Seeds of Doubt

by M.D. Peters - mikepeters@ncws.com

I stood in the doorway for a moment, then let myself be pulled into the silence and shadows of the room. Tigger and Pooh and Big Bird watched, frozen on the walls as I bent and brought my lips to the pillow where that head should lay, as I looked into eyes I knew should be looking back into mine, as I smelled the milky breath of my child.

I straightened up and reached over the crib, touched the butterflies of the mobile with my fingertips and made them dance and move, up and down, like the ponies of a merry-go-round.

Even at age four or five, a little girl running wild on our Kansas farm, I knew I would be a mother when I grew up, that I was born to be a mother, with birth and tears and getting wailed awake at four in the morning, with teething and scratched knees, first words and first steps, and mommy-can-you-tie-my-shoes-for-me.

And I had practiced, with dolls and chicks, kittens and puppies, then my colt Brownie and two brothers who came after me.

But here I stood, the crib empty. After three years of marriage to Duane my womb was as hollow as a false promise. I felt myself start to crumble, but turned away and left the no-baby room instead.

I was in the kitchen with an Earl Grey tea bag in my hand and my teapot boiling over when the phone rang. How dare it. I was busy being angry.

I marched across the wooded floor to the wall where the perp hung on the wall. Duane watched those stupid shows, so I knew what a perp was. I snatched the receiver.

“Hello,” I said evenly.

“Hey honey, I made it. The plane just got in. I thought I’d call and see if I could pick us something up.”

How about a little girl out of the baby aisle, I thought.

After a second, “You there?”

“I’m here. How was your trip?” Back in the now, resigned to being civil. It’s weird how we get comfortable in places we don’t like.

“It was good, I got two new accounts. I missed you though.”

I knew what he missed. Or used to.

“I pulled some swordfish out of the freezer this morning, you could get some salad stuff,” I said.

“Alright. Hey, you okay? You don’t sound too good...”

Gee, thanks for noticing.

“I’m fine Duane. I just dusted the baby room and made myself a cup of tea. I’m having fun.”

“Stephanie, look. I was gonna tell you when I got home, but I called Dr. Evans. Those tests came back positive. We’re all systems go. We’re going to make that baby, Sweetie. I’ll pick up a nice white to go with the fish and we’ll celebrate. I’ll be there as quick as I can. Love ya.”

A shower and a change of clothes later I heard a car door slam and he came through the front door. He set his suitcase on the floor and put a Safeway bag on the kitchen counter, took his jacket off and hung it up, then came to me.

“Well, you made it,” I said, and we hugged.

“Yup, with wine and veggies too,” he murmured this into my hair, we kissed, and he pulled away. Switched on a smile he’d practiced in front of the bathroom mirror. I had a sense, a voice whispered it to me, that there was cigarette smoke on him, on his clothes or in his hair.

He hated cigarette smoke.

“Steph, I’m gonna catch a shower.” He pulled a bottle of wine from the bag and handed it to me. “Here’s the vino.”

I wasn’t sure if I’d heard him right, was that, hey Lassie, here’s a treat, catch, or hey Baby, lemma buy you a drink.

Then he turned and walked away from me.

And now, the whisper curled around my heart like smoke. “Salt for your wounds Steph, he’s cheating on you.

Yeah honey, I got two more accounts. And I got laid.

I got the swordfish in the oven, washed some Romaine, sliced some tomatoes, and thought about his call to Dr. Evans. Steven actually. Steven and I had met at the hospital, but Duane didn’t know that. I worked as a tech in the lab there and he’d stopped by to check on his patients’ blood panels and work-ups once or twice.

He was the urologist Duane had finally agreed to see after I’d gotten down on my knees and begged him to get himself checked. He’d refused to go to a fertility clinic with me. I said I wouldn’t get up until he did.

Until, finally, “Jesus Christ! Alright. But you got your self checked without me. I’ll get my self checked without you.”

I didn’t care. I got up off my knees. I felt like I’d rehearsed a starring role for a quarter century, leaped out onto the stage of my life but found it empty. And if Duane found that tolerable, well I didn’t. I wanted my baby dammit, after one, two, three years I was one, two, three coming apart at the seams. I was going crazy and he’d thrown me a scrap. I hugged him. But that was before this little voice and I got dialed into each other. “You were born to be a mother,” the whisper reminded me. “It’s always been your destiny.”

My doctor had told me I was as fertile as Aphrodite, and now Duane said he’d come back “all systems go.”

While I fixed the salad and the fish cooked, that voice whispered to me again. “No kids in his previous marriage.

Over dinner I felt him out a little, something we didn’t do so much of anymore.

“So, Dr. Evans said you were all systems go, huh?”

“Yeah.” He said it through a mouth full of fish and nodded, “He sure did, Honey.”

I almost told him to close his mouth while he chewed.

Something about no kids before and none now, practiced smiles was getting to me. Along with some bitch that hangs out in motel bars with a fat ass and a boob job. Who smokes.

“Maybe I should talk to Dr. Evans,” I said.

He didn’t quite choke but I imagined my finger on his pulse and I felt it skip. I smiled at him.

The hunter and the hunted over white wine. He cleared his throat.

“Honey, don’t be silly. Look,” he gestured towards the moonlight on our sliding glass doors and kitchen windows. He leaned forward and put his hand on my arm. “Steph, it’s a full moon. You’ve always said a full moon was special, that a full moon makes things happen.”

I felt like he was selling me something.

“They do,” I said. “One way or the other, a full moon does affect things.” For better or worse, I thought, as we leaned back in our chairs. He looked pleased with himself. He’d changed the topic nicely, from my baby to the moon. I decided to get together with Dr. Evans tomorrow and have a little heart to heart with him.

