Olivia Ocamb is an English major at UNC-Chapel Hill. She received the Burgess M. Staton Composition award for her literary analysis of D.H. Lawrence’s “The Rocking-Horse Winner” which she ... [+]

Image of Long Story Short Award - 2022
Image of Short Fiction
"Paula, you ready?" Angel asks. I can hear the edge in his question—a mix of fatigue and frustration. He's really asking, "Can we get this over with already?" At least he has the decency not to say it.


He carries my swollen backpack to his car. I can see the Corolla glistening like a black diamond in the driveway, and I can feel the humidity of the Miami night without leaving my spot on the couch. Oh shit, I think as my stomach tenses. I imagine that it's a basketball under my shirt like the ones my friends and I used to pretend with—not a little human.


The ride to the hospital is like a funeral procession. I remember my late grandfather and the heavy silence I felt in a different black car with my grandmother years ago. Though she suffered like I do now, her pain was different.

I try to breathe through another round of contractions—they're five minutes apart—but the sob in my throat makes that difficult. This is not how tonight is supposed to go! I imagine an alternate reality, one where Angel proposes to me at Miami Beach and we marry there a year later. Barefoot. White calla lilies in my hand. I see an apartment with roaches before we buy a house with rooms to spare. Tears prick at my eyes. As the tension in my abdomen dwindles, I hear a melancholy voice float out of the stereo. She whispers about the sadness of being alone.

I remember telling Angel. I handed him the pee stick with the plus sign, my hands shaking. "I don't want to be a father," he said. After a screaming match, we reached a compromise. "You can keep the baby, so long as you promise to give it up."

I sighed, waterlogged with tears. "Fine."

Angel interrupts my thoughts. "Hey." He takes his eyes off the lonely road. As a smile creeps on his face, I see a flicker of the man I fell in love with.

"Hey," I reply.

"You know, I've been thinking—"

"Thinking what?" My pulse quickens.

"Felix was telling me that some women lose twenty pounds right after they give birth. Maybe that'll be you." He chuckles and rubs my belly.

I jerk away.


"Nothing." Outside, the world is an inky smear.

He reaches for my hand. "Come on, baby. You know I was teasing. You look great." I don't look at him because his coffee-colored eyes will soften my anger like an overripe mango.

I hold his hand as I pant through more contractions, pretending that he is a concerned soon-to-be father and I am his serene wife.

When my muscles relax, he asks, "What are you thinking about?"

"Our future."

"Uh oh." His eyebrows arch. "What do you see?"

"Good things—a fixer-upper close to work, two rescued dogs, quiet evenings on our lanai."

"That sounds nice." He squeezes my hand again; my heart aches.

"But... I want to be a grandma."

His laugh is warm. "Aren't you a little young?"

"Someday I won't be."

"What are you saying?"

"I want to be a grandma with you, Angel." My words burn like bile, but I can't stop them. "But—we'll always have empty bedrooms and quiet dinners and holidays with friends. We'll be alone."

He releases my hand and doesn't say another word.


After passing palmettos and streetlamps lined like giant matchsticks, we arrive at the hospital. Angel parks in front of the ER wing, and I gasp through more contractions.

"You okay?"

I nod.

Muggy air floods the car as he opens the door and guides me out. Angel drops my bag on the curb with a thud.

He looks around, avoiding my eyes. "I guess this is it then, huh?"

I see the reel of our alternate future again—this time, he takes me through the doors and holds my hand as I birth the child we made during a summer rain. We cry, count fingers and toes.

Before I have a chance to speak, he kisses me the way he used to—the kind of kiss that reaches into my lungs and scoops out all the air. I squeeze my eyes shut and keep them closed for much longer than I should. When they flutter open, the Corolla's taillights are two pinpricks in the distance. I slide on my backpack and watch the lights disappear.