Odds

Room Magazine - - CONTENTS - JOELLE BAR­RON

I sent my ex a text mes­sage and told him that Lana and I wanted a baby, and we wanted his sperm. My phone chimed a sec­ond later; my cousin Ju­lia telling me all of her mother-in-law’s teeth had fallen out. I hit the call but­ton.

“You mean all of her teeth? Ev­ery sin­gle one?”

“Lit­er­ally. Ev­ery sin­gle one.”

“Does that hap­pen?”

“Ap­par­ently.”

Ju­lia mar­ried a thirty-seven-year-old phar­ma­cist when she was twenty-three. Eight years later, she was liv­ing with him and his mother in a McMan­sion with a pool, but she couldn’t get preg­nant.

“She’s go­ing to need re­con­struc­tive surgery,” Ju­lia said.

“Ex­plain to me how all of some­one’s teeth can just fall out.”

“Have you ever taken a good look in­side her mouth?”

“Ew,” I said.

“It has some­thing to do with her di­a­betes. She re­fuses to get well, Lizzie, I swear. She doesn’t even care that she won’t live long enough to meet her grand­chil­dren.”

“But, on the bright side,” I said, “if she were dead, you wouldn’t have to live with her any­more.”

“You’re aw­ful.”

I hung up and set my phone down. A minute later, it chimed again. It was the ex. Let’s talk.

I was tap­ping my fin­ger­nail ob­ses­sively against the cof­fee shop ta­ble when Adam walked in. He had to duck to get through the door; he was twenty-five and still grow­ing.

I sized him up, took in the new tat­toos and the size of the plugs in his ear­lobes. He came over to the ta­ble and hugged me; my nose barely grazed his nip­ples. “Where’s Lana?” he asked.

“Lana?” I said. “Lana’s not com­ing.”

“Oh.”

“What?”

“I just thought . . . it was im­por­tant for her to be here?”

“I mean, not re­ally. It’s not like the three of us hang out. She’s aware of your . . .” I waved my hand at him non­com­mit­tally. Lana knew what he looked like. He shrugged. “I’m get­ting a Lon­don Fog.”

I watched him lope over to the counter and lean down to flirt with the barista while he placed his or­der. When I met him in high school, his hair was past his shoul­ders, and his face was bare. Now, he had a beard and a half-shaved head. His brown skin was al­most com­pletely cov­ered in tat­toos, but I still knew all the places where his mild vi­tiligo made him speck­led white like a tree frog.

He came back to the lit­tle ta­ble with his drink and squeezed him­self into the seat. “So, how is this go­ing to work? We gonna turkey baster it?”

I took a sip of my jas­mine sen­cha.

“I mean, a turkey baster works,” I said. “Though, hon­estly, it’s not the most ef­fi­cient method of dis­tri­bu­tion. Like, with in­sem­i­na­tion, it can take tons and tons of tries be­fore you ac­tu­ally get preg­nant.”

He raised his eye­brows.

“It’s in­ef­fi­cient,” I said, set­ting my tea down on the ta­ble. I was pissed at my­self for be­ing ner­vous. Adam and I had fucked a mil­lion times in ev­ery way pos­si­ble dur­ing the time we were to­gether.

“Lana is okay with me sleep­ing with you. For this pur­pose. If that’s okay with you. Ob­vi­ously.”

“So, like . . . a three­some?”

“No! Gross. No. Just you and me. And it would likely be a . . . more-than-once kind of thing.”

He nod­ded slowly and sucked the foam off his lower lip.

“How long have you and Lana been to­gether now, any­ways?” he asked. “Four years?”

“Five.”

“Shit, we’ve been bro­ken up for five years?”

“Six. We’ve been bro­ken up for six years.”

“Go us, eh?” He punched me on the shoul­der. “So, Lana is re­ally okay with that?” It seemed that, for what­ever rea­son, he was in­ter­ested in fuck­ing me again. I tried not to roll my eyes.

“Yes. It’s all good.”

“What about when it’s born? Will I be, like, its un­cle or some­thing?” “Ab­so­lutely not. I mean, you’d have to be okay with that. Like, never re­ally see­ing it. Ju­lia’s lawyer is go­ing to do the pa­per­work for us.”

We gave each other a long look. I felt com­forted by my com­plete lack of at­trac­tion to him. In a back­ward way, it bol­stered my af­fec­tion.

“Yeah. I mean, yeah. I don’t want kids. And you know I love you, Lizzie. I would like to do this weird thing for you. And Lana.”

“And it won’t be a mind­fuck for you?” I asked.

“Hav­ing sex with you?”

“No, jack­ass. Hav­ing a baby with me. It’s go­ing to be a lit­tle thing that looks like a com­bi­na­tion of us.”

“Yeah, but it won’t be mine.”

“True,” I said.

