Free Short: What It Would Be Like to Have a Baby With a Turnip
This story first appeared in the Fall 2005 edition of Sou’Wester.
By April Line
She is in her sixth month. She has ten weeks to go. Every ligament from her bellybutton to her knees aches and it is difficult to negotiate staircases. Yet all she can think about is deep, velvet penetration. She craves it the way she craved caviar and ice cream in the first trimester. She craves it the way she craves breakfast. Its absence makes her grumpy, makes her cry. She has dreams of squatting over a man – any man – her cocoa-buttered basketball belly bumping his abdomen, a parody of the erotic, the scent of chocolate and sweat collecting, slippery. Puffs of air escaping her nostrils, rhinoceros-like.
But he will not touch her, the father of her child, who is supposed to find her swollenness irresistible, or at least indulge her out of a sense of patient obligation. He is worried about “hurting it.” He thinks he will poke it.
She has explained the mucous plug, “The baby is protected, dear.”
“How?” He asks.
“It’s called the mucous plug.”
“Gross. What if I break it.”
She would laugh, but she can’t anymore. She thought he would get over it, that something would kick in, that he would begin to want to sleep with his hand resting on her belly – protective like on television. That he would suddenly find all her veininess and puffiness stimulating. That he would want to be with her the way he had before month four. When she was sleepier and hungrier and had less patience.
Before she got pregnant, even her premature cellulite seemed to excite him. She is twenty-six, and her thighs resemble cottage cheese, she’s developing spider veins behind her knees. The women in her family’s legs do not age well. But he tells her her skin is soft, he doesn’t tire of touching it, of passing his palms the great breadth of her hips and thighs, putting his finger in her belly button despite its dampness, its odor, the trail of dark hairs below it.
They talk about baby making and he is cute and romantic.
He says, “I hope he has your eyes.”
She says, “I hope she has your chin.”
And then they submerge themselves in each other’s air.
She doesn’t count on her insatiable sexual appetite during pregnancy. She doesn’t count on his reluctance. She wants to resent the baby, but she can’t. Somehow, the hormonal circus did not book that side show. Her body will not let her brain be catty. She knows this will be worth it. That after the delivery, she’ll have even more cellulite and veins for him to delight in.
And he seems sorry. He brings her jars of Claussen’s pickles, the kosher dill ones. They give her heartburn, but she finds them irresistible. The way she found his practicality irresistible: his reluctance to bring her flowers and other morbid expressions of sentiment: chocolate, lingerie. He is the sort of man who would leave batteries for her walkman with the receptionist and a note written on post-it paper as a gesture of love. He made her a necklace out of a stainless steel washer. She wears it every day.
He is fascinated by the breast pump. He plays with it. He examines the contraction of the rubber cone in the manual one, squeezing its lever. Plugs in the electric one just to listen to its whirring. Asks her endless questions about when she will begin producing milk, how that happens. She doesn’t know the answers, makes them up, and she is annoyed that of all the pregnancy things, this is the one he cares for. She thinks that breast feeding is going to be one of the easiest parts of new motherhood. She is not worried or intimidated or curious.
She wants to shake him and shout at him to play with her breasts. She is embarrassed that she masturbates every morning after he leaves for work, that she draws a hot bath and pretends the water that laps against her is him, somehow solidifying in her imagination. She feels the way she did in her freshman dorm, memorizing her roommate’s schedule each semester. She feels a shame that she thought would go away with committed monogamy.
She wishes she experienced the non-interest in sex that she hears other women talk about. That she felt sex to be some kind of cosmic imposition. Wishes that he didn’t smell delicious-musky, like a couch that sits out in early April rain. That she could bring herself to get rid of him, that the thought of having a baby alone didn’t terrify her. She asks herself what kind of feminist she thinks she is.
She wants him to build the crib. To go shopping for furniture. To be endlessly curious about the sex of the baby, about whether it’s a boy and he can teach it to play football or Xbox, or whether it’s a girl, and he can push his finger into her tightened fist, and grin with pride as she grows beautiful. But he is disengaged. He doesn’t even ask her how she’s feeling most days. He comes home from work and has a beer, watches Jeopardy.
One night, in bed, he tries to hold her. She shrugs him off.
“Please don’t,” she says.
