Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fiction #58: Jenny Prior

Clinic, Car, Couch

Eve thinks way too much about Cal’s other marriage. She always has.

At first it was the actual wedding that gnawed at her. Snooping through Cal’s stuff she found a photo, in a file folder with ancient credit card bills and foreign change and grit. Anastasia’s light hair glints in the Toronto Island sun and the lake laps around her feet and the bottom of her hippie-ish dress. Cal’s small ears are being held in her hands – it looks awkward. But his eyes! They’re starstruck, moonstruck, sexstruck, and puppydog. Eve used to torture herself, endlessly reconstructing Cal’s special day that had nothing to do with her.

“I barely remember any of it,” Cal would say, lightly, when she’d badger him.

After Eve’s own wedding reception, even the concept of the picture made her cry boozy mascara tears in their ironic honeymoon suite. 

Cal said, “You can’t obsess over this! Stop thinking about that picture! I doubt I even kept it on purpose.” 

It was like she married an amnesiac.

Five years later, she truly doesn’t care about Cal’s brown eyes filled with lust and painful, doomed love for someone else, someone with natural ringlets. Eve takes the photo out of her underwear drawer where she weirdly keeps it, lies on the rug, and stares only at Anastasia’s middle. Miranda’s in there, not detectable yet. Just curled up and floating. Being made as the weeks roll beautifully, effortlessly by.

How many weeks along in that picture?

Cal couldn’t say. “Hon! Stop dwelling on stuff like that. I have no idea, I don’t remember.”

Fine, Eve can calculate for herself. It’s morbid but soothing to do it over and over. Counting backwards from the present-day Miranda, with her recent fifteenth birthday cake (mocha) baked by Eve. A late bloomer: Miranda’s breasts and allure came suddenly, but in full force. Boys love her, and she loves one particular boy. She communicates with adults through monosyllables and long stares.

Even though she’s always lived with her mother, Miranda stays at Cal and Eve’s place more and more lately. Eve knows Cal is holding his breath and praying Anastasia doesn’t come caterwauling. He won’t let the boyfriend sleep over, either, and Miranda pouts. But apparently she and Anastasia get into borderline physical fights over it.

To Eve, it’s bitterly funny that someone thinks of their house as a haven.

When Miranda barges in, and mopes, and doesn’t leave, Eve feels patient. The lovely girl smells sweet and clean, even when she plants herself on their couch, festering there with her texting and her music. She watches movies with them sullenly, chewing gum, making witty comments on the schlock Cal picks. She’s getting smarter, with sharper edges. Eve and Miranda are a bit of a team.

Before Eve and Cal went back to the clinic and its sperm-in-a-cup episodes, Miranda was complicating their increasingly sad, exhausting sex schedule. Eve would hiss for Cal to come upstairs, sometimes crying through it. There were ugly, failed scenes. Eve had to shriek into her pillow, so Miranda couldn’t hear.

But now they’ve returned to medicalized conception attempts in the distant suburbs, where the live-birth stats are supposedly the highest. If creating a person or people is even possible, it will happen outside the home, away from Cal’s daughter, away from even Cal. Eve wishes this would mean a one-night stand, a drunken mistake with some hammered lughead. The blissful way of normal people. But she’s too chicken. Like with Jeremy.

So Eve is at peace with Miranda practically living on their couch. The only bothersome thing is that Miranda used to be housed inside Anastasia.

Twelve weeks along in that picture in Eve’s underwear drawer. Maybe thirteen?

Was Miranda born early, late, or right on time?

“I don’t remember. It doesn’t matter, and I can’t hear you talk about this again.” Cal is low-grade-alarmed about Eve’s accelerating strangeness.

She avoids telling him about her other psychological hobby, which is overdosing on the childbearing and rearing experiences of others online. The rabbit holes are staggering, from pictures of positive pregnancy tests to ultrasounds to newborns in funny sunglasses, first steps and first days of school. Also the written pleas for parenting remedies – it won’t nurse, it won’t sleep, it sleeps too much and has a dent in its head, it barfed, it’s fevered, need advice!! The uniquely sick feeling of jealousy sets in immediately, but Eve keeps scrolling, tapping, and clicking. 

