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  • Broken Waters
  • Rachel Hillier Pratt (bio)

I followed the sandy trail that led from the beach through the coconut grove to my leaf and stick house at the top of the hill. One more month. In four weeks I would complete my Peace Corps assignment, leave the Solomon Islands, and return home for some turkey dinner with my family. I took a deep breath and noticed that my heart rate had gone back to normal, but the adrenaline letdown had left a metallic taste in my mouth. I'd just finished treating a soccer player who'd lost his toe in a soccer tackle—a soccer player who'd insisted on playing barefooted. While his toe hung on by a shred of skin, I'd cleaned out the sand, taped it together, and sent him on a two-hour boat ride in a ten-foot dinghy with an outboard motor strapped to the back to see the doctor in Kirakira. Maybe. Maybe the doctor would be there. I'd given him my only supply of pain medication, too. Only four weeks, I figured. What could happen in four weeks?

The wind came off the sea and blew my hair forward. Deep-water waves crashed upon the black sand beach behind me. Billowing clouds whizzed across jungle canopy. At the other end of the clearing, the crowd continued cheering for the soccer game. It was the last game of the day, and I rushed to see Larry play.

I hopped up into my leaf house on stilts, but before I could pull off my stinking shirt, I noticed Karina at the back entrance. The sun lingered above the fringe of the inland mountains, and her blond, kinky hair caught the light, lighting up her Melanesian brown face. She didn't smile, and she wore her only T-shirt—the faded words "Solomon Islands" stretched above her pregnant belly. Her legs, in comparison, looked as if two brown saplings poked out from beneath her worn calico skirt. The white chafe marks on her calloused knees meant she'd been working and hadn't showered or smoothed on the coconut oil yet. Unusual. Wrong time of day for a visit, [End Page 51] too. She should have been preparing dinner. Then I noticed the purple crescents below her brown eyes.

"Karecello," she called me in Kahua, "my waters are broken." She turned to squint into the late afternoon sun.

"What?" I said, my chest squeezing. "It's too early." She wasn't due for another five weeks. I should have missed the whole thing. Behind her, palm fronds bent in the ocean breeze.

"I know," she said, placing one hand under her belly to shoo a fly from her face with the other.

"How long?" I asked.

"Since noontime," she said.

"They took the boat." I forced my voice steady. Kirakira was two hours away, and depending on the seas, the boat could return this evening—or next week.

Karina slid her big toe through the sandy dirt, making little swirl patterns. We both peered out to sea and then bent our necks towards the clouds scooting at a swift pace. We moved to the front porch. She sat down beside me.

"Any pains?" I asked. The wind fluttered through the sago-palm leaves on the roof.

"No more, yet," she said in Pidgin English. The sun dipped completely below the canopy of rain trees behind us, bringing on a premature dusk. Karina scooted closer so that our legs touched.

"When the water came," she said after a long sigh, "it was just a little bit." She put her hand over her mouth. "At first I thought the baby pushed down on . . ." She laughed and pointed down.

She wouldn't say pee. "Then a gush." She smiled and swallowed hard. Her lips stretched grimly.

"I'm so happy you will be with me when my baby comes." She put her hand on my knee, a common act of affection for Makiran women. The palm trees down by the shore swirled with the wind change. During the night, cool, damp jungle air would seep out toward the ocean. In the morning, it would switch...


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pp. 51-64
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