The idea of taking a trip was suggested to me by coworkers. I needed a place to be alone with my body before I gave birth. The whole office voted. You’ll want a swamp, or a carriage ride, they said. A cemetery. Some fish. They settled on New Orleans for my trip. A babymoon would bump-start the natural, pain-filled birth of my child.
My coworkers bought me a gift card for gas and took over my files, then sent me away with a cake that was shaped like a rattle. During the drive, I imagined the tourists, people like me: women wearing tube tops, men with sunburned necks, their bucket hats floating down streets strewn with beads. Good luck with your baby, they’d say, toasting me with spiked lemonade. I wanted to stay away from that part of town. My coworkers had warned me, and I had agreed: I needed to relax my mind and my pelvis.
My mother met me at the AirBnB north of downtown. She’d been tracking me on her phone. I tried to send her away, but she parked her SUV between the stilts of the house. I explained to her my intentions—preparation, solitude. My mother clasped her hands, silent, respecting my wish to appear alone. My coworkers’ words came back to me: Retreat to newness! to nature! Congrats! They’d written it on my card. I reclined in the front seat of the car and massaged my belly, prodding the foot, or the butt, or the forehead of the person inside me.
“Please leave,” I said.
My mother shook her head, mimed: family trip. She had invited my brother and my partner along. My brother hulked in the yard with his Legos, drooling, eating plots of moss off the steps. My partner leaned in through the open car window and slicked icing from the cake. Happy baby, the frosting read. Soon, only—y bab.
That evening, I walked through the streets of the Big Easy. The air was humid. Jazz sprayed from the doors of neighborhood bars. Pigeons collected on roof slats, shuffling as my family shuffled after me, keeping their distance. They were letting me be alone for the last time in my life. My partner stared longingly at souvenirs displayed in shop windows. My brother threw Legos into the gutters. When they stopped for beignets without me, I circled back. We drank café au laits on the riverfront.
Two days passed before it became clear that silence wasn’t helping. I remembered newness and nature. I remembered retreat. With my unspoken consent, my mother took charge. She filled the last days of my babymoon with excursions, and dragged me along—a cemetery tour, a voodoo tour, a tour of the WWII Museum. I played Billy Cuffles, an orphan. I wandered past guns and wall hangings, my ID on a lanyard, scanning Billy’s story onto screens. I got married. I was drafted. I died in a raid in North Africa, the last one alive.
My coworkers set up a video chat. They wanted to know if I’d gone into labor. No, I said, and showed them my belly. Just moon here, no baby. They laughed and saluted my gibbous middle with coffee, then reported on the office’s state of affairs—a botched account, flowers from clients, the weekly crossword they’d laid on my desk, half-started. The secretary showed me a crib he’d made from empty boxes of printer paper. They were ready for me to return with my fetus-turned-child.
I panned around the AirBnB, showing them the couch and a view of the city. It was morning, the last day of my trip. My coworkers were alarmed to see my mother, my brother, and my partner eating bagels outside, enjoying the muggy porch air.
“What are they doing there?” my coworkers whispered. “Have you spent time alone?Visited swamps? Eaten fish?”
“No say,” I said.
My mother overheard and pulled out her phone. She booked a boat tour and packed up our bags. She drove us south of the city, across the bridge, to a small fishing village. We climbed onto a pontoon captained by a man with a backpack. My mother had chosen the boat for its bathroom, a small door attached to the stern.
We sped across the water, passing cypress trees and bayous. Spanish moss hung from tall branches. Oil rigs girded the swamp. From under the wheel, the captain drew out a fist-sized hook on a line. He brought out the skin of a gator and its claws.
“Gator hunting,” he said. “With permits.”
“Permits,” we echoed.
The captain pulled the pontoon alongside an abandoned gas line. Four gators were sunning on logs, ridged and alien. The captain idled the motor and pulled a bag of marshmallows from his pack. He tossed the puffy candy-pillows into the water. The gators snapped and made frothy waves; they were six-feet long and growing.
My family crouched at the helm and took pictures. I sat on the pontoon’s padded bench, alone. We were waiting for the captain to fish out a gator, but he stowed the hook in his backpack and beamed at us.
“Ladies’ room,” I said loudly, but my family wasn’t listening. I rose and tried to enter the door at the stern. The captain stepped in my path. He had a dimple in his left cheek, and his nose was off-center.
“Occupied,” he said.
“I have to pee,” I insisted, and knocked on the door. No answer.
The captain shrugged. He wedged open the door and allowed me to peek. A gator the size of my forearm was sprawled on the floor. The captain knelt and pulled the baby out by the tail. He placed it on his shoulder, a jewel-eyed parrot, its jaw a small trap.
“All yours,” he said.
I entered the bathroom and peed. A wet spot stained the floor where the gator had rested.
When I emerged from the bathroom, my brother had taken over the marshmallow bag. He was chucking the marshmallows into the water, shrieking, running laps on the deck. Gators swarmed the pontoon. The captain was passing the baby gator around to the tourists. They held up its body and smiled for pictures.
“The captain just wants us to tip him,” my partner said in my ear. I jumped back.
My brother snagged the gator hook from the captain’s backpack. He clasped the hook to my belt.
“Your turn!” my mother told me. She was cradling the baby, cooing, rocking it.
“Newness,” I reminded my family. I drew a circle in the air to indicate the personal space that they’d violated. “Nature.”
“Yes, we know,” my mother said, tugging the line that hung from my belt. “Retreat.”
When she passed the gator to me, I held it over the water. Its family circled below—uncles, second-cousins. The gator’s scales prickled my skin. It opened and closed its mouth, wanting to be fed. The baby in my stomach gave a small kick.
The captain held up his phone. My family leaned in.
Katie Young Foster grew up in the Sandhills of Nebraska. She is an M.F.A. candidate and the 2016-17 Creative Writing Fellow at the Curb Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Master’s Review Anthology, Smokelong Quarterly, and Cowboy Jamboree. In 2015, her work received an Honorable Mention from the Zoetrope All-Story Short Fiction contest.