'Full Belly Moon' by Rachael Dunlop
The horse chestnut tree cracked and toppled during the night when no one was watching. Inside the ripped stump, the wood was still warm, damp, golden, when we looked at it the next morning.
‘They do that, horse chestnut trees,’ said the old woman next to me. ‘I’ve seen it happen four, maybe five times in this park over the years.’
The huge trunk had pulled away from its own stump as it had fallen, as if it were trying to make a run for it, pull itself free from the snare of its own roots. For just a moment, it flew. And then it fell.
‘Last time it happened,’ the old woman continued, ‘over there, on the other side of the park, there was a babby killed.’ She leaned on the handle of her shopping trolley as if at a bar in a pub. ‘It was in a pram, the babby, its mother was just over there in the playground, pushing an older one on a swing. Shocking.’ She didn’t sound shocked. She looked at my stomach and nodded, waiting. I resisted the urge to cradle the swell of my belly as I’d seen other women do, protectively, one arm under, one over. Once it was out, this kid that was rooted into me, it would be on its own. Sooner it learned that, the better.
‘Did you see the moon last night?’ I said. ‘A super moon, they call it, when the moon is at its closest to the Earth and angled just right, so it’s as big as it ever gets. I saw it, even though it was still light with it being midsummer’s night. A big silver penny on a pale blue sky.’
The old woman grasped the handle of her shopping trolley. Protectively. ‘Can’t say I did,’ she said.
‘Maybe,’ I said, ‘this tree was reaching for the moon.’ No one was listening. The old woman had moved on to join a gaggle of gawpers standing around the crown of the tree. Birds’ nests were scattered on the grass. Things that should be up were down. It seemed wrong to look at them.
I felt a foot, inside, pushing up at the top of my belly and I pushed back with the heel of my hand. ‘Don’t reach for the moon, kiddo,’ I said, ‘you’ll only fall.’