“Johnny, my water just broke!”
Laski rose through a sea of dreams, trying to find the surface. The sea was dark, and iridescent creatures came toward him, one of them suddenly exploding into brilliance. Laski woke, sitting up in bed. Diane had her hand on the night lamp and was staring down at a water stain spreading on the sheets.
“That’s it,” he said. “Get ready.” The first wave of shock was already over him, speeding his pulse, turning his skin cold, making him shiver.
“I’d better put a napkin on,” she said. “I’m getting everything all wet.”
He took her arm and helped her to the stairs. She too had begun to tremble and they were trembling together as they passed the window and saw the forest, covered with snow. The stillness of the woods calmed him, and he paused with her on the landing, drinking in the white nectar of the moon. His trembling subsided some, but hers continued, and he walked with her toward the bathroom. She went stooped over, her arms across her mountainous stomach, where her earthquake had its origin. He helped her onto the toilet seat, then went to the closet and brought a blanket. He wrapped it around her and rubbed his hands up and down her arms, trying to generate some warmth.
She looked up at him, her teeth chattering. He hadn’t expected it to be like this, the two of them caught and shaken like rag dolls. They’d studied the childbirth manuals carefully, and performed the exercises regularly, and he’d thought it would be merely an extension of all that, but there’d been no transition. Suddenly they were being dragged over a bed of rocks. Her eyes were like a child’s, astonished and terrified, but her voice was calm and he realized she was prepared, in spite of fear and chattering teeth.
“I can control the water now,” she said. “I can keep it from running out.”
“I’ll get the truck warmed up.” He went outside into the snow. Beyond the shadowy tops of the pines the vast sky-bowl glittered, and the half-ton truck sat in the moonlight, covered with brightly sparkling ice. He opened the door and slid in, pulling on the choke and turning the ignition key.
The starter motor whined, caught in the icy hand of the North. “Come on,” said Laski softly, appealing to the finer nature of the truck, the trusty half-ton which never failed him. He listened for the little cough of life in the whining, and when it came he quickly gunned the motor, bringing the truck completely to life. “You’re a good old wagon.” As far north as they were, any motor could freeze up, any battery suddenly die, and it was fifteen miles through the thickest forest to the nearest other vehicle. He’d seen fires built under motors, and had heard incredible cursing float out on northern nights, while hours had passed and all ideas had failed and nobody went anywhere. He kept the choke out, so the motor ran fast, then turned on the heater and stepped back out into the snow. The truck’s exhaust was the only cloud against the brilliant moon, and he went through the swirling vapor, back toward the cabin, which sat like a tiny lantern in the great tangled wilderness. [. . .]
Read the rest: buy Swimmer in the Secret Sea, the novella by William Kotzwinkle, from the Godine Website.