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I'm drifting towards sleep again when my sister grabs my umbilical cord and tugs it. She doesn't tug hard - she's too weak - but it's enough to wake me. I hear her voice, hardly more than a whisper, deep down inside my head.

'You've let go...'

I flex my aching hands. She's right.

'I'm sorry,' I say. 'I was falling asleep.'

My sister touches my arm. 'I know,' she whispers. 'I'm sorry, too... it's just that I get so scared.'

I'm ashamed. I hate myself for falling asleep, relaxing my hands, letting go.

'You're tired,' she says. 'You can't keep going like this without rest.'

She's right, of course. How long is it since I've slept properly? Days? Weeks? After a while you lose track. And our situation really isn't my fault - but that doesn't stop me feeling bad.

'Please don't be scared,' I say, stroking her head. 'Everything will be fine.'

I take hold of my cord - I hate the way it throbs beneath my fingers - and start squeezing again. I have to stay awake. I have to keep this up. If I don't, Big Momma's Good Stuff will pump into me like a river - so much more than my fair share - and my sister will carry on getting weaker and weaker. It just isn't right.

'I'm sorry,' I say again, squeezing, twisting, constricting the flow, taking less nourishment so that she gets a little more.

Her cord swells with the increase. It's a paltry, ill-formed thing only half as thick as mine. That's why she's so small and weak, and why I'm so big and strong. It isn’t fair - but what could I do until my hands formed and got big enough to squeeze?

Deep in my head I hear my sister sigh.

'Listen...' she says, her voice already a little stronger.

I listen. We're nine-monthers now, used to Big Momma's body-sounds. We hardly hear them. But above the constant lub-dub of her heartbeat I hear something else familiar. The sound of Big Momma crying.

'She's always crying,' says my sister. 'Why is she so unhappy?'

It’s a question I keep asking myself.

'I don't know,' I say. 'But everything will be OK when we're born - just wait and see.'

I try to hide my fear. I mustn't let her know what I'm thinking.

'What do you think it'll be like out there?'

She keeps asking me that, and I'm so tired. I try not to get angry.

‘Everything will be fine,’ I say.

‘Do you really think so?’

‘Of course.’

She puts her hand on top of mine. She must be able to feel the throbbing.

‘I love you,’ she says.

‘I love you, too,’ I tell her.

After a while I sense she’s fallen asleep.

Everything will be fine, I tell myself.

But Big Momma is still sobbing, and my hands already ache.

I close my eyes and squeeze harder.

 
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