You reached out your hand to help me across a flooded creek, and I hesitated before I took it. Electric green beetles glinted in the sun. Turtles scurried off bits of floating wood. We were in the place we always hiked, in the place where we thought the vultures were hawks, until we realized their heads were too small and it meant something when there was more than one of them. By the time you offered your hand to help me across the stream, we already knew this. We knew the trail like we knew each other, and the vultures still lazily floated around the high sun, unconcerned.
That spring, in the weeks of our second embryo, the plants grew quickly. The forest was overwhelmed with an early, foreign heat. While its lentil-sized form floated in amniotic fluid, we climbed the bluffs and peeled dewy foliage from our legs and dumped the river sand from our shoes. I remember your sweat, the way it dribbled down your back, beaded on your forehead as you extended your hand, and I hesitated. I didn’t want your help because I was mad at you still, for what you had said about Christmas. On the trail, only minutes before, out of nowhere: “We can’t tell this kid that Santa Claus is real. Christmas is already too much about getting shit. Besides, it’s God all over again.”
I disagreed. Santa was different. Santa was not like the God we didn’t believe in. Santa was something else, something magical to stay up all night for, desperate for the sound of hooves on a snowy roof.
We hadn’t had a chance to talk about this before we lost the first. After the first, when we had walked around the lake when it was much colder, and we had witnessed a deer that became caught in the icy, half-melted water. It had fallen straight through, its form a small figure frantically treading to keep afloat, bony limbs wildly paddling, mad for the shoreline that stretched a mile between.
My womb still ached the day we watched it all, trying to hurry around the lake to keep our stomachs from dropping out, painfully stealing glances at a creature that would drown as soon as it stopped struggling. It was helpless; the lake’s surface too icy for a boat to travel out and too melted for anyone to walk across.
I thought the vultures were hawks. You cried when you thought of the deer. I said We’ll see about Santa, but then we wouldn’t have to because three weeks later we would lose the second one too.
“It’s just a childhood story. It doesn’t have to mean anything,” I had said.
“Maybe,” you murmured, hand still extended.
Farther down the trail, tortoise shells stood hollow, eggs devoured, nests overturned. Here, the trickle of the flooded stream crowded our ears. Here, our bodies continued to perspire as I finally took your hand, clammy from the May heat.