You have a spoon in your hand. Now all you need is peanut butter to fulfill the craving that you’ve had for minutes that seem like days. After 260 days, you’re ready to send your child off to kindergarten, but she hasn’t been born yet so all you can do is dip your spoon into the almost empty jar, get all you can, then lick that peanut butter and make this day a little sweeter.
On your kitchen table is the baby name book your mom dropped off months ago and wanted to go through with you. You know it would mean a lot to her, but she already “helped” you pick out the nursery colors. You want to pick out the name yourself.
Stacey was in the bathroom when the unsuspecting father asked you to dance. You don’t know his name. You just call him Chris. He had a condom, but apparently your high school health teacher was right: condoms are not a sure thing! You were horny and he said you were beautiful; he said your body was a wonderland and then something about the Cheshire Cat.
You told Stacey that you would get a ride home with Chris.
“Who?” She asked.
You pointed your head in his direction, and Stacey asked how much you had had to drink.
A few, not a lot. You were still standing weren’t you?
You were still standing, but not for long.
She told you to wait a minute; she had to talk to this guy before you left with him. She came back a few minutes later with two shots of Jack Daniels. She handed you one. You tapped your tiny glasses together and shot down the burning liquid. Stacey winked and said, “Be good” as you dropped your glass on the floor and stumbled away.
The next morning you woke up and there was a note. “Had to run. Call me later. 902-5873.” You went back to sleep and woke up when Housekeeping knocked. You jumped out of bed and grabbed your purse. A short woman with dark curly hair opened the door, plugged in her vacuum, looked in your direction and said in her far-from-English accent, “You okay, miss?”
Your breasts became sore and you were missing something you didn’t like to talk about. You took a test and now you never look at positive the same way.
You told Stacey first. She didn’t believe you. You didn’t believe you either.
“That guy at the club?” she asked.
“Has to be,” you said.
Stacey told you to take at least two more pregnancy tests. She said that you can never be sure until you get the same result from a few of them; she said that Amanda’s was positive the first time, too.
But all three of yours said the same thing. Blue plus sign.
You remembered that Stacey talked to him before you left the club, so you asked what he was like.
She said he was blond and cute. She had been drunk, and her night was blurry too. “Do you have his number?” she asked.
You looked for that note. You couldn’t find it, but that was okay. You remembered what it said. You called it but there was no Chris there, no blond twenty-something, and no one who had ever been to The Storm Club or had recently slept with a girl with a wonderland body. You tried some different combinations. 209-5873. 902-3875. 209-3785. Still no Chris, but you did have an eye-opening conversation with an elderly man about his grandson’s science project. You had never thought so much about hot dogs.
You had to tell your parents. If they were going to find out, it might as well be from your mouth. You’re 23, but you’re still their child who is not married, not even dating anyone.
You thought about lying. Then, you could have made up a boyfriend but they would have wanted to know what he was like. What would you have said? “I think his name is Chris.” They would have wanted to meet him and have his parents over for dinner and help you look for wedding gowns. You decided to tell the truth.
They took it pretty well. Your mom was worried, but at least she didn’t cry like you had, uncontrollable drops springing from your eyes and your face crinkled into your hands. You were standing when you found out and your hands smelled of urine, but you didn’t care.
You cry again just thinking about it. You are a single mom. Why didn’t you take that offer that Stacey and Amanda had made—to help you pay for an abortion? You wouldn’t have this problem then. This problem. You hope she doesn’t know you ever thought of her like that
The peanut butter fills your craving. You liked it before you were pregnant, too, but you never ate it without bread and jelly. Your mom says you should be eating healthier things, so you do when she’s around. You eat salads and yogurt and never desserts. It’s not worth the nagging. Then you go home, still hungry, and you eat your peanut butter by the spoons full.
You pick up the baby name book and open it to the first page. Acacia. Greek. A point, a spine, or thorn. That’s what this is: a point in your back and thorns in your boobs and somehow it’s inflated your stomach. You say it over and over again: “There’s a baby inside me. There’s a baby inside me. There’s a baby inside me.” But you won’t believe it until you see it.
Above Acacia is Abigail. Hebrew. Father in rejoicing. You think about Chris. Wonder what he’s really like.
Now it’s been too long to recall much except that you slept together. You go to your room to lie down, leave the peanut butter behind. Find your diary. Read that entry:
I got laid last night. I think he said his name was Chris. He left me his number, but I hope he doesn’t expect me to call him. It was loud and dark and I had a lot to drink. I’m not sure I could face a guy I don’t remember.
