Fiction

Fourteen Days and a Possible Cure

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 FICTION








Fourteen Days and a Possible Cure  



Her boyfriend of eight years took her twice around the world and lavished her with everything. But he withheld what was most accessible: sex, babies. He didn’t

want babies. Then one day, he packed up and moved to Canada, and for some time they exchanged letters and telephone calls until they agreed that they were finito.


    

For a month after the end, she ate apples and popcorn and toast. She had no appetite for anything
else, not because she was so broken-hearted over him, but because she had betrayed herself, fooled
her own heart. Her colleagues at the university told her she looked gaunt and depressed. She was
nearly forty. “I want a child,” she told them. Some sighed and others offered remedies. That new professor in the German department, good genes there. Artificial insemination, maybe? What about a good, safe, one-night stand?


    

In her fortieth year, a year after she and the boyfriend had split up, here is what occurred: she was artificially inseminated for six months but didn’t get pregnant. Her doctor put her on fertility drugs. Her body made big, ripe egg follicles and finally she succeeded. In the fourth month of her pregnancy, she had amniocentesis. The baby, as seen by the sonogram, bounced inside her womb. The doctor measured its little femur bone. Then he ran a damp, cold cotton swab around inside her navel, disinfected a coin-size area of her stomach, pushed Lidocaine into the disinfected skin and told her to watch the screen. The needle’s tip could be seen white, peeking into her womb. He told her to hold her breath and to keep very still. She stopped breathing and the needle broke through. There was a little cramp, but nothing horrible in light of the tumbling baby, beautifully spider-like, nimble-bodied, bucking. The sonogram was being recorded for her to watch at home.


    

In seven days, the amnio results came back and indicated that her baby, a boy, had Down’s Syndrome. She put a hand to her mouth to keep from crying out. The baby’s disabilities and deformities could not be predicted, her doctor said, and she thought: How can I raise this child? Will he live? For how long? She spent the night awake, and in the morning phoned her doctor: “Please. Make the arrangements.”


    

For months after she terminated the pregnancy, she played the videocassette over and over of her baby floating in her womb, flexing and somersaulting, the amnio needle plunging in and withdrawing the fluid. She watched the four-minute video with deadened eyes. She slept on the fold-out couch because she couldn’t face the bed (she had spent so much time there, nauseated and tired during her pregnancy). She lost sixteen pounds. She went out only to teach, to hold office hours, to get groceries and stamps. At night she read and read, wishing the words would put her to sleep.


    

Then one morning, she went to her sliding-glass door and looked out over her backyard. It was small, had a cedar fence around it and a lilac bush in the corner where raccoons had been leaving their

droppings in the snow. The nasturtiums and impatiens in red clay planters were bare and brittle,
brownish, dead against the snow. She had not taken the cushions off the metal furniture. She hauled them in to the basement, each cushion frozen in chair form, stacked them there and went back outside to sweep away the snow on the patio, to pull the dead flowers from the planters and fill the bird feeder with seed.


    

She went to the music store and bought two CDs, one Renée Fleming, the other an old Donna Summer her ex-boyfriend’s dog had taken and buried. At Dunn Bros., a green-haired boy made her a double Café Mocha. She opened the weekly newspaper, City Pages, and read the movie reviews. Then the personals. She read Women in Search of Men to see if any women advertised for a baby-maker. None did. Then Men in Search of Women. No men were searching for women to make babies with. There was one that looked as if he might be willing, as if he had the wherewithal: M.D., recently transplanted from Anchorage, 6’1″, blue eyes, patiently starved (was this a pun?) ISO SWFDDFHWP (she had to check the key on the back page to decipher the acronyms), who wants/loves walks around Lake of the Isles, Jimi Hendrix blasting, a tent for two in Costa Rica, 911 Turbos, Gorecki, a raw love machine.


    

She telephoned the voicemail of the City Pages, punched in his ad number, left a message and that night he called her back. In their thirty-minute conversation, she learned many things about

him: Bob was an only child, he ran six miles a day, had been married and divorced twice, no children. He was an anesthesiologist, not on-call the following night.


    

They met at the Palomino restaurant. There he was, sitting wide-kneed at the bar. His hair was short and blonde, he wore tiny round wire glasses, jeans tight as duct tape, black cowboy boots and a
white T-shirt. The way he said Bobby made her think of the Beach Boys’ song “Barbara Ann.” Bob Bob Bob. Bob Bobberan. He was halfway through a martini.


