I never wanted to be a mother.
In this society, that’s not something you’re supposed to say if you’re a woman, but it’s true. Nor did I desire marriage, finding maintaining a series of casual lovers, but these days that is less remarkable. I simply preferred the company of the plants in my garden to most people, especially the smaller ones. “I’m just not ready to be settled yet,” I would say when the subject came up. It seldom did.
I saw the the mothers on my street, and felt immense happiness that their lives were not mine.
For this, the universe cursed me.
When by happenstance I did become pregnant, I found to my astonishment that I wanted to keep it.
I tried to. I went to doctor’s appointments, changed my diet, adjusted my exercise routine, made headway on arranging a room for the baby. I knew part of my outlook was due to the neurochemical alchemy occurring inside of me, but I did not care. I was happy.
That which is given suddenly can often be snatched away just as easily.
At least it was fast. I can say that much. I was in the back yard, tending to a sicky pepper tree, a small forlorn thing which had never yielded fruit. The pain dropped me to the ground, a great rupture deep within me as my unformed, inchoate child was ejected from my body in a mass of liquid tissue which seeped through my ruined clothes to the soil up which I lay.
It was some time before I could crawl back inside. I could only lie there in the firmament of my garden and weep, bleeding.
Medically I was fine. My doctors told me it was a sign something was wrong with the pregnancy. The few friends of mine who’d known about it agreed. A tragedy, but one that ultimately was for the best.
I gave myself a week to recover, and then I stepped back into my old life. I told myself I was happy again, that this was what I really wanted.
When I saw the mothers on my street, I felt a physical echo.
I continued tending my garden. Doted on it, even. I bought expensive nutrients and expensive infused soil, cultivated a patch of local flowers to attract even more pollinators. Everything flourished. Even the pepper tree.
Barely more than a sapling, it had grown thicker and taller, the roots reaching down deeper to take firm hold within the soil. The bark had healthy flat tone to it, and the foliage was a vibrant green. And for the first time since I’d planted it, I discovered the dangling bulb of a nascent pepper.
It was only one, a small, innocuous growth. I expected it to be the first of many, but I was wrong. While the branches continued to spread upwards and outward, the pepper remained solitary.
But how it grew. Slowly, but steadily, growing heavier and fuller day by day. Over the course of months.
Peppers do not take months to ripen. This one did. The red flesh remained pale, even as it swelled larger than my fist, the surface taking on texture and contour as though musculature lay beneath it.
I swear I saw it move, once.
I tended the pepper tree diligently, trimming and pruning the branches, scouring it hourly for caterpillars, aphids, or other pests which could hurt my pepper. I even took to keeping a broom near the back door, should any of the feral parrot flocks in the neighborhood became too adventurous.
I had never been one to talk to my plants before, but this one, I did. Sung to it, too, all those lullabies I’d memorized previously.
My pepper grew bigger, rounder.
I know I saw it move.
Finally, it was time. I knew it, in that nonspecific but ferociously tidal manner in which the body simply knows. The same as it had known the soil within myself was no place to plant seed.
I went outside and sat cross-legged in the roots of my pepper tree, and waited for my baby to be born.