Looking Toward Offspring

Submitted into Contest #208 in response to: Write a story about someone living vicariously through someone else.... view prompt

2 comments

Fiction

As I sit at my computer, I await results. The cursor on my screen blinks like the numbers flitting by on the timer for my pregnancy test. Expectantly, I start to write. Who will she be? What will I name her? A lawyer, a teacher – will she want to be a mother just like me?

I begin to type. She awakens in my mind, with blue eyes, creative and confident, bolder than me. Unafraid to have a voice. She’ll never apologize out of habit. She will build a full life. Tap, tap, tap. I feel time tick by and an ache in my lower back as I type.

She is an artist, with a side hustle as a graphic designer that allows her to have an amazing apartment in the East Village that’s bigger than mine was at her age. She feels conflicted about her day job, but she can afford the space to breathe and create in this loft with lots of light and room for her canvases, thoughts, and friends. Her large windows look onto a historical cemetery. While it’s a haven of trees, there’s also a sadness to it. A reminder to live, to grow, and stretch despite the crowd of buildings around it. The trees make her think of home. The headstones remind her she’s alone.

How do you name a girl? Is she a lonely Laurel or a lost Penny? Like my list of baby names, I scroll through them. Nothing is quite right.

So, I continue to wait for her to tell me.

With a locked gate, there are no more funerals in the cemetery, but many squirrels scamper about. They climb over the stone wall that keeps the cemetery in peace, free from the city’s litter and tiny dog pellets. On days when she’s lonely and desperate to paint, but inspiration has hardened like the dollop on her palette, she puts some nuts on the fire escape. She loves feeding her tiny friends. Sometimes she sits out there and reads in the sun. Remembering the fairy tales her mother used to read to her, a modern-day Cinderella.

Is she a bold queen, a Jasmine, or an Aurora? Names like these don’t ring true for her, maybe just a baby Belle? Maybe I’ll get to read those tales to a little one. But I’ll change them, and my daughter will laugh and tackle me with a hug like a knight home from battle.

The timer goes off. I step away to check the test. Negative. Again. I throw it in the trash. I feel the tears come, a sting of failure in my eyes and gut. I take in a deep breath. Maybe next month.

Back to my desk, I go, back to my girl.

As the squirrel runs away, she grins and shuts the window, remembering what she wants to paint: A moment of joy, of love, and nature, maybe loss. She grabs her favorite paint brush, the one she got as an art student, and pulls back her chocolate brown hair. Her bright blue eyes stare at the blank canvas. Her focus and joy shine through her. Years of finger paint and messy clothes, sketch books and doodles, art classes, and a tattoo of a wren she designed when she turned 22.

This is the part she lives for, those first strokes of opportunity, before the insecurity sets in like sunset casting a dim in the room. With each stroke of her brush, she comes alive, like a dancer. Letting herself be free, be herself. Letting her imagination move her like a partner that can anticipate her every move, surprise her with a dip, a twirl, never stepping on her toes. She is growing with her craft, blossoming into everything she’s wanted to be. Her life takes shape with every stroke, stretching far beyond the page.

Yet her name still eludes me, like a secret in the garden. Is it Ivy? Sage? Or Fern? I bite into an apple, chewing on it all.

She is petite, but strong with a nervous laugh when men flirt with her, or when a potential customer asks what one of her paintings means to her. If she’s being honest, she hates dating just as much as she hates selling at art galleries. Having to explain herself or her art fills her with dread.  She doesn’t need a prince and can’t be reduced to a price. And if they don’t get her, they clearly don’t deserve her.

It reminds her of her day job, creating mood and vision boards for clients as she sells them a new look for their website, with fonts and colors that promise to build their brands into something more successful and saturated… with page views, products, and a paycheck. The clients get what they want, but she is left wanting more. She paints because she loves it, to see someone light up when they look upon her work.

So, she alleviates her angst in art museums and popcorn in the park. That’s what she needs, a partner who gets why MOMA is like going home to sit at the counter for a warm, homemade meal. Someone who enjoys the lightness of meandering through the park, just to be in the serene of it all.

Sometimes, she goes just to sit on a rock, imagining. If she sat there long enough, she’d become part of the landscape, legs coiled around, her feet rooted beneath her. Exhausted by the hustle, she reminds herself graphic design is not just a means for her apartment and the chocolate croissant she buys at the corner bakery on her way to work. It’s art, too. It’s beautiful, too.

Time in the park grounds her. The same way that playing outside as a kid kept her from fretting. She noticed the growing mountain of bills on the counter. She saw her mother eat less and work more. The bills were a steep hill for her mom to climb with two jobs, too many bad choices, and not enough time to laugh. She wanted to laugh with her again.

Was she a Prudence? No, she had a rhythm. Cadence? Stop. She’s not ready to tell. I think about the walks I used to take in that same park and the relief of coming home. Would the girl feel the same way?

After the park, she’d leave her shoes by the door and hang her jacket. Everything in its place. From her workspace to her kitchen, the lack of clutter meant her mind was clear and ready to paint again.

Someday she’d share this apartment with someone she loved. And maybe she’d be a mom. But for today she was just a young woman. The painting would sell when it was done, her graphic design business would bloom, and she’d have dinner parties with friends to celebrate.

She painted until dark. She preferred to paint in the daylight. Night was for reading novels. After she cleaned her brushes, she stepped back to look at her painting. She smiled. There was more to do, but she had begun, and that was enough.

She put the kettle on for tea. For now, she was happy to be alone. Grateful for it, even. She had time to just be herself.

I poured myself a cup of tea, too. As I opened the curtain by my desk, I sat back to look. I smiled, seeing her proudly on my screen, words outlined into someone more. There you are.

Was she Grace? Or Hope? She lit up a room… but it was more than that, she was the sun.

She was Soleil.

July 28, 2023 06:06

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2 comments

Karen McDermott
10:51 Jul 30, 2023

Lovely imaginative piece. I hope Soleil will get to see the light of day.

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Christa Fletcher
15:29 Jul 31, 2023

Thanks, Karen! I'm glad you enjoyed the short story.

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