Ju­lia was tap­ping her foot so fast that her shoe fell off and went fly­ing across the room.

“Shit.”

“This place smells like soup,” I said.

“What?” she said, hop­ping over to re­trieve her strappy sandal.

“This whole build­ing. Soup. Like, Lip­ton chicken noo­dle.”

“It doesn’t smell like soup, it smells fine.”

“All I’m say­ing,” I said, “is maybe you shouldn’t trust a fer­til­ity clinic that smells like soup.”

Ju­lia’s hus­band, Dale, went to a mil­lion phar­macy con­fer­ences a year, so I went with Ju­lia to all her ap­point­ments. In the past eight years, I had sat through her last two rounds of in vitro, count­less blood tests, con­sul­ta­tions, hor­mone in­jec­tions. Ev­ery­one as­sumed we were a cou­ple. We had stopped both­er­ing to cor­rect them.

“It’s not a fer­til­ity clinic. It’s a holis­tic fer­til­ity heal­ing cen­tre,” Ju­lia said. She dusted some in­vis­i­ble par­ti­cle of dirt off her sandal.

“All the more rea­son for it to not smell like soup.”

She re­sumed tap­ping her foot and ig­nor­ing me. I got up and looked around the lit­tle room, at all the crap on the walls: posters of chakras and pres­sure points, yoga po­si­tions for fer­til­ity, acupunc­ture. This was by no means Ju­lia’s usual scene—she

took com­fort in the cold steril­ity of your typ­i­cal epi­siotomy-scalpel-wield­ing OB’s of­fice—but she had heard that a friend of a friend had good luck with this place. “Wasn’t this the ex­act plot of an episode of Sex and the City?” I asked.

“Shh. You should be re­lax­ing. Fo­cus­ing on your Zen or some­thing.”

Ju­lia reached over and ab­sent-mind­edly laid a hand on my stom­ach.

I picked up a pam­phlet on ges­ta­tion, tried to fo­cus. The seven-week fe­tus looked like a tad­pole. Ju­lia had mis­car­ried three sim­i­lar crea­tures; I had seen the last one, held her as she wrapped it in a piece of toi­let pa­per and sobbed. Then there was Madeline, born at twenty weeks. She breathed a cou­ple breaths. Dale said he was done af­ter that. No sur­ro­gacy, no adop­tion. I un­der­stood his cold­ness; I had be­gun to feel it, too. But I still thought he was a dick.

“Now that I’m think­ing about it, Jules,” I said, “your whole life is ba­si­cally the plot of a Sex and the City episode.”

“No Harry Gold­en­blatt and a Chi­nese baby for me, though,” she said dryly. “Where is this woman? Martha’s go­ing to be wak­ing up in less than an hour.”

“So, what ex­actly are they do­ing to her?” I asked.

“They made it so that her jaw bones can sup­port den­tures. Or some­thing.” “Her jaw bones?”

“Yeah, you know. Or like, her mouth bones. This.” She tapped on her hard palate and I nod­ded. A nurse came into the wait­ing room.

“She’ll see you now.”

We were late to pick up Dale’s mother. She was sit­ting in the oral sur­geon’s wait­ing room, look­ing dazed. Ju­lia ran to her and knelt down, placed a hand to her fore­head.

“Je­sus Christ, they couldn’t have let her wait some­where pri­vate?” she said, loudly. A nurse came over with a wheelchair.

“Ju­lia?” Martha said, weakly.

“It’s okay, Mom,” Ju­lia said. “We’re go­ing home.”

It took me a long time to fig­ure out why Ju­lia cared so much about Martha. Martha was cold, bit­ter about Dale’s fa­ther, his “new” wife of twenty years. She in­vited her­self to move in with Ju­lia and Dale a year af­ter they got mar­ried.

“She’s treat­ing you guys like an RRSP,” I said.

“She was a sin­gle mother!” Ju­lia said. “She did her best.”

I used to think Ju­lia tol­er­ated Martha be­cause she wanted to be the per­fect wife. It wasn’t a wife thing, though; it was a mother thing.

Sex with Adam wasn’t fun, but it wasn’t aw­ful ei­ther. I found it easy to leave my body. Some­times I pre­tended to or­gasm. Ju­lia bought me a basal body ther­mome­ter, and I tracked my cy­cles in my phone.

I liked ly­ing in his arms af­ter and smelling his fa­mil­iar, wet-dirt armpit stink. Two cy­cles in, I asked him if he had told any­one.

“No. I mean. I signed that thing.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said. I felt far away. “Sorry. Don’t know why I asked.”

Si­lence. I pulled at his chest hair.

“I’ve been think­ing about tex­ting Lana,” he said. A cold­ness dripped into my stom­ach.

“Why?” I said, rolling away from him. “She doesn’t want to talk to you. She thinks it’s weird.”

