The Soft Room

The following is an excerpt from Gotham fiction instructor  Karen is also an O. Henry Short Story Award winner and the author of a short story collection, The Other Door.

An exerpt from The Soft Room
a novel by Karen Heuler

They were golden-haired, those twins. They were square-faced with thick eyebrows and strong chins. They had eyes of slate-blue, each with three golden flecks, and abnormally large, dilated pupils. Their mouths were generous and determined. Strong, vibrant girls, they grabbed immediately at anything in reach. Robust, lusty, big babies, their lungs like bellows, accordion-hearted, they expanded and contracted from joy to sorrow, trumpeting with outrage and gurgling with glee. And, no matter what the emotion, even with their crinkled eyelids half-shut on some large sensation, they checked each other to see if their responses agreed.

Abigail was the first-born, and she came into the world howling, no one had to smack her. Megan, however, yawned, gulped air, shook her fists and didn’t cry, no matter how hard she was slapped. Enid, the new mother, strained to hear the second yell and had to be reassured that the child was silent but healthy. The nurse would say no more, exchanging a quick glance with the doctor. Time would tell if the infant was mute; perhaps the yawns were really inarticulate howls, the first of a series of pantomimes against the world.

By the time they all left the hospital--Abby in Enid’s arms, Meg in Ralph’s arms - both twins were equally noisy, faces turning pinched red and vocal chords working furiously when they were hungry or soiled or bored. Ralph held his child tentatively, afraid that the diapers and blankets wouldn’t protect him from the warm, vibrant spill (for such small things, they had already managed to christen him - each one - and he had a new respect for small capacities). Enid, still exhausted but feeling almost light enough to float now that the great weight had been lifted from her belly, crooned absently. She found herself humming whenever she had a baby in her arms, like a cat with a kitten. She felt accomplished, having two at once, saving herself an extra pregnancy and double bills. A shy, pleased, meditative smile crept around her lips; she had been economical. The future spread ahead of her - dressing the twins identically or not, being the only one to tell them apart, parading down the avenue with a double stroller. She would keep a record, a valuable record, perhaps, on the development of twins. She would join the Twin Society, she had looked it up when the doctor had detected the second heartbeat; she would find other magical mothers, bearers of twins, a new-found community. She had always wanted to join something.

Ralph followed his own thoughts. Enid hadn’t noticed, yet, how kind he was about the fact that they were girls, not boys, and there was no way he could point out his own benevolence. Besides, he suspected that he might actually prefer girls. He imagined two radiant daughters, clinging to him prettily, adoring him, asking him endless questions and waiting breathlessly for his reply. In a few years, maybe, there would be a boy. With his own progenerative powers, probably two boys. For a few steps he walked as if his balls were huge enough to get in his way, two for the record books. But he corrected his step when it seemed to disturb the baby. It would be a while before they chattered and adored him, and for the moment it seemed best to let them sleep.

To read the rest of this story, look for The Soft Room at  Copyright © by Karen Heuler.  Reprinted by permission of Livingston Press. All rights reserved.