by Carol Novack
Betty's baby bounces frenetically in her backyard playpen, pointing and gurgling at the obese Abyssinian cat on our side of the picket fence. I watch the baby from my second floor window, through the haze of Henry's old lady beige curtains. The cat rubs his cheeks against the face of the humming planet, oblivious to the baby. I don't know why the couple next door named her Shitake. When I pointed out the obvious nickname the kid would acquire for life, Betty simply shrugged.
"Shit, I've been called worse," she responded. "Try Betty Boobs on for size," she said, thrusting them at me to accentuate the point.
"Don't you think Shitake's real cute?" Betty drawled. "Reminds me of something good for you but kind of exotic too." She always laughs so loudly, makes my head hurt.
We had that conversation soon after Betty had returned from the hospital, belly emptied of baby and already on Atkins. I hadn't had much to say to her since then, what with Henry's leaving in a narcissistic rage and as soon as I could breathe, Bill's moving in, and then my losing the job and contending with the rough preambles to divorce. I'm lucky Bill is making enough for both of us, but of course a woman should stand on her own.
So much has changed in my life. It's hard to believe the baby is only seven months old. I watch her every clement late spring morning and feel disgust rising like bile, imagining other mothers like Betty, mothers who can't possibly love their children, mothers who are dooming their children to lives of misery. Naming a child is more than a symbolic act and one should take care, just as one should take care with life insurance and the choice of lovers. One should take great care in everything one does, even paring cucumbers and choosing local officials. But one doesn't. One lets oneself choose beige curtains because everybody says they soften glare. That's what Henry said, and he was always right. Better safe than sorry; makes me sick.
At least, Bill is a great provider. He believes he saved me from mad Henry and he's foolishly raring to continue saving me from anyone or thing that threatens me. I have to keep that in mind as the tiny embryo inside my belly grows, silent to everyone but me, a whispering creature, tiny morsel of self, heaving and sighing. My belly aches as I sit hunched on the toilet adjacent to our master bedroom. I try to memorize the pink, grey and white tiles and the names of the silly subtitled fish swimming inside the shower curtain Henry put up. My tubes hurt. I hear the growing seed ululating in the dark.
But I am so fortunate. When I stand up, I look in the full length mirror and I see what men are supposed to want to see: long, lithe limbs; firm breasts; and full, "bee-stung" lips. My hair shines with new life and my own youth, yet I can't find my self in the mirror. And I think so what; should I be proud when this body is an accident of birth? Only I know that the secrets of my body are conspiring against me.
I am gazing at Betty's baby when the pains seize me like alien monsters assuming my identity. My name is now Pain. I imagine the embryo as a tumor that is only the clone of the beginning of a baby. The tumor has invaded so much of me I will never know hope, creation or the rudiments of wisdom. I imagine the room overfilling with my blood, the blood overtaking the planet like an epileptic ocean, swallowing Baby Shit and dragging her deep within its maw. I clutch Bill's fat goose feather pillow and inhale his robust scent, but I can hardly breathe.
I grasp the bedpost, reach for the phone, and let Bill save me, just this once. I will not have this baby, this baby without a name.
About the author:
Carol Novack is a lapsed criminal defense and constitutional lawyer in New York City. A book of her poems was published in Australia, where she received a creative writer's grant. Her writings have appeared and are forthcoming in various publications, including The Penguin Book of Australian Women Poets, Diagram, Newtopia, Yankee Pot Roast, Opium, Wild Strawberries, Word Riot and Smokelong Quarterly. Carol is Editor of Mad Hatters' Review, an edgy, multimedia ezine with a humanitarian heart. Her website is: http://carolnovack.bravehost.com.