    

She thought of making a joke about his putting people to sleep all day, but she couldn’t think of anything too funny. She was looking at him, at his boots and hair and mouth, thinking of making a baby with him. She saw babies, babies, babies in their imagined sex. In his ad he hadn’t specified wanting a long-term relationship, a commitment. Weren’t non-specifiers out for a good time? They weren’t out for babies, were they? Maybe he’d be open to it? No strings attached. No parenting required. He kissed her goodnight at her car door, her back against it, his body pressing urgently into her.


    

Three nights later, they went to a reading at the Hungry Mind bookstore, and as Michael Ondaatje read, Bob’s eyes were brimming with tears. “Did you like that poem?” he whispered into her ear.


    

Sex, she thought, feeling the forward edge of prospect.


           

  

 FICTION





Fourteen Days and a Possible Cure by Karla Kuban — Part II




They
had dinner and drank a bottle of wine, and he asked her what she wanted to do next.


    

“Your place,” she said.


    

They went to his car, a neon yellow Porsche, and sped off. He ran a red light. She asked him to pull over and he apologized for scaring her.


    

“I want to tell you about my baby,” she blurted out.


    

“Oh?” he said.


    

Then she told him. She told him she wanted to try again, and he said they would have to talk about it, but he was flattered, and then he frowned and asked if she was using him.


    

“I’m not lying to you, am I?” she said. “If I were using you, I’d lie. I suppose asking for your
sperm is asking for something free, for a part of you, but I’m telling you now what I want, so it’s your decision.”


    

“Are you ovulating?”


    

“I might be.”


    

“There are tests for that. You can buy them anywhere.”


    

“I know.”


    

“When was your period?”


    

“Twelve days ago.”


    

“Then you’re ovulating, or about to. Are your periods regular?”


    

“Yes, and you know the score. I told you. What do you think about it?”


    

“I’m thinking.” He said almost nothing the rest of the way to his place, and she thought, If he doesn’t go for it, I’ll find another one, and I don’t have to be so honest. That’s all. I’ll keep looking. It’s not a perfect situation, but it’s rational. It is what it is.


    

They took the elevator to the twenty-first floor. In the kitchen she leaned back on the table. He didn’t take off her panties, he just pulled the crotch aside. Artificial insemination — a lousy way to get pregnant. A pinch like a straw through the cervix. You don’t even feel the semen; it goes directly in so the swimmers don’t have to work so hard. Bobberan, she thought.


    

What did he have to say about her egg and his sperm? Not a thing. He wasn’t worried or didn’t care.

Why ask? Their relationship wasn’t founded on stable expectations or committed love. If they pondered over the hows and whys, it might ruin everything.


    

“I’m tired,” she said. “Can we go to bed?” She wasn’t hostile or happy. She was hopeful. He led the way to the room and pulled down the covers. In bed, he touched her gently at her temples and down her neck.


    

The morning-after-Bob was a disappointment for her. He was a doctor; he knew the dope on disease, on sperm and eggs. They hadn’t even discussed STDs. Stupid. She was a grown woman. Stupid. She was a masochist, she thought, and wanted to run out of there. Was he really a doctor? Maybe he was sterile. Had he had a vasectomy? She should have checked for the tiny vasectomy scar. Maybe Bob (he had asked her to shout his name, Bobby, Bobby, as he fucked her, and she had whispered it, then shouted Bobberan — God, the things we do when we have sex) was a psycho-killer, and maybe the next time she went to him, he would strangle her. How could she know?


    

But he called her, they went to a movie that she hated, then back to his place. They undressed in his bedroom, he with a lofty air of superiority, staring at her thinness so she felt mocked and desperate. What did he have in mind? He knew what she had in mind with him. He asked about her siblings, said she was lucky not to have been an only child. Only children are lonely, he said. Then they got into bed.


    

“What if I’m pregnant?” she asked quietly, so quietly that he asked her to repeat it. When he felt her leg and around her buttocks, he squeezed hard and she told him it hurt.


    

“Do you think you might be?” he asked, squeezing her breast.


