Emily Gray

 Winter 2001

Birth Day

 

First thing, always: her hands went to find her belly. Kate felt the swollen bump that was now part of her body, relieved it was still there. Only a few more weeks of BEFORE, she thought, and then: why am I awake? Oscar wasn't next to her. She squinted in the darkness, eyes not working yet, and lifted her head from the pillow. Then she heard him coming down the hall from her office area, not from the bathroom just off their bedroom.

"Hi," she said, curling around on her side, cradling her pregnancy and itching an ankle. "What's going on?"

"Do you own The White Album?" Oscar stood in the doorway, skinny and tall in grey droopy boxer briefs. His scraggled curls were backlit by light from down the hall, making his head look like it had a giant Afro, or a halo.

Kate wasn't sure what those words meant. Her brain tried to right itself out of sleep.

"I don't--do I what?"

"I thought I had it but it's not in my CDs. I thought maybe you did or that you borrowed mine. Is it in your office somewhere? On the windowsill, is that where you put all the CDs?"

She looked at him. Strange how the mine/yours issue could work so many different ways. Kate remembered the first time she'd gone for a twenty in her wallet only to find a few singles. This was two months into moving in with Oscar, into that first apartment, fifth-floor walkup in Little Italy. She had stared at the money not there and sat down with the simple thudding realization: this is how it will be. No one had ever taken money out of her wallet before. She had had no idea it would feel so good. Cash, kitchen stuff, most clothes, a crappy beat-up VW bug Oscar had bought for $900 in San Francisco that summer and junked after four months--all of these were exempt from the mine/yours divide. But what is it about books and CDs, Kate wondered: we keep them mixed together but they are definitely either mine or his. Suddenly the notion that they kept double copies of books and records, without ever acknowledging it, struck her.

"The White Album? I have the Black Album." She reached around through the sheets to find the odd rolled back pillow and shoved it underneath her.

"The Black...oh, Prince, right." Oscar flipped on the lamp in the corner, squatted by a pile of CDs on the floor by the stereo.

"The Artist. Remember how Tom was calling him 'TAFKAP' in all seriousness a few years ago?"

Oscar snorted, sifting through cases.

"Actually I think he's back on Prince now, is what I heard. Prince, not Tom. You know what I mean," Kate said, watching him. Husband. Father. She liked to test out the labels on Oscar when she saw him absorbed in some project: cleaning the plastic bottom of the dish drainer, giving directions over the phone, rolling a joint. "Is this like a sleeping aid thing? Why do you need to find it now?"

He looked over, sitting on his heels. "I had a dream that the name comes from The White Album. The Beatles. I don't know, it just seemed like I need to check something out."

Oh, right, the name thing, Kate thought. They had gone through short hard love affairs with names: Ella (after Fitzgerald), Patricia (after Oscar's stepmom, and yuck, Kate had secretly thought), Ariel (from an Auden poem Oscar had read recently), and assorted others that friends and family pushed on them. But Kate didn't have a burning need to name her daughter yet, she had realized, slightly puzzled. It was enough to have the full wet weight of her, for now, at once dreamily abstract and then as plain as furniture or bills to be paid.

She shifted and pulled up the comforter, remembering what the day's schedule held. Office hours in the early afternoon (a stack of freshman essays to grade, on Machiavelli's take on man's inherent evil), and then the second to last Birthing Group session. Held in the basement of a slightly shabby brownstone near their apartment, The Birthing Group was a community-based gathering of about six pregnant women in Park Slope, and their partners. The leader was Sue McSweeney, a forty-something ex-aerobics instructor who hadn't ever actually had any children. A bit troubling. Still, Kate liked the atmosphere and did practice the breathing and counting exercises, occasionally. Oscar liked the zither music Sue played as background, and also surreptitiously watching the one lesbian couple. Once he fell asleep in class and Kate found she breathed more deeply and soundly that way, resting her head on his thigh.

"What was the name?" she asked, thinking through Beatles songs. "Was it Jude? Is that only for boys? And also, I think it has too much depressing Hardy stuff associated."

