Written By: Jonathan Graham
We were on the beach when Rachel told me she was pregnant. I’d been fishing while she
sunbathed and watched, occasionally joining me to reel in a small redfish or sea trout. The bait
had run out, so I’d packed my rod into my surf cart and laid down next to her.
“I’m pregnant.” She threw the words toward me casually, but they must have picked up
momentum in the wind because they hit me in the stomach and knocked the air out of my lungs.
She grabbed my hand and squeezed; we didn’t look at each other. I was too busy running
numbers in my head. Rent, medical expenses, car payments — there was no way we were going
to make this work. After a long silence, she stood up and folded her towel. I put on my shoes,
still lost in thought, and quietly followed her back to the car.
I loaded my gear into the back of my Explorer while she got in the passenger seat. I
pulled the door down, and stood still watching her fix her eye makeup in the visor mirror. Her
long blonde hair was wind-tossed and her face was just beginning to show signs of a sunburn. I
walked around and got into the car. “How long have you known?”
“About a month. I wanted to be sure before I told you.” She shifted her body in the seat
and stared at me. “It must have happened around your birthday.” That was almost two months
I started the car. “I really should have known earlier. We could have started saving. What
are we supposed to do?”
“What do you mean? We already did it. It’s done. We have a baby.”
“We can’t afford a baby, Rach.”
She snorted. “Well, we have one, Peter.” She only called me that when she was annoyed
with me. “My parents will help, you know that.”
“You’re not taking this seriously.” I turned the radio on.
She turned the radio off. “Peter, please don’t shut me out. I really want to talk about this.”
“What is there to talk about?”
She looked down at her hands, resting in her lap, and picked at her nail polish. “I think
we should get married.” Her parents were Catholics. They didn’t like the fact that Rachel was
dating an atheist, much less living with him. I doubted that they would ever forgive me for
getting her pregnant.
“Shotgun wedding,” I said. “Every little girl’s dream.” It wasn’t that I didn’t want to
marry her — I’d already planned on proposing. I just didn’t want this to be how it happened.
Still, the words came out harsher than I meant for them to.
“You’re being ridiculous.” She turned away from me and stared out the window.
“Ridiculous is rearranging our entire life around a clump of cells. Please at least think
about other options.”
She sat silent for 15 minutes. I pulled off the interstate and into our apartment complex.
She went up to the apartment while I unloaded. When I got into the house, she was in the
shower. I was going to get in with her, but she had locked the door. So I went back out into the
den, grabbed an Xbox controller, and sat on the couch to play while she finished. After two
rounds of Call of Duty, she came out of the bedroom. “All yours,” she said. I got up and went
into the shower, hoping to wash off what was left from our day on the beach.
The next morning I woke up to Rachel cooking breakfast. I yawned as I came out of the
bedroom and sat down at the table. “This is new.”
“I’ve got to start being a mom.” She set a plate in front of me, stacked high with bacon,
two fried eggs, and chocolate chip pancakes. It looked good.
“So you’re going to keep it, then?”
I just stuffed some pancakes in my mouth. They were delicious. “What’s in these?”
She shrugged. “Pancake stuff.” She sat down with her plate. “What time do you work
“I go in at 2. Chef needs me to prep.” I looked at my watch. It was just after 11. “You’re
really sold on this baby?”
She nodded, swallowed, and took a drink of orange juice before responding. “I’m not
going to terminate.” So she had thought about it, at least.
“Do I have a say in this?” I asked.
“No.” And that was the last we talked about it.
We got married a month later. It was a tiny private gathering: Her parents, my mom, and
a notary. My mom even gave me her old ring. It was old, gold, and gaudy, but Rachel was
happy. Her baby bump was growing; two months after we’d been married we found out it was a
boy. I wanted to name him after my grandfather, but she didn’t like Quentin Alexander Castillo.
She was reading parenting books non-stop, and had a list of names that she kept adding to daily.
“I think something’s wrong,” she told me one morning. She was sitting on the couch, one
hand rubbing her belly, and one hand holding a book.
“I’m sure you’re fine.” I was in the kitchen, making pear and cheese English muffins for
breakfast — cheddar for her, brie for me. I was only half listening to her.
“Pete, I think this is really serious.” I heard her getting up from the couch. I turned to face
her and almost dropped the plate: She was ghos twhite. “My vision is all swimmy. My head
We left right away. I called Doctor Little in the car. In his lilting Irish accent he told me
to head straight to the emergency room. She called her dad while we were driving there. But it
was already too late. The doctor told us that Rachel had an episode of severe pre-eclampsia. The
baby was dead before we got to the hospital.
