Expectant Bodies

by | Dec 15, 2023 | Fiction

A close-up shot of a blue hydrangea bush. In the distance are a mother and young daughter walking away from the flowers.

My older sister Eulalie’s stomach juts heavy, full. Beneath the epidermis, the dermis, the hypodermis, inside the uterus, is a gestating being. She is seven months pregnant.

“Good boy,” Mama coos, as she rubs Udderly Smooth onto Eulalie’s belly. I thought it was hilarious that the balm was originally used for cows. Mama slapped me when I said so, even though I wasn’t calling my sister a cow, I swear.

Eulalie got knocked up the same night our Lolo, Agapito, died. While the rest of us were gathered around his deathbed, him an emaciated shell, this big man eaten away by prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s, his life leaching away with each rattled breath, Eulalie was getting railed by a sometime-boyfriend in his car, parked a few blocks away at the park. “I can’t stand to watch him like this,” she told me, before she snuck out the front door. No one noticed—our Mama and the flock of titas couldn’t muster the vigilance required by their rigid Catholicism, Eulalie’s challenged chastity overshadowed by the specter of our patriarch’s death.

“Don’t you want to fuck after all this death, Phoebe?” Eulalie whispered in my ear during the funeral. The rest of us were all wrung out from crying, but my sister was practically vibrating, itching with the need to get out, get away. My future nephew was already somersaulting inside her. We just didn’t know it yet, not until Eulalie’s nausea, vomit staining our shared toilet, couldn’t be hidden anymore.

“He’ll be my father, back on Earth,” said Mama, when my sister’s pregnancy was revealed to her. Eulalie and I could only gape in response, both of us expecting fire, brimstone. Instead, we watched Mama’s stormy tears clear, her eyes gleam like rainbows.

“Mama, we’re Catholic,” I sputtered. “We don’t believe in reincarnation.” Even though I was barely Catholic, a budding apostate at my parochial high school, apt to challenge the nuns on the validity of Purgatory, the misogyny of letting only men be priests.

Now, Mama is more apostate than I could ever be. Everyday, when I return home from school, while Eulalie reclines in Lolo’s old Laz-E-Boy, forking diced mango into her mouth, I can see Mama kneeling at her feet, her lips to Eulalie’s stomach, whispering:

“Pa, will your roses open tomorrow?”

“Pa, will Phoebe get into Princeton next year?”

“Pa, will we win the lottery?”

I don’t know when Mama decided that the fetus, besides being Lolo reconceived, was also an oracle. I don’t know what she hears when she then turns her head, laying her ear on Eulalie’s tautened skin. I don’t know if I want to ask, when Mama laughs after whatever she’s told, when she radiates such ferocious joy.

I ask Eulalie instead, but my sister is far away now, accepting my mother’s tender, frantic ministrations like a dozy golden calf. She smiles beatifically—“Does it matter, Phoebe?”

“Don’t you want to finish your senior year?” I ask, instead of answering her question. “Don’t you want to name your baby anything other than Agapito? Don’t you want the old Mama back?”

At that moment, Eulalie is lying in Mama’s bed. Her hair is haloed around her. Bed rest, the doctor prescribed. Mama immediately gave up her own queen bed, sleeps submissively in a cot by Eulalie and her unborn baby’s side.

“Why would I want Mama to be unhappy again?” she asks in response. “Why would I return to my old, slutty ways? Why wouldn’t we want Lolo back?”

It’s not Lolo, I want to cry. It can’t be Lolo. Before the cancer, before the forgetting, Lolo was all bluster, all capability: He could rage like a typhoon if you pulled out a lily bulb instead of a weed, but after, he’d present you with a bouquet of crocuses and anemones, a mug of steaming mint tea, as an apology.

Eulalie takes my hand, places it on her stomach. I can feel my nephew, my possible grandfather, stirring under my palm. There are undulations visible in my sister’s shiny flesh, like a pod of breaching whales. “He’s awake,” she says. “Why don’t you ask him yourself?”

Reluctantly, I bend down, touch my lips above my sister’s protruding bellybutton. I whisper, “Who are you?”

My ear rests on Eulalie’s skin. Below, I can hear whooshing, like gusts of wind. I try again, whispering, “Who will you be?” The baby’s tiny fist or foot bumps against me, a small shock. I close my eyes, picturing Lolo—snoring thunderously in his La-Z-Boy before 60 Minutes, rumbling with laughter when I, newly permitted, drove onto the curb and hit his prized hydrangea bush. I can’t bury away the last image I have of him, silent, yellowing, sere, my titas covering his empty husk with a sheet. This time, I whisper, “Who are we without—” and before I finish, I hear the deep indecipherable murmuration, the roar, as if he’s answering.


Photo by sayo ts, used and adapted under public domain.

About The Author

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Anna Cabe is a Pinay American writer. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Slate, Rappler, Vice, Iron Horse Literary Review, The Margins, The Cincinnati Review, The Masters Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, StoryQuarterly, Joyland, and Fairy Tale Review, among others. She received her MFA in fiction from Indiana University and has been supported by organizations like the Fulbright Program and Millay Arts. She is currently a fiction editor for Split Lip Magazine. You can find Anna at annacabe.com.