Forty years ago I was as big as a barrel. I thought I was three weeks overdue. (At that time, in that place nobody knew how to predict it, and didn't bother). Two weeks before I had grown so desperate that I faked labour and was taken into hospital. Instead of throwing me out they kept me, took blood tests and blood pressure, put me on and off various diets. Outside, flu ravaged, and the hospital was in quarantine. Family and friends came to communicate in gestures through sealed windows. You could also whisper through a locked basement door. Reading was out of the question because the brain was turned inwards. Time got suspended, like on a Magic Mountain. It was measured from breakfast to doctors' round, lunch to tea, dinner to lights off. Women in my ward were taken down to birth and came to visit the day after, full of horror stories. New women we brought in. I got still more frustrated and asked to be discharged.
There was nothing much I could do at home either. It was bitter cold outside, so no walks. Flu hazard, so no shops. Knitting was too tiresome. I spent days chopping vegetables for beetroot salad that they had fed us in the hospital. I had hated beetroot since early childhood. Somewhere out there, life was going on. People went to work and to the movies. People laughed and cried, went skiing, listened to music, learned foreign languages. I kept to beetroot salad like a lifeline.
Memory is so weird. I am sure family and friends were there, talked, maybe played games, but the only thing I remember is this huge empty loneliness that I was trying to fill with beetroot. I had collapsed on myself.
Forty years ago I still didn't know anything about the stranger with the working name Dmitry/Margaret.