I’m feeling different recently. Erica and I. We’re feeling differently.
I write it in an email. To my mother and her mother. I say:
DEAR MOM and ERICA’S MOM,
We’re feeling differently recently. How about you?
Peter and Erica
I write it to our moms because we’re good adult children. I write it so they’ll call, and we can switch to the telephone, and I can say “Do you know how pregnant Erica is?” and they’ll say “No,” so we’ll switch back and I’ll email a picture and then they’ll know.
Do you know how pregnant Erica is?
I write it down on a grocery list–not the word itself, not “pregnancy”, but all the things that mean it. A crib. A stroller. A rectal thermometer. BPA-free sippy cups. After I write it all out, I realize it shouldn’t be called a grocery list. A renegade TV detective would see this unambiguous, plot-crucial piece of evidence in a dead girl’s apartment and say “She was pregnant.” and it would be relevant to the story line because everything implicates in a detective procedural. The unborn child’s father killed her. A pregnant belly has to go off by the third act.
I realize we can’t afford the stroller our baby wants. Then I realize we can’t afford the graduate microbiology program our baby wants.
I decide I should get another job to pay for the stroller. One of those part-time, internet-stabilized jobs that only came to existence in the past eight years. Uber. Taskrabbit. Instacart. I write a short bio. I put it online with a photo of me smiling.
FATHER TO BE AND NJ NATIVE LOOKING TO MAKE SOME EXTRA
PART-TIME INCOME. FRIENDLY, HELPFUL, HANDY.
I drive four people to the airport the next week, I tighten two leaky showerheads, and I buy one family back-to-school clothing. That’s three hundred and sixty-four dollars straight into an account Erica named “Baby’s Money.” She keeps laughing, babies don’t need money.
On Friday nights, I take Erica to dinner. Always, even when she protests, even when we have nothing to talk about. Restaurants have red walls so often. We go to ten restaurants over ten weeks and seven have red walls. “That’s a pattern,” I say. “That’s ambience,” says Erica. When I look at Erica against a red wall, it makes me hungry. It makes me want to own her in some disquieting way. It makes me want to bind her and her belly to me, by rope or zip–ties or common law.
I walk a lot. I guess cause I’m feeling differently. My kneecaps feel sturdy and motorized. I wear shorts all the time, I’m never cold, I barely feel hungry. I turn 33 years old on a street corner in January wearing running shorts. Whatever’s the opposite of a sympathy pregnancy, that’s what I have. An indifference pregnancy, a disdain pregnancy, a misunderstanding pregnancy.
A Google search tells me red is an appetite stimulator. It’s just color psychology. Blue plates and utensils suppress hunger, some weight loss experts suggest purchasing these to manipulate your cravings.
Erica’s in school. Erica’s in school to become a neonatal nurse. Once, she sits me down and says “This is how you give a baby CPR.” Put your dying baby on a flat surface. Give your dying baby thirty heart compressions with two fingers. Tilt your dying baby’s head back and breathe in a puff of air. Wait for the EMTs to save your dying baby.
At a dinner party that’s actually an engagement party, we watch two friends promise. It feels like an act of aggression, the way they move and we don’t. But Erica feels different. She spends two hours wondering if we should have gotten genetically screened. I am a European Caucasian and she is an Eastern European Jew. These are the people who give their baby cystic fibrosis.
Maybe we should get tested just so we know, like we know it’s a little girl. A little girl who might have an autosomal recessive disorder and lung damage. I tell her I’ll drive to the airport all the time if that happens.
I make a list of all the reasons I should marry her. I don’t want any of them to be self-congratulatory details, little particulars chosen to demonstrate a loving voyeurism, my thorough observance. I want to observe her like a holiday. Annually, steadily, ceaselessly.
I do not love her because she hiccups when she laughs. I do not love her because her ears are too small for her head. I do not love her because she talks loudly or softly and never appropriately. I do not love her because she says the same little non-joke whenever someone misspells her name. I do not love her because of any little stockpile of specifics. I do not love her because I love loving her. I love her and it is not about me.
I don’t know what’s left after I write that all out.
Erica and I should get married because our daughter might have cystic fibrosis.
I buy a ring, an old Steinbeck pearl. I get the year engraved in its circle base. I say “Will You Marry Me” at a yellow-walled restaurant. In color psychology, yellow indicates optimism.
She says Peter.
That’s it. I put the ring away. I knew not to do it. I didn’t want to do it.
I should marry Erica because she always knows what I want.
Her water breaks, like the levees. It floods the whole city, FEMA can’t get in, I sleep four half-dry nights in a hospital armchair. A baby floats upstream in a buoyant wicker basket.