"'Hey Jude' isn't on--"

"Oh, wait. It's not Eleanor, is it? No, no, nope. That is a way downer of a song. Just forget it."

"Kate, neither of those are on The White Album. 'Eleanor Rigby' is on Revolver, and 'Hey Jude' is on, it's on, I don't know. But not The White Album."

"Well, what was the name?"

Oscar came out of his crouch and started pulling open the bottom drawers of a dresser, lifting out some piles of papers and folders. "I can't remember. That's why I need to see the album."

"What was the dream about? It wasn't a freaky one, was it?" Kate had suffered through most of the summer having one or two nightmares a week: the baby lost in a vast supermarket, the baby born silent and with no eyes, the baby shouting, cursing at her from inside the uterus. Vivid, haunting dreams that would shake Kate awake damp and panting. When she'd asked her mother if this was normal, the nightmares, her mother had said that all she'd dreamed about when pregnant was different kinds of food. And often some kinds of food that didn't even exist.

"It wasn't a dreaming kind of dream. No story or anything. But it was this big thing about The White Album. I couldn't stop dreaming about The White Album. I think her name's going to be in one of those songs." He lifted out a bunch of cases but frowned: they were mostly his graphic design images. "Why don't you sleep more?"

Kate was going there already. "Are you coming to the thing tomorrow?" she asked, eyes closed.

"Yep. Can I meet you there? I may have to stay late."

"Kay." Kate started to drift, and then wanted to remind him to use the headphones if he did find it, but couldn't surface enough to talk. She fell asleep, trying not to imagine her daughter as a lonely Eleanor Rigby librarian. Where do they all belong?

 

On the subway, Kate vaguely remembered this midnight conversation. In the morning, Oscar had already left for work when she found a note taped to the coffee machine, "Found it! See you at Sue's!" Which had stumped her for a short while. Now, as she tried to balance a thick folder of papers on her bulging stomach, Kate thought about the Beatles as a source of names. It didn't seem right. Not close enough to me, she thought, having had an idea that the name would spring from one of their passions. She had tried out Laureta early in the name thing, from Petrarch's fifth sonnet. She'd showed Oscar that sneaky beautiful hiding that went on in the stanzas: "Cosi LAU-dare et RE-verire insegna la voce stessa...lingua mor-TA-l presuntuosa vegna." He'd smiled but then sort of hemmed and hawed and she could tell he didn't have that flash of love at the name (which at that point she was assuming they'd both have at the same instant) and also probably that he just didn't get the poem. So it was dropped.

But the Beatles? He didn't really have a Beatles thing, did he? Kate was wedged comfortably between two other passengers and barely noticed the swaying and rattling of the F train pulling into Manhattan. Most of Oscar's music followed the standard 30 year old's playlist, she thought: Dylan, early Stones, early Springsteen, Elvis Costello, the smattering of jazz CDs. Oh, and there had been that short Brian Eno period. And then some rap stuff. An image of Oscar trying to be down, bobbing his head to N.W.A or whatever, and also trying to make fun of his white-boy inability to be down, grinning and exaggerating his doofiness, made her smile. But the Beatles? She couldn't remember.

She got off the train with an irritable thought that this was kind of like the whole brouhaha about what "first song" to play at the wedding. For their "first dance." Neither could think up some one meaningful song for their early courtship or one whose lyrics didn't become screamingly funny in that context. And became frustrated and depressed that they couldn't. ("'Slave to Love'?" Oscar had suggested one night. "'China Girl'?" Jumping on the bed. "'La Isla Bonita'?" she'd said, laughing.) They'd ended up with some obscure jazz ballad that the band screwed up anyway. And Kate had had to go to the bathroom throughout the whole dance. Their parents had smiled and clapped.

Crossing Lafayette she headed uptown, pulling her coat around her and thinking (lovingly) getting tired of hauling you around. But that wouldn't stop After, would it? Kate sighed. She saw the orange neon Tower Records sign and checked her watch. She had time. To see about this Beatles thing. Maybe I can nip it early, before he goes off on a tear.

