My father and his partner wanted a baby. Simone, my father’s high school sweetheart, offered her body. She was glowing until that baby started to grow inside, pressing her spine and kicking, making her throw up.
She worked in the new coffee shop attached to Fred’s general store. I went in every morning to try a new flavor. The front of her green apron stuck out. The smell of coffee was starting to make her gag. I saw her back heave as she brewed my cup. Her face was red and puffy and her orange hair flew out like a clown wig.
Lloyd and my father came in, arm in arm. Simone barely acknowledged them. They ordered espressos to get them up to speed for the antique shop, which was booming now in the summertime. Lloyd said something about the sweet summertime and Simone said he should try carrying a baby around in this heat while smelling coffee all day and Lloyd made the sound of a cat hissing. Simone scratched his tan and fragile arm with her nails.
My father was distracted. “Lloyd, I do not want to sell that cradle, even if that couple comes in with another offer.”
Lloyd rubbed his wounded arm. “It’s horrendous.”
“I want it for little Natalie.”
I yelled at my father and Lloyd for being the antique kind of gays and not the stylist kind. I wanted them to care about the way Simone looked and felt.
I drove with her to Pittsfield, to Pamper Me. She said she was seeing a guy tonight — he was coming to her house. I wondered if that was right, seeing a man when she was carrying a baby, but she said life went on, if she met a nice guy she had to grab hold, right, given her luck with men? She said the baby didn’t matter – it wasn’t hers. I clammed up. She lit a cigarette and I gave her an evil look. She tossed it out the window.
She went super short and blond. I sat there the whole time, watching the ladies purr over her, touching her belly, feeling the kicks. Simone said the name was Nathan. She left as a different person.
“What have you done, girl?” Lloyd was examining his own face in the espresso machine. “It’s not you.”
“That’s right, it isn’t me. I’m the stranger I should be, for this kind of thing.”
“I don’t mind it,” my father said.
“Oh, I feel so much better,” Simone said. “I have a date, from Match Mate.”
“Is that a good idea?” My father examined his new mustache in the spot next to Lloyd.
“What do you care? I’m a stranger.”
He rolled his distorted eyes. “Simone.” He examined his teeth.
I didn’t like it, a stranger coming to her house. I thought there was a rule against that. I got there early, hid in the bushes and watched her little rancher. I saw her putting makeup on her red cheeks. She tried a few different lipsticks. I didn’t look away when she changed her dress. I got an eyeful of that belly.
The car pulled up. It was dirty. It had driven back roads. The man opened his door and sat reading a piece of paper before getting out. He changed expressions, made hand gestures, practiced lines. He wore a gray suit that sagged when he stood.
He rang the bell, but Simone never moved. She bowed her head. He rang again. Simone examined her mirror. She rubbed a washcloth over her face. The washcloth turned the color of her makeup. The man took a jackknife from his suit pocket and severed a single rose from the bush by the door. He rang again. She kept her face in the cloth.
“It’s me. He’s gone.”
She cracked the door. Her face looked old, with trails of tears. I handed her the rose the guy had dropped.
She made me tea. She couldn’t stand coffee anymore. She said she would leave after the baby was born. Her sister had an apartment in Riley, nice one over a flower shop. The florist was hiring, and she had a knack.
I put my head on her belly and listened. I felt the movements. I mouthed the names: Nathan, Natalie. Simone wished for Nathan because my mother’s name was Natalie. She died of cancer when I was little. Simone had loved my father in high school, but he left her for my mother, who was pregnant with me.
“In a parallel universe, I would be your son.”
I tried to distract her from the pain. She screamed. We were a mile from the hospital. I was driving too fast for fifteen. We had not called my father or Lloyd.
The doctor met us there. She told him she didn’t want to know right away. She may never want to know. I told him I didn’t want to know either. He raised his brow. “What relation are you?”
“I don’t know.”
I packed my stuff. I peeked into the baby’s room. There were only neutral shades: beige and yellow. The antique cradle waited, cold and haunted.
I walked to Simone’s. I hid in the bush and watched her brush her hair. I watched her rub cream on her empty belly. I rolled my suitcase to the door, cut a rose, and waited.
Art: “Lost Playmate” by Gustave Mosler