The pregnant girl at the end of the world goes to the ocean, like she
used to do in the old days. There are door-open empty cars in the road,
there are overturned buses and abandoned bicycles. The pregnant girl
walks past them all, tote over her shoulder. The pregnant girl doesn’t
look for bones or blood, the pregnant girl thinks of the ocean. The baby
When the pregnant girl was young (she thinks of herself as no longer
young; she thinks of herself as not yet old), she would go with her
parents to the ocean. They would walk the same cracked sidewalks she
travels now. She remembers there were sometimes straggle-stem flowers
peeking up out of the cracks, remember sometimes she would pluck and
carry them, send their little purple faces out on the ocean waves.
She remembers her parents would set up a towel on the sand, slather the
baby in his diaper with sunblock, her mother applying her dark lipstick,
puckering her lips with a pop. Tell her not to wander where they
couldn’t see her, tell her don’t go in the water alone.
She would stand at the edge, waterkiss along each of her toes, toss the
little purple flowers out, out, out, watch them float, and disappear.
The pregnant girl has been alone since the world ended, or almost alone.
She thinks there are two people left in all the world, and she is both
The pregnant girl rubs her hand over the arc of her belly, strokes like
it is something that doesn’t belong to her, up and over, up and over the
She thinks: Don’t come out, baby.
She thinks: stay, stay, stay.
When the pregnant girl was first pregnant, there was still a world and a
plus sign on a stick and her mother’s heavy sigh at least tell me you
know who the father is and the quiet of disconnected phone when she
said she did not.
When the pregnant girl first was pregnant, the baby was going to be a
girl and look just like her and she would name it after herself and call
it Junior as a joke and they would wear matching outfits and go to the
ocean together, collect shells there, and she would be called ma’am,
how are you today, ma’am, and people would hold doors and offer her
their seats, and the baby would never, never leave her.
The ocean is loud with wave-roar and sandshift. The pregnant girl has
become used to the silence of the apocalypse, puts her hands to her
ears. She thinks how did everything used to be so loud, she thinks
how did I stand it?
The pregnant girl lays her tote down in the sand, pulls out the items
she brought for her picnic, salt crackers and peanut butter, eats them
there in the sand with her fingers. The pregnant girl hasn’t used a
knife or a fork since the world ended. She uses a spoon in the sand now,
like a tiny shovel, like a baby shovel, digs down and down and down.
Before she was pregnant, she would go to the ocean at night, watch the
way the moon and stars’ shimmer-reflection broke with each pulsing wave.
She stood there alone, away from the crowds of bonfire kids on the
beach, their loud music. She remembers a man who found her there, who
said are you lost, little girl, and she said I’m not lost and she
said I’m not a little girl, and the man laughed in that way some men
do, deep and body-shaking, head going up and back, all right, then, he
said, all right, and she never knew his name.
Since the world ended, the pregnant girl has been alone with the baby,
has practiced deep breaths, has thought boiling water and towels, has
thought I don’t know anything, anything, anything, has raked her hands
down her thighs, left red-marked striations, has thought of the ocean
and the ocean and the ocean.
The baby rustles inside of her.
The baby curls itself up like a wadded tissue, the baby swims like a
The pregnant girl puts her hand to the swell of her belly, says I
know, says I know.
The pregnant girl leaves her spoon sticking up out of the sand, her tote
and the cracker boxes beside. When she looks back at them, they look
like abandoned things, she thinks, like remnants.
The ocean, she thinks, is the same as it has always been. She goes
barefoot into the water, lets it lick up to her knees, lets it tug and
pull at her legs. She stands in the water. She closes her eyes.
There is a very small, man-made lake in Cathy Ulrich's hometown. Some people go there to swim; she never does. Her work has been published in various journals, including Blue Earth Review, Adroit and Wigleaf.