Percy says: stand up slowly.
Slow, stand up slow.

Now count to eighteen -- slow --
Turn to me, look -- Black eyes, turn to me --

Darling. Calm down.

Darling,
say that again.

-

Cho takes the moment in the sun. She is every moment, all at once. When they eat breakfast on the lawn, she's remembering breakfast in the flat, the hospital: an unbroken flat stomach, soft like shell pink. Bathing in nothing but sweat. There is the curve of a strawberry and its pregnant shade; where it tapers, she tapers, red mouth and all. The sun continues on like a burning road.

Only a mile in, and they disappear in the countryside. A mile in and Cho loses her breath, leaning on the fencepost, this or that smooth-smelling arm. Her own breathing -- long, short, long -- doesn't soothe the ache. She listens to him demonstrate, half-catatonic, but the attempt leads to nothing. She is following a heartbeat instead of a pattern. He furrows his brow at her, reconsidering.

It doesn't take much.

--

Four months ago, on the countertop. She swung thin legs, girlish in long athletic socks. She had a jaunty smile and no lipstick, khol deep at the corners of her eyes. It was a time devoted to summer, to wearing little: a strange mismatch of clothing. Sometimes a sundress with nothing underneath, or stockings and scantness, fantasy lace; she favored breezy shirts with buttons, oversized sweaters, wandering around in faded knickers from seventh year. Argyle patterns, men's sleep bottoms, beautifully crafted espadrilles -- laces taut on the down of her skin. There was a favorite red sweater, zipped to hide nothing but a creamy chest. A tie she stole on monday most of all, perfect to match Ravenclaw barettes, and the tendency to revisit old school clothing.

Blue and --
Blue and.

Lots of slips: lavender, white, pink, yellow. Every color in a candy shop.

It was all a ploy to see what looked best, pooled at the foot of the bed. She wanted to know what disappeared fastest: which parts of her, laid out, would take up more of a buffet. She wanted to know a lot of things, that season -- their second season. Strange and wonderful things, the worst of things. Best of all: why in the world she wore that band on her finger, why it was funny to pop it between her teeth like something sweet. (Spit it out on his stomach like something sharp). Something she'd heard of before -- a kind of joke, that black circle on her tongue.

--

Percy has a strong hand, there.
Small of her back and he's kneading a star.

Percy says: take your vitamin.
I know it's big, but try it quick.
You won't even notice.

And then Cho laughs,
at innuendo, at the fact that soon
she will vomit all over
the kitchen floor.

Then Percy watches her, so carefully,
on the stairs. On slippery floors.
In public, wearing sunglasses,
something that billows,
something to hide the injustice
of what they've done.

Vitamins or no.

--

But is it injustice? At first, it feels awfully beautiful. Cho lies awake trying to imagine what it all must mean, pieced together: there are magazines, television programs, strange chapters in the biology book. She can't interpret the english words, and in Mandarin they fall neatly, such clean terms: life status, a strong appetite. This makes more sense than what they would have her believe otherwise. They would make perfect lipstick shades: it's there, you are full. But Cho has always been a vessel for useful things: discerning eyes, cultured tastes, memory thick as the fluid under her navel. She places a hand there, probing -- nothing but yolk.

In her dreams, she imagines a world where everything is potential, dancing glass. A world where this is no different than any other day. Percy heaves out a breath in his sleep: the air collapses in on a syllable, qiu, qiu, as sweet and insubstantial as an eggshell.

--

High grass. Wheelbarrow.

The sweet scent brings a tear to her eye -- oh, once I was nineteen -- and they stop to enjoy the breeze. It is a place she's wanted to hide in for so long. Cho adores the sky, adores the clouds, adores summer. Adores. She doesn't mind being nauseous, up on the hill; it's only when her hands begin to stiffen that she stops, laughs. It's good to distract Percy from moments like these; they happen too often, and it isn't fair. He tries on her sunhat for sport, and then they kiss a little in the shade. If the sky holds heaven, two tongues make up the boat there. Cho is a river.

I want freckles like yours, she tells him suddenly.

From where they stand, it's all one amoebic shadow: tall on one end, short on the other, and rounded in the middle. It's gone awfully green this season, and she's so pleased. So pleased she dances, even, swinging her arms to a tree and wind drum corps. An invisible rhythm surrounds them: someone is burning leaves, starting up an engine. She hopes that a deep hum in her throat -- stars, eyes, moondance -- will transfer to that vital place, all seeing and no touching. How heavy it is to run afterward. How sore is the stretch.

Then, when it grows cold: she presses into him again. She is pressed into.

--

They try to make love in the bathtub.

Percy says: there, there.
Try again -- come up --
Yes.

Yes, Cho.

She cries miserably into the skin of his shoulder afterward,
but then he is lathering her back, saying something
about how glad he is anyway.

Are you sure?

Are you sure?

I'm so sure. You'd laugh if you knew.

--

Before this happened, ten thousand cello strings. Cho arranges spare bows in the closet, lost in the shadow of her broom, spare dresses. Did you know: an arpeggio is the same as flying? It's a chord, it's a tendon, it's everything in her heart set out like a clothesline. Percy can tie her in bows around his fingers: she'll never let him forget, and what's more neither will he.

There are so many black hairs in that bed of yours, Cho says. Would you like more?