    

“That hurts. Don’t. I told you,” she said abruptly. It was as if he’d never heard her say that she wanted a baby. And why would he be so willing to have unprotected sex? She asked this question over and over, but she didn’t ask him.


    

“Goodnight then,” he said, and rolled over. She stood up, turned on the light and dressed. He didn’t move. She went to the kitchen and called a cab, waiting in the doorway for the headlights.


    

He called her the next morning and apologized. He was exhausted, he said, frustrated at work, had been unfair to her. They talked about going to Santa Fe. It would be romantic, they agreed. He said traveling was a good way to get to know one another. She had to admit she was surprised by his suggestion of romance, and she was pleased and willing.


    

Was he really a doctor? She called the state medical examiner’s office. Born in 1945. Graduated from the University of Nebraska. No pending actions against him. “What does that mean?” she asked the clerk, “‘no pending actions’?”


    

“No pending actions,” the woman said.


    

“Does it mean someone, for example, may have filed a malpractice suit but it hasn’t gone to court yet?”


    

“I don’t have that information.”


    

“Lawsuits can take ten years.”


    

“I’m sorry, I don’t have that knowledge.”

  

           

  

 FICTION





Fourteen Days and a Possible Cure by Karla Kuban — Part III






Was her hair right? Did she dress more provocatively when she ovulated? She was not particularly successful in her career, not especially patient in her teaching, wasn’t happy in love or socially

confident. She was lonely and isolated, and she thought, Buck up.


    

It snowed two feet and she didn’t feel like meeting Bob. She called and told him so, and he said that he’d already bought tickets to the symphony. He would go alone though, he told her, not a problem.


    

She didn’t have the safe option of calling a mutual friend, one who might have set them up, one who could explain Bob’s almost obsessive fascination with Bill Gates and the digital watch on his left wrist that illuminated phone numbers (how many eligible women’s?), one who could clarify his high school nickname, Roamer (but really, what needed to be clarified about a name like that?), or say why he kept dead roses in a brown bag by his bed, their heads small and shriveled like cherries? When she asked he said, “I don’t know,” and she felt pathetic for asking. Not knowing didn’t bother her so much as the vacant, calm manner of his response.


    

On the airplane to Santa Fe, they did it in the bathroom. She was convinced by then that because of the reckless manner in which they were doing it, never mind whether she had ovulated or was about to, whether she had or had not lied about her menstrual schedule, he must have had a vasectomy and that was why he was so gung-ho. His eyes in the bathroom seemed vacant one minute, and earnest the next.


    

The thought of a vasectomy made her cringe. In their seats, she eyed him with contempt. What were the odds of a vasectomy reversal? Fifty percent, no better. She cried now and was embarrassed and turned away from him. She missed her baby. She cried because this man wanted to fuck, but not for a baby. How could she have been so optimistic? But in truth, she’d known all along.


    

“What’s wrong?” he asked.


    

“I don’t know what you want from me.”


    

“Why do I have to want anything?”


    

“Do you?”


    

“Sure,” he said. “I like you. Let’s not get heavy, let’s not have one of those discussions I keep sensing you want to have.”


    

“You do?”


    

“If you want me to define this relationship for you, I can’t. We’ve only just met. We’re in the process of getting to know each other. Isn’t that okay for now?”


    

It made sense. Sure it did. She put her head on his shoulder and he kissed her hard on the mouth. He pushed his tongue through and she pulled away.


    

“Better?” he asked. “We’re going to have a very nice time.”


    

“I hate this,” she said, and he turned to look out the window. Finally, he looked at her.


    

“Do you want to tell old Bobby what’s wrong?”


    

“No thanks.”


    

“Is it something I said?”


    

“It’s something you didn’t say,” she said, “but I’m not myself and it’s not your fault.” She dismissed the whole thing with a wave of her hand. He put his hand on her thigh. Her smile was as tight as a bootlace, and she practically mouthed the words so that he had to lean into her. “Do you do this very often? Take trips like this, with women?”


    

“This jealousy,” he said, “is getting to me.”


    

“This is the first time I asked.”


    

“I can sense it with you all the time.”


    

“So I’m a mess. Shoot me.”


