Fiction

One on the Way

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 FICTION







One On The Way by Nicholas Weinstock

There is, when it comes right down to it, little for the guy to do. He can orbit her roundness, showering her with ginger ales and constipation inquiries between gentle reminders to take her prenatal vitamins and compliments on her glow. Or else he can hunker down in the office, punching the clock and nosing the grindstone, packing the remaining days full of manly effort as the wife stockpiles diapers at home. I suppose I’m guilty of both. I wasn’t abandoning Callie, I submit in my defense, or ignoring what was to happen to us, by us, in a scant eighteen weeks. I was reading the books. I was cramming the facts. True, we weren’t having sex; that was the farthest thing from my mind, burdened and swollen as I was — although invisibly — with the looming arrival of what came next.

    

We were late for the Sollingers’ look-at-our-loft party, badly in need of a cab down Fifth. It was the coldest day of the year. A pivotal month in the trimester. We were hauling along the requisite bottle of overpriced Brunello in addition to twenty-two weeks of baby boy or girl and our dog Mitford, a Silky terrier who was no happier about his inclusion than we. “You have to bring Mitzie! ” Joni Sollinger had squealed with the false sportiness of loft owners. Now the dog yanked backward on his leash, curling hopelessly away from the bitter cold. Down our block and across the street we battled the animal and the temperature. I flailed at occasional smears of yellow as taxis appeared from nowhere, disappeared forever. We kept up our strength by screaming at each other.

    

“Who the hell,” Callie shouted, “buys a stupid loft on lower Broadway?”

    

“What kind of person,” I yelled back, “makes you bring your fucking dog?”

    

“Tom Sollinger wears a baseball cap to the office,” she said. “That tells you pretty much what you’re in for.”

    

I didn’t turn around, keeping a squint on the rush of traffic.

    

“You know what I’d like to see?” she continued. “I’d like to see the words I’M BALDING stitched on every baseball cap in the city. Make it mandatory. Feel free to wear the cap, guys — but you have to wear the words.”

    

This was the new Callie: bigger, bolder, but to less effect; her words cut off, in this case, by the knife of the wind. The size of her stomach put the rest of world farther away, making her harder to hear, easier to ignore, increasingly likely to be left muttering sass to herself. A hunched man in a ballooning blue parka bumped her shoulder as he passed, and I was on the guy before I knew it. The child can be physically startled at this stage, through the womb walls, by this fucking moron. Callie grabbed me by the wine bottle and the guy spun out of my grip.

    

By the next block my face had gone numb. The pain in my ears daggered into the sides of my head. Callie turned to walk backward, grimacing and holding closed the neck of her fox-fur coat. The maternal immune system is down during much of pregnancy to prevent the auto-biological rejection of the child. Or else it’s up in order to provide extra protection: my information was getting fuzzy now, blurred by the tears in my eyes. I staggered into the street, dragging Mitford behind, waving like a man beside a plane wreck.

    

At last a cab pulled into view with its light on.

    

“That’s us!” I hollered. The swerve, the screech, the success of life in New York. I bundled in wife and dog and pulled the door closed behind us.

    

“We’re going down to Leonard and Broadway,” I said over the pre-recorded voice of an unemployed actor, reminding us to buckle up for safety. “Straight down Fifth will be fastest.” I sat back. The blood slowly returned to my face. Out the window, my view of the rattling steel grates on the clothing stores and the skittering garbage didn’t change.

    

“No.”

    

Callie and I glanced at each other. I leaned forward.

    

“I’m sorry?”

    

“I have said no. You have cat.”

    

“We have — what?”

    

On the other side of the scratched Plexiglas, he turned his head. “Cat. You have cat!” he shouted, pointing with a gloved hand. “I say no! No-no. I do not take you.”

    

“You’ve got to be— ”

    

“Out of my cab.”

    

“If you’d just shut up for a— ”

    

“Out! I have told you. You must get out!”

    

“I don’t fucking believe this.”

    

“I believe it,” Callie said. “Let’s go.”

    

“We do not have a cat.” I found myself talking to his photo, to the unfeeling consonants of his last name. He had been handsome, back in the decade when the snapshot was taken, his forehead high with Slavic bravado. “This is a dog,” I said. “A lap dog.” Mitford, offended by the term, stood tall at the peak of Callie’s knees. “You can’t even see him. Just go. We’re talking about a ten-minute ride here.”

    

“Get out!”

    

“All right, listen.” There was a savage thudding in my chest. He was glaring at me in his rear-view mirror, the way cab drivers look at life. I was smaller than he was but doubtlessly fitter, thanks to my daily pushings and pullings at the gym on the top floor of my firm. He had been strengthened by generations of communism, bulked by black bread, I by weighted contraptions and a personal lunch-hour trainer named Jamie. I pictured our battle, heard the growled Ukrainian oaths as I got him by the throat, kneed him in the pierogis. “My wife,” I said, “is pregnant. It’s a thousand degrees below zero out there. What we need is for you to do your goddamned job and take us— ”

    

He shut off his meter, canceling two dollars’ worth of conversation.