“Because I’m sore.” What she means is, because you won’t touch me.
“From what?” she looks blankly at him, “You’re serious?”
“Yes. Serious as a heart attack.” He touches her face, his look is concern.
“I can’t believe you.” She starts to cry. She rolls farther away from him. He squeaks a few syllables. Gets out of bed. He comes back in a few minutes, long faced. He carries a glass of milk. She doesn’t want it.
“Go away.” She says.
The next morning, she sleeps late. Feels free to do so in an empty bed. Thinks she could get used to this. He has left a note on the night stand. On his stationery, the stuff she ordered for him. He’s used an envelope because she explained to him that stationery is for occasions that require envelopes. It is lovely stationery, vellum in a deep eggshell. She doesn’t read it. She picks it up, turns it over. It occurs to her to hold it up to the light, but she doesn’t. She is sure he is leaving her. She looks for his toothbrush. It’s there. She looks for his razor. It’s there, too. “Hmm,” she breathes through her nose.
She peels foil from a yogurt cup, spoons the revolting consistency into her mouth, tries not to taste it. She wishes she could get calcium and protein another way. She wishes the thing in her belly didn’t need calcium or protein at all. She wants to go back to being a vegetarian. But her obstetrician has suggested slowly working meat back into her diet through the pregnancy.
“Begin with chicken. Be sure it’s thoroughly cooked.”
“That’s ridiculous. I vomit everything I eat. I haven’t eaten meat for seven years.”
“Do you eat beans? Tofu?” The doctor’s green eyes judged her, “Your hair doesn’t look like you get any protein.”
“No. Salad. Cheese. No eggs. Eggs are cruel.”
“Well, I suggest starting with chicken.”
On the way home, she stops at the supermarket. She buys a tray of skinned, boneless chicken breasts. When he comes home, she is brushing oil on them. Shaking oregano and onion powder. She almost puked putting them in the pan. She imagines they are very large, dense pear halves. It relaxes her a little.
He says, “Chicken?”
She says, “Yes. The OB said so.”
“Oh.” He says. He goes to the TV, switches on Jeopardy. She wishes he were Alex Trebek. That she could trade him. She saw a taping of Jeopardy once, and Trebek was down-to-earth and funny. She didn’t think he would be that way. She thought he would be stuffy and boring. Now she thought he’d make a good partner, that he’d feel pride in her growth: lust for it. She remembered having lunch with a male friend shortly after she began to show. He’d said, “I can’t wait to do that to my wife.”
“Honey, don’t you think Alex Trebek would make a good dad?”
“What are you saying?”
She pretends not to hear.
She puts his note in the garbage can. She is annoyed. She is moody and he is defensive. She resents his fear and the way it makes him shut her out. She resents the possibility that he could simply leave. She wants him to leave, she wants to be angry, to be anything but alone together in fear. She puts the half-eaten yogurt cup in the garbage can, too. She watches the yogurt spill over the letters of her name on his note. She smiles. Decides to make zucchini bread. Zucchini bread is his favorite.
“Smells Great!” he says, when he arrives home.
“Glad you think so.”
He gets a knife from the drawer, starts to uncover the bread, “What are you doing?” She asks.
“It’s not for today. It’s not for you. It’s for the shower.”
“You don’t have to make anything for the shower. You’re the one having the baby.”
His astuteness astonishes her, “But I did. Please put the knife back.”
“This is about last night, isn’t it? Didn’t you get my note?”
“I got your note. I put it in the garbage.” Neither of them yells.
She peers at him in feigned confusion. “Oh, I don’t know. Why do I feel sore? Why do I look like a hippo? Why do birds fly?”
“Okay, okay. I get it. Knock it off.”
“I really hate you right now.” These words surprise her. They surprise him even more.
“Oh, you think you’re the only one this is hard for?”
“You’re not making it any easier.”
“Neither are you.”
She brushes her hair which has become thick. Some people tell her it is the prenatal vitamins. Some people tell her it is because she carries a boy. The OB looks approvingly at her hair and says, “You’ve been eating the chicken.” She brushes and brushes. Turns her hair upside down and her belly presses against her knees. The baby moves, shoves his foot into her lungs. “Oohf,” she says. She feels the brush tips on her palm through the hair. It smells like morning’s shampoo, and she feels beautiful.