Throughout the story, water represents nature’s power to destroy the narrator’s life. This is clearest in her use of water imagery to describe her miscarriages, a series of tragedies that have devastated her. The narrator often evokes the tides while describing her miscarriages; when realizing that she has lost her pregnancy, for instance, she describes “that tide ebbing again” and the “estuarine feeling of something ebbing away.” Not only does this suggest that her hopes of pregnancy are going out like the tide, but it also suggests just how powerless the narrator is to control her miscarriages, since they come—inevitably and cyclically—like the tides.
While the tidal imagery points to the predictability and inevitability of the miscarriages, other references suggest just how destructive these miscarriages are for the narrator. For instance, the narrator describes her miscarriages as “carving erosion gullies” through her. This suggests that her miscarriages are like water carving violently through the landscape (or, metaphorically, through the narrator), devastating her physically and emotionally, perhaps for good.
Finally, the narrator describes her heart as “a shallow dish of water” that she’s trying to keep from tipping over. Her implication is that the water is always on the brink of spilling, just as nature is always on the brink of destroying her whole life. At times, keeping the dish steady is painful, which suggests how hard it is for the narrator to fight nature’s impending chaos and hold everything together. By the end of the story, the narrator has not yet metaphorically let the bowl spill, but the future is uncertain, as nature continues to cyclically return.
Water Quotes in Waiting
This careful professional detachment while they’re gazing at the human map of you, the intimate, failed, faltering misstep, in ghostly black and white. White cloud coursing grainily over a black landmass, some cyclone gathering its bleary force offshore.
No nausea. Dull anguish like a bitter taste in my mouth, heart like a shallow dish of water I was desperate not to tip, filling my chest. That estuarine feeling of something ebbing away; those symptoms that had kept me so stupidly hopeful. Evaporating like a rainless cloud.
The natural course. Nature’s way. I’m baffled by it, I don’t mind telling you. I’ve had a gutful of it. Carving its erosion gullies through us, whipping the rug out from under us, making us eat its dust. I’m waiting for something comprehensible to jump out of this garbled mess and make sense to me.
[...] oh, Pete, I know what you need and I can’t give it to you; I can see it in the way you scratch the dog’s tilting head just where he loves it, the thwarted tenderness of that gesture so familiar to me that I feel the heavy dish of water in my chest teeter and almost overbalance, and I ache with holding it steady.