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?”
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.”
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.”
“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?”
“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.
“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.”
“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.”