Marie Has A Baby
by: Mikael Raheem
It's dark. The alley isn't well-lit and I'm alone. I'm on the way home from a meeting and it ran later than usual. I start to remember all the things my mother told me when I was in high school. Things like "stay in well-lit places," and "always walk with someone." I've had enough of that, though. I know that I have to do this, to prove to someone that I can.
Something rustles beside me. I look down quickly and see it was a newspaper trapped under a garbage bag. There's a dumpster up ahead, the lid perched open, the smell of fast food grease spilling out.
In my head there's a man waiting in that dumpster, gaunt, hooded, waiting for me to get just close enough. He'll start with my clothes, tearing at them like starved animal, then he'll move on to my skin. His eyes will be wide open and uncontrolled, like something possessed. He'll be out of control, savage.
When I pass and nothing happens, I breathe a sigh of relief. Of course. Things like that don't happen to people like me; their place is on the news, shrouded by weather and the latest sports victory.
I look up and see the moon, dim behind the clouds. There's always been something comforting about the moon, as if it were the shadow of the sun, staying up to keep us warm when the sun had retired for the night.
I walk confidently towards my car, parked intelligently under a street lamp. The click of my shoes bounces off the walls behind me as I leave the alley and move onto the sidewalk. Click. Click. Thump. As I move into the light, a hand covers my mouth from behind and jerks me backwards.
What stands out to me isn't that he starts with my clothes, like I had predicted. No, it's his eyes: they are entirely human, calculating.
I ring the doorbell and wait. They always take a while to answer. Finally, after three or four minutes of tapping my shoe and contemplating ringing the doorbell again, the handle turns and I'm greeted by two familiar faces.
My friends Goddess and God (known legally as Evelyn and Dante) live in the suburbs. They honestly and truly believe that they are manifestations of deities, living on Earth to return faith to their people. Of course, all their friends, including myself, play along and call them by their self-enforced nicknames, but behind all the teasing and questioning, I've always found them to be fairly wise.
Their house holds an amalgamation of almost every religious object you can think of. Once you get past the initial shock, though, you start to notice how they're arranged: not a single object is grouped with anything similar to it. Every room contains an egalitarian slice of crucifixes, drums, swords, herbs (my favourite, since they made the house smell heavenly), and even an old monk's outfit that Goddess claims she traded for a single kiss on the cheek of a Buddhist in China.
"Have you told him yet?asks God, sitting cross-legged on a throw pillow. We're in the living room or, as they put it, the "life room."
"No." I'm nervous. Even though I know these are the only two people I could talk to about this, somehow they still feel impossibly distant. How can I ever explain what it felt like? What will they think if they know how long I had stood in that shower when I found out, my eyes closed, my entire body a weight dragging me down?
"How do you feel?" Goddess is sitting comfortably on the couch, a joint suspended casually between her lips.
"I don't know. I mean, for about a week I would sneak away from the office and just cry, anywhere I could, but after a while that started to fade. Now I just feel confused. Whenever a guy touches me, even by accident, I sort of freeze up, like every guy I see has some sort of hidden agenda."
"You should meditate," says God. "You need to focus on what your body is trying to tell you."
"No, I disagree," returns Goddess. This is normal: every time I've ever asked these two a question, there has always been a mixed response. Part of me wonders how they've stayed together all these years. Another part of me knows that they haven't. "We should talk."
And so we talk. They force me to go over everything, from the initial shock to the pain to the frustration I feel now. They hand me tissues to wipe my tears as I confess to every doubt I've had about myself. I tell them about the weaknesses and moments of desperation I've had in private: I tell them about the nights I wake up in the middle of the night in a sweat and lie there with my eyes wide open for hours. I tell them about stowing away in the bathroom to sob while my husband cooks dinner. I tell them about climbing the stairs to my office's roof and staring down over the edge, asking myself if I could actually do it.
When I wonder aloud if it had been my fault, if my mother had been right all along about girls alone in the dark, Goddess slaps me then smiles and offers me a pull off her joint. God only nods, as if I had said something trivial and ought to move on. So I do. I tell them that my crotch still hurts.