You hear a knock on your door and a second later it opens. A voice yells, “Hey beautiful!”
It’s Stacey. She’s coming over to watch An Affair to Remember. Lately all you want to do is watch sappy movies like that. She’s a good friend to want to, too.
She enters your room with your economy-sized peanut butter jar in her hand. She rolls her eyes, “You and your peanut butter.”
“When I’m pregnant I hope I can eat as much crap as you do and not be a fat lard.”
“Are you calling me a fat lard?”
“No, I’m saying that you should be a fat lard. I’m saying that you are a skinny bit- I mean, I’m saying that you’re skinny.”
You and Stacey said your first curse words together when you were nine. You were just repeating something her mom shouted after slamming her fingers in the car door, but you both got in big trouble anyway. You continued cursing because that’s what everyone else did.
Now you’re trying to stop. You don’t want your little girl to turn out how you did. You want her to be different. You want her to study hard and go to lots of birthday parties and no boyfriends until she’s 30! You want her to be good.
Would you have turned out better if you hadn’t ever said a curse word, or if you didn’t have sex until you were married, or if you had studied more?
But you don’t want your little girl to be too good. You always hated those girls who sat up straight and knew all the answers and played chess for fun. How do you raise a mostly-good girl anyway? You remember a book you were supposed to read in high school. Catch 22. Wonder what that was about.
“Thanks for the compliment,” you say.
“No problem.” Stacey sits next to you on your made-up queen-size bed. “Did you go to work today?”
You’ve been calling in sick a lot because you can’t deal with snobby customers asking you why they didn’t get their Chicken Marsala sooner. Alberto’s is a huge step up from Applebee’s, but if one thing goes wrong people get furious. Like it’s your fault the chef doesn’t cook faster. They should have gone to Wendy’s.
“Yeah, I went today. Are you staying over?”
“Yeah. Is that okay?”
“You can stay here anytime you want. Hell, you can move in for all I care. Help me change some diapers.”
“I’ll hold that baby any time, but I’m not changing diapers.” She’s half serious, and you don’t blame her. Then she tells you she’s kidding. That, really, if there is anything you need, she will do it for you, even change diapers. She tells you that she’s here for you forever, for anything, and you tear up thinking about it. Forever is a very long time.
Senior prom was supposed to be the best night of your life.
Stacey and Bo Carlos had just broken up two weeks before, but she still dressed up that night for him. She didn’t eat anything but saltines for two days so that she could fit into her sister’s little black cocktail dress. She bought a special bra to make her boobs pop out, and some strappy stiletto heels.
She didn’t see him for the first half hour of the dance, but she told you to go ahead and make your move on Lucas Mann anyway. You heard he was going solo, but if the night went as you planned he would not be leaving that way.
You knew something was wrong when you saw Stacey in the bathroom and her mascara had run all down her face. Why didn’t she come find you? She said she didn’t want to ruin your night, but you didn’t even miss going home with Lucas. Sitting on your bedroom floor eating chocolate chip cookie dough was better; it was forever.
There’s that word again: forever. Stop thinking about it. Tell Stacey you love her. She’s the best. She’s a friend.
You think about Lucas. You’re glad you didn’t go home with him on prom night because you know what he was really like: a braggart, a pothead, a thief. Chris can be anything you want.
“You’re the best, Stacey. I love you.”
“Ah, man, are you gonna’ cry? Please don’t cry. We still have this whole sappy movie to do that.” She waves it in the air and slides it in the player.
The music roars and your emotions pump just because you know the future of Nickie Ferrante and Terry McKay.
When you wake up the sun is up and the TV is still on; the repeating disc-menu music annoys you but not enough to make you stand up. That’s too hard these days. Stacey is curled at the foot of your bed and you are spread diagonal across it. You kick her softly in the head.
“I am now.” She sits up and hits your legs with a pillow. “How’d you sleep?”
“Good.” You roll over and close your eyes. Stacey gets up.
“I’ll make breakfast,” she says.
“Okay.” You’re already snoring.
You wake up again when Stacey enters your room with an array of muffins and bagels and packets of low-fat cream cheese lining that pretty brass tray you took from your parents’ house. “Did you know you have nothing except peanut butter in your kitchen?”
You shrug as you spread cream cheese over your cinnamon raisin bagel.
When you’re done eating, Stacey says she has to go. She starts to clean up and you tell her not to worry about it; you can do it.
“No way. You’re about to burst. I don’t want to be here when that happens. So you just take it easy around me.”