The inside of the store was loud and bright, with thumping pulsing techno music blaring. Kate flipped through the B's in the "Rock/Soul/Pop" category, realizing she should probably be patronizing Rocks in Your Head or one of the other independent stores. But the music was so awful she needed to get out of there, and after swinging through other Beatles albums she found the double CD box marked simply "The Beatles." For $27.99! Kate looked quickly down the list of song titles but recognized at first glance only "Back in the U.S.S.R." and "Ob-La-Di." She took it to the counter, where the blue-dreadlocked 16 year old clerk gave her stomach a wary look and rang up the sale. Kate pictured her daughter with blue dreadlocks. Pictured her daughter in a club, taking Ecstasy, bouncing around in a mosh pit with blue dreadlocks. It's too early for this techno music, Kate thought, and pushed through the revolving door out to the chilly wind on Broadway.

In the Comp Lit office, donuts from an earlier faculty meeting (Kate, as a second-year adjunct, was not considered "faculty" which suited her fine) were piled on the coffee table. She checked her mailbox (six different pamphlets from the grad student union, and a nasty little reminder that adjuncts were only allowed 500 xerox copies per class per semester), picked up a cinnamon donut, and waved hello to the secretary, before dropping her bag and folders and food on the desk in her cubicle. She saw a student looking confused down the hall, and quickly turned the corner before he could see her.

"Leanne, do we have some kind of CD player here?" The receptionist looked up, unimpressed by adjuncts' strange requests.

"Like a jam box, you mean?"

Kate nodded, thinking of the time her mother had yelled at her brother Tim to turn that ghetto blaster down!

"No, we don't, but Russian does. Ask Eva if you can borrow theirs."

Kate wandered the ugly, rundown corridors over to Russian Studies, and talked their receptionist into lending the player, promising it would be returned. She also found Jeffrey, her student (who liked his name to be Jeff but spelled "Jaeffe"), and promised she'd show him where her office was if he'd carry the CD player for her. Kate found that a good bit of nice hard flirting (in a weary, impersonal manner) went a long way in getting the guys to stay in line, or actually listen in class.

After a quick conference about his B- paper ("But Mrs. Ramler, you didn't say we had to have, like, ideas in these"), Kate and Jaeffe listened in silence to the Beatles, Kate studying the liner notes.

"Isn't this like, the album written about all those murderers? Cool." Jaeffe asked, tapping a pen on his leg.

"What?"

"That cult, and they like stabbed the girls with forks and wrote 'Pigs' on the walls with blood. Totally gross and really cool, that video that plays on it? Have you seen--"

"Are you talking about the Manson family?" Kate asked, looking up. "Because that was not really--"

"Marilyn Manson sucks but Shirley Manson is the bomb. And she's a total babe. I heard she like went down on some guy backstage after a concert, like just a regular fan, so me and my friends are going to go to see Garbage for four shows when they're here at Hammerstein in February because maybe--"

"OK, Jaeffe. Jaeffe! OK. Wait a minute. First of all, the Manson family murders came after this record, I'm pretty sure." Kate was suddenly swept with nausea, thinking about pigs and blood and teenage girls. She wanted him out of the too-small cubicle, but it was awkward to get them to go without another student waiting outside. She started pulling out folders, pushing his paper back at him. Jaeffe left, humming tuneless non-Beatles songs loudly. Kate cupped her big stomach, hands resting tightly between belly and thighs. It was time to pee again. The CD player sang, In a couple of years, they have built a home sweet home, With a couple of kids running in the yard of Desmond and Molly Jones.

Oscar swore that there was too something magical or "fated," as he usually said, in their first meeting. But Kate teased him with the truth: they'd been drunk, at a local bar just off campus, with a bunch of friends. She'd gone to play the jukebox and he came up next to her, behind her. Neither remembered what those first flirting, joking sentences were about; neither remembered picking any songs to play. But Kate remembered Oscar running his fingers down her spine, counting the bones, and his knee bumping into the back of her leg. And Oscar remembered she was the only girl at the bar without big hair. And that she spoke fast, and her eyes smiled at him.

