Wilmington, North Carolina
[H]ere’s the physiology of it: through the magic water and placenta, through the uterus and skin and my wife’s thin cotton shirt, I could feel my son’s hiccups against the small of my back. My firstborn, unborn, aquatic little boy. Every three seconds. Suddenly we were a southern family, outgrowing a full-sized bed, all pressed against each other and hot and quickly my wife wanted a queen. I used to imagine an incandescent radar arm sweeping above us in circles, scanning the blip of my son’s hiccups from where the ceiling fan hung. It was life down there. All three of us. So many rhythms: Blip. Blip. Blip. He came in a rush—my wife and I at a Cinco de Mayo party despite her two days of sporadic, not-too-intense contractions. She ate tacos. Everyone looked at her belly and cooed. She retreated every ten minutes to contract, then returned for juice and chips. We got home, took a bath, and then the water broke. The contractions quickened and she hurt. We rushed from the room to the car to the hospital, and although we’d been preparing for months, it all felt desperate. But the boy arrived! A healthy heart, still hiccupping. Then I imagined that green radar arm swinging from a center point over our block, our half-gentrified square of mismatched people, picking up all the blips of our neighbors and friends and their heartbeats. I perfected the football hold and took the boy on a walk resting on my forearm. And Margaret from across the street saw me and yelled, “Is that a real
baby?” I said, “Yes mam, the real deal and only five days old.” I saw her face ignite. I walked over to her, our seldom seen neighbor who was dying from leukemia. She looked over the boy, pulled at his blanket, and said, “I was just saved by a baby’s umbilical cord. From the cells.” “A new beginning!” I said. “That’s what’s on my license plate!” she said. “New Beginning!” I left her beaming and rounded the corner, where I saw Yolanda on her porch. Yolanda’s father had ceased to speak and was preparing to die. I gave her the baby so she could hold him and feel him against her chest. She wept. “I needed this today,” she said. “Gracias. Life is so . . .” “Cyclical?” “Yes, cyclical,” she said. And that night the Azalea Festival. I heard the booming of fireworks from inside. I went out to the street and looked behind me and there was Miss Geneslee, our neighbor, who had lived in that southern city her whole almost-a-hundred years, who had survived in that place, and the fireworks boomed and flashed and she said, “Whoeee, they sure did start earlier this year than last.” And then she said, “I can’t see them as good now. Looks like the trees have grown.” The rain started to come down. It was cold. The trees were so tall. She said, “Whoeee, I’m gonna go up on the porch and watch from there,” and then lightning came and shot through all the fireworks. A hundred years ago innocent black people in Wilmington, North Carolina were mowed down with a Gatlin gun. Bang bang bang. The only successful coup—led by trigger-happy white supremacists trying to make a national point—in the history of the American experiment. The gun was the only narrative Miss Genelsee grew up with. The white folks? Most didn’t like to talk about it. Our son was born there. I used to feel his hiccups against my skin through his mom’s skin in the middle of the night. “I just don’t remember those trees being so tall,” she yelled, and I said yes ma’am. And then there was a finale. It boomed through our neighborhood. Miss Genelsee said, “That one was pretty,” and the fireworks flashed green in the rain, bang bang bang.
Josh MacIvor-Andersen is the author of the memoir On Heights & Hunger, and the editor of Rooted, An Anthology of Arboreal Nonfiction, both forthcoming from Outpost19. His essays, reviews, and reportage have won numerous awards and nominations for the Pushcart Prize, and can be found in journals and magazines such as Gulf Coast, Paris Review Daily, Fourth Genre, Arts and Letters and many others.
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