Objectively, she realizes she’s got problems.

*

Eve is hurting. Her mind, her veins, her pride. Her ass where she jabs the at-home hormone needles in by herself, because she doesn’t want Cal to have an image of her like that. Men are so visual.

Eve’s muscles are sore from steeling herself against the clinic’s invasions. Her earliest dirty fantasy was alien doctors very interested in examining her private parts. She takes it back now, she really does.

Ow, her tubes. Her bones, her abdomen. Her soul, or spirit, or whatever. Something inside her is rotten. No one can find anything, but she knows.

But back to the clinic she goes, where they tell her she has everything going for her (zero cysts, three eggs!) and then nothing to show for it (no strand of cells, no blip of life).

These biological misadventures happen pre-dawn, on Eve’s way to work. The packed waiting room has insensitive glass doors leading out to a corporate mall. Too many high-quality screens play rise-and-shine tv on closed caption – the pregnancy and baby stories are rampant and ultra-bright. Celebrity magazines stuffed with maternal themes are piled slick and high. In comparison, the brochures for counseling services are insignificant: pastel squares of paper on one of the end tables, mostly ignored. 

Eve counts today’s waiting room: fifteen silent women, three silent men. The men seem edgy, the women resigned. 

Where’s the crazy bitch who physically angles to be first on the patient sign-up sheets? Missing, out there somewhere in the darkness. Has she surrendered? Been institutionalized? Today she’s not in the game, she loses and Eve wins. Eve is first on the sheets today! Only a small percentage of the population would understand this hollow victory.

The absent psycho’s name is Dorrie, which is out-of-time and incongruous with her lacquered appearance. Dorrie has sinewy workout arms and perfect makeup (she must do it in the middle of the night). For all her efficiencies, why can’t Dorrie get the babymaking job done? Why can’t any of them?

Well no, some of them do. Eve can’t look at the evidence anymore, the photo wall beside the reception desk. There are women from Eve’s last go-around here, with their single, double, and in one case triple infant batches. When Eve has to go by that wall, she stares at her shoes – they’re usually quite hot, she dresses up for the office. Sometimes she focuses on her thirty-six-year-old hands instead. Her wedding band is simple, not expensive.

This morning, the wait goes on and on. Cal’s performance isn’t required at this point and Eve sits there alone and hating him. She hates Anastasia too, for having sex for sexual reasons and ending up with Miranda. Eve loves Miranda, though, a lot. Round-cheeked and ten years old when they met. Miranda’s big shy eyes were hesitant, fearful, but Eve won her over quickly. They went to the zoo.

How far along, in that wedding picture of Cal’s?

Twelve weeks.

Thirteen?

A hamster-wheel of thought.

And then:

Why won’t this happen for me?

It’s never going to happen.

There are so many worse problems to have.

At least you don’t have cancer.

Yet. (These first-world hormone treatments will give it to you, and soon, and you’ll deserve it).

MILLIONS of needy children need a home. DON’T complain if you don’t want to adopt –

My friend? She tried for TWO YEARS. And then she went to an all-inclusive in St. Lucia and got pregnant!

Are you having orgasms? You totally have to come if you want to get knocked up.

And always:

You’re a worthless fucking piece of shit.



“Eve?” It’s one of the sultry ultrasound technicians. Some of them are robotic, some are maternal, some are mean, and some are just too much to handle at an ungodly hour. This one’s infuriating, with her tousled, beachy vibe. Sex on the beach. What, sex for fun? Probably never again.
Eve follows her obediently.

*

The tests are a familiar minor ordeal. Eve copes. There are people starving being raped being murdered being dead. Any baby or babies they might make will one day die. What’s the point of any of it? Put Miranda first, she’s still got some growing to do. Miranda should be the focus.

But Eve’s pitiful hope for success dominates. Dr. So-and-So, filling in for the regular doctor (who is pregnant), is in a jubilant state as she studies Eve’s charts. Eggs are looking goood! Soon Cal will need to jerk off again at the clinic. He can’t stand the porn selection and the masturbation stations, and he won’t discuss them even to complain anymore.

