After we married, I talked about having children. Joe would smile when I went on about helping our child with homework, reading bedtime stories and waiting for them with a plate full of oatmeal raisin cookies when they returned home from school. I should have taken Joe’s comments about the kids he cared for with Down syndrome, leukemia, and deformed limbs as a sign. But I wanted a son or daughter too badly to believe The Fates would send me anything but perfection. I was patient when he said we should wait until he finished residency and then until he built his practice. When he was asked to serve on the Indian State Medical Board, he said he would be away at meetings most evenings. Did I really want to be burdened with raising our child by myself? New excuses cropped up after we moved to Florida. I was torn. Good wives support their husbands. I didn’t want to be the kind of woman who greets her husband with, “Hi honey, glad your home and oh by the way, I’m pregnant.” I wanted him to want a family as much as I did.
Marla seemed to come out of nowhere. “It’s nice,” I said.
“A matching side table for a printer comes with that one,” she said. “If you want to keep looking I have several nice desks on sale in our warehouse. I’ll be glad to walk you over there.”
I get up. “I just need to—”
She walks off looking frightened, worrying, perhaps, that my fragile condition might result in my fainting, throwing up, or ejecting amniotic fluid all over her navy heels. Since my eighth month, grocery store clerks have offered to carry my bags, men opened doors for me, and a couple gave up their place in a restaurant waiting line so I wouldn’t have to stand. The attention stabbed at my conscience—all those good deeds wasted on someone like me.
I move behind another desk designed like a saw horse. Its tabletop is roomy enough for my laptop and printer, my pen cup, a bowl of paperclips, and a tiny ream of post-it-notes in sherbet colors. The price perfectly matches my budget. Maybe this is the one.
During my eight month, my blood pressure soared and I was put on bed rest. A few weeks later, the problem resolved itself, but Sam thought I should work from home. I’ve been using Joe’s desk since, which never seemed right. I want my own space, away from what belonged to my husband.
A pain, sharp and intense, stabs at me, taking my breath away. Instinctively, I breathe, slow and easy, the way I was taught in natural child birth class. I stare at the ceiling, directing the hurt upwards, until it floats away. Suddenly I want someone holding my hand.
Joe was supposed to be my birthing coach. When the time came, I always thought he’d be at my side, wiping my brow and feeding me ice chips. At the first childbirth class he said, “I’m a doctor and I know what to do,” and never returned. The class instructor became my coach and offered to replace my husband in the delivery room. I never committed to her or Joe being there.
I rise and stretch; wanting to find Marla so I can look at the desks on sale in the warehouse before I make my choice. I notice a family looking over a couch, for their family room perhaps? I imagine all of them sitting and watching Disney cartoons, happy and giggling.
Because of my age, amniocentesis was ordered, and the results showed a normal boy growing inside me. Under ultrasound, I would watch him float, a happy go-lucky guy like my dad. The technologist printed pictures. I made a baby album out of them. One day, I saw his tiny little hand moving as if he was waving. I envisioned him as a six year old with my green eyes and straight brown hair, backpack slung over his right shoulder, waving goodbye as he set off for school. I wanted to name him Joshua for no other reason than I like the way it sounded. Joe was in favor of Samuel, after my father. That sounded right, too. But I knew everyone would end up calling him Sam, and I couldn’t have that.
I feel a quickening. This time the pain rings true. I remember from birthing class that false labor occurs with no regularity, and that real labor can be clocked. I check my watch and note the time.
Everything at home is in place. We sold the bungalow right after I told Joe I was pregnant and moved to a sprawling one story courtyard home. I painted the spare bedroom a lemony yellow. I bought white sheets with yellow stripes and a few blue scatter pillows, trimmed in yellow. My good friend from work, Sally Hayes, organized a baby shower. All my co-workers were there. Sam never came. When I walked into her house that Saturday afternoon, under the pretense of a lunch date, everyone jumped out of hiding and yelled, “Surprise!” Sally sat me in front of a mound of gift-wrapped boxes. I tore into them with the gusto of a five year old on Christmas morning, excited beyond belief by diapers, layette sets, blankets and bottles, and a gift certificate to Baby World. We ate blood orange cake and homemade honey ice cream. The women, who had been through childbirth, reminisced about their waters breaking, and long nights in labor, and the joy of seeing their child for the first time. I wondered how Joe would take seeing our son when he was born.