But he flashes his white hand at her, smirking. The hematite is a similar shade, but it changes as he moves -- like bubbles from a plastic wand. She wouldn't mind something like that, once in a while. No -- not quite. Papa never let her play in the house. He didn't like soap on the hardwood floors! It put him on edge to see her slip around, dance. He didn't like her little girl shoes in the hallway either, and if she left her coat on the good chair he'd throw a fit.

Cho loves her father even more now that she's free of him.

Percy lets her play in the house all the time: music, puzzles. Every game. He lets her play with his things too -- shaving cream, books, childhood relics. (The photo albums especially astound her.) There are also the odd remnants of ministry life festering in his files: it's a fascinating history, she thinks, for someone with no paper smile to match it.

She plays with the lights out, sucking his shoulderblades. Or is that a hip? In the shower, ambushing him with a camera or a feather quill. It's like being a teenager again, only better -- she's got no angel on her shoulder, no devil goading her on. In her twenties it's pure ambition. Ambition, only better.

And it's like that for a very long time.

--

Now her relatives dole out odd tonics and rich meals: fatty duck, salted eggs, spinach in flaky pockets. Thick tofu fried in coconut oil. Cho prefers candy still. She'd rather be sweet: sweetness is fading fast. Her skin feels tight and anxious, though just underneath it's as if nothing's happened: something calm and in a soft focus, like black and white television. It's so odd it makes her teeth hurt: from one moment to the next her heart can speed, matching fervor with Percy's glittering eyes, but she's never moved from practise to perfect. Not yet.

They think she's too calm -- it unsettles her cousins, who have been through this before. But then, as soon as they're getting comfortable, she's hysterics. During a blood test Cho nearly falls asleep; as soon as they're home she cries herself to sleep on the rug. Percy listens to her wail about figures and probability. He has to stop her from taking long walks. Then, for breakfast, it's a pickle and an argument and a coarse look. She doesn't want ice cream at first, it's too fattening -- then it's all she can eat. Milk, of course: the thinnest milk possible, flavored with almond.

So much water! And yet her tongue shrivels up like the skin on her thighs.

Percy carries her to bed again and again. Eventually it's for good. Eventually she has to give up the symphony and part-time at the library. She's grown too tender, nearly splitting, and it's time for rest. Time to lock her up in the cotton.

Before too long a summer sun calls her from the windowsill, and then it's taking less and less time to set. Her mouth is firmer than ever. There is angry caterwauling from the record player, and Cho has never wanted to see an ocean more in her life.

I hate men! I hate all of them. I hate you, and your father, and my father. Your brothers are idiots. Dumbledore was an idiot. The minster is an idiot. Men can suck an egg. Men can swallow my vitamin!

--

Percy says: breathe like this.
The in, the out.
In, out.

You're just too small is what it is.
My little wife, right?

But --
Cho's got a lipstick shade,
and it's blood cherry, and that's
exactly the angle she's taking now.

Upside down cherries in a pool
of wine.

Stemless.

--

They lie forever in the shadow, a vague coolness beyond the porch. Summer houses are good for this. They're made for waiting: so much silence, so much heaviness. If you're Cho, it's all you want: to be smothered by your surroundings. Blindfolded by circumstance. Better when it's harder to sense what's coming -- better not to know! -- even if you're sure that's what it is. "Right? Right."

She was always most peaceful here, anyway. It's the lull of the country. Anyone can see it's just not the same in the city. Anyone knows the city is more than schizophrenic. Dangerously vocal. No matter how high you go, there's going to be sounds, and you're going to hear them.

Cho doesn't mind.

The dew lifts a glow from the skin at her hairline. Droplets hide where it's good and dark. Funny: Percy is taller than she's ever seen him, from this angle. Somewhere beyond the fringe of her eyelashes he disappears, reappears, disappears. He's hovering over her in a checkered shirt.

Angel. What a word.

--

At first, the vibrations of the instrument lit her from the inside. Cho was a candle at practise: she glowed, burned, and left to go home before three. A young cellist. There was the most movement then -- that sick little turn of fluid and softish bones. She couldn't remember anything stranger in her entire life. Halfway to the door she was forced to hold herself, the new firm bowl of a stomach. Dizzying thought: somewhere underneath her navel were two lungs, soft and insubstantial as candy floss. The saying went to keep your secrets, take them to your grave; Cho could not keep this one much longer.

Eating mango from a dish. He comes to lick the salt from her wounded mouth.

--

Percy says: stand up slowly.
Slow, stand up slow.

She's gone dizzy!
Oh --
too dizzy for red,
she falls away from it.

Luck is
what made her ill in the first place.
You knew that.

Now count to eighteen -- Slow --
The slowest moment of her life.

Turn to me, look --

Yes?

Black eyes, turn to me --
But they don't. Cho hides them
just beyond the softness of his cheek.

Darling. Calm down.

Mumble --
Choking, now --
And then it's tears.

Darling, say that again.

--

The field is silent. Somewhere, a bird cries against July crickets, tourism, every plague of the western world -- and it's not the city, not a newspaper, but it will have to do. The sky has gone between peach ice cream and a girl's blush. Real this time, it's true. It's between the eyes with so much beauty. That's when:

I'm pregnant, Cho says to no one in particular.

And Percy comes home early.