The truth was, their first interaction was pretty standard. More bodily attraction than romance, and given a swirling colored glow by all the pitchers of Miller Lite. Still, Kate held it fondly any time she saw them standing there in the bar, in her mind. She knew it was a good sign that even now both loved to replay that night. Eruptions of laughter and memory ("And you didn't even ask, you just came in!" "Remember Gina spilled the beer and you sat in the wet chair?") would then settle into tender silence, full of joy and astonishment at all that had passed. Kate and Oscar, lying in bed facing each other, the refrigerator humming and the shades drawn. In their home.

That night at The Birthing Group, Sue played a tape of her friend Monica giving birth and the group listened to her ragged grunts and the doctor's murmuring. Sue pointed out when Monica's breathing conformed to the right rhythms and Kate looked over to see Oscar, eyes shut, counting out the "hold-two-three-breathe" with his fingers. She stifled a shot of fear. Monica began to groan "ohhhhh, fuck" but the words were lost in a moan of throat noises. The women of The Birthing Group were gripped with silence, babies held snugly inside them, partners almost terrified. Sue said, "OK, listen to this, right here" and there was a rush of confusion on the tape, the recorder blocked by movement and many voices but suddenly like a bell the unmistakable baby's cry. Kate released her clenched fist, watched one of the men wipe away a tear.

On the way out, Oscar said "Oh yeah, we can do that, babe. Seemed totally, you know, scheduled."

They got on the subway, heading into the East Village. Kate held back whatever it was that came to her tongue when he started saying "we" about the actual birth. Oscar put his hand firmly on her lower back. It was Friday, open mike night at Stingy Lulu's.

"I talked to Beth today, she said he'd go on about 10:30. So we can be out of there by midnight, latest."

"Mmm. Is Robert coming?" Robert was gay, black, and had a sex column in one of those free weekly local papers. Kate usually flirted with him, and with the hot young gender-bending boys he generally had circling like planets.

"Yep." Oscar was wearing khakis and a ripped green turtleneck sweater. Kate knew the t-shirt under his sweater read "Art Offends. That's a Good Thing." They held hands crossing Houston, walking up Bowery.

"What about Sadie? That's my favorite song on the album," Kate said. Plus, Sadie sounded like a sassy, unusual name. She sang a line "The world was waiting just for you-ooo..." but Oscar was frowning.

"No, I'm sure that wasn't it." They walked into Lulu's, were waved over by Tom and Robert. Kate recoiled from the smoke.

"Oscar, I can't--"

But he'd already stopped. "I know. Wait here, I'll get them." She stood still, feeling bitchy and proud at the immediate first ranking a pregnant woman's needs were given. The boys dragged over two tables closer to the door, where the air was at least a bit cleaner.

"Katie, you are such a fucking pain. When are you going to drop that load already, honey?" Kate kissed Robert, noted a new piercing, and hugged Tom, who was knocking into other people with his guitar case. Maybe on purpose. Beth came across the room from the bathroom, mock shrieking.

"Oh. My. God. I knew you were big but Jesus, Kate! How much more to go?"

Kate was instantly rankled at the word "big." "I don't know, two weeks?" Oscar helped her shrug off her coat. She felt a moment of embarrassment, as if the whole table seemed to simultaneously be picturing her vaginal canal.

Tom was fidgeting. "I'm going to check if I'm next."

"What's he playing?" Oscar asked Beth, who started laughing.

"You don't want to know. Just enjoy being unprepared for this one."

"Oh, believe me," Robert snorted. "Sesame Street should get co-write credit, no offense to the parents-to-be." The waitress brought drinks. Kate's Sprite had a cherry floating on top. Cute, she thought. I miss beer.

When Beth and Robert started in on Tom's lack of musical, um, skill, Oscar held Kate's hand under the table, scratching on her palm, back and forth.

"So, Sadie," he said. "The thing is, that song is all about some sexy girl, and it might not be the right vibe for--"

"Oh come on," Kate said. "It's innocuous! It's a sweet song. Oh, wait. Tell me it's not a prior claim."

Oscar squirmed, sheepish. They allowed each other vetoes based on people they knew with the names up for debate, agreeing that the associations to coworkers, childhood bullies, smelly piano teachers could trump even a good feeling about a name.