The sky is mildly light when Eve flees through the embarrassing glass doors. She feels like calling Jeremy on the walk to the subway, but that’s inappropriate and misplaced: they’ve never talked on the phone.

She calls her younger sister, the perpetual grad student, instead.

“What happened?” Taryn says. “I’m sleeping.” 

“Nothing, sorry. I thought maybe you didn’t even go to bed yet.”

“I haven’t done that in ages. I’m maturing.”

“’Kay then. How are things?”

“Why are you calling right now? You and Cal are separating?”

“No-no, shut up!”

“You wanna go for a drink and talk about it?”

“It’s the morning, freak. And I’m not drinking anyway.”

Taryn wakes up a bit more and chirps, “Ohmygod! Are you – ?”

“Dream on.”

“Oh. Shit. But you’re…back at that place?”

“We’re just – yeah, we’re back trying. It’s pretty awful.”

“Still? Why can’t those scientists just get-‘er-done? It’s taking forever! Can you even afford it?”

“Ugh, why do I call you? I don’t know why I call.”

Taryn smooches into the phone. Eve hears her turning over in her feather bed and wants to chop her neck.

“I’m gonna give up soon,” Eve says.

“Poor dear. I told you, it’s Cal’s fault! ‘Cause he’s old! He’s sterile I think. Just believe that. I hate when you blame yourself.”

“I’m not. But he has Miranda, remember?”

“Yeah but that was before. He’s old now!”

“He’s only forty-seven. There’s nothing technically wrong with him. Us.”

“Hmmmm.” Taryn stretches and shuffles around in the white sheets. Eve has lain in them with a hangover. It was fun not to go home that day.

“’Kay Taryn, I’ll talk to you later, I gotta get to work. Sorry, this was a random pointless chat.”

Taryn yawns. “I don’t care. I really hope I don’t have all this trouble, like when I’m ready. Should I try now? I’m worried. Should I go out and get laid this second?”

“You’ll be fine. Statistically you’ll be fine.” Eve is walking by a gas station. She tries not to notice the vehicles of affluence preparing for their daycare drops. The backseats are filled with car seats and cartoons playing – in some cases separate cartoons, for each kid.

Taryn is musing. “I want a baby with really pretty eyes. Like Asian eyes, but grey.”

“Then you’ll have one. Positive thinking.”

“Are you thinking positive though? You sound weird.”

“I’m okay.”

“So like, if it doesn’t work this time…”

“I’ll kill myself.”

Taryn doesn’t take this even slightly seriously. “No, I mean then you’ll make the baby outside of both your bodies?”

“Ha, yeah. Something like that. Or maybe I’ll just keep making that witches’ brew, from the fortuneteller. The ginger mixed with mint and pubic hair buried in the backyard.”

“Ew!”

“Although you’re right, Cal’s friggin’ old, I’m noticing all the grey pubes when I clip them.”

“Ha! Gross!”

“Bye.”

Why does Eve have to clown for people, obscuring the trauma? With Cal she completely loses her shit, but otherwise she picks irreverence over a breakdown. She wants to appease concerned parties. They’re uncomfortable as they grapple with her stubborn, unsolved issue. They can’t help her. She wants to chop them all in the neck. 

*

Everyone cool at her office is pregnant these days, so Eve has been kissing and kissing and kissing Jeremy in parking lots. A group of them used to go out for beers, but that faded away with all the peeing on the sticks and the squeals of joy, and now here’s Eve for the third time with the newish web guy in his old, green car.

Jeremy isn’t old and green, though, he’s quite young and nice-skinned and he smells like the woods. Their kisses start out by-the-numbers, until they change and somehow become brilliant. They’re letting Eve live on another planet for a while, every week. He’s such a regular dude, not her type at all and boring to talk to, especially sober. But his mouth is a good one, straight and strong and the right amount of soft when making out.

Eve has to get home.

She should make a baby with Jeremy.

No, she should not.

It’s crucial not to do anything involuntary around him, like confessionals or orgasms. She’s ridiculously turned on by the kissing, which lasts a long time but goes nowhere. For some reason she thinks it’s idiotic to seem legitimately horny. So she forbids any touching beyond her face and hair.

