Saturday, July 7, 2012

Fiction #37: Meredith Hambrock

Nina thought she did her best

Noah is shaking coffee beans in a tin cup and singing the blues. Nina is chopping a skinned carrot next to the sink and trying to figure out how they make it look so easy on cooking shows.  The coffee beans go into the grinder and Noah’s hands go to her hips.  He cups her belly exactly where it is escaping from the waistband of her jeans, presses his back into her curves, pretends that the baby is growing inside of him, instead.

“Baby, baby, baby, oh!” Noah sings, Justin Bieber, the youtube sensation. “Let us name it Bieber,” he says. She takes a carrot button and feeds it to him over her shoulder.  Crunch, crunch, crunch.  “And ruin her life forever.”

“Famous kids are messed up,” she says.

“True enough, fair enough,” he says. “Our kid will not be.”

***

Before Nina knew she was pregnant, she walked around for two weeks feeling like her head had been dipped in olive oil. Every day, she needed a subway sandwich at lunchtime. She bought a jar of jumbo pimento stuffed olives that she hid in her desk drawer at work and ate on the sly. She cried on the subway while reading some Poetry on the Way about a blue dog.

And then the puking, the lateness. She bought three pregnancy tests, found it too difficult to pee on the stick, so she peed in a cup and dipped the ends.

Positive, positive, positive. Noah was hopping outside the bathroom door like an elf, slapping his knees.

“What is it?” he asked. “What is it?”

“It’s a baby,” she said, failing at joy, finding a smile in his, instead of what was in her belly.

Noah did the shouting. He waltzed her around the room. He punched the air. He celebrated. His happy was enough, for a minute.

***

“I think we have a duty to name him something great,” Noah says, talking through the sandwich in his mouth.  “Something that rhymes.  With good reason.”

Nina knows one thing.  She never intended to change her name. This was something that she’d been pledging since she was six and knew about bra burning and understood her mother, in varying degrees. But when she met Noah and found out his last name was Black, she realized how great it would be to sign her name, Nina Black-Plunder, and that’s when she knew that it was right.

“What about Thunder Black-Plunder,” Noah says, swallowing so huge she can see the marble of chewed up bread forcing its way down his throat. She is glad for a second, that Noah isn’t a woman, isn’t pregnant, that she is the one looking after this. Just for a second.  Glad that she is handling the responsibility of this. 

This is something she thinks of often, changing shoes, stepping into the different place. Being the man. It could be nice, if they could trade off for a little while, if he could hold the weight in his belly, and the feelings in his fists.

“That’s pretty fearless,” Nina says.

“”I like this idea that names are phrases, that they’re more than just a label. That names are holistic. I like that idea.” Noah holds up a carrot the size of a loonie in the curl of his thumb and pokes it out with his tongue. It falls flat on the ground. “Oops,” he says.

***

At the doctor, Nina cried and cried.  Dr. Hung patted her on the shoulder with four fingers pressed together, like a blade.  “It happens sometimes,” Dr. Hung said. “If you miss a dose, if you don’t take it at the right time. It’s not supposed to. But it does.”

“I did everything right,” Nina said, inhaling in little gulps. This was a lie, and Nina knew it. It just wasn’t supposed to happen this way.  It wasn’t supposed to appear without being invited. Nina thought she did her best.

“I’m very sorry that this happened to you,” Dr. Hung said, clutching her clipboard to her chest. There was a pamphlet peeking out of the top corner. Nina knew what it was. “Have you thought about your options?”

“Yes,” Nina said, but she hadn’t really. That was what women were supposed to say. They were supposed to be composed. They were supposed to think about what they were supposed to want to do.

Nina could feel it, even though the internet claimed it was just a tiny bundle of cells. The parasite, the scary little bug, poking her in the uterus.

“What have you decided? It’s listed here that you’re married,” Dr. Hung said. “Have you discussed things with your partner?”

Nina nodded. “I’m not sure,” she said. “About what I want to do.”

Dr. Hung handed her the pamphlet.

She took it.

***

“Are you ready to go?” Noah asks, taking Nina’s plate from her, a few sandwich crusts, still waiting to be eaten. Noah has a way about him, always asking questions instead of making demands. She isn’t ready, no, he knows this, but he suggests it with the question instead. It’s one of the things that’s getting on her nerves.

She stands, a hand on her belly. It’s not even that big yet, but there’s enough of it be in the way. She hates the way her hand always goes there, like there’s some kind of biological magnet holding it in place. “Are you ready?” he asks again, entering the room with her jacket in hand. Nina isn’t ready, no. She isn’t. She wants to make a snarky comment about how he’s holding her coat, so clearly, no she isn’t ready. Instead she just holds her arms out like a baby and lets him dress her.

***

Nina stood in the subway station, near the edge of the platform, and let the train pass her by. She stared at the subway tracks. No one ever spoke about the fear. Women are always happy about being pregnant, or they fearlessly stomp to their abortions, like it’s not big deal. You never meet a woman with a swollen belly who is afraid.

Nina stared at the subway tracks. It could be over really quickly.

She could pretend to have a miscarriage at work. She could pay off some doctors to lie about it. She could do it, she could live with that lie forever, she could.

A train rolled into the station. She got on it. 

***

Nina notices now, how slow he drives, how deliberate. Like she is noble, and delicate. A vessel. He doesn’t let her drive anymore. She is realizing all of this at once. The way he shelters her as they move through spaces, through doorways and shopping aisles, through intersections. If only he knew how much she is jostled on the subway. Her coat, it doesn’t show enough of the bump to make men give up their seats for her yet.

She hopes it doesn’t.

She doesn’t want to become one of those women who has the baby, who misses the life she never got to have. She doesn’t want to chase Noah away and become the woman who stumbles around drunk on weeknights, cigarette in one hand. The kind of woman who sleeps with truck drivers and pilots when they’re in town. She doesn’t want to take it out on the parasite inside of her. She doesn’t want that to happen.

***

She rode the subway to Downsview and back. She got off the subway at Wilson and sat at the kiss and ride, watching people come and go. A couple made out for a good twenty minutes. The woman looked like a flight attendant. He had a shaved head. She could tell they were really in love.

Nina googled it on her phone, how to do it.

There are pills.

***

The ultrasound technician farts the goo out of the bottle and onto her belly. Nina hates this feeling, the wand slurping over her body like she’s the lamp holding a genie. This baby will grant them three wishes.  Noah has a hand on her shoulder. Nina watches her eyes, the technician. Her eyebrows raise. “Oh my,” she says.

***

Nina is pregnant. She walks around feeling like her head has been dipped in olive oil. Every day, she needs a subway sandwich at lunchtime. She buys jars of jumbo pimento stuffed olives that she hides in her desk drawer at work and eats them on the sly. She cries on the subway while reading posters about political campaigns.

***

“So big, for twelve weeks.  Would you like to know the gender?” the technician asks.

“Yes,” Noah says, so fast, and then, “I mean, do we?” He squeezes her shoulder. “Yes, I mean…” Noah looks at her. 

“It’s a boy,” Nina says. She knows. She is a divine vessel, after all.

“Yes, exactly!” The technician says.

“We have to name him Justin,” Noah says, as the technician wipes the goo away. “It’s fate.” There are tears in his eyes. 

“I was thinking the same thing,” Nina says, trying her best to sit up, trying her best to summon tears from her stomach, trying her best.

*

Meredith Hambrock is a writer living in Vancouver.  She has an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC and her fiction has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Little Fiction, Dragnet Magazine, The Canadian Fiction Podcast, and Descant.  She currently works for a kids television show and spends a lot of time thinking about ghosts.

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