    

“Let’s just get out,” Callie said again. Her hand went to the door. I had to reach over her to lock it.

    

“We’re not going anywhere.”

    

“Honey.”

    

“I’m serious. We’re not moving.”

    

“Out now!”

    

You get the hell out,” I told him. “We’re staying right here until you take us where we’re going. Franklin and Broadway.”

    

“Leonard and Broadway,” Callie corrected me.

    

“We’ll go wherever we goddamn please.” I was smiling, now, like a maniac. “We’re the passengers. He’s the driver. Are you prepared to drive us?”

    

“No!”

    

I nodded. “Then we’ll wait.”

    

“I will no way take you! Do you see? Fuck you!” He pronounced it like a single foreign word: faquoo. “Out of my cab!”

    

“No can do.”

    

His voice rose and broke: “Get oo-out!

    

“We’ll just wait,” I said again, ignoring all three of the stares that followed me as I settled back more comfortably into the seat.


     

  

 FICTION



  


One of the keys to life in Manhattan — and there are many of them: we do carry fistfuls of keys — is an ability to ignore the noise. Another is to know you’re right. A third, quite different, is to rest assured that all others are wrong. Eventually the man stopped bawling and punching the dashboard. He pulled the cab up beside the curb and jammed it into park. After a few minutes he killed the engine. The wind and the trucks moaned past. Mitford moved over to stand astride my legs, cleverly aligning himself with the rabid leader of the pack.

“I’m not letting you go back out there,” I told Callie. Four and a half years of marriage: I could tell what she was thinking. We may not have been sharing our bodies in bed, but our brains continued to converse.

    

“I’m pregnant, Arthur. I don’t have tuberculosis.”

    

“You have physiological anemia.”

    

“Again with that. Every pregnant woman is anemic. You’ve got to stop reading my books.”

    

In the front seat the man snorted.

    

“This is ridiculous,” she said. “We’re now an hour late.”

    

I craned forward. It was almost nine-thirty, according to the dim blue digits below his radio.

    

“This is actually more important to you. This stupid argument.” Her nose was red and running. Nasal and aural congestion could be expected in the fifth month. “You are such a lawyer.”

    

“Yes, I am,” I said loudly, hoping he heard. “Could you turn on the radio?”

    

He didn’t answer.

    

“The radio,” I said again. “Turn the key. Put on some music. Your passengers have requested some music.”

    

“Arthur.”

    

“What? That’s one of our rights. Look at the contract.” I had been reading the torn sticker that listed passenger rights. “You’ll note that it doesn’t say anything about pets, by the way. Absolutely not mentioned.”

    

It took her some time to locate the relevant clause. “I think that’s the right to have the radio turned off.

    

“Ha!” barked the driver without turning around. He was smoking a cigarette now.

    

“Is that funny?” I asked him. “Is that funny to you? Put out that goddamn cigarette.”

    

“I will not. No.”

    

“You have to. Says right here.” I was jabbing at my bill of rights, but he couldn’t see that. “Put it out.”

    

“You can write down my number, yes. Write it down. And then get out of my cab.”

    

“Fine. Deal. Give me a pen.”

    

“Thank God,” Callie muttered. She started to re-button her fur.

    

“Give me a pen,” I repeated.

    

He turned toward me, veiled by smoke. “You can take the pen from your fucking asshole.”

Sex during pregnancy was not ringingly endorsed by the books. One or two even warned of the possibility of prompting early labor. Others feebly cheered the notion, careful to make it sound like no fun. A slim chapter of one of the spiral-bound pregnancy manuals displayed the dreary options in full-color, frowning couples photographed back-to-front, side-to-side, diligently humping through a flabby maze of spread thighs and hoisted buttocks. My problem, however, was neither the methodological challenge nor the alleged health concerns so much as a withering of desire. I had little and shrinking interest in bonking the carrier of my child. I still loved her; if anything, I treasured her with a woozy depth I’d never known. Yet intruding on her maternal aura with my rigid dick was unthinkable. I was too nervous about the birth, too busy scrabbling for nuggets of information, handy and useless as the sliding pebbles at the edge of a cliff.

    

Fifth Avenue becomes much less hectic when you sit beside it for an evening. Like a river, really, a loud hush with its own currents and eddies, its trickling patterns and well-worn ways. Up ahead a grocery van nudged a front wheel gently onto and off of the curb. A plastic bag touched down and, like a dragonfly, was off again. The lights changed, alternating the course of things. Hundreds of cabs swept past us, not one of them with its light on. Then one. Two. I allowed my eyes to close.

    

“I’m hungry,” Callie said eventually.

    

“You are?” This was trouble. “Are you really? Real hunger? Or just a pang.”

    

“A pang of hunger, ” she said. “We’ve been sitting here for an hour and a half.”

