The women are on their backs, splayed in Fish Pose, when Layla’s pregnant belly lights up.
She is envisioning the raging blaze in her home state when heat spreads across her stomach. In the yoga studio’s gloom, she alone glows like an oven light in a dark kitchen.
“Shh. Phones off, Layla.” No one believes that Shanti is the prenatal yoga instructor’s real name. She seems ex-military. With her hands on her wide hips, she glares down at Layla. Angry Sarge Pose.
Meaghan’s belly lights up next. “It’s not my cell. It’s my baby.” She’d been imagining shelled peas, the tender little balls in one bowl, their protective shells in another. How at the U.S.-Mexico border one is the children, and the other the mothers from whom they’re separated. Now tears escape into her scrub of hair. She rests her hands over the light growing from under her ribs, which floods her with warmth and something else it takes her moments to identify. Peace.
The women’s bellies switch on, one by one, like two dozen porchlights. Tamar’s flickers. Her nephew had been at a club when shooting broke out. He’d hidden in a dark corner while others died. But he was alive, the young man she’d once held as a newborn. She remembers his birthmark that had eventually disappeared. How it had been on his left cheek and shaped like a mouth. How her lips had met it in a kiss. How the magic of a love like that still can’t protect someone. As Tamar falters, her light comes back on. Grows strong. Like the other women, she smiles, even as Shanti clutches her phone, dialing 9-1-1.
Only Nan’s belly is dark—the sun behind a raincloud. “Is my baby okay?” she asks no one, or maybe everyone.
“Where’s my light?” Nan is curled in a ball. Her husband left her in her fifth month. She has told the women that somewhere within her, her baby knows and is broken-hearted, too.
The other women roll onto their sides, then struggle to sitting. From there they crouch and stagger to standing, as Shanti has taught them. Some help up others.
Shanti has put on her aviator sunglasses; the room is that bright. She rubs Nan’s back too vigorously, until Tamar stills her hands.
There is so much to anguish over, so many daily poses to assume as though everything is okay in the darkening world. But right now they gather around Nan. Their babies shine on her insistently, like flashlights searching for a tiny object, until in response Nan’s belly switches on and they all clap and cheer.
The women put their hands on their illuminated wombs. They luxuriate in the warmth. Even as the familiar wail of a siren draws nearer, they let go of all that is broken and of the threats they can’t yet see. They hold on to something made with so much hope that they want to believe it might actually light the way.
Lynn Mundell’s writing has appeared most recently in New Flash Fiction Review, Atlas and Alice, SmokeLong Quarterly, Thread, and Monkeybicycle. She is co-editor of 100 Word Story and its anthology: Nothing Short of: Selected Tales from 100 Word Story (Outpost19). Learn more about her at http://lynnmundell.com/.
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