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common craving, 2 calories apiece

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brianna is born premature.

something about gestational complications, something about grace’s pelvis being too narrow, she isn’t really listening. hasn’t had a drink since the strip turned pink, no merlot with her steak salad (left an hour to breathe and rare, respectively), no margaritas at the club after doubles with janet and bill, no mama’s little helper, which is really not fair, since she’s going to be a mama in one hot second and she could use some fucking help. they induce labor at 8 months and grace has never been more relieved, except maybe when robert wheels her in and the orderly asks which floor, like he can’t tell she’s pregnant under the paper gown. she’s not inclined to grand-old-flag parade patriotism - fourth of july barbeques are their own circle of Hell. perfunctory cheek-kissing and “how are the kids, i heard james got into yale, what a legacy, another bulldog in the family,” charcoal-carbon meat and beer, liquid bread with the alcohol content of horse piss, pardon her french. but god bless america for the epidural. she's dead from the waist down and flying as high as the flag.

grace hates being pregnant, or - she doesn't hate the baby, just that her body suddenly has a will of its own, like the baby is asserting its squatters' rights and redecorating in bad taste. she doesn’t recognize herself in the mirror, hates the flowing empire-waisted maternity blouses, the mumu-caftan convex silhouette in that damn unforgiving full-length mirror. grace has never been convex in her *life*. she washes her hair with her eyes closed, wears heels till her feet swell and her toes won’t jam into the tapered snakeskin tip. she throws her shoes at the mirror and reaches for the bottle of grey goose she can’t have because this fucking thing, this thing that’s not even a person yet, has eked out a cavity in her body and made her…grow. grace skips her own baby shower but keeps the presents. morning sickness is a convenient excuse, no one questions her bolting to the bathroom, pleading nausea, replacing meals with pickles (a common craving, 2 calories apiece). she takes a double dose of prenatal vitamins just in case. can a fetus be iron-deficient?

it’s the done thing, having children, and she’s not getting any younger, and little girls are a tabula rasa in pigtails, primed for floral-print dresses and studio portraits, holding wicker baskets against a garden backdrop, someone waving a stuffed animal off-camera so they don’t cry. framed photos for the mantle, next to her and robert on their honeymoon. the next logical step in a logical sequence.

brianna is born premature, 4 pounds 2 ounces, long-boned and screaming before the cord is cut. she is the most alert baby on the preemie ward, the nurse tells her proudly, she’s lifting her head, she’s curious. grace holds her daughter and traces the contours of her strange scrunched face and thinks she might, somewhere, have a maternal instinct after all. they are worried brianna will fail to thrive but she's tenacious, filling out by the day, grabs the formula bottle greedily like she’s making up for lost time.

with mallory grace is more conscientious, consults a dietician, makes a meal plan, eats for two. sometimes grace wonders if it’s her fault, this thing with brianna, hoarding food and hiding candy under her mattress, temper tantrums when she doesn’t get seconds, demanding triple-scoop chocolate fudge brownie at the beach (brianna never asks; brianna stamps her foot and *demands*). she wonders if she did this to her, a preemptive strike against a body gone rogue, too terrified to realize a living thing was in there too. can a fetus remember what it feels like to starve? in the summer mallory goes horseback riding and brianna goes to fat camp, even though brianna loves horses - she has a custom breyer collection, painted the spots on the appaloosa with robert’s microscopic model ship brush - and mallory couldn’t care less. jesus christ, she gets scared if wheatchex goes faster than a trot, and brianna's the best show-jumper in her age group. and mallory, too fastidious to finger paint, would rather stick a needle in her eye than muck a stall. robert goes on long business trips with sol, out if state for weeks in a pacific northwest cabin or a midwest four-star hotel. he calls every night before bed, asks about the girls, wishes them all sweet dreams. grace curls up with a bestseller and a martini (hell, the whole cocktail shaker, who's watching) and pretends she's not alone in that big horrible house.

brianna hates fat camp, two-piece bathing suits, and pickles. by the end of the summer she thinks she hates her mother too. it's the done thing.