    

He picked up his Bill Gates book and buried his nose in it. She watched him read. He looked over at her and cleared his throat. He cracked his neck by moving it right and left. He smiled at her. She smiled back. He told her her eyes were so bright, such a blue, in the light there. With his face in the light, the light of the sunny blue, above-clouds sky, she noticed a small, barely visible line at

the bottom of his teeth, slightly up from the ivory edge. Inside were lines of his authentic teeth that laminate had overlain. She noticed his hair, streaked the many colors of blonde, the colors summer sun puts into tawny or auburn hair. But his roots were dark. So he’s vain. Big deal. Or adventurous. So what?


    

At the Albuquerque airport, they rented a Jeep. At the hotel, they checked in and threw their luggage in the room. It was late, nearly ten, and they hadn’t eaten. They had dinner downstairs and crashed into bed, sleeping without touching.


    

In the morning, they ate bagels and drank grapefruit juice and went out to shop in the plaza. She bought a pair of silver crucible earrings with malachite orbs. At a street kiosk, they ate two burritos. They went back to the hotel and took a shower together, and she lathered his cock with soap. He put it in her, soapy, and it stung. She pulled away. They rinsed and dried off and waltzed to the bed, and he entered her from behind, her mouth over the cool pillowcase.


    

“Bob? You said you were tested for AIDS. But there’s a six-month window. You know?” She suddenly felt as
if anything she spoke about was unimportant, out of context and silly. He slumped back on the sheets and groaned.


    

“Have you ever had sex with a man?”


    

“What?” he said angrily. “Don’t I seem slightly hetero to you?”


    

“That has nothing to do with whether or not you’ve had sex with a man. Have you ever used needle drugs?”


    

“I don’t think this conversation has anything to do with me. What’s the matter? I mean this is ridiculous.”


    

“Why don’t you answer me?”


    

“I’m exhausted. I could strangle you.”


    

He rolled over and put the pillow on top of his head. She imagined herself a
mother dangling a puppet, her child the only audience, clapping at the marionette. Then the image wheeled away and she
saw the back of his head and the deception and awkwardness between them. She wanted to talk, wanted to fix it, but she would wait. She lay there for another

hour, thinking how he might react to her tomorrow, how he would feel and be, whether he would touch her or not. Maybe she’d be surprised.


    

In the morning she woke up to little fish kisses up and down her spine. He tried to roll her under him. When she would not dive, he tried to push her head down on him. At first she resisted, but she wanted to go below to take a good look at the place where a surgeon might have opened him up and sealed him. The light was dim. She couldn’t reach the nightstand light, and when she tried he asked what she was doing. She took his cock in her mouth and bit it slightly. He moaned in pleasure. She bit harder. He slapped the top of her head. She pulled back and went into the bathroom. “What’s wrong?” he called.


    

She closed the door and drew herself a cool bath and felt something just short of guilt, wished she were here alone, could walk and walk, not sense the changes in his mood and her own neediness. She decided to towel off and go out there and apologize, to ask questions, tell him more about herself, dance with him, spit on the floor — anything but this cool bath and her own volatile fears. She was eager to get out but the blood of eagerness drained, and she slid deeper into the suds.


    

They drove ninety miles to Angel Fire to look at land. Bob had considered buying a ten-acre parcel and building a log home on it. The land up there was just about to take off, investment-wise. While he rattled on, she could only think of her baby and the way it had fluttered in her womb. One more month and she would have felt the baby as more than butterfly wings.


    

Bob didn’t like the realtor. He didn’t like East Coast men, he’d whispered to her while the realtor answered his phone. She liked the realtor just fine. He told them how he’d cleared his own land, how he and his wife owned a nine-acre piece with a view of the ski mountain, about his recent heart attack, his grandchildren. He tried to talk Bob into a steep ten-acre plot in back of the trailer that was his office. They walked up and down the property and when the realtor asked, “How do you like it?” Bob said, “It’s a dog. Why don’t you show me something decent, okay?” The realtor, twisting his hands, told them, “All right, let’s take a ride.”


    

He took them to a flat piece with a creek running through. They got out and walked up the creek to the edge of the property. Bob stood by the trickle of water (it was winter and the water wouldn’t run hard until late spring, the realtor said), asking about trout and paved roads. It was there in the afternoon light that she saw it. He had put a finger up to scratch his cheek and pulled the skin forward, and the sun caught the thin white scar. When the skin came back after his fingers left his cheek, the skin-fold covered the scar. As they walked back to the car, she thought of the ways in which she was vain, and that charm was vanity, giving to get something back. She knew how to be charming, but she’d lost her will. She was real with him. Real in a putty-like way and unable to concentrate.