They kept Rachel overnight to monitor her blood pressure. We sat there in the tiny room,
silent for a long time except for the hum of various machines. A nurse brought a tray of food but
Rachel just sat and stared ahead, her eyes vacant and dry. The sun had set, leaving the room lit
only by the fluorescent lights above, and in their harsh light she looked almost green. The ballast
was out in one of the lights, and it was flickering and buzzing loudly. We sat a long time like
that, me stuffed in the corner of the too small room. Finally, she coughed, and I took that as an
invitation to talk.
“I’m sorry, Rachel.” When she didn’t respond, I said “I know how much you wanted
“Him,” she said. “I wanted him.”
“I really am sorry.”
“Are you Peter?” She didn’t turn around. “You never wanted him in the first place.”
“Rachel, that’s not…”
“You always wanted an abortion, Peter.” She turned and sat up to face me. “You wanted
this to happen.”
“Not like this,” I said.
“Like what then?”
I didn’t answer.
“See? You’re still okay with this. You still get what you want.” She scoffed.
“I didn’t want this. I didn’t ask for this,” I said.
“You don’t care, though. You’re not upset that you lost a son.”
“I’m not upset that we won’t be scraping to put food on the table. But I never wanted this
“Of course you didn’t. You wanted me to abort the baby myself.”
“I never had a choice.”
“I didn’t get a choice either.” She deflated then, and slumped back into the bed. She
tweaked the IV in her arm and winced.
A nurse interrupted us. “Your blood pressure is climbing.”
Rachel looked at me. “I’m sure.”
The nurse gave her a dose of medicine and took away the tray of uneaten food. We sat
quietly again. She shifted in the bed and yanked on the IV again, with a little gasp of pain. I just
“Why would God let this happen?” She looked at me.
“Rachel, you know I can’t help you with that question.”
“Why would God give you what you want when you don’t even believe in him?”
I hated talking religion with her. It never ended well. “If he doesn’t exist, he didn’t give
“But he does.”
“Then I don’t have an answer for you. Why would God let the baby die?”
She sighed. “It wasn’t God who ate the fruit.”
“Could you get the light?” She lay back into her bed.
I crossed the room, turned the light off, then returned and slid down into the chair, trying
to get comfortable for the evening. Outside the window the full moon was just beginning to rise
over the city. I fell asleep to the hum of the machinery.
Rachel was discharged the next morning. At home there was never a distinct return to
normal, but gradually we settled back into a rhythm of life. I would wake up, cook breakfast, and
take it into the bedroom for her. She usually came out of the bedroom in the afternoon, as I went
in to get ready for work. Then one day she came out while I was cooking breakfast.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
I looked up from the stove. “For what?”
“I know this wasn’t your fault.” She crossed over to me and laid her head against my
back. “Can we go to the beach today?”
I had the evening off, so I agreed. Her decision didn’t surprise me: We both felt at peace
on the beach. When we got there she laid out her beach blanket and sat, watching the waves.
The beach was mostly empty: It was a weekday and schools had started back up. I waded
out into the surf with my cast net and waited. The water was still warm, and the sky was clear. I
threw my net at a passing school of mullet and managed to pull out two that were as long as my
I cut one up and put the head on my big rod, cast it out deep, and set the rod in a piece of
PVC I stuck in the sand. A family was walking down the beach toward Rachel and me: Two
parents, a toddler, and a young boy, maybe five or six. The boy broke away from his mom’s
hand and ran ahead of his family. He got close to me and stopped, pushing the blonde hair out of
his face with one hand and squinting up against the sun. “What are you fishing for?” he asked.
“Big fish,” I said.
“Like… bigger than me?”
“Like bigger than you.”
His family caught up with them, then, and the dad smiled at me. “Sorry,” he said. “Miles
is very interested in the ocean.”
“It’s fine,” I said. I looked over my shoulder at Rachel. The toddler, a little girl, was
wandering toward her, and the mother was following close behind.
“What do you usually catch out here?” the dad asked.
“Depends on the season,” I said. “I’m hoping for something big today.”
“Did you ever catch a shark?” asked Miles.
“Lots of them,” I said, still watching Rachel. She was playing with the girl and talking to
“Come on, Miles,” the dad said. “Let’s keep walking.”
“I want to see him catch a shark!” said Miles.
“It’ll be a while before anything bites,” I said. “The tide is pretty low right now.”
“Oooookaaayyyy.” Miles slumped his shoulders over and followed his dad. The mother
and toddler started following the dad as well. Eventually all their disparate paths converged into
one, and they meandered across the beach.
