When Is It Due was first published in Linden Avenue, Number 75, in the Summer of 2018.
Katie announced her pregnancy at the barbecue. The women made their sounds of delight, sweeping in to hug their friend. The men smiled and shook Kevin’s hand, voicing their congratulations and trading a few jokes as they always did when they were unsure what to say. Katie beamed, a sleek porpoise riding the waves of attention and affection now flowing her way. Kevin blushed and smiled big, a nervous bit player in the upcoming production. Of the friends, Devin was the loudest. She squealed and babbled, her voice rising in volume, her eyes getting watery. She jumped up and down in her excitement, holding Katie’s hands in hers. Devin’s boyfriend, Leo, was out on the balcony, grilling burgers. He did not come inside to see about the commotion emanating from the open glass door. He stared down at the sizzling meat and grease fueled flames as though nothing else in the world mattered.
Lisa did her part. She went and gave Katie a hug and voiced the proper words. Then she moved back and watched the commotion from the perimeter. She was unsure how to hold her hands. Pockets seemed too casual, arms crossed too stand-offish, and clasped in front far too formal. One of Lisa’s hands unconsciously tucked a blonde lock of hair behind her ear. Devin had her hands up, clutched as though in prayer. She went outside and yelled the news to Leo, who only grunted his affirmation of having heard. All conversations in the room were derailed, forced onto a new single track. When is it due? How long have you known? Do you know what it is? The carrier was coy, basking in her moment. Lisa’s eyes tracked across the room, studying pictures and random art purchased at yard sales and Goodwill. Her stomach gurgled, an uncomfortable shift in its arrangement.
Lisa moved to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine. She sipped slowly. The sounds of the living room were subdued but still noticeable. Buns, lettuce, tomatoes, and sliced cheese waiting in neat piles for the burgers to be done. Potato and macaroni salad sat in their containers, the plastic film on top still intact. Everything ready. Everything waiting. Devin came, a too wide grin stretching its way across her face, tears flowing down her cheeks. She dabbed her face with a dish towel, poured herself a glass of wine, and downed half of it with a single gulp.
“I can’t believe it. It’s just so exciting, isn’t it?”
Lisa forced a smile.
“Yes, very exciting.”
Devin took another drink of wine and wiped her eyes again.
“I’m just so happy for them.”
Devin chattered on. Katie would make such a great mother. Kevin would be such a good father. They’d be the best parents. She had known it would just be a matter of time. They were so lucky. Auntie Devin would spoil the shit out of that kid. Lisa nodded, but her eyes kept skipping away, taking in every detail of the small kitchen. The twist in her gut was growing. She was feeling a little sick.
“There’s no watermelon.”
Devin was startled from her soliloquy.
“No one brought a watermelon. You can’t have a barbeque without a watermelon.”
Devin bent her head to the side in puzzlement, the teeth of her grin stained red by the wine.
“I’m sure nobody cares.”
“Nonsense. I’ll just pop out to the store and grab one.”
Lisa put down her wine glass and moved back into the living room. Devin followed, but split off to rejoin the celebratory group. Lisa slipped out the door, through the hall, down the stairs, and into the sunshine of the outside world. Devin was out on the balcony, having a quiet argument with Leo. Lisa moved on without listening. The apartment building was a four story structure of weathered brick and old time charm. Lisa wondered if Kevin and Katie would retain their current domicile, or migrate. It didn’t matter really. They would do what they did. Change was inevitable.
It was a half mile walk to the Safeway. The streets were crowded, but they felt less stifling than inside the apartment. Lisa’s stomach had unclenched the moment she walked out the door. Summer was coming to an end. The air was crisp and flavored by scents of decay. Tourists and locals shuffled through the hemmed in streets of downtown. An aimless herd on the move, dodging each other, banging into one another, and only stopping when commanded to by the stern red hand of the crosswalk light. Katie pregnant. How about that? They’d known each other since college. Katie had been the Maid of Honor at her wedding, and the one to take her out drinking during the divorce. Crazy Katie. It seemed strange. A different person. Paul had always wanted kids. At least he had always said he did. Lisa had never really been all that sure. She wasn’t against the idea, but it really wasn’t a demanding urge either.
When Lisa was in nursing school she had worked in the maternity ward. It hadn’t been what she wanted to specialize in, but they all had to. It was one thing to read about it in text books. It was another to see it in person. The screaming. The stretching. The tearing. The shit. The literal fucking shit. It had been disgusting. However, when all was said and done, not one had ever looked disappointed. They had all looked so serene. Thirty-five. It wasn’t really all so uncommon now. Even forty was not outside the norm. Life was not so bad now. Why transform it? Just musings. A lot of steps would have to be done before that one. A lot of choices. Paul would make a good father, but that was no longer her concern. Did he still want kids? When he looked at his black haired mouse, did he ever picture a squirming bundle in her arms?