He shrugged. The feel­ing in the room changed.

We were ly­ing on the couch in Ju­lia’s cav­ernous liv­ing room watch­ing Legally Blonde and eat­ing ket­tle corn. Ju­lia had her head in my lap and I was stroking her hair.

“You’re so lucky you have Aun­tie Sue for a mother,” she said.

“She’s pretty rad.”

“She’ll be such a good grandma.”

“Yeah, to your kids.”

“Oh, you only think you don’t want any right now be­cause you’re young and you’re ob­sessed with your les­bian­ism-in­duced po­lit­i­cal be­liefs.”

“Les­bians love hav­ing ba­bies!” I said. “Chil­dren raised by les­bians turn out bet­ter. That’s, like, a sci­en­tific fact.”

She snorted. “Martha thinks we’re ridicu­lous for spend­ing all this money.” “Only be­cause she’d rather you spent it on her.”

“Shh!”

“Who gives a fuck what Martha thinks?”

My phone was ring­ing. It was Lana.

“Shit!” I said, and I jumped up and ran into the kitchen.

“What?” Ju­lia called af­ter me.

I picked up. “I hear we’re hav­ing a baby,” Lana said.

“What?” I said. It was the only word in my brain.

“Se­ri­ously, Lizzie? What the fuck? Be­cause Adam seemed pretty sur­prised when I told him that I have never in my life wanted chil­dren for one sec­ond, ever.”

“I know.” Ju­lia walked into the room and stood next to me at the mar­ble is­land. She raised her eye­brows at me.

“He was also sur­prised when I told him we broke up six months ago,” Lana was say­ing.

“It’s re­ally not that big of a deal, okay? He never would have done it if I told him it was just me. He would have thought I was try­ing to get back to­gether with him or some­thing.”

“You don’t want kids ei­ther, you psy­cho!” she said. A pause. “Oh, but I know who does. That’s like next level crazy, Liz.”

I sighed. Hang up, Ju­lia mouthed.

“I’m sorry I brought you into it,” I said. “It’s com­pli­cated.”

“Keep my name out of your mouth, Lizzie,” she said, then hung up.

“So?” Ju­lia said, as I un­peeled the phone from my sweaty cheek.

“She’s pissed,” I said.

“Shit. Well, she’ll have to sign an NDA. I’ll call Glenn.” Glenn was the lawyer. “An NDA, Ju­lia? Re­ally? She prob­a­bly blocked my num­ber ten sec­onds af­ter she hung up. She just wants to be left out of it.”

“And I sup­pose Adam knows.”

I swal­lowed. “Adam knows I lied to him. He won’t want to do it any­more.” Ju­lia turned and walked swiftly out of the room. Her sandal smacks echoed through their gap­ing chest cav­ity of a house. She came back a few min­utes later with her gi­ant purse.

She pulled out a preg­nancy test and smacked it down onto the is­land.

Dale was on his way back from his lat­est con­fer­ence. Ju­lia’s eyes were per­ma­nently stretched open.

“You look like you’re on speed,” I said.

“Oh, stop it,” she said. Ju­lia couldn’t take a joke when she was freak­ing out. Af­ter Martha’s teeth fi­asco, her mouth hurt too much to talk, and Ju­lia had

to blend up her food and el­e­vate her head and make sure she was get­ting plenty of flu­ids. Martha was pretty high on painkillers most of the time. I liked stoned Martha; she told me about the time she smoked weed in a bath­room when she was nine­teen and it turned out to be laced with meth.

“Martha’s a fuck­ing ge­nius!” I told Ju­lia.

“Don’t say ‘fuck’ around me right now,” Ju­lia said, clutch­ing at her over­sized cardi­gan.

At 8:35 that evening, Dale came home.

Martha was in bed. Ju­lia ran to greet Dale at the front door. I was sit­ting in the kitchen; my heart started to pound as I heard them make their way down the long hall to­ward me. Dale had to duck to get in the kitchen door. He was care­ful about it, prac­tised.

“Hello, dar­ling Lizzie,” he said. He made his way over to the ob­scenely ex­pen­sive es­presso ma­chine, set a cup un­der the spout, and pressed a but­ton. “Ju­lia says you’ve been help­ing with my mother. That’s kind.”

“Oh, Martha’s a gas. Did you know she once did meth?”

“El­iz­a­beth!” Ju­lia said.

Dale slowly low­ered him­self onto a barstool, across the is­land from me. I looked at his brown hands, mot­tled with white. Vi­tiligo. One per­cent of peo­ple in the world had vi­tiligo.

“What are the odds?” Ju­lia had said, over and over. Adam and I were still to­gether when Ju­lia and Dale got mar­ried. “What are the odds?” She laughed about it then.

“Dale,” Ju­lia said, plac­ing her hand on top of his. “We have good news.”

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