“Are you okay?”
Marla’s presence startles me. Another intense pain roars through me and is followed by warm, sticky fluid, trickling down my leg.
“Could you call an ambulance?”
“Oh my!” She springs into action, shouting orders at salesmen. One takes my arm and ushers me into his office. He helps me sit and props up my legs.
“Shall we call your husband?” Marla asked.
“No. His office is right next to the hospital. All I need do is text him when I arrive.”
“You’re lucky,” she says. “My husband missed seeing my daughter’s birth. All because of an accident out on 75.” Her eyes are full of regret. But I have none. Now that the time is here, I’m not sure I want Joe in the delivery room. Perhaps I’ll skip texting him.
Within minutes, ENTs arrive, and they hoist me on a stretcher. They start an IV, and dial up my obstetrician. “Is someone meeting you at the hospital, ma’am?”
“I’m fine, yes. I’ll be fine,” I keep saying.
By the time I get to the ER, my baby’s head crowns, and they rush me into delivery. My feet are placed in stirrups. A large overhead light blinds me. I hear my OB doc paging Joe, and I’m too wracked with cramps and the urge to push to stop him. There is no time for drugs, my baby is emerging fast.
The birth is easy. There is pain, but natural like, and it comes in waves, cresting and ebbing, like tides flowing in out of the Gulf of Mexico. When it is over, my doctor pats my shoulder. “I always suspected you were the kind of woman who might deliver in a taxi cab.”
“This one nearly came in a furniture store,” I said. “Is he okay?”
“He’s fine,” Joe says. I see him looking my child over as the nurse bathes him. Overwhelmed by the instructions my doctor was giving me, about breathing and pushing, I hadn’t noticed him coming in.
“Show him to me,” I beg.
The nurse places my son, blanketed in blue, in my arms. He wears a little blue hat. “To keep him warm,” Joe says.
The baby’s skin is milky like mine. He has the blush of a fresh peach. He makes little sucking motions with his mouth, but his eyes are closed.
“Did you decide on a name?” Joe asks, brushing a strand of my hair out of my eyes.
The nurse hits the switch on a remote, and the top of the bed elevates. I cradle my son tight against my chest and notice his nose. It isn’t mine, nor does it belong to Joe.
“I’m still thinking of Joshua. What do you want to name him?”
Joe steps back as if suddenly burdened with a grave task. Does he know?
“Would you like to hold him?”
“Let’s get you all in the holding area,” the nurse said. “It’ll be more private, and I can you bring you juice while we’re waiting for your room to be ready.”
“That will be fine,” I say to her. Then I look over at Joe. “You must be busy. If you have patients to see, well, I understand.”
“I told my office staff to cancel the rest of my scheduled patients. I want to be here with you, Lilly.”
The holding area is just two doors down from the delivery room. My bed is positioned in view of a window but there’s only a parking lot to see, which doesn’t disappointment me. I’m too pumped up staring at my son. The nurse puts down a glass of cranberry juice on the bedside table. “I’ll leave the name as Baby Morgan on the birth certificate,” she says to Joe. “When you decide, let me know.”
“His face is shaped like your dad’s,” Joe says. “I think Samuel suits him.”
“I’m not sure dad would have wanted that.”
“Are you kidding? Your dad would be in here, popping a bottle of Dom Perignon if he were still alive.”