  

           

  

 FICTION





Fourteen Days and a Possible Cure by Karla Kuban — Part IV






“What’s wrong with you?” he asked quietly.


    

“This is the third time you’ve asked today,” she said.


    

“But what is it?”


    

“Well,” she said, rolling down her window. Cold afternoon air filled the Jeep and the windows crooned from the wind. Bob turned on the heat. “Well,” she said again, “did you have your teeth fixed?”


    

“What does that matter?”


    

“I saw the lines of your real teeth under the laminate, or whatever it is.”


    

“Is that a crime? My teeth are bad.”


    

“If I had a baby with you — ”


    

“A baby? What are you — ”


    

” — what color hair do you suppose it would have?”


    

“You know, we were getting along so well. This is crazy. A baby?”


    

“I guess it would have brown hair; I don’t think it would be blonde.”


    

“I don’t think I need to apologize for that. Do I?”


    

“The scar on your ear. I’m hungry. Could we stop at the next fast food? I could go for a cup of coffee. Did you have a facelift? And did you have the big V?”


    

“The what?”


    

“You act pretty stupid for a smart guy. Did you?”


    

He veered the car to the right, to the west, where a gravel space for a scenic overlook narrowed into a dirt road that seemed to roll all the way to the horizon. The land was wavy with violet sage, the Jemez angling south, the peaks coated in glistening white.


    

“Have you flipped your lid?”


    

“Drive on, please,” she said. If she had a knife, she would hold it to his throat. She’d make him drive. She didn’t want to be stuck with him here, looking out at such beauty. It would make her cry again.


    

He pulled onto the highway and drove with one hand, reaching over with the other to touch her hair, her cheek, the oval hollow part of her neck. At least they had sex, she thought, something that people had had since the beginning of time, naked people, people who scavenged for food and whose

teeth rotted and who died from abscessed teeth. In the beginning of time when people had nothing, and the making of a fire was something, and charring meat, when the wet red body of a baby slid out of its mother’s tunnel and its blanket was tree boughs or moss, there was always sex alone or with someone else, and love, or the attempt to love.


    

“Did you have a vasectomy?” she asked, small, cold tears running down her chin.


    

“Enough!” he said, hitting the steering wheel with the heel of his hand. “I think we should fly back tonight. Really.”


    

“You think, or we should? Did you?”


    

“You take everything I’ve ever done to try to make myself more seem like less. You try to humiliate me.”


    

“A vasectomy makes you more, and you think my asking the question is humiliating you?”


    

“Whatever I want to do with myself, that is my business. Please shut up. Let’s catch an early plane and go back.”


    

“Everyone fakes it from time to time. You’re phonier than most. Maybe that’s why you’re such a good fuck.”


    

“I beg your pardon?”


    

“Don’t act so shocked.”




They checked out and drove silently back to Albuquerque, where they caught the plane two days before their scheduled departure and flew back to the Twin Cities. He was not speaking to her, not at all, and his neck had broken out in a faint rash. The sky littered her front yard with a translucent coating of snow.


    

“Why don’t you come in?” she said, leaning into his car window.


    

“Thank you, no.”


    

“Please. Oh please, Bob. I have something to — ”


    

“What is it — a gun? A bullet?” He half laughed. “Because I’m scared of you. You’re one scary woman.”


    

She opened her mouth a little but did not speak for a few seconds. He was already backing out. When she yelled, stop, he kept going, and she ran into the street and threw down her fisted hands.


    

She stormed into the bathroom and took a pregnancy test. Negative, as she’d suspected. In her living room, she slid the baby video into the VCR, watched it once, then rewound and watched again, attentively, the one part: the baby’s left thumb upturned, leg extending, at which point she remembered, in the doctor’s office, she had felt the boy’s foot graze her like a butterfly wing. She held her breath now as she had held it then, as the rounded needle tip, rounded so as not to hurt the baby should he bump against it, popped into his ellipse. She turned on the television and tapped through the channels, hunting for something to record over baby.

  

           





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Karla Kuban and Nerve.com