Goddess leaves the room returns with a balloon filled with liquid. Or, at least, it looks like a balloon. It's actually a small, animal-skin bag with a wooden nipple on it, like you'd see bushmen drinking from on tv.
"Drink," she commands as she hands it to me.
"What's in it?"
"Drink it and you'll see."
It's milk, or at least, something that resembles milk. After sipping it, I squeeze a bit into my palm and see that it's white and creamy, thicker than half-and-half, but not quite as thick as shampoo. Before I can say anything, a warmth spreads through me. My thighs feel as if hands were massaging them, working them healthy once again.
"What is it?" I ask, looking up.
"It's a mixture of my breast milk and God's semen."
"Don't worry, it's perfectly safe."
God smiles weakly at Goddess then nods at me. "You should meditate."
When I get home, I sit my husband down at the kitchen table. He looks excited, as if I were about to tell him he had won the lottery. We've been trying to have a baby for almost a year now, with no results. I had even gone to see my gynaecologist once, without Joey knowing, to see if it was my fault, if I was a "hostile environment" for birthing a child. Turns out I'm not.
"There's something I need to tell you." My voice is low, weak, almost a whisper. I remind myself what the deities told me, to reach in to my strengths and pull out someone who isn't a victim but instead a complete being, someone capable of making decisions.
"Is it...?" He glances down to my stomach.
"Oh, that's great, Marie!" He's smiling broadly, his teeth almost bursting out from behind his lips. There's something manic about him, as if he were panicked with excitement. Before I can stop him, he reaches out and puts his hand on my stomach. I cringe and pull back before I know what's happening.
"What's wrong?" He's concerned.
When I married Joey, his faith was a pillar for me. He goes to church every Sunday and says grace before every meal, even when we go out with friends. Before bed, I can hear him muttering nightly prayers under his breath, wishing for happiness and success for both himself and me.
But it wasn't only the dedication to his faith that I loved him for, it was the results of it. Even though he never really talks about it, there's always been a compassionate streak in him. He gives to charity, he helps handicapped people off the bus, he volunteers at the downtown soup kitchen every week. On top of all of that, he hasn't ever asked me to convert or accept his god as my own. That was what made him whole for me, something I could trust.
And yet, at this moment, all I can think of is that one time, when I thought we had conceived. Of course, I had read the test wrong, but for two weeks we lived in bliss. It was as if we finally figured out the answer to an incredibly simple but frustrating problem. When we found out I was mistaken, he hid in our room for an entire day. I chose not to bother him, afraid he was in some sort of deep communique with his god. Around midnight, he stormed out and sat on me: I was sleeping on the couch. He demanded to know why I lied to him. I gasped out that it was a mistake, his weight crushing the breath out of me. He pushed down harder, thrusting my shoulders deep into the cushions. He called me a cunt.
I cried myself to sleep that night and we never spoke of it again. The next morning, everything went back to normal. He made me breakfast and kissed me on the cheek. I often wonder if the entire thing was a dream.
"I'm pregnant." My voice falls flat as I say it, but his ecstasy doesn't fade. "It's just..."
"It's not yours."
His nostrils flare for a moment. He sits back in his chair and stares at the ceiling fan above us. The motor broke about five years ago, only weeks after we had moved into this house. He's never been able to fix it for more than a month. In the summer, the air in here is heavy and hot. I can feel the weight now, but it's a cold one.
Finally, he lowers his gaze and asks that inevitable question: "Who's is it?"
A thousand answers run through my head: My friend Ray from work that you're always jealous of but never say anything fucked me one night after a meeting. I stole a baby and shoved it up my pussy. Just kidding, it is yours. Or maybe something like I was viciously raped two weeks ago and I've been too ashamed to admit it. Or maybe...
"That's the thing. I talked to the doctor last week and..."
"And there is no father."
