Having always imagined that they would have children one day, they decide, four years into their marriage, to stop preventing the possibility. After seven months they get the news beside the bathroom sink, in the form of a faint blue line within a cotton-backed porthole on a plastic stick—which doesn’t seem a wholly fitting medium to herald the arrival of a new member of the race, a being who might still be around ninety-five years from now, and who will come to refer to the two presently underwear-clad people with an as yet unbelievable sobriquet: “my parents.”
During the long months of the phoney war, they wonder what exactly they should be doing. Familiar with the difficulties of their own lives, they look on this as a chance to get everything right from the very start, beginning with the details. A Sunday supplement recommends more potato skins and raisins, herring and walnut oil, which Kirsten zealously commits herself to as a way of warding off some of the terror she feels at her lack of control over everything occurring inside her. While she is in meetings or on the bus, at a party or doing the laundry, she knows that just a few millimeters from her belly button there are valves forming and neurons stitching and DNA determining what sort of chin there will be, how the eyes will be set and which bits of their individual ancestries will make up the filaments of a personality. Small wonder she goes to bed early. She has never been so concerned about anything in her life.
Rabih often places his hand protectively over her belly. What’s going on inside is so much cleverer than they are. Together they know how to do budgets, calculate traffic projections, design floor plans; what’s inside knows how to build itself a skull and a pump that will function for almost a century without resting for so much as a single beat.
In the last weeks they envy the alien its final moments of complete unity and understanding. They imagine that in later life, perhaps in some foreign hotel room after a long flight, it will try to drown out the noise from the air-conditioning and dampen the disorientation of jet lag by curling up into itself in that original fetal position in search of the primordial peace of the long-lost maternal brine.
When she at last emerges after a seven-hour ordeal, they call her Esther, after one of her maternal great-grandmothers, and secondarily Katrin, after Rabih’s mother. They can’t stop looking at her. She appears perfect in every way, the most beautiful creature they have ever seen, staring at both of them with enormous eyes that seem infinitely wise, as if she had spent a previous life absorbing every volume of wisdom in the world. That wide forehead, those finely crafted fingers, and those feet as soft as eyelids will later, during the long, sleepless nights, play a not-incidental role in calming nerves when the wailing threatens to test parental sanity.
At once they begin to fret about the planet they have brought her into.