The last bit of the walk was diagonal across the park. The red and white sign of the grocery store was visible across from the far corner. The homeless sat on the benches and watched the luckier ones move past. The sidewalk was less crowded. The bums made the tourists nervous, only the locals moved through the gauntlet. The bums stood alone and in clusters. Smoking cigarettes. Asking for change. Eying the world through glazed eyes. Some talking to others. Some talking to no one in particular. One man was yelling at the statue of Lincoln in the park center. All had been babies once.
What was it like to carry a baby? It seemed strange. Almost like having a parasite. The thought made Lisa feel sick. Something alive, growing inside, a part of you, but independent. Paul’s mother had once said that having a baby was just getting a dog that learned how to talk and tell people your secrets. That didn’t sound right, but maybe for Paul it had been, he was a bit labradorish in character. Life. There was life in Katie’s belly. A belly that had been used repeatedly for body shots while in Cancun. That had been a long a time ago. Crazy Katie having a baby, and looking as tranquil as Lisa had ever seen her.
The inside of the store was almost too cool. They had the air conditioning up and running. Lisa went back to the produce and found the watermelons in their high cardboard box on the floor. She selected a seedless one, perfectly round, smooth green skin, probably five pounds in weight. She hefted it and moved to the front of the store. She read the covers of the celebrity rags while she waited in line at the checkout counter She moved to the front of the line. The woman at the register was in her early sixties. Lined face, thinning hair, and a gap between her two front teeth. She rang up the watermelon with a slow but steady hand. Five and a half pounds. Lisa had been close.
“Having a barbeque?”
“It’s the weather for it. You wanna bag?”
“No thank you.”
Lisa paid for the watermelon and headed for the automatic doors. The glass slid open. A woman ponderously made her way inside. She was younger than Lisa, probably in her late twenties. She was around seven months pregnant. Her belly large and round. Her body thrown back to account for the extra mass. Lisa moved out of the way as the woman waddled into the store. She glowed. All eyes were upon her. The feelings of goodwill radiating through the air towards her from her adoring spectators was palpable. The woman smiled her thanks as she moved past. Lisa carried her watermelon outside.
What was it like? What was it like to be that woman? To look so uncomfortable, but yet so sedate. A misshapen goddess adored by all. An ideal form beaten into ruin by the ravages of motherhood. The park was nearly empty. Just the homeless, milling about, filling space. What did it feel like to have that growing weight? It couldn’t be easy. A wild thought flit through her brain. She held the watermelon, running her fingers across its shining rind. She was wearing a loose sweater. She slipped the watermelon under her sweater, and clasped her hands beneath to support it. The round mass pressed against her stomach. It was cold. One of the hobos cackled. He was watching her, itching his chin through a greasy beard. Lisa ignored him and moved on.
It didn’t seem so bad. At the edge of the park she waited for the signal, and then crossed into the thick mass of pedestrians. It was different. No one bumped into her. Nobody jostled her. Everyone was careful to give her extra space. The crowds parted. Eyes fell to her falsified belly and gentle smiles crossed downturned lips. Strangers bowed their heads in greeting. Old and young alike beamed with happiness. Couples took each other’s hands and gave each other a gentle squeeze. Old women gave her knowing looks, remembering their own time in the sun. Children openly stared, their mouths agape. She was an island. Heathen and saint alike bowed to the power within her belly. The power of new life. A last bit of magic in a world with little to none. Lisa felt her steps become slow and easy. She floated on an altruistic sea created by those around her.
Lisa’s arms were getting tired and sore. The red hand flashed and the crowd came to a halt to wait. Across the street, at the front of the mass, stood a woman, the belly beneath her shirt equal in size with the fraudulent mass beneath Lisa’s. Their eyes met. The woman smiled with understanding. They were companions. Equals. Sisters. Two divine beings afoot amongst the mortals. Lisa smiled back.
A man next to Lisa reached over to stroke the watermelon beneath her sweater. Lisa jerked away, her hands instinctively moving to stop his unwanted advance. The watermelon dropped to the ground. It shattered on the sidewalk with a wet splat. Red mush speckled the concrete and the legs of the waiting people. Eyes were wide in faces contorted with shock. Somebody gasped. Across the street, the other woman’s face went from confusion to disgust. The bond was gone. Lisa was nothing. A liar. A false idol. A man began to laugh. The signal changed. The woman started to cross the street, her eyes locked on the phony before her. Lisa turned and fled.