Af­ter Ac­tion Re­port

The Iowa Review - - CONTENTS - Sale Trice Lilly IV

Isup­posed that the tech­ni­cian was about to ask, “Would you like to know the sex of your baby?” be­cause that is what th­ese tech­ni­cians al­ways say in movies. Then, with a smile, we would both de­fer to the mother’s pref­er­ence to know the baby’s gen­der. But the tech­ni­cian didn’t say those words, and I had no prac­ticed def­er­ence to act out a re­sponse. In­stead she said, “I don’t see a heart­beat.” Per­haps some­one can say a phrase so of­ten it is im­pos­si­ble to feign grav­i­tas in their speech, words worn down like tread on a tire, and I’m pave­ment un­der­neath wheel. The words “heart” and “beat” fell with a bland ef­fect, and it was clear we were sup­posed to reg­is­ter the two syl­la­bles on our own. Her words and their mean­ing felt like an ad­min­is­tra­tive over­sight; if she could see it, then the baby would be alive. Maybe it was a mat­ter of opin­ion, like the way a paint­ing can or can­not be pretty de­pend­ing on who is look­ing at it. But the towel, handed over my wife’s tummy, sug­gested we were done with the ex­am­i­na­tion, and that there would be no more spec­u­la­tion. The non-heart­beat dis­cov­ery would have to be fol­lowed by a surgery. I wiped the bluish fluid off of my wife’s stom­ach, and the two of us—just the two of us—left the room. This wasn’t the first time I had seen some­thing die or al­ready dead through a screen and a sen­sor. Through high-fre­quency sound waves and sig­nal pro­cess­ing, I had spent most of last year watch­ing in­sur­gents exsan­guinate on some arid plain. The baby, the in­sur­gent—both came across in grainy white pix­els, too in­hu­man to re­gard with em­pa­thy. If you didn’t like what you saw, you could tog­gle fre­quen­cies, in­frared heat, low-pass fil­ters to elim­i­nate shad­ow­ing, resid­ual move­ment. Then, fi­nally, there was res­o­lu­tion “OFF” if you had to­tally lost pa­tience with the show. We didn’t have fu­ner­als then, and we wouldn’t have a fu­neral now. There was noth­ing in the tra­di­tional sense to bury, just a long list of non-per­sons with se­ri­al­ized al­phanu­meric in­di­ca­tors and per­haps a DNA sam­ple to con­firm, in the fu­ture, that the same per­son wasn’t killed twice. Maybe this was re­venge. Our grief was com­pounded in the lobby. Fam­i­lies ex­ited the ma­ter­nity ward with their ba­bies like con­sumers car­ry­ing so much sleepy mer­chan­dise. The hos­pi­tal om­buds­man told me that we are a cute cou­ple, and that we would be “OK.” I felt a cyn­i­cal pang of grief for all the ugly cou­ples. It was not a bad thing to hear kind words now, even if they were

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