"What's this?" Robert asked. Beth leaned in, always eager to get the latest on the baby patrol, as she called it. Kate felt like Beth's total absorption was presented easier at these bar gatherings, when it was clear she was in the right place, with hip hugger pants and the ability to snake through tightly joined crowds and tables. Here, Kate was the unwieldy reminder of responsibility. And how far they were from the short snorts of coke in Sophie's bathroom. And of cellulite, Kate thought. She knew the way she looked made Beth feel old.

Oscar was explaining the White Album dream to the table, while Kate waited for him to clear up the rejection of "Sadie."

"But was it like you could see her, and she had the name of one of the characters on the album, or was it like you just heard the songs, like a soundtrack?" Robert asked.

"I don't get it. I thought you guys were set on Serena?" Beth interrupted. Why is she so impatient? Kate wondered. It's not her damn kid.

Oscar told her how Serena bottomed out when Kate's mother really liked the name, said it had a "very chic" sound. They both hated "chic."

"The songs weren't even detailed, in the dream--just, there, connected somehow. Not forefront. And "Sadie" is good, I like it, but there was this girl in high school--"

"Not the one with the Lubriderm in her glove compartment?" Beth snickered.

"Wait. I've never heard of a Sadie." Kate said, interested.

"Oh oh. The shit comes out!" Robert yelped.

"No, she wasn't in high school with me, she worked at the hot dog stand at football games, and her nametag said Sadie and one time I bought a hot dog just to talk to her and stood there and ate it even though I was sick even from the idea of hot dogs."

Robert and Beth started shouting hot dog double entendres. The band playing surged noise over them. Kate watched Oscar tell this story, fascinated as always by the ones she had never heard. When would they run out?

"Well, she had some lipstick on her teeth and something about that pushed me over the edge and I shoved the rest of the hotdog in my mouth and I think it was raw, barely cooked, and then I darted around the corner of the building and started puking, all over. She came out and put her hand on my back but I pushed her away and I think I heard her laughing, and I just took off, left all my friends at the game and walked home. I had vomit all over my jacket."

Their table went quiet, nodding. Kate thought, OK, Sadie's out. The idea of hot dogs was turning her stomach too.

Oscar whispered, "Sorry." She rolled her eyes at him.

"At some point, we are going to have to compromise on something. Right?"

"You mean me."

"No fighting, kids. Anyway, Kate when is the big D-day anyway? Is it set in stone?" Robert pulled at his leather pants.

"Probably end of November, the 28th, 29th, something like that. Sit by the phone." Kate smiled at him.

"What about 'Penny Lane'?" Beth said. "That's kind of a sweet song, right?"

"That's not on The White Album, it's on, um..." Oscar looked at the ceiling. Robert started singing, loudly, "Penny lover, don't you walk on by, Penny lover, you're my one desire." A waitress was at the mike, announcing a ten minute break in performers. Tom waved at them from behind the stage.

Kate said, "Beth, how's work?" and this prompted a barrage of unfathomable unconnected stories about Beth's publicity company and its insane management and its "completely gorgeous men. And they're all temps! It's crazy, they all get canned and then there's a replacement, like right away! It's a beautiful thing, I'm telling you. My reputation is pristine." They laughed, enjoying Beth's slut routine.

"Hey, here's something," Oscar said. "I don't even know what 'D-day' stands for. And that was World War II, right?"

A moment of silence.

"Done day? Like, 'the war is done'?" Kate guessed.

"In terms of you, sweetie, I say it stands for 'time to DROP that sucker' day!" Robert said.

" 'Dilate day'!" Beth chimed in. " 'Deflation day'!"

"Very funny," Kate said, making a face. But they were on a roll.

" 'Down and Dirty'! 'Diva time' day!"

" 'Dieting begins'! Sorry, Kate, just kidding." Beth snickered

" 'EpiDURAL day'?" Oscar offered, half-smiling. Kate shot him a look.

After Beth had murmured "'back to Doggy style' day?" Kate stood up.

"ALL RIGHTY. Thanks everyone. I am now going to the bathroom. Please continue amusing yourselves at my expense, while I'm gone." She cut a wide swath through the crowded room, breathing shallowly through cigarette smoke clouds.

