Flash fiction: Postpartum

Welcome to the Spot Writers. This month’s prompt is to write a story involving a penguin. Today’s story comes to us from Val Muller, author of the kidlit series Corgi Capers. 

Note: getting ready for my own baby penguin, I forgot to post this story on August 30. The penguin has since safely arrived and sleeps just about as well as the baby in this tale.

Postpartum

By Val Muller

“The female emperor penguin,” Winnie said, looking up from her phone, “breeds during the coldest of winter. She lays an egg and then leaves it with the male while she goes off to feed. It’s the male’s job to keep the egg safe and warm.” She glanced at her husband. “For several months.” As if to punctuate the statement, the baby made a slurping sound. Winnie would have to burp her soon so she didn’t spit up. There was nothing worse than the warm smell of baby spit-up. 

As for Winnie’s report on emperor penguins, it was met with only the soft snoring of Winnie’s husband, who in his sleep had managed to pull the pillowcase over his eyes to shade them from the lamp Winnie turned on while feeding the baby. 

“You know, for months I waddled like a penguin,” she told her sleeping spouse. He continued to snore away, sleeping more soundly than a baby. Babies didn’t sleep all that soundly, she realized. How he could sleep through the crying baby, or Winnie’s clumsy fumbling for the light, or the shifting around as Winnie situated the baby…well, guys were just biologically wired for a good night’s sleep, she guessed. Biologically wired for a good night’s sleep. 

She continued scrolling through her phone as the baby quenched its insatiable appetite. She clicked the next search result. 

“Sea horses,” Winnie announced. “These are interesting. A seahorse—” she turned the phone to show a picture of a pair of seahorses to her sleeping husband— “A female seahorse will lay dozens or hundreds of eggs in the male’s abdomen.” She couldn’t help but laugh at the thought of implanting the eight-pound bowling ball she’d been carrying for nine months directly into her husband’s stomach. It was like a reverse of that scene from the alien film. Her hubby stretched on the table, her forcing the embryo right into his gut. Ha! See how you like it! 

Guys would die if they had to give birth, she thought. Her laughter echoed in the dark, but it did not disturb the baby. Then her chuckles subsided and she continued reading. “The males carry them until they are born into the sea.” Her sleep-deprived brain offered more imagery of her husband spontaneously spawning a baby into a hospital-ocean, and she laughed again. She imagined her husband’s shocked expression as the baby just ejected from him. In her mind, his legs turned into the twisted spiral of a seahorse, and he floated down the hallway, past the nurse’s station, asking for postpartum supplies. 

The baby did not appreciate the disruption and protested. 

Winnie shifted the baby and continued scrolling, her fascination with reproductive habits of Earth’s creatures fueled by middle-of-the-night cortisol and the weird mix of postpartum hormones traveling through her veins.

“Now the octopus,” she declared to the darkened room. “This is an interesting one. The female octopus lays her eggs, stops eating while she cares for them. And get this: she never eats again. Once they are ready to hatch, she dies.” She looked at her sleeping husband. “I guess that’s one way to escape getting up for all these feedings. Just give up all at once. A good, long sleep…” 

She laughed a bit, but then she stopped. The Google rabbit hole she had fallen into was getting dark, and she knew these were just her sleep-deprived night thoughts. The baby drifted to sleep, and she swaddled it back up into the bassinet. She turned off the lamp and sat in the darkness, only the glow of her phone illuminating the darkness. She chuckled again, almost a whisper, contemplating whether women ever murdered their husbands for resting too peacefully. Surely, in the history of humanity… 

How would they do it? She looked around the room. Probably smother them with a pillow. The idea made her chuckle, and she tried to stifle her laughter, telling herself it was just the inappropriate musings of a sleep-deprived mom trying to rid herself of excess hormones. 

The chuckle must have been much more disturbing than a baby’s cry. Her husband sat up in the darkness. 

“Why are you awake?” he asked groggily. 

Winnie laughed. Why was she awake? An emperor penguin keeps the egg safe for month, a seahorse carries the babies until delivery, and a human male sleeps through all manner of things. Why, indeed? 

“Because,” she said. “The emperor penguin gets to go out to sea to feed, and it’s been a while since I treated myself to something. I’m going out to get a breakfast sandwich.” 

Her husband looked out the window. “It’s dark out. What time is it?” 

“Almost five. Places will be open for breakfast. I’m going out to sea. You keep the egg safe, Mr. Penguin. It’s my turn to swim, and you get to waddle now. Watch that baby.”

She pulled on her shoes and headed out the door, taking only a moment to glance back at how perplexed her husband looked, sort of like the blank stare of a male seahorse as he prepared to spawn his children into the sea. Or like an emperor penguin preparing to face the coldest two months of winter with the egg securely between its ridiculously comical legs.  

The Spot Writers—Our Members:

Val Muller: http://valmuller.com/blog/

Catherine A. MacKenzie: https://writingwicket.wordpress.com/wicker-chitter/

Phil Yeats: https://alankemisterauthor.wordpress.com

Chiara De Giorgi: https://chiaradegiorgi.blogspot.com/

 

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