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by Cheryl Pearson

A second heartbeat caught, then took. A baby the size of a full stop. Then a pea. At four months, it’s an avocado. She strokes the new dome of her belly, thinks of it inside her. Tucked away like a flower stowed inside a seed. A son; a daughter.

It started after the last scan. A sudden yearning for ice. She’d fill the trays, then turn out blocks of stilled water to crunch between her teeth. Lying on the sofa in the evenings, her husband kneading her feet in the blue light from the television. Crunch. Crunch. He bought her novelty moulds for the freezer, and she worked her way through them till her jaw ached. Ice cubes shaped like hearts. Like roses. Like dinosaurs.

Like most girls, she had been an experienced dieter when she was younger. She remembers the empty taste of water, how she’d pour glass after glass into herself to fill the space and tamp her hunger. This was how the ice tasted after a while. Like trying to fill need with nothingness.

Next it was paper. This she hid, knowing it was odd. She tore slivers of text from the TV guide, took the shopping lists from Simon’s pockets. Simon was mystified. BBC One looked like moths had been at it. The Co-op was a jungle of offers and brands and he had neither maps nor direction. He came back with no eggs, the wrong orange juice. I like the one with pulp in it, she said.

Then came chalk for a soft-mouthed week. Then stones from the garden, clotted with soil. She sucked them clean, held them for comfort in the pocket of her cheek. Simon thought she was craving sweets, and filled the cupboards with barley sugar, spearmints, sarsaparilla twists.

It’s hair, now, in the final weeks. Hair from the pillows, and Simon’s comb. Long gold hairs tugged from patches no one will spot — behind her ears, the back of her neck. Never the sides or crown. The spark of pain each time the same. The thin tickle as she feeds it in, like a rope fed into a well’s mouth. She imagines the baby, cosy inside. The hair drifting, settling.

Like a nest, she thinks. Like an eiderdown.

Cheryl Pearson lives in Manchester. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in publications including The Guardian, Southword, Poetry NorthWest, and Frontier. She was Highly Commended in the Costa Short Story Awards 2017, and has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her first poetry collection, Oysterlight, is available now.