Written for the Spring Writing Contest 2017, hosted by Short Fiction Break
I’ve been staring at the shy yet daring, flamingo pink line for a good half hour. It’s there, staring at me from the washing machine in the basement, judging me with its incontrovertible bluntness that I’m forty-four and pregnant with my third child. In the first heat of shock, all I could do was text a trembling picture and delirious screams to my best friend Celine. As I reread my tear-blurred outburst, I realize nothing I wrote makes even sense.
‘How many chances it’s wrong???’
‘It could be wrong!’
My eyes skim through the patient package insert for the millionth time. It says the test is not valid anymore after ten minutes and I wonder why, for a good twenty minutes past that deadline it’s still unchanged. And so is the trembling of my hands as I try to figure out how that happened. Well, I know how that happened, I guess I was counting on my not so young age and on my history of hard-fought pregnancies to preclude any possibility of that kind.
I was so naive.
And the timing. Could it be any worse? We’ve just run up lifelong debts for a larger home that suddenly looks so inadequate for a family of five. We’ve just gone at our poor finances resources fiercely to grant a better life to our two sons. Not to mention, we don’t have grannies who could take care of it and daycare costs a real fortune. A fortune we don’t have. I don’t want another child, I don’t want another pregnancy, I don’t want to start all over again. Or do I?
‘How will hubby feel?’
‘I have no idea.’
I put the test back in its envelope. There is a horrible feeling that I try to shush, failing as my eyes start wetting again. The sound of the front door unlocking and the cheerful voices of my kids, Matt and Danny, make me stiffen. I quickly clean my tears in the sleeve of my orange sweater, silently trying to regain control so my voice won’t quiver. When I do, I ask Aaron, my husband, to reach me downstairs.
Whatever he’s saying as he walks down dies on those polished wooden steps. Arms defensively on my chest, I simply turn my eyes towards the white plastic envelope. The cap of the test barely peeps outside. Aaron’s face pales, as he quickly grasps what I’m wordlessly telling him.
“We can’t.” Two words, barely whispered, that turn my stomach.
I’m well aware we can’t, but for some reason that’s not what I was aching to hear.
“The timing couldn’t be worse.”
Somewhere deep-down, I find the strength to overcome the sudden lump in my throat.
“We’d be back to the drawing board, we’re doing all of this for them,” he turns his eyes at the upper floor, “we’d be back even worse than before.”
“I know.” It’s all I can articulate. He’s right, they couldn’t keep living in a study readjusted into a bedroom for two, with no garden, no space where to work their young energy off. Still, the idea of not having this child feels much worse than the idea of having it.
When Matt calls me from upstairs, it’s a relief to escape this conversation, even if temporarily. I walk past Aaron, carrying all the unexpected, shattering disappointment within me.
It’s after dinner, with the kids playing upstairs, that the inevitable confrontation, rather a monologue, reprises.
“Had this happened a couple of months ago, we could have still made adjustments to fit three. It’s impossible now,” Aaron brings his motivations, justified, I admit, for the new apartment is almost finished. To knock down and rebuild walls now would mean more money we don’t have.
“We should sleep on it,” I make a mild attempt at buying time, as if some miracle might solve our situation overnight.
“It’s not going to change anything.”
Eight hours later, I wonder if staying awake all night thinking about it counts as sleeping on it. Rolling on one side, my hand moves on my belly. As hard as it is to believe it, there’s a baby. The little girl we never had? There is no smile on my lips, as if my heart had already given up on the idea.
“So, did night help you think about it?” The question comes over breakfast preparation, while the kids are still asleep.
“We should try to rearrange the rooms.”
“How? They’re so little! I don’t want to play the bad one, but you know it too. We have already promised the kids they’re finally getting separate rooms.”
“I still think we should try,” I probably tilt at windmills, with a glimpse of hope coming from God only knows where. “They’re growing, they’ll need more and more space outside and less and less inside. We should at least test waters with them. Matt keeps begging for a little sister and Danny is seven, old enough to not suffer from jealousy!”
My words must hit the right spot, for I come back home later to the apartment’s layout lying on the kitchen table and a ruler in Aaron’s hands.
Etched on my face there’s a mild, almost pleasantly guilty smile.
“This is unfair,” he whines, deep into measuring.
“Sticking this idea in my head!”
“You know I didn’t get pregnant alone, right?” I try to downplay the surrealism of this situation, as he grumbles and tosses the ruler.
I snort good-naturedly and poke him aside, so the drawing is before me. It’s impossible. This apartment was never meant for five.
A good hour is wasted on a nonexistent solution. In my naivety, I still think we can do it, as if rearranging rooms were the only issue. In reality that’s probably the last thing to worry about.
‘We compiled a list of pros and cons.