She heard Robert's high hiccupy laughter. " 'Don't be Defensive' Katie! Sorry!"

The night later turned to talk about friends, work, movies. Kate started itching to leave, and turned grateful when Tom came to the mike. They clapped and Robert gave a little "whoo hoo, Tommy!" Tom's first two songs were a couple of his "standards"--"indie rock gone acoustic and earnest," Oscar termed it. Kate didn't mind the music, only wished Tom wouldn't keep his eyes so tautly shut. It looked too MTV Unplugged. When Tom introduced his third and last song, with a very serious face, Beth whispered "Oh no."

"This song is about a dream I had on August 8th. Well, more like a daydream. I call it 'Eight', and it's on my demo tape which I have copies of here, please see me after. Five dollars. Thanks very much, and I'm Tom Whittingson." He started strumming.

"Chords of eight, I'm assuming," Oscar said.

Robert was already laughing, trying to hold it in. "Let's just hope he doesn't give us the eight minute version!"

 

To piss off Oscar, Kate sang 'Eight' the whole way back to Brooklyn in the cab. He groaned, and swore he'd advise Tom to think about rejoining his last band. "At least that way it wouldn't be like no one else was getting humiliated. We could spread around the shame." Kate put her head in his lap, curling her legs and resting her shoes on the arm handle.

"This verse is about the number eight. Dum dum da dum," Kate softly sang. "Eight, eight, eight eight eight. Eight, eight, eight. Eight times I'll sing the number eight."

Oscar gave up, joined in. "But wait! It's now nine, or ten if you count that first one...Yes, two full hands of the number eight--plus one toe!" The cabdriver glanced back through the mirror.

"It sort of is like a Sesame Street song," Kate said. "Maybe we should look to those for names."

Oscar was looking out the window as they crossed the Brooklyn Bridge. "The White Album, baby." He touched her hair. "Give me a few more days to figure this out." Kate smiled to herself, and held back whatever it was that came to her when he started saying "me" or "I" about the baby.

 

Over the next ten days, Kate cut back on school obligations, conducting conferences over the phone and emailing assignments. She poked absently through files and photocopied articles, thinking vaguely of the paper on Boccaccio and the disassociation of self that she was scheduled to deliver at next August's department conference. They painted the "nursery" blue (the back wall of the bedroom) and Oscar took to calling seven and eight times during the day, often from clients' cell phones at lunch. Kate would say, "Fine. Yes. About two hours, in the morning. Mmm hmm. Some split pea soup. Oh, and a half of a sandwich. Ham. Darling." These conversations were identical to ones she had regularly with her mother and sister.

I'm a vessel, she thought occasionally. A vehicle. It felt good to retreat from The Life Of The Mind into a dulled, rich fleshiness. Moments of panic would rupture and then subside into long, endless hours of listening to the person move around inside her body. She screamed once and threw something at Oscar when he referred to the birth as their daughter "detaching."

"You motherfucker! It's not 'Alien'!"

Fighting was scarier now, and they worked harder at stifling even small annoyances.

At dinner, Oscar played the Beatles, and they took to analyzing every aspect of the songs, lingering on details of word choice, symbolism, tempo and rhyme, while Kate would take her temperature and write it in the notebook. Oscar lined up the vitamins on the broad wood boards they used as a dining table and she swallowed them while he watched, carefully, like a Communion. When the phone rang, they let the answering machine pick up, deep into the connotations of "But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao / You ain't gonna make it with anyone any how."

 

When Kate had run on the track team in high school, their coach called the week before the league meet "Eggshell Week," to remind the runners to step carefully, avoid potholes and sprained ankles and sudden high fevers. She thought a lot about walking on eggshells in the last few days of her pregnancy, imagined balancing on crates and crates of feathery empty white shells. It was like a long period of training was coming to an end, and wondering if she was ready. If they were. It was a heightened, vivid kind of fear; electric with foreboding and excitement.

But I AM the egg, Kate thought.