She cleans up. You say goodbye and she leaves.
You decide to go grocery shopping. That’s what good mothers do, right?
You take a shower; wash everything, even the things you can’t see. You can’t reach your feet, haven’t been able to in months, so you soak them in soapy water and figure they’ll clean themselves.
You dress up, put on a skirt. It’s comfortable and pretty. Then a maternity shirt. You mostly wear t-shirts and sweat pants these days, unless you’re at work, then you wear your specially ordered uniform. But you have a couple of nice outfits that your mom bought for your birthday this year. Might as well use them.
At the store, a woman and a little girl walk in front of you. The woman is wearing heals and carries an impossibly large purse. The girl’s hair is in pigtails. She wears a short pink dress and is pushing her own little-girl sized cart. She stops to touch every box of cookies. Her mom hands her a box of pasta.
She seems like a good mom. Maybe you will learn something by watching her.
But is it enough to be a good mom? Don’t little girls need dads?
You dread the day when your little girl will ask where her daddy is. What will you say? You better decide now because if you wait you may lie. You always said you would tell your child the truth about everything.
You touch your stomach but not because of kicking. You touch your stomach because you feel you should, because it’s there and because it’s big.
You fill your cart with things you need. Spaghetti, tomato sauce, lettuce, salad dressing, bread, turkey, mustard, milk, cereal, pop tarts, cheese, laundry detergent, chocolate ice cream, peanut butter. That’s enough. You check out.
Your mom says this is normal. She says your older brother was late, too, and he hurt like hell, but she was glad for the hurt because she knew she would soon have a little baby to hold. She hoped Clive would have blue eyes, and he did for the first few weeks of his life. She said that the first time she held him was the first time she knew about miracles. Real miracles- not like the Miracle on 34th Street, but like the ones you hear about in Sunday School. She said she might as well have turned water into wine. Unbelievable that out of her stomach came this child. That nine month bump, that low budget black and white video, all that back pain had become a squirmy, unsure, squinty blue-eyed miracle. And she got to love that miracle forever.
You knew you had messed up when you were lying in that hotel bed, tangled between the sheets and a strange man. Making Abigail. It wasn’t your first stupid act of that nature, and in the midst of all your life’s tangled moments you knew you were doing something wrong and bad and ultimately self-mutilating. But you didn’t know why doing it was so bad, so the rush of all-consuming human touch overcame the facts.
Now, in the labor of the consequence, you wish with all your being that you could rewind your life and undo that night. Now, while your body is stretching in ways only God could have ordered and man could have messed up, you scream and you cry. You have no control over your body. The man in the green dress tells you everything will be okay. Just push. Just breathe. Heeve Heeve Ho. You repeat after him and you push like he says to, like your life depends on it, because it does. For every second that this humungous thing remains between your legs, you must live another second in the agony of stretching beyond your own limits.
This pain is the exact opposite of the glamour of sex, and so you know it is the perfect punishment. But still you push. You must get through this. You can do it. Just think of what is next.
You push your last push and Abigail slides out. She is full of red and clear goo and guck. You breathe your first breath of motherhood, relieved and terrified. You see her in the doctor’s hands, but he takes her away and you start to cry. It’s over, you think. You are never putting another thing between your legs.
Your take another breath, not for relief, but for air. It’s fresher than you remember. And sweeter, too.
Motherhood. Day 1
You thought that life was about looking, that it was full of struggles and heartache. You thought that having hope was your salvation, that it was only in those few and far between moments of hopefully smiling through pain that you could ever be happy.
You look out the window and the sky is blue and the cars are driving past your room four stories beneath you. A nurse enters your room and calls you by name. “Ms. Pulito. Would you like to hold your baby girl?”
You can’t speak, but she knows what you want to say. She places your child in your arms.
You think of your brother, not blue-eyed or squirmy or unsure anymore, and you realize that the miracle doesn’t end at birth. It’s in the growing up, the shaping, the teaching, the training.
You realize that forever only means it keeps going, not that things won’t change. Her name is Abigail. Your answers were always right in front of you. She looks at your eyes. You touch her fingers.
Abigail. Hebrew. Father in Rejoicing. And you hope he is, because you are forever.
Sara Dutilly earned a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing at High Point University. She has dabbled in journalism and essay, but this is her first piece of published fiction. She lives in Kernersville, NC with her husband, two small boys, and one newborn girl where she writes poetry and short stories and bakes sourdough bread. You can read more from her at haikuthedayaway.wordpress.com.