I walked up and sat down next to Rachel. She laid back, propping herself up on her
elbows. “The little girl’s name was Maggie,” she said.
“The little boy was Miles,” I said.
“I like that name. It was on my list.”
I looked over at her and saw she was tearing up behind her sunglasses. She sniffed and looked away. I slipped my hand into hers and she grabbed it, sitting up and leaning into my shoulder.
“I wasn’t happy with how it happened,” I said.
“I just wanted a good life for you two.”
“Any life is a good life,” she said.
Then my rod bent double. She perked up with interest — she didn’t fish herself, but she
was always fascinated by what I caught. I got up and half-jogged over to the rod, pulled it out of
the PVC pipe, tightened the drag, and leaned backward to set the hook and join the fight. I felt
the fish respond with three huge head shakes: A shark with it’s mouth open trying to spit out the
hook that was biting back.
A lot of people think that fighting a big shark is about strength, but really it’s delicate
work — equal parts martial arts and musical performance. You must anticipate your opponent’s
moves, block, and counter-attack, all while monitoring line tension and playing a
symphony on the drag to avoid getting broken off by the eighty or more pounds of piss and
vinegar that has your hook in its mouth. I found myself following the shark up the beach, trying
to get it to turn in toward the sand.
Just as the shark finally started to turn, I saw the family from earlier was walking toward
us, with Miles ahead of them again, rushing toward me. The shark jerked for another hard run,
and I let it take some drag until it tired out and turned again. I kept reeling until I could see my
leader sticking out of the water. A dorsal fin broke the surface, then submerged again. As I
gained ground, I waded out into the shallows.
The dad walked up, holding Miles. “What is it?” he asked.
“Shark,” I said. “Looks like a Blacktip. Can you hold the rod?”
“Sure.” He put Miles down.
I handed him the rod and waded out toward the shark. I grabbed the leader and started to
drag the shark into shallower water. A dorsal fin again, then a tail fin, broke the surface; from the
beach, Miles shouted something which I couldn’t hear over the breakers. I grabbed the tail as it
got closer, and dragged the shark up onto the beach. It was almost four feet long, and easily
weighed more than Miles.
“What kind of shark is that?” Miles asked.
“It’s a Blacktip. Probably about 2 years old,” I said. I straddled the shark and pulled up on
its nose, so that I could remove the circle hook from his mouth. The dad was trying to get his
cellphone out for a picture without dropping the rod. Rachel and the man’s wife were walking
up; the woman had a tight grip on her daughter.
“Miles, get away from that shark,” the mother said.
“It’s fine,” said the dad.
“Can I touch it?” asked Miles.
His dad looked at me. “Is it safe?” he asked.
Miles knelt beside the shark, quiet for the first time since I met him. He reached for the
shark’s side, and I would have sworn he was filled with reverence for the sacred. While he
stroked the shark from head to tail, and then from tail to head, his dad snapped pictures on his
cell phone. “It’s rough,” Miles said. He looked up at me.
“They used to use shark skin as sandpaper,” I said. “It’s only rough one way though.”
Miles stroked the shark up and down again. He moved toward its head; I was still holding
it by the nose. Miles looked into its pale blue eyes; I looked up and saw Rachel smiling, eyes still
tearing up. In that moment, as boy and beast met, I realized that our little boy could have grown
up to experience the same awe and wonder that Miles was confronted with in this other worldly
creature. In the transcendence of that moment, I understood why someone might believe in God.
The enormity of what I had lost, of the son whom I would never meet, overwhelmed me for the
“Are you gonna keep him?” asked Miles.
“No,” I said.
“Why not?” the father asked.
“It’s just the way things are,” I said.
I dragged the shark back down through the wash and into the breakers. The water hit its
gill slits, revitalizing it. Miles followed behind me, cautious, and watching closely. I pushed the
shark out into the surf, nose first; it floated, still for a second, and then thrashed its tail, spraying
water back over Miles and me. Miles squealed. We watched as its dorsal fin cruised up the face
of a breaker and through the wave, out into the deep water beyond.
“Wow,” said Miles. “Thanks.” He turned and splashed back up onto the shore. I slowly
“Thanks,” said the dad.
“Thank you,” said the mom.
The whole beach was quiet. Even the sea birds seemed to observe the moment of silence,
in obeisance to what had just happened. Rachel stepped up beside me, holding the fishing rod.
She slipped her hand into mine, and we watched as the little family wandered away from us.
“One day,” said Rachel.
“Yeah,” I said. “One day.”