Two nights before she went into labor Kate and Oscar had a final look through The White Album. She paged through the CD booklet while Oscar cut up carrots for lentil pasta. "Dear Prudence" played while Kate studied the studio portraits and cameo shots of John and Ringo and George and Paul. The one that touched her was a caught moment of John and Yoko in bed (of course), Yoko's hair a black tangle on the pillow and John's skinny naked body sitting Indian style. He was on the phone, playing with the thick white phone cord.

Suddenly, she called out, "What about 'Prudence'?" The song's sad winding melody was so appealing, and the lyrics brought to her mind a sunny, British day in the park. A pram. "It's fussy and old-fashioned, but I think it's got a kind of charm. Or we could just call her Girl or Honey or something."

Oscar called back, "Whenever I hear 'prudent' I think of Dana Carvey doing George Bush on SNL."

Pause.

Kate sighed. Wasn't this supposed to be easier? Were they stuck on the name so long because they were both putting off the real terror, the real talks about, like, raising a kid? How the hell was that going to happen? She didn't think of either herself or of Oscar as prudent people. Person to parent, she thought. Where is the line to cross over? How will I know?

Look around round

Look around round round

Look around, the stereo sang, offering no answers.

Kate went into labor in the middle of the night. Her body woke her out of a dream with its long warm surges of what was soon to come. She was dreaming of getting a haircut, in her old stylist's store down on Sullivan Street. The place looked as it did five years ago; dark and covered with graffiti and punk posters. In the dream Kate had her eyes shut while stoner Danny pulled and fussed with her hair. It was a comfortable feeling, and in the dream she dreamed about what her hair would look like. But in the middle of the scissors clipping and scraping, she began to grow more and more aware, wanting to open her eyes and see herself in the mirror. Thinking in the dream: come on, now, Kate. You can do this. Get ready. Just get ready to open your eyes and then decide to do it. But she clung to the blindness as Danny hummed louder and louder, rubbing her head. She was afraid, she realized, that she wouldn't recognize herself in the mirror.

Kate sat up in bed, hands to stomach. The room was electrified and still. She held herself carefully, all senses pulled within like feelers. Oscar opened his eyes, immediately awake.

"Hi."

"Hi, honey."

They paused, considering.

Kate exhaled, found his hand under the sheet. "I'm going to have a baby now. I think." Her heart was pounding.

The rest of the night was a blur. Getting dressed, finding keys (Robert's friend Melissa had lent a car which was carefully parked and reparked and reparked right in front of the building), driving through the empty streets--Kate briefly felt sorry for Oscar. He has to deal, she thought. All I have to do is breathe.

But at the hospital everything began to happen to her, and she happily put the burden of thinking and decision-making in the hands of the loud and cheerful people in white and green.

The lights were too bright, and she sweated, opening her eyes only to find Oscar's tightly smiling face. She did what they said, lost in a rush roar of gripping and unbelievable pressure and then pulling, groaning and a moment of her body trying to break itself apart. In the first moment of separation, she cried and Oscar was shouting at her "Look, look" at the red squirmy baby in the doctor's hands. Kate gasping and for a second wanting the baby back inside her, sobbing and saying to Oscar, "Oh my God, oh my God, baby."

Oscar whispered "I love you," either to Kate or to the baby but because she had her eyes shut Kate couldn't be sure which one.

 

Morning after next they brought Beatrice home to Brooklyn, Oscar walking her carefully up the stairs. Kate came out of the bathroom (wanting to gingerly examine the red rawness, wiping with a grimace with the hospital's medicated pads) to see him holding the baby against the streaky blue wall and next to the new crib. She stood for a minute in the kitchen, watching. Oscar's curly head was bent to Beatrice (He'll think of the Beatles when we tell the story of her name, Kate thought, but I'll think of Dante). She smiled and walked toward them.

Oscar was singing quietly and off tune, "You say it's your birthday, dah dah dah dum dum--it's my birthday, too yeah." Kate came up behind him, doing a little shimmy shake and joining in for the part she knew best:

Yes we're going to a party party

Yes we're going to a party party

Yes we're going to a party party.

Emily Gray lives in Brooklyn, NY.

| Home | Listserv | Articles |