My twin brother, Adam, visits us four months later, a few days after we find out we're having a boy. Joey told him all about "our little miracle" and how it's a gift from God and how we should rejoice; I've been keeping Joey very "informed" about the baby, but I refuse to let him into any meetings with my doctors. I tell him that it's just "something a mother has to do alone."
I don't talk to Adam much these days, although he and Joey still get together once in a while. We used to be good friends, the three of us. We all went to college together. When Joey had gotten that staph infection, Adam had visited the hospital almost every day. In a way, it was touching.
Three days into Adam's visit, he and I have our first moment alone while Joey is at the soup kitchen. We're sitting in the dining room, the remains of a roast sitting on a roasting pan in the centre of the table.
"So..." He's stick-handling peas from one side of his plate to the other with his fork. I've known him for long enough to know this is his way of saying that he wants to talk.
"So what's the deal with this baby?" He sounds annoyed, almost angry, a stark contrast to the joy and blessings he's been dishing out these past three days.
"What do you mean, 'the deal'?"
"You don't actually believe it's the son of God, do you?"
"God got a vasectomy twelve years ago, don't you remember?" Adam has met my friends; he wasn't impressed.
"Hilarious. You know what I mean."
"What do you want me to say?
"Can't you just tell him you cheated on him? For Christ's sake, he's practically my brother."
A knot is building in my throat. "I didn't cheat on him."
"Gimme a break, Marie."
"Fuck you." My eyes are starting to water. "I'm not an idiot. You're not the first one to accuse me. But I didn't. So fuck you."
His face softens. People say that twins have a sort of telepathy, that they can feel what their twin is feeling without any outside indication. While it isn't as magical as that, Adam and I have sort of learned to tell when the other twin is lying. I can't explain it, really. It's kind of like when people say "intuition" when they have no evidence to back up something that they know is right.
"Then what was it?" he asks, his fork now lying dutifully by the side of his plate. I don't answer. I can't answer. I notice that the roast is undercooked, bleeding from the centre, blood seeping through the tissue and onto the pan underneath. The meat is swimming in it's own juices.
Adam cleans me up and sits me down on the porch for some fresh air. He lights a cigarette and leans against the railing, looking out at the sunset. The moon is out already, a ghostly white. Something about it draws my attention, like one of those lights designed to attract and ultimately murder houseflies. I tear my eyes away when the sight starts to make me cry.
"So who is this fucker?"
"I don't know. I never saw his face."
"Well, was he wearing a mask, or what? What kind of clothes was he wearing? Was he white?"
My stomach knots as I try to remember. "I don't know."
"How could you not know?" His voice is rising now. I can tell he's about to shout.
"I just don't know, alright?"
"Why didn't you just have a fucking abortion when you found out?"
I had thought about it. My friend Ramona told me about a clinic that she used once, years ago. She said it was relatively painless and the people there were all really nice.
And yet, after reading all the literature on abortion I could find, pro-life, pro-choice, pro-anything, all it boiled down to for me was the sight of an infant boy, shrivelled and dead on an operating table. In my head he has a penis and eyes already, even though I know that all it will be is a bundle of hair and skin. What accompanies the image is fear: not only fear for the baby's life but fear for myself as well. He has calculating, human eyes and a penis and the thought makes me want to melt into the pavement and disappear.
Joey would stand over the baby and cry in rage and bewilderment. He would swing at the air and demand his god to answer for this. If he couldn't find an answer, he would turn to me. And if I didn't have an answer...
"I won't kill it."
"Do you realize what Joe's going to do when he finds out?"
"He won't find out. Why would he?"
"'Son of God'? Eventually even he's going to clue in."
"He's really religious. Maybe he won't."
"So you're just gonna lie about it? The kid will have a massive complex when he grows up!"
This stings, more so than the thought of Joey's rage were he to find out I lied. I hadn't thought about life after the pregnancy. At the moment, the process occupied me entirely, not the end result.
"He'll be fine. Joey can be his dad."
"You're forgetting that Joey is a Christ-freak. He'll...omigod, Marie, I bet he thinks this is the goddamn second coming."
"I don't think so."