I miss my dad just then. Joe is right. He would have been proud of his grandson and of me, the new mom. He would have played chess with my son for hours or taken him fishing in one of those lakes, dotting the landscape around here. He died before I found out I was pregnant. I miss our conversations over a Heineken and his stories about his job as Business Editor for the Chicago Tribune. Once he told me he had met my mother while waiting for a bus. He had found her black eyes captivating, her smile intoxicating. I never saw that woman. One night, after we’d had three Heinekens each, he said, “Honey, your mother was a good woman in her own way, but if I had to do it all again, I would never have married her.”
“What was wrong with mom?”
“Oh, she had bi-polar disease.”
“Why didn’t anyone ever tell me? Why wasn’t I allowed to see her when she went to the hospital?”
“I never understood your mother on that one,” my father said. “She kept trying to protect you. She didn’t want you thinking she wasn’t a normal mother.”
“But all the time she was away, I wondered and worried.”
“I should have said something.”
I could see there was more to his story. “What is it, dad?”
“Oh nothing, your mother was different.”
“You keep saying that. What do you mean?”
“She had trouble relating to people. She had a friend she trusted more than me.”
“A woman friend?”
“It was Mr. Henderson, down the street. She stayed with him sometimes.”
I took his hand. “You never left her.”
“Of course not. Marriage is serious business. You don’t go around giving up on someone you love.”
I never said anything more to my dad about my mother. Before he died, he asked me to bury him beside her and I had. I told that story to my friend, Sally, but never to Joe. Maybe it was time.
I hand the baby to my husband. He unfurls the blanket. My son shivers. He looks over the boy with clinical eyes; examining: hair, face, arms, fingers, belly, feet, and toes. The baby opens his eyes.
“They’re blue,” Joe announces.
“Maybe they’ll turn hazel like yours.”
“Or green like yours,” Joe says. “I see you in him.”
“He has your nose.”
“No. It isn’t my nose or yours. But he does resemble you. He is your son.”
I blink, hearing his words. “He’s your son, too.”
“Look, Lilly. We both know that isn’t true. But it doesn’t matter.”
“What do you mean?”
“He isn’t my son.”
“Why are you saying that?”
“Because he isn’t. I knew about you and Sam. I was angry at first, but I got over it. Then after you got pregnant, you seemed so happy. I knew you’d stay with me.”
I have questions with no answers. I bow my head, ashamed. “He could be yours or Sam’s.”
“He can’t be mine, I’m sterile.”
“I had a test.”
“Why didn’t you say something!”
My yelling startles the baby. He yowls. Joe rubs his chest and settles him down.
“Maybe you should nurse him,” he says.
I open my hospital gown and show my son the way to my right nipple. I take comfort in the maternal feeling of his suckling. He is my treasure.
“Why didn’t you say something?”
“I knew I’d never be a father.” He shrugs. “It’s a guy thing. I didn’t want you to think—”
“Don’t explain. I should be the one explaining.”
“Are things really over between you and Sam?”
I blink away tears. Do they come because I’m caught in the spider’s web? Or am I relieved there is something meaningful said between us? “For a long time now.”
“You tried to get away with it, like your mother.”
“My father told you that story?”
Joe nods. “He said you have a lot of your mother in you. Your father believed in you, just like he believed in your mother. That’s what love is, Lilly. You stick with someone in spite of everything.”
“Are you saying you love me?”
“Always have, always will.”
“I don’t understand any of this, Joe.”
“Does Sam know he has a son?”
“I never told him. I wanted him to be yours.” My voice crackles with sadness and eagerness. I look up at Joe. “Do you think we can start again?”
Joe stares at the baby. He is sleeping. A quiet settles in the room, a satisfying kind of perfect stillness. I shift the baby in my arms and knock over the juice. Joe kisses my forehead and turns up his mouth in one of his coy smiles. We both watch the crimson puddle forming. Neither of us wipes it up.
About the Author:
Linda has written nonfiction articles for The Journal of Nuclear Medicine and The Champlain Business Journal. She won an Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest 74th Annual Short Story Competition. She continues to write from her home in Southwest Florida. She loves to treat family and friends to good French food. Her biggest fear is to wake one morning and find she lives in a world without stories.