Thursday, September 22, 2011

She Knows

This is the story I have submitted to NPR's Three-Minute Fiction contest for Round 7.  The rules are that the story must be 600 words or less and one character must arrive in town and one character must leave town.  I decided to write about Ellie's adoption day.  Hope you like it!

The woman awakens and, even before seeing the butterfly on her wall, she knows.  No one has told her.  She does not have access to the internet; no friend of a friend to keep her informed.  She knows it the way twins separated at birth know of significant events in each other’s lives.  She will not speak of it to her husband, although he shares her pain.  They had made the decision together almost immediately after the birth, exactly one year ago.  Without the money for the necessary medical procedures, it was what they had to do.  Today, however, her pain is bittersweet. 
Today is the child’s first birthday.  She doesn’t understand what is happening, but she feels its importance.  She wakes up at six o’clock, the same as every other day; eats the same hot cereal for breakfast.  Her favorite aunty bathes her and dresses her in a well-worn pink and white striped top and shorts.  But then the aunty clips two brand new kitten barrettes into the child’s short, dark hair.  The aunty is smiling with tears in her eyes.  Another gathers her pink tiger and the little book of pictures that arrived from far away two months ago.  She places them into a plastic bag along with the baby bottle.  These are the child’s only possessions.  Then the child is carried out to a waiting car.  She has only ridden in a car two other times.  The first time, the car took her to the sharp-smelling place where everyone wore masks and moved about very quickly.  She was frightened as the strange men and women poked her and put cold metal instruments against her sensitive bare skin.  The second time, the car took her back to where she lived in a room with eight other little girls her age. 
Today, the car goes on into the middle of the city.  The three aunties in the car with her keep singing and clucking in the way that makes the child happy.  When the car stops, they are all escorted through doors that swing around in a circle, across a fancy tiled floor, and into a large carpeted room where other small girls and boys are waiting with their grown-ups.  The child becomes a part of the waiting crowd - nervous, but too curious to be scared.
A man and woman arrived at the same hotel an hour earlier, after traveling thousands of miles from a distant city.  They, too, are part of a group that is waiting, equally curious and nervous.  The last fifteen minutes feel like the longest in the four years they have been waiting.  They kiss each other one last time as a childless couple before heading downstairs.  They see the child immediately from across the room.  The new mother feels the weight of love and completeness as they place her daughter in her arms while the new father remembers to snap a photo before wrapping his arms around his family.
As the plane lifts off five days later, the mother says a silent prayer of thanks to the woman who gave birth to her daughter.  The girl wonders where she is going this time; but she feels somehow safe with these two foreigners who hold her so close and give her so much attention.  The woman who remains feels hollow but hopeful.  The butterfly catches a gust of wind and flutters out through the open window; and she knows.

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