Adam turns towards the horizon, the sun now completely hidden. I can see his fingers tighten around the wood of the railing. His eyes squint, as if he were trying to see something just beyond his line of sight. He drags deeply on his cigarette and once again, in a low voice, demands I kill my child.
"You owe me," he adds.
"For what?" I whip back at him, knowing full well that I'm treading on thin ice.
"I saved your life."
When we were infants, barely alive, the doctor's told my parents that I was going to die. As the "secondary" twin, I was born with weak lungs and an incomplete kidney. They said that, if drastic measures weren't taken, I would die gasping for breath by the time I was ten. Fortunately, they said, I had a twin. With my parents' consent, they ripped a piece of Adam's kidney out and stapled it onto mine. They also "cloned" new lungs for me using a decent-sized chunk of Adam's still-growing respiratory system. We never talk about it, but there's an unspoken agreement between the two of us: without Adam, there would be no me.
I go to an abortion clinic. They explain it all to me. In a way, I feel that I could explain it better. They tell me what I want to know, answering my questions, but I feel a certain lack of comfort, a lack of understanding even. Why do I have to kill this? A child is a child, no matter the means of its inception. The baby has no idea what violence brought it about, so why inflict more? There is no answer in the pamphlets.
I leave, unhappy but resolute.
Goddess sits me down on the couch. She says there's something she needs to show me. I sit in silence for twenty minutes as she rummages around in some back room. She's left me with a baggie of pot and instructions to be high when she gets back. With all that's been going on, I have no problem with this.
When she gets back, she's carrying a large photo album under her arm. On the cover is the word "Genesis" engraved on a silver plaque.
"These are my children," she says simply, opening the album to the first page.
There are cut-out pictures of Native Americans, orphans from Sierra Leone, that Chinese guy from Tienanmen Square, Hitler, Tupac, Donald Trump, Ghandi, Mao, and even grizzled old fish market people tossing halibut from one hand to another. I turn each page and take in a new set of faces, each one telling a different story, each one a child of a mother and a father.
God walks into the room and stands behind me on the couch, looking down on the album.
"Ah, yes. The baby album."
Goddess, now lying flat on the carpet, whispers to God, "Don't stand there. Come lie with me."
Looking down at them, the pot now braided deep into my blood, I see that lying is what they're best at, in a good way. I stand and stare down at them and bless them silently.
They start to fondle each other, Goddess reaching for God's crotch, her fingers massaging the tip of his penis. When she unzips him, I decide it might be best if I leave, my head dancing with images of the children of gods.
When the baby is born, Adam returns. Joey and I are in our living room, exhausted after a day of visiting with relatives who insist on congratulating us and leaving gifts. I'm rocking our child in his bassinet, his eyes closed to the world.
Adam walks in unannounced; the front door must have been left unlocked by the last visitor. He asks if he can speak to me alone.
"What is it?" I ask sternly. We haven't spoken since that night on the porch.
He looks at Joey, then at the baby. I can see his chin quiver slightly. Twintuition kicks in and I lead him into the kitchen, out of earshot from Joey.
"What is it?" I ask again, gentler this time.
"It's not fair."
He starts to cry in his movie star kind of way: tears fall but his face doesn't squeeze and contort like the rest of us. "I didn't save you. Doctors saved you. Luck saved you. I didn't save you."
I hug him. I don't know what else to do. My parents had always told us that it was Adam who saved me, that he was the paragon of the family. I had never considered that this might upset him. He hugs me back and we stand there for a few seconds before separating. I wipe a tear from his cheek.
He gathers up a breath and says, "It's bullshit, to be handed that kind of morality, you know? It wasn't me who saved you, it was the fact that we were born together that saved you. We came out at the same time and that's the reason we're both alive."
"You would have survived," I say flatly.
"In a way, I don't think I would have."
We move to the porch and stare out at the sky. The sun has completely set. Instead, the moon shines brightly above me. For the first time in what seems like years, the glow is completely free of clouds or shadows. Instead, it smiles at me and I glow with it.