Editor's Note




Book Review

Contributors' Notes

Life Expectancies

I watch Tina chase a giant soap bubble over the yard, small hands outstretched to catch it. She doesn't know what will happen if she does.

A wave of nausea ripples across my belly. Here I am in my third trimester, prone to visual associations that provoke nausea. Anything pale and pillowy—marshmallows, mushrooms, rabbits, gargantuan soap bubbles—makes me sick. I'm glad Eric isn't here or he'd point me back to bed.

Tina squeals, a little winded as she follows the bubble over the lawn. I almost yell out, "Leave it be," mothering instincts on overdrive, protective of a stupid bubble. Instead whisper, "See how long it will last."

I couldn't explain that soap bubble to her any better than Dr. Saunders explained her cystic fibrosis. "Impossible," I said. We'd been tested. Eric was a carrier, I wasn't. A negative plus a positive can't equal a positive. A child must inherit two defective genes—one from each parent.

Dr. Saunders sighed. He clutched a file on his desk, his knuckles white as my face. Said in a low voice gravelly with regret, "A mistake in the paperwork."

I almost slapped him. Eric had to restrain me. I don't remember what I said next, what he said. Words I didn't want to hear. At some point he told me, "Yes, you are a carrier," but the word sounded like "killer." I was a killer. What I do remember distinctly is Dr. Saunders repeating, "No known cure."

With antibiotics to prevent lung infections, the chest percussion three to four times a day to clear her lungs, dozens of new drugs we're trying, gene therapies, nutritional supplements, lifestyle habits to refine and change as the years progress, Tina could live through her twenties, even thirties. Some with cystic fibrosis make it to their forties. Some.

There's nothing I can do now but watch her run after the bubble swelling rotund then oblong then round again as if trying to breathe, catch its breath. Hand over belly, I steady myself for another wave of nausea. The bubble lifts beyond Tina's reach, defying gravity.

I like to imagine this child in my womb as a companion for Tina. We've always wanted a family, a large one. Though sometimes after an hour of her bone-shaking coughs I think her body's just not meant to be here. Shame washes over me—part of my desire to keep her is selfish. But then, just minutes later, Tina's corralling her stuffed animals and dolls, bossing them like they're at boot camp and she's the drill sergeant forcing her cats and elephants and Dora the Explorer to drop and give her twenty like her uncle Earl. I marvel at her ability to rebound. I want to be her. Can't get enough.

With Eric and I both carriers, there's a one in four chance we'll have another child with cystic fibrosis. Three in four we won't. We're taking our chances.

Some might call us stupid, selfish. Reckless. Sometimes I think that, too. But what chances do any of us have? Just last year our neighbor's fourteen year old daughter was killed in a car crash, Eric's great grandfather died at ninety two after drinking hard since he was a teen, and my boss celebrated over thirty years in remission from breast cancer. Tina's chances are as good as anyone's.

My stomach lurches again as the soap bubble flies a hair's-breadth from the electrical wires, iridescent with wild, psychedelic pastels. It soars so high I lose sight of it for a while. Then a glare of light flickers in the clear blue sky. The bubble rises above the rooftops, keeps rising. Threatens to become a miracle.