After the Storm
– Fiction by Sarah Courteau –
Winner of the 2023 Pen Parentis Writing Fellowship for New Parents
The hurricane hit like an old boxer—sapped of its former power, but still dangerous. We were hearing reports about power outages. The lights in our house only blinked, and an ornamental bush in the front yard snapped off at the base. I’d had tepid feelings about that bush, a relic of the former owners’ manicured aesthetic. Our new home had held up.
The sky washed clean, my husband and I set out to survey the damage to the neighborhood. Ivan strode ahead with our dog. I was moving slowly, filled with the awareness that I was a carapace for something delicate. Our tiny embryo seemed as ephemeral as an idea. Some days I feared a lapse in concentration would be enough to vanquish it from my belly.
Twigs and branches littered the sidewalk, and I picked my way, watching my feet. Still, I nearly stepped on the pink creature curled on the concrete. Perhaps three inches long, hairless and wrinkled, its ears translucent commas, its eyes dim blueberries sealed over with skin. It squirmed, its mouth opening and closing as though on a tiny hinge. A few feet away rose a sixty-foot oak.
I felt a queasiness that wasn’t morning sickness and hurried to catch up to Ivan. Turning the corner, we saw a tree limb lodged in the windshield of a car.
“Someone’s having a bad day,” Ivan said.
The image of the injured pink creature rose in my mind. “This was quite the storm.”
I wouldn’t tell Ivan, I decided. I would bear the burden of what I had seen alone. After a few more steps, I said, “The wind
blew a baby squirrel down from its nest. It’s still moving.”
“Where?” Ivan asked.
“Back there. By the oak tree in front of the house.”
“That’s a maple.”
“What? No! It’s an oak. You can tell by the leaves.” Ivan’s confidence was part of what attracted me to him. But his sense of the definite was often misplaced.
“It’ll be dead by the time we’re back,” Ivan said. “It probably already is.”
We continued our walk. Several cars were damaged, and a couple of streets were blocked by fallen trees. An ambulance screamed by. We moved through the mayhem untouched, like visitors. We were launching our baby’s life in a place we barely knew ourselves, a place that suddenly felt dangerous.
As we headed back up the block toward our house, dread gnawed my belly. I wanted Ivan to be right, for the squirrel kitten to be still, its clawed limbs curled in surrender.
Ahead of me, Ivan shooed the dog off the sidewalk, and I quickened my pace. I was again looking down at the squirrel, opening and closing its mouth.
“I have to put it out of its misery,” Ivan said.
He was right, but for a moment I hated him. We were helpless to do anything for this tiny creature other than relieve it of its
suffering. It was on its own journey.
I reached for the dog’s leash, and Ivan picked up a brick. I looked away and heard a thud. When I turned back, he was scraping something off the sidewalk into the grass.
As we mounted the front steps, I reached up and rested my palm on his broad back, not sure whether I was offering consolation or seeking it. I started to speak. Ivan shook his head. “I can’t.”
We entered our house, together with the mysterious being whose life was already entirely her own. We could do nothing for her but love her. It scarcely seemed enough.
About the Pen Parentis Writing Fellowship
The Pen Parentis Writing Fellowship for New Parents annually honors a talented writer who is the parent of at least one child under 10 years old. This year’s fellow receives $1000 to further their writing career, a year of mentorship, and an opportunity to read their winning story at the Pen Parentis Literary Salon in New York City. To watch the playback of this and other Pen Parentis Literary Salons, visit youtube.com/penparentis and subscribe.
This year, submissions called for a new, never published fiction story, any genre, on any subject, of up to 600 words. Word count changes each year because the main goal of this Fellowship is to motivate writers to continue to create new high-quality creative
work at the very busiest time of the parenting journey.
Pen Parentis is a 501C3 literary nonprofit that helps writers stay on creative track after starting a family. Subscribers enjoy Accountability Meetups, Salons and other perks. Find out more!
Did you like this story by Sarah Courteau? Then you might also like:
Pieces of You
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