WE WERE ALL FISH ONCE
Almost from the start we've been calling him Ed. Ever since we found out he was coming. Even before we knew he was a he, Ed was the name.
Diana teaches math at the junior high school so she has most of the summer off. The school year ended when she was about four months pregnant so she's bigger now that we're into August. It's our first kid and saying we're excited doesn't cover it. We tried for some time before Ed proved to be the fighter he is. We can now feel and see him kicking and punching and flipping around inside Diana.
Diana was on the couch with a TV tray set up in front of her in front of the TV. The news was on as I finished up a big batch of red beans and rice. You've got to use andouille sausage and add celery in with the onion and garlic. Don't skimp on the Old Bay, and it's best served with Saltines and a bottle of hot sauce.
After dinner and the dishes were done we were watching CHiPs and talking about what Ed was going to look like. What color eyes would he have? Brown like hers or hazel like mine? Could he have blues eyes? We didn't know. Would he be born bald like I was or with a tuft of black hair like Diana was? Whose nose would he have?
I said to Diana that maybe we should take a look and see how he's coming along. You know, answer some questions. How would we do it, she asked. I looked around the living room and then pointed to the fish tank. We could use that, I said. You think so, she asked. Sure, I said, here. I got up off the couch and filled a big mixing bowl from the kitchen full of water from the sink. I got the netted utensil for the tank and scooped out our two big fat goldfish and plopped them into the bowl. I set the bowl on the kitchen counter. The fish were fine. I turned off the TV and set the TV tray off to the side. I told Diana to pull down her underwear from under her skirt and put her feet up on the coffee table with her legs apart. I crawled up under and in between Diana's legs and looked up at her vagina. You can do this, she said. I put my hands together in prayer fashion and pushed my fingers and thumbs up into Diana.
Ed was still small at six months and I felt I had him all in my hands all at once. But I knew it was more tricky. He was slippery and his head was way bigger than everything else. Diana groaned with discomfort. I pulled toward myself with both hands on what I thought was his butt. My fingertips cradled the whole lump and everything came forward. Out slid Ed. Diana didn't scream, but made more of a shocked gulp noise. I immediately tossed Ed into the fish tank. I was afraid he might try to breathe air. Not yet, son.
I panicked slightly when Diana sprang up and said, Do you have the cord? I said, No, do you? She said, It's here, I see it on the floor but don't let it get dirty. I grabbed a clean towel and rested the slim umbilical cord on the floor. I never imagined it would be so long. Diana collapsed back with a sigh of exhaustion. She was sweating. I pushed aside her bangs and blew on her forehead and neck. Her heartbeat slowed to normal and I sat next to her on the couch. We hugged and then looked together at the tank. Ed was curled up with his eyes closed. It was too early to see what color they would be. There wasn't much for hair anywhere but I could tell he was going to have Diana's nose. His little fingers were balled into fists and his tiny toes were so precious. We could see his first toenails already. He would roll sometimes in the tank. I imagined an alligator in a bathtub. Ed was graceful though, each movement calculated, and peaceful. That's my boy, I thought. No wonder it's called the fetal position. Ed was surely tucked into himself.
Diana and I must've sat there for an hour admiring Ed with all our love. So proud of what we'd done. We knew we had a long way to go but he was so beautiful already. Once the magic dimmed I said to Diana, How do we get him back in? Diana said, It ought to be easy, just line his feet up then push him in from his shoulders; he should slide right in. What if he doesn't want to go back in, I asked; I mean, we were all fish once. He'll go right back, Diana said, he's got plenty of time. I guess you're right, I said, as I tried to visualize thrusting my boy back into his mom's pussy by his brittle shoulders and collarbones. Maybe we should look at him a little more, Diana said. I was relieved she'd bought me more time before having to send Ed back, but truly too I knew that this was something we'd always remember. I looked to see that the cord was still connected and cleanly resting on the towel. I put my arm around Diana and let out a sigh. Then I suddenly remembered the fish.
Robert Overbey is a writer of mostly short fiction. His stories have appeared in Alexandria Quarterly, Sakura Review, and Paris Lit Up. His debut collection, A Life Without Seasons and Other Stories, was published by AQ Press in 2016. He received a BFA in writing from Goddard College. He lives in New York City.