Jeremy is perplexed, but still willing to just kiss, for now.

“I’m such a gentleman with you,” he says, marveling at himself.

Maybe it’s okay to do more things, Eve thinks. Maybe they should do everything. Maybe they could make a baby! It’s bananas, but it might be the ticket.

Tonight, in some church parking lot, Jeremy wants to take off Eve’s coat and then likely her shirt. But she has a rusted-over cotton ball and a band-aid and a giant bruise on her arm from the morning’s blood work. Remembering it transforms her. 

“Nope.” She moves Jeremy’s unzipping hands away. 

“Why not?”

“Because this is dumb,” she says, but friendly, and Jeremy likes it. He  laughs while kissing her again.

“Stop. I have a husband,” Eve says.

“I know, Eve, I have a girlfriend.” He leans back slightly to consider her. She can’t read him, but maybe it’s because there’s nothing to read.

She says, “My husband’s ex-wife? She wanted to call their baby Passion, boy or girl.” Oh no, she didn’t say this on purpose.  

“Why?” Jeremy stares, waiting.

“Isn’t that the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard?”

“I guess.” Now his torso is moving distinctly away from her, it’s lining up with his bottom half.

Eve says, “My husband doesn’t even remember it happened. Or he says he doesn’t. His daughter told me.”

“His daughter Passion?”

“Ha-ha, no. Miranda. She can’t stand her mom right now. She likes me better.”

Jeremy nods, huffing out some air. 

“I hope you never have to go through something awful, like, in your personal life.” Eve can’t stop the spiral.  

“Are you okay?” Jeremy doesn’t want to know the answer. He’s fiddling with his keys dangling in the ignition.  

“My name is Eve, like, the first woman. You know?”

“Right?” He’s so confused.

“My name is Eve and I can’t even have a baby.”

Jeremy clears his throat, jingles his keys. “Oh. That’s rough.”

Eve asks, “Can you drive me to the end of my street again?”

Gladly.

*

Her little house is warm and buttery-smelling. Eve can’t use her brain, she can’t feel anything except chilled.

At first, Cal and Miranda on opposite ends of the couch are cute and pleasing. They’re watching a movie and Cal’s munching on popcorn. But Miranda is zoned out and maybe weepy.

“What’s goin’ down?” Eve sits between them, warming her feet under Cal’s legs.

“Not too much. Have fun with the girls?” Cal asks, patting her.

“Not really.” Eve grabs some popcorn. The makeouts never include dinner.

In the movie, a man in a leather jacket shoots another man in a leather jacket a whole bunch of times, and Cal laughs uproariously. Eve punches his shoulder and turns to commiserate with Miranda, who’s already staring at her.

“You’re all glassy,” Eve says. “What’s up, anyway? Are you stoned?”

“No. The popcorn,” says Miranda. She means she wants it.

“It’s please, you cretin, “ says Cal.

Eve passes her the almost-empty bowl. Miranda takes some and gives Eve the gum from her mouth. It sits on Eve’s palm, hyper-blue and dried up.

“What a brat!” says Cal. “Evie, see? You already got a baby, right there.” He’s joggling Eve’s impassive knee, pausing the movie, calling them hungry hungry hippos, taking the gum from Eve’s hand and heading to the kitchen to make another round of popcorn.

Miranda has stopped eating and is crying for real.

Eve is receiving a signal.

That radar she’s developed. How could she not see it before? Her blistering consciousness of her own inadequacy. So many can do what she can’t.

Suddenly lightheaded, Eve says, “What? Tell me, honey.”

Eve knows. Before Miranda responds, Eve feels a trapdoor being opened.

“Eve?” Miranda swallows and keeps crying.

“Yes.”

“I’m pregnant.”

And even though Eve is falling through space, she says it right away, she says, “I know. I’ll help you.”

*

Jenny Prior writes fiction and plays and lives in Leslieville. Her novella, Catholic Dreams, is available at www.shortandenjoyable.com.

Photo credit: Dave Lazar.

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