I dreamed I gave birth to a baby with a tentacle, awakened with sheets damp and clinging to my rotund belly. When a single woman of a certain age is pregnant, nightmares are the least of it. I pray to no one in particular that all of the baby’s limbs and organs will be normal. Even though I wasn’t sure about the pregnancy for the first three months, I’ve been good ever since though I do slug coffee, and I’m fond of ice cream cones with chocolate jimmies. Yesterday a man asked me out, starting with a comment about the weather. These kinds of conversations go nowhere. Still I was impressed that an obviously pregnant woman could get a date. I don’t wear a ring but that’s not an indication of anything. I could have said my fingers swelled and I’d be telling the truth. I also might have told him that I don’t wear a ring because I’m not married. When I get married, I want a simple white gold band with yellow gold leaves on it.
I awaken to the sound of Joel knocking at my door. 7:45. He has a habit of waking me up and I know it’s because he worries. I’m the little sister gone wrong, “Wake up, Brooke!” Joel rapped on the hollow door. The apartment is modest by modest standards. The landlord calls it an efficiency, which is landlord speak for one room. There isn’t much that is efficient about one room unless a person enjoys having breakfast in bed. The bathroom is small enough for the door to hit the sink when it is open. Even so, the rent is breaking me and I haven’t given enough thought to what I’ll do when my octopus baby arrives.
“Okay. Hold on.” I pull my bathrobe around the ratty Disturb the Universe tee shirt and panties I’m wearing. Saturday. Why bother getting dressed? Pregnancy is not a fashion statement and I’ve been minimalist in the maternity attire purchases. Joel loans me tee shirts. He’s six-foot three and lifts weights so these will work until the end.
My brother pushes his way in and plunks an ominous-looking juice beverage on the counter between the kitchen and the rest of the room. He’s taken to going to LifeJuice on the weekends and he’s convinced that juice will save me. Last week it was carrot-kelp-ginger-turmeric. I poured the rest down the sink when he left. I tentatively sip at this one and it’s pretty good, “What is it?”
“Berry-carrot-banana.” That actually sounds like food. I drink some more and Joel’s face crinkles into a smile, “Thatta girl,” he says and I feel like I’m the first horse in a race, probably a good metaphor for a pregnant lady.
Joel kind of half sits and half leans on one of my stools. He’s tall so he can stand-sit, his butt only slightly inclined toward the flat par, “I found you a bigger place,” he says, the smile spreading wider.
“But this is an efficiency. It’s…compact. Easy to clean.” That’s when he tells me about the house he bought, how we’ll share it. It has four bedrooms and a backyard. Joel is a physician’s assistant and he makes good money. I had to switch to part-time in my job as a physical therapist because I can’t lift, and standing all day made varicose veins pop out on my legs.
I’m not sure how I feel about living with my brother. He’s a good man even though he has terrible taste in women. His marriage was a catastrophe. We all could see her mood swings, the way she would order him around. She never said please or thank you or even hello most of the time. Joel was smitten by her spiky hair and giant brown eyes; they lasted one year. I don’t know if he even dates anymore. We don’t ask each other those kinds of questions just like he’s never asked me about the father of my little octopus. My favorite game is to pretend she doesn’t have an actual father because the four times I slept with Pierre were that ethereal. Each morning he would disappear before I awakened, no note, no coffee on the counter. Ghost man. After the fourth time, he never returned though he left behind a gorgeous paisley tie, and I know where he works. Although his cell phone went to voice mail each time, I’m sure I’ll reach him soon.
Sometimes I think about Pierre returning but there isn’t a single scenario that seems workable. He just shows up one day to get his tie, and we resume our sex-centered relationship only now there’s a baby with a tentacle that wants his attention. She can stretch the tentacle across the room, ruffle his perfect hair and slap his olive-complexioned face. He calls her bebé, brushes her tentacle away like a housefly, “I should have known a girl like you would give birth to a mollusk.” I throw the tie at him and tell him to get out. After all, he just called my baby a mollusk. Who needs a man like that?
“You’re not responsible for me,” I tell Joel. By now I’m sucking down this juice beverage and I can feel the vitamins fortifying both of us. She’s doing flip-flops and then gets the hiccups. It’s the oddest sensation having the body inside my body have a bodily function I can feel. I like it a lot.
“Don’t start. You think I don’t know that? Look. I have the money and I want to help. Besides it will be fun raising my niece. I’m not so good at marriage but I’m great with children.”
“Perfect online dating profile. The women will be lining up,” I say.
