AUGUST 11 (TUESDAY), 38 WEEKS + 1 DAY
When I got back from work there was a note from my brother-in-law on the table: "The contractions have started. We've gone to the clinic." I read these few words over and over. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a spoon coated with jam lying on the table. I tossed it into the sink and thought about what I should do. Then I read the note one more time and left the house.
Everything was bathed in light. The windshields of the cars in the street seemed to glow, and the spray from the fountain in the park sparkled. I walked along, staring at the ground and mopping the sweat from my face. Two children in straw hats ran past. The gate to the elementary school was closed, and the playground was deserted. Farther on there was a small florist's, but I saw no sign of a salesperson or any customers. A tiny bunch of baby's breath lay in the glass case.
I turned the corner and found myself in front of the M Clinic. Just as my sister had said, time seemed to have stopped here, and the clinic was exactly as it had been preserved in my memory for all those years-the big camphor tree next to the gate, the frosted glass in the front door, the peeling letters on the sign. Here, too, there was no one in sight, only my shadow clearly etched on the street.
I followed the wall around to the back of the building and slipped through the old, broken gate into the garden. My heart started to pound the moment I set foot on the carefully tended grass, just as it always had. I looked up at the clinic, shielding my eyes from the glare of the sun reflected in the windows.
As I approached the building, the smell of paint drifted toward me. The air was still, and there was no sign of life around me. I was the only thing moving in the garden. I was tall enough now to look into the examination room without standing on a box, but there were no doctors or nurses to be seen. It was dark and deserted, like a science classroom after school gets out. I stood looking in at the bottles of medicine, the blood-pressure cuff, the breech-birth poster, the ultrasound monitor. The glass was warm against my face.
I thought I heard a baby crying in the distance. A tiny, trembling, tear-soaked cry coming from somewhere beyond the blaze of sunlight. As I listened, the sound seemed to be absorbed directly into my eardrums, and my head began to ache. I stepped back and looked up at the third floor. I saw a woman in a nightgown staring off into the distance. Her hair fell across her cheeks and her face was obscured in shadow, so I wasn't sure if it was my sister. Her lips were parted slightly, and she was blinking-the way you blink when you're close to tears. I would have gone on watching her, but the angle of the sun shifted and she disappeared into the reflection.
Following the baby's cries, I climbed the fire escape. The wooden stairs groaned under my feet. My body felt limp and warm, but the hand that gripped the railing and the ears absorbing the baby's cries were strangely cool. As the lawn receded slowly beneath me, its green became even more brilliant.
The baby continued to cry. When I opened the door on the third floor, I was blinded for a moment while my eyes adjusted to the light. I stood, concentrating on the baby's cry as it swept over me in waves, until at last I could see the corridor leading away into the darkness. I set off toward the nursery to meet my sister's ruined child.