thought it was best just to use the baby carriage.

Clara was surprisingly cooperative. I had expected her to panic when we separated her from the ducklings, but she hadn’t even made an effort to fly off; perhaps she was too exhausted. I remembered how I’d felt during the entirety of my two pregnancies and deliveries. The ducklings were delicate, still wet, finally fully separated from the membranes of their eggs. We put them in a separate box, where they peeped the entire time.

It was a Sunday morning and Crissy Field and its adjoining beach were alive with activity. People playing frisbee, flying kites, walking their dogs, digging in the sand, jogging on the path parallel to the beach. Skies were unusually clear, as the cloud cover that so often constricted the view out to the ocean was gone. We walked out to the marsh along the closest foot path. There were ducks here and there and everywhere.

“Where should we let her out?” Lilah asked. “What did your book say?”

“A little further away from other ducks, so that the mom duck can check on all her ducklings safely. Not directly on the water in case they can’t swim quite yet, and so they can adjust to being outside the nest.”

So I lifted the box with the ducklings, still peeping through the air holes, and Jonah carefully took Clara inside hers. We let the ducklings out first, flattening the cardboard so they get out without having to climb out of the box. Then we let Clara out, who waddled out quickly, a few feet away from us, then turned around as her ducklings teetered after her and to the water.

Unusual for her, Lilah remained completely still and quiet as we watched Clara and her ducklings move further and further away. They followed her into the water, leaving tiny ripples behind them. Both Lilah and Jonah reached for my hands, which surprised me, since they often insisted they didn’t need to hold my hand anymore, but I took each hand in one of mine. We stood like that for a while, until they were starting to drift out of sight.

We went back to the footpath, to the now-empty baby carriage and began to walk back.

Suddenly, I felt it. A wetness between my legs. No contractions, but my water had broken. I was absolutely sure I was not peeing myself. I’d done it once before while pregnant with Jonah, and I knew it was not the same. I was thirty-five weeks. Nearly full-term, but I was still weeks away from my due date. Not wanting to worry Jonah and Lilah, I waited until we were home and they were engrossed in their toys to call my Ob/Gyn. With great reluctance, I called the emergency nanny/babysitter that one of Sean’s assistants had found and vetted for us. She’d come a few times before, for “date nights” that Sean had taken me on, which were really just company events that required spousal support.

Once the nanny was there and I explained to the kids that I had to go to the doctor’s office, but it was nothing to worry about, I got into the Rabbit and drove myself. Keeping the Rabbit was something that Sean and I at least hadn’t argued about. He’d made a half-hearted suggestion that I upgrade, even though I think he already knew I would never trade it in, but nodded his head fervently when I pointed out that it would be a great first car for one of the kids when they learned to drive.

It was only then, sitting in the driver’s seat of the Rabbit, that panic reached me. I’d heard horror stories. Like a friend of Sean’s sister-in-law whose amniotic sac had burst and in a freak accident, injured the baby, who bled out and ended up being a stillbirth. I put my hand on my belly, trying to feel for movement. As I drove, I kept taking my hand off the shifter whenever I could and checking my belly.

I went to the hospital where my ObGyn and I had agreed I would give birth, a different one than where I’d delivered Jonah and Lilah, but at thirty-seven, I was considered a geriatric mother, so all possible precautions, like going to the hospital with the best NICU, were followed. They diagnosed me with PPROM, which I thought was a hilarious acronym—Pre-term Premature Rupture of Membranes.

I wondered if my body, having watched Clara, had decided in a moment of fealty, to give birth early. But I still wasn’t experiencing any contractions, it was too early for them. It was too early for the baby, but at eight months, he had a great shot, and rather than risk infection, they would give me an emergency cesarean.

I was able to call Mom and Sean. Mom booked a flight right away. Sean didn’t pick up. His executive assistant texted me to say that she had gotten him a flight in two days’ time, but he would call me as soon as he could. Then I was wheeled into the operating room.

Micah was the smallest of my three children, five pounds even. Attached to wires and instruments, the neonatal nurses carefully lifted him out of his little crib and put him directly on my chest. He was healthy. He needed some help nursing, but he ate. He cried. He slept.

I thought back on how hard it was the first time, with Jonah, when I was afraid that the slightest thing I did could hurt him, compared to the relief and self-assuredness I’d felt with Lilah; and then there was the feeling I had now, which was neither.

With Jonah, I’d been terrified. I’d filled notebooks documenting the time of his feedings, the hours he slept, when he woke up, when I changed him, how long he took to fall asleep, how much time he spent on his tummy, and more. With Lilah I’d amassed confidence that my mothering instincts were correct.

And yet, this third time, I was uncertain. What did a third child mean for me, as a mother? Jonah had been planned, Lilah had been planned. Then Sean had gotten a vasectomy, but five years later I’d gotten pregnant again despite it.

Tomorrow, my mother would come and bring the children to visit me and Micah, and a few days after that, Sean would come and pick me up and drive us back to our mansion in Pac Heights, to my dream house where I would continue living my authentic life.

There, I would be able to sit on the roof of our house, next to the flower box once inhabited by Clara and look over at the putting greens of our neighbors and the endless ocean. I would sit up there and eat a delicious nutritious breakfast cooked in our fabulous kitchen by some gourmet chef, while another person I paid sat in the new nursery that I would pay a decorator to furnish tastefully and appropriately to look after my newborn child.

Eventually, either on a morning soon after I got back home, still wearing hospital underpants to soak up the lochia, or years later, when all of my children were out of the house, I would look out and past the flower box and wonder to myself if Clara had been happy sitting in her nest, incubating, or if she’d longed to stretch her wings and fly across the city to some other marsh and laugh at the molted drakes who were grounded and couldn’t fly.

Pia Jee-Hae Baur is a writer born to German and Korean parents and raised in the United States. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Montana in Missoula. She lives and works in the Pacific Northwest.

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