It’s not possible for me to be serious, especially about this. Besides being pregnant makes me waddle. I duck into the bathroom to pee and change my clothes. I keep them in the miniature chest there because efficiency doesn’t mean privacy even though they both end with “cy”. The doorbell rings, the one Joel ignores because he prefers to pound on the door with his knuckle. Who would drop by on a Saturday morning besides Joel? Did I get a package? Maybe it’s a darling layette set for my baby cephalopod. Then I hear low voices. Men, definitely men. Maybe Joel’s arranged a marriage for me to save my honor. “Meet your husband, Brooke. I’ve chosen him from a pool of twenty applicants who want to marry a pregnant woman. He has good teeth and a steady income.” I brush my teeth. It’s never a good idea to meet ones’ prospective mate with bad breath. When I crack the door, Pierre is chatting it up with my brother as if six months and fifty or so cell phone messages were simply an oversight. Oh, merde! I forgot to call back for one hundred and eighty-five days. My bad. And do you still have my favorite tie—the one with the swirls that look like sperm?
When I make my grand entrance and it is definitely a grand entrance, Pierre looks shocked. His perfect skin is dancing around blotchiness. God, this bebé will be gorgeous if she takes after him. It’s not as if I’m hideous but he is right out of the New York Times fashion section. He doesn’t comb his hair, he tousles it and it falls perfectly over his unlined forehead, “Who’s the lucky man?” Pierre moves forward in that distinctive way of his, half dancer, half gigolo.
“You are,” I say; “Welcome back, Daddy.” I honestly thought Joel was going to trip over his own humongous feet. I guess it’s hard to think of your sister doing some dude, even one as breathtaking as Pierre. Yes, Joel. Women are that shallow. Pierre’s eyes close nearly to slits as if he is thinking about his next move. It’s not often that I render men speechless.
“How do you know?” he finally asks.
“Hmmm. I’m guessing based on the fact that you are the only possible candidate.” I straighten my back, which pushes out my belly even more. My hair isn’t even combed and it’s my best feature.
“By the way, where the hell were you? I mean, things seemed to be going okay and then you disappeared altogether instead of just sneaking out in the early hours. I left a lot of messages.” I finger comb my waves, and stare at him without blinking.
“I was wondering why you called so often. I was out of the country,” he says in a monotone, as if sleeping with someone then being out of touch for half a year is a normal way for adults to conduct relationships. Probably I’m the delusional one.
“No worries. I wasn’t expecting to marry you. The vanishing act wasn’t working for me. This wasn’t planned but here I am and here she is.” With my hands on my belly, I look like Buddha.
“It’s a girl?”
“Yes. The wonder of ultrasound. Joel here bought a house. We’re going to raise her. You can kick in child support and get on with the serial dating,” I say, randomly thinking about the dimensions of a sandbox I want to build. Pierre looks both angry and relieved. Only a Frenchman can do this with so little affect. I’m sure he’ll want DNA testing and he’ll probably find a good lawyer who will try to make him look poor.
“Monique,” I say; “That’s what I’m going to call her.”
Pierre’s lips are a thin line and he’s doing the slit-eyed thing again. Hard to dismiss a baby with a name. Monique kicks me. I think she’s trying to get her father’s attention. To his credit, he gives me another phone number and pecks me on the cheek. I hand him the tie.
“What an ass,” Joel says when we hear his car pull away; “But hot, very hot.”
It’s strange to have my brother rate the guy I had casual sex with, even if it did result in a pregnancy, “Yeah. Monique is a lucky girl.”
Joel promises to call and bring me to see the house tomorrow night. Not a bad guy, my brother, even if his taste in juice and women are questionable.
By the time I went into labor on a rainy July night, we had closed on the house and I had obtained the best lawyer in Ridgeville. Monique deserves to have everything she needs, and I know Pierre would hate his wife in Lyon to find out how he spent his weekends in the States. The tan line on his left ring finger and the photo on his phone of a chic woman in a red dress didn’t ruin our passion; but fair is fair. I’m the one who has to go through labor and change all those diapers. All he’ll have to do is pay the bills.
No one thought to tell me that this really hurts. The classes were all about breathing and having a supportive coach, like that’s the only thing I’d have to worry about. I visualized Monique slipping out like the little mollusk she is but the tentacle kept catching on my vaginal walls with their suction cups. I yelled “merde” more times than I can remember until finally it was over. The pain stopped as abruptly as plane touches down on a runway. We had arrived at our final destination. A nurse with silver bangles halfway up her arm handed me a white blanket wrapped bundle. Black hair, teeny nose, dreamy open eyes. I unwrapped her slowly until two small perfect hands flailed at me.
Monique looks at me through her long lashes and her tiny fist closes around my finger. The white walls, stainless steel cart, and orange juice with a bent straw, transform into a diorama that encircles us both. I stroke her sleek head with the spot where the bones have not yet fused, get a warm rush at the sight of at her fisted snail hands. She blinks as if she’s just arrived in a foreign city and I want to say, me too. I don’t know anything about this landscape, and I’ll have to rely on nonverbal communication and ample financial support for now. She fits snugly in the crook of my arm; her head warm against my swollen left breast.
From somewhere far away, my phone vibrates on the table. Closing my eyes, I float with Monique out of her sea home to a garden with irises and zinnias, a sandbox, and zero juice beverages.