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Down and Out at the Breast-feeding School 

Second place

Page 4 of 4

"Do you know which way the Breast-feeding School is?"

"Back the way you came," she said, "then left."

Johnson tipped an invisible cap. "Is the program over?"

"No," she said. "I couldn't take the full three hours at once, you know."

The marble between them felt to Johnson like thin glass, but he wanted to examine the sunlight in her blonde hair, the sincerity in her face. "Can I come closer?" he said. "That bench looks amazing."

She leaned against the wall, pointing to the vacancy beside her. "How far along is your wife?"

"Oh," he said, "there's no going back."

Johnson shuffled across the marble. Up close, the woman was morose, her abdomen a bulbous contradiction to her slim frame. She tried to hide her eyes because she had been crying, but blushless channels on her cheeks divulged her secret woes. Johnson sat down and said, bluntly, "Hormones?"

She snorted. She showed her puffy eyelids. She didn't care now. "Possibly."

Johnson flexed his toes, his hands flat on his thighs. In reverence of her and the unborn child he kept a weirdly perfect posture. "I've had a long day," he said.

"You look tired," she said. "No offense."

Johnson shrugged. "I'm recovering from food poisoning." He nodded at her belly, her hands. "Will your wedding ring not fit, either? My wife's won't."

"Don't have one," she said.

"Oh, why?"

She seemed offended, but she answered. "He wants to chip in from a distance. The father. A bartender I barely know. This wasn't exactly in his plans, or mine."

Johnson felt his face drop. "Is that why you're out here?"

Her face wilted. "I think I was the only one in there by myself."

"No."

"I was," she said. "Really think I was."

"It'll be OK."

She rubbed her eyes.

"Look," Johnson said, "I don't know what I'm talking about, and I don't know you, but I'm pretty tuned in to our cosmic energy, and I can tell you this ... that baby is going to be a dancer."

She reached over the bench and clutched Johnson's hand. Her faint blue veins were like his mother's. He put his ear to her belly, rested his head on the bench, and pulled up his legs. Eyes closed, he told her he'd heard the baby pirouetting. He fell asleep as she whispered goodbye, patted his head, and vanished.

Hands on hips, Gilder stood over Johnson as he awoke. She knelt to his level and studied his face, as she might a gunshot victim. Behind her, the seminar attendees were leaving in droves, chatting about parking fees and maternity wards and the oncoming commitment of everything. Johnson focused on his wife's face. Before she could issue one stern word, he extended his hand, let it rest on her womb, and in the center of his palm he felt a tiny nudge, his son's first high five.

Atlanta journalist and author Josh Green's fiction has appeared in national journals including the Los Angeles Review and his short-story collection, Dirtyville Rhapsodies, will be published in May.



CL Atlanta Fiction Contest: 2011, 2012, 2013 - First Edition
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