1) It could be a girl
2) Grannies would squeal
3) Matt always wanted a sister
4) My niece would love me forever
– Everything else’
Celine’s reaction is an interminable list of laughing emojis. ‘I’m not a bible thumping religious person but someone upstairs thinks otherwise. This is how it happens. Comes and knocks you upside the head when you least expect it.’
‘Knock is an understatement. Hubby is panicking, and he’s the rational one.’
Everything happens for a reason. Celine keeps telling me so and I guess I’m starting to believe her. Or at least, I make her words mine with the feeble hope that Aaron starts believing it too.
Why would fate decide to give us another child now? I browse through websites, reading up on pros and cons of late pregnancies. It’s funny how, according to statistics, I shouldn’t be pregnant at all. My guilty thoughts go to the women who struggle to have a child at my age and fail. My stomach knots, maybe it’s this tiny being trying to let itself heard. My hands are on my belly, instinctively. There is a child growing inside of me. As intimidating and ill-timed as it can be, I’m overwhelmed. The wish to scream it to the world is excruciating, though I’m aware I have to keep it for myself; for now, maybe forever. I had no idea how much this need was still in me until I faced its reality. Starting all over again. Sleepless nights. Sky-high piles of diapers. I shouldn’t be ready, I shouldn’t even have that energy anymore. Yet, here I am, visualizing my life turned upside down for the third time and beaming at the idea. Alone.
“I decided.” The words, spoken with fiery resolution, come while dressing for Mass. That tone, one I barely ever witnessed, can only mean something I’ll deplore. “We just can’t.”
I don’t have the strength to say anything. As I walk down the side aisle of the church and take a sit on a back bench, there’s a silent apology to God, a tacit beg for forgiveness.
I can’t eat the next day. Or the one after. The drives to work are soundless and stifling, filled only with inner conversations – one hour and half of heart-shattering monologues of bliss – I’ll never have. I reapply my melted makeup in the courtesy mirror of my car, hoping nobody will notice my red eyes. How have I come to this state? My stomach is tied in a pain never known before. A pungent nausea assails me and it’s hard to say if it’s the first symptoms of the pregnancy. I thought I’d seen the worst of life. Until now. When I walk into the studio of my gynecologist for an ultrasound, my pray is that I’m losing the baby so I don’t have to do something so awful. Fate keeps siding against me. The tiny pixel flashing on the monitor makes it all the more real, all the more brutal. My eyes shut in the desperate attempt to erase that image.
“Are you mad?” Had I one penny for every time Aaron asks me this question on the days to come, daycare for this child would be settled before it sees the light. This seems all he can – or dares to – ask me.
“I’m not mad.” I’m many other things. Defeated, miserable, disappointed, emotionally smothered, strained by the effort of holding back tears. I feel selfish and misunderstood at once. My gaze is focused on my reflection in the bathroom mirror, my voice quivers as, with herculean self-control, I confess all the above feelings. I’m not stupid, there’s no way we could afford another child, but to sacrifice it? It feels horrifying. I feel guilty, dirty. I’ve never been against abortion until now that its eventuality is affecting me. I don’t want and cannot deal with it. It’s not who I am, not who I want to be. It was easy to take positions until the body was mine…
I should accept the decision, move on, stop dreaming of a child that will never be. Maybe I’m stubborn, or hopeful, maybe I don’t pay enough attention to the right signs and catch only the misleading ones, those most appealing to me.
Matt keeps asking for a sister, he’s almost eleven, he would help with the baby… Your niece would thank you forever… The only girl in my family… Grannies would freak out…
I play every possible card, even the trembling pouting lip. It always works when Danny does it.
That night, back from a party, Aaron is unusually silent. If fifteen years of marriage taught me something, is that his silences are never silences, they’re storms ready to rage. And before I can figure out what’s crossing his mind, all sorts of accusations pour down on me with a frustration-driven fury I wasn’t expecting, or remotely foreseeing.
I’m selfish. I’m guilting him. If I keep this child I’m gonna have it alone because he’ll leave.
Petrified, I listen to every word without daring to counterattack, or to utter even an innocent monosyllable. My belly contracts. It hurts in every possible way. Then, something inside me dies, something has just changed forever the way I look at him.
‘Aaron decided for abortion.’ My accusation is outright, and so is Celine’s sorrow.
‘Only you guys know what’s best for you. I’m so sorry…’
When they take my unborn child from me, I don’t want Aaron around, not until later when I’m back to a home that suddenly feels cold, in spite of what I still have. We solved our problem, but at what cost?
“In five years you’ll look at your kids, happy with their space, and realize we did the right thing.”
He couldn’t be any more wrong.
I know myself. I know my heart. In five years I’ll look at those rooms and see the dark, giggling pigtails that never toddled, I’ll still blame her father for making that choice for the both of us. In five years, I’ll still regret that child I never had.