A fish flicking its tail

Photo by Leman on Unsplash

By Melissa Poulin

If I focus, I can almost feel that strange sensation again: a soft fluttering, like a bird’s wing or a fish tail. I remember laughing and crying at once when it happened, nearly halfway through pregnancy with my oldest, carried to term after a brief and frightening ectopic pregnancy. For weeks I’d been waiting for a sign that all was well with this new, improbable life within me, and for weeks I’d felt nothing– much later than every pregnancy app and website had told me I would. Later, at the ultrasound, we would learn the placenta was positioned between the baby and the front wall of my uterus, muffling any movement I might have felt until she was quite big, her kicks forceful. I felt that same familiar flutter with my second and third babies much earlier, so early I doubted it was real at first.

She didn’t answer but stood as if she were listening to something. Her gaze was remote and strange. Now she felt it again. Deep within her womb it felt as if a fish was flicking its tail… She had waited so long for this– she hardly dared to acknowledge the great fear in her soul.

Kristin has been alone with her secret for so long when she feels her son “quicken,” resentment growing in the corners of her heart that Erlend can’t see what’s so obvious to her. He is too wrapped up in the display of redemptive return he imagines their marriage brings him. Meanwhile, she wraps a thick cloth of shame around her middle to keep the news from her servants just a little while longer.

One of the many paradoxes of pregnancy is the feeling of being more alone than ever through the sudden presence of another being within the walls of your own body. You are both profoundly alone, and undeniably in company. No one else on earth can feel precisely this way. No one else is more responsible for the life of the helpless being you carry, and yet you are entirely without control of the ultimate outcome. Paradox is one way that we, as humans, recognize the holy. Pregnancy can be a sacred space opened up within one’s very body. For Kristin, the weight of her sin weighs so heavily on this sacred space, it threatens to cave in on her.

Reading “The Fruit of Sin,” I am most struck by the intense imagery that symbolizes Kristin’s deception and its consequences. Behind every shiny surface, from the procession to the estate, lies a rotting interior. It’s an interesting parallel to her experience of pregnancy– an external state at odds with the internal. Her pregnancy becomes a metaphor for the gestation of truth within as she makes the slow and painful journey toward reconciliation. Before she makes her physical pilgrimage to St. Olav’s shrine, she makes an internal pilgrimage as she approaches birth, unwinding the lies that have blinded her and bound her to her fate.

He suddenly understood with certainty– but he had realized it from the moment he first saw the tiny red infant face pressed against Kristin’s white shoulder: it would never be the same between them, the way it had been before, Erlend laments near the end of the chapter. For him, the transformation is at the surface: the child is the cause of the end of one part of their story together, and the beginning of a new one. As is often the case for mothers and fathers, the father marks the transformation at birth, while the mother had crossed the threshold to motherhood much earlier.

For Kristin, things haven’t been the same between them for a long time. When she began hiding the truth from Erlend and her family, an internal deception began, further entangling her in sin. Several times in this section, Kristin tries to put her finger on the moment everything began to change. Over and over, she returns to the moment she chose to betray her betrothed, her family, her faith, and herself.

Long before the outside world could see the change, the internal world of the soul felt a shift, like a fish flicking its tail.


Melissa Reeser Poulin is the author of a chapbook of poems, Rupture, Light (2019), and co-editor of the anthology Winged: New Writing on Bees (2014). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in basalt, Catamaran Literary Reader, Entropy, Poetry Northwest, Relief, Ruminate Magazine, The Taos Journal of International Poetry & Art, and Water~Stone Review, among others. She’s working toward her license as a community acupuncturist, and lives near Portland, Oregon with her husband Lyle and their three children, Sky, Robin, and Iris. Follow her on Instagram at @melissa_r_poulin or online at melissareeserpoulin.com.

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