    

Hunger was not to be toyed with. In the second trimester the mother’s blood sugar spikes and plummets, stretched thin by an eight-to-ten-inch fetus demanding an extra five hundred calories a day. This week the fingernails would come in. In a matter of days the thumb could be sucked. Over my solo coffee in the early morning and on the subway at night back from work, I turned the pages of our week-by-week pregnancy guide like a child with an advent calendar, fumblingly devout.

    

“Here you go.” I ripped the foil off the top of the wine bottle. By jamming downward with my keys I was able to force the cork through.

    

“Oh, Arthur, don’t.”

    

“What?”

    

“That’s a hundred-dollar bottle of wine.”

    

“You have to have something.”

    

“I can’t drink wine.”

    

“Sure you can.”

    

“Two nights ago you yelled at me for having one stupid sip of your Côte-Rôtie.”

    

“That’s because the alcohol goes straight to the baby’s bloodstream and takes twice as long to eliminate as it does in adults. Do the words low birth weight mean anything to you? Fetal alcohol syndrome?

    

“So why are you telling me to have a drink?” she shouted over me. I must have been shouting. “I feel like I’m going to throw up,” she said.

    

“Feel free,” I told her. “People throw up in cabs all the time.”

    

This was the longest I’d sat still in ages. I luxuriated in it, bathed in the stillness. I was played upon by random thoughts, turns of phrase and scraps of memory — even pockets of feeling — that hadn’t occurred to me for years. I was swigging from the bottle when the light on the ceiling went on. The driver lurched out his door to a snarl of arctic air, standing and turning to us for a stern moment before slamming the door and lurching off toward Sixth.

    

“What the hell is that?” I demanded.

    

“He thinks we’ll leave.”

    

“Ha,” I said. “Ha!” I glugged lustily from the bottle.

    

After a while Carrie said: “I really wanted to get out tonight.”

    

“We are out.”

    

“With people.” She was facing her window. “I wanted to do something.” She had unwound her scarf and pulled off her hat and was pretty in the nighttime glow of the stores. She’d made the mistake of having her hair cut short around the time of conception, and with the subsequent inflation of her face and body had come to resemble — it came to me now — one of those ovoid wooden Russian dolls that contain other dolls that contain other dolls. My family sat before me, trapped endlessly inside themselves.

    

“The stupid party’s probably over by now,” she said into the glass, leaving a momentary fog-print.

    

“Mmm,” I agreed. With the cab shut off, the clock had gone blank. My watch said ten fifty-one. It was cold already in the back seat. I had the urge, for the first time in months, to throw my arms around my wife, if only for the warmth of her giant chest, the press of her sweatered belly. Mitzie was in the way. “You all right?” I asked instead.

    

The question seemed to confuse her. “Me? Yes. No.”

    

Mitzie shook himself for the sheer thrill of ringing his collar, lost his balance and tumbled to the floor.

    

“I just wanted,” Callie said again, “to do something.”

    

I looked her full in the face. It may have been the slugs of wine, or the quickening chill of the air, but my need to touch her was uncontrollable. There was an unfamiliar stirring in the middle of my trousers, and soon strangulation by the elastic lining of my undershorts. I needed that poor pole unleashed, the layers of lambswool and brushed silk and polypropalene yanked away, her bare roundness before me, above me, my hands on her great boobs and guiding her down and deeply onto me, pushing into her, up and down. Callie was staring at me as if aghast. But in her slack mouth and blank eyes I saw a nearly forgotten longing for precisely what I longed for: to be humped for no reason, to wiggle and spear and grab at each other. She slid one arm out of her fur and tugged off the rest of her scarf.

    

Which was all it took.

    

We were on each other, then, pulling at our stray parts and cold limbs, crushing the dog. In two orchestral motions — sweater up, bra yanked down — she unslung her breasts, dumb and hanging, the size of manatees, cold-nosed and tight-skinned and warming to the touch, blissful to hold. Her head went back, banging the Plexiglas, as I reached between her legs. When she went between mine with both hands to battle the zipper and heroically yank me free, it was as if she had a hold of my center, pulled my very cord. Her sweater was gone, her bra thrown aside, and in her whole nakedness, her gleaming fullness, was a supreme power, a heaving potential that couldn’t be matched by anything I had: not by the aching pressure of my penis, not by the breadth of my abilities as a lawyer, impregnator, frightener of strangers, father-to-be.

    

I looked up at the woman who was making love to me — who, indeed, had spent nearly six months in the making of love — as she pushed downward and downward, her hands braced against the vinyl roof, gasping with each comfortable stab, clutching my head, throwing the entire taxi — jostling the city — with her bucking glory as she came and cursed and came some more, as much as she wanted, as big as the world. We chuckled together at our friend who had returned to his taxi only to stammer outside our window and stumble backward, appalled. We warmed each other with our clutch, looked at each other’s faces as if to memorize them, as if we were on our way wherever we wanted to go.

  

     

©2001
Nicholas Weinstock and Nerve.com