After dinner I did the dishes and he went to our bedroom where he said he’d wait for me, but when I went in he was sprawled on top of the bed in his underwear and socks, asleep. His breath caught in his throat and made a little hitching sound every time he breathed out. Like a cricket.

I’ll pick up a nice white to go with the fish and we’ll celebrate,. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry.

No kids before. None now. We just couldn’t get checked out together.

As I put his clothes away, quietly, I went through his pockets; I didn’t want to put anything through the wash, right? And found a dinner receipt for two people. With a bottle of wine on it. Just a client, you silly thing. Just a client. Bitches that hang out in motel bars.

I knew that I was ovulating but didn’t wake him to try. Instead I looked through my closet at different outfits and wondered what might be helpful with Dr. Evans, Steven, if any nonsense about medical ethics or confidentiality came up. Or what might be helpful, period.

I slipped into bed and lay there.

We’d loved each other, but a seam had opened up between us. A seam that was either going to veer away, swallow us, or split our world down the middle. I didn’t know which.

When the windows were gray with the first touches of the sun, I woke and had a foot on the floor when his arms found me and pulled me back.

“Don’t go,” he said, half asleep.

He nuzzled close to me and I felt his heart and breath quicken, felt him need me, and gave myself to him, brought him to me, and we rode that animal one more time. Rode it until it fell to it’s knees and we slid off, but held onto each other as we did, because we were falling together.

A moment passed, “Maybe that was the one, Steph,” he whispered. “It felt like it could have been.”

How romantic.

“You never know, do you?” I said, but the voice mocked me. “You do though, Steph, you do.”

While Duane showered, I made an omelet that we split, then he put on his clothes and his smile, gave me a kiss, and was out the door.

I dialed the hospital and took the day off, then got Jan from Personnel on the line.

“Jan, it’s Stephanie.” We all knew each other, gossiped together. “Well hi Honey,” she said. “What’s up?”

“Jan, I need Dr. Steven Evan’s home number. Could you pull it up for me?”

“Well,” she paused. “You know I could, and that I’m not supposed to.”

“No,” I said, “and that you never would. Or did.”

She laughed. “Darn you, give me a second.” Then, “Here’s his home and his cell.”

I scribbled the numbers down and we hung up. I was nervous. “Go on,” the voice said. “Go on.” I took a deep breath and dialed the home number, but when a machine picked up, I put the receiver down. “Go on,” the whisper said again. I dialed his cell and looked out our kitchen window into a cloudy sky as it rang, found myself a piece of blue.

“Hello?” I heard rock and roll, then silence, I think he was in his car, “Hello?” he said again.

“Dr. Evans? Hi, Stephanie Atwood. I’m a lab tech at the hospital, we’ve met there once or twice.”

It took him a second.

“I remember, the brunette, right? What’s up?”

The music came back on, but quiet now.

“Doctor, I need to see you. Today if possible, it’s important.”

“What’s up?” he asked again, “I’m in surgery all morning.”

“I’ve got something,” I groped for the words, “something personal I need to see you about, something private.”

He missed a beat with that.

“Well,” he started. I could hear him wonder what I could possibly want.

“Doctor, I’m off today, could we meet when you’re done, this afternoon?” Pretty please.

He hesitated.

“Doctor.”

“Steven’s fine.”

I felt that hollowness inside me.

“Steven. It’s about a life, a baby’s.”

After a minute he said slowly, “I’ll be out of surgery by 1:00 if there’s no complications. We could meet in the cafeteria after that.”

“No,” the voice whispered. “No!”

“Doctor, how about the coffee shop across the street?”

Come on Doc, come on.

Then after a minute, “Well...okay, Stephanie. I’ll see you there a little after one.”

And you’d better not be wasting my time, I could hear him thinking.

We hung up and I called The Inn. When I reserved a room, I asked for one close to the coffee shop.

I took a long shower, shampooed my hair twice, and used a creme rinse on it. When I was done I rubbed lotion into my skin while it was still moist, blew dry my hair, then stood in front of the mirror, naked as a baby, and looked at myself.

I smiled and it reminded me of Duane, how he would practice his smile. But I didn’t cry, I laughed. I knew that a freight train was flying now, and right at me. That it was going to smash everything apart and hurl me into my future. One way or the other, there would be life breathed into Tigger and Pooh and Big Bird. Into me.

I picked a yellow sun dress with thin shoulder straps out of my closet, one that went with a pair of sandals I liked with thin leather straps that I wrapped around my ankles. I rubbed one drop of Poison perfume behind each of my ears, traced a wet-look gloss along my lips and hooked a thin gold chain around my neck.

I was standing just inside the doors of the coffee shop when he came in. He almost tripped when he saw me.

“Thanks for coming Steve.”

His eyes reminded me of Brownie’s eyes when a storm would come. He wasn’t sure what was up.

“My pleasure,” he said and we shook hands, “Stephanie,” he began.

“Steve,” I interrupted, “I can call you Steve?” I took a deep breath. “Thanks again for coming. Listen, what I need to discuss with you is very personal, a coffee shop’s not the place.”

I took him by the hand, “Please,” I said, then I turned and led him down one hall and then another to the room I’d reserved.

I could have led him to Katmandu.

Inside the room, he started to speak, but I cut him off.

“Steve, my husband Duane went to see you last week, unless he lied to me, to get his semen, his sperm checked. Steve, in three years I haven’t been able to conceive.”

He bit his lip, looked around the room. “Well, I did see him,” he said after a minute.

I stepped close to him and saw his gaze drop. He found my eyes again.

“Steve, he told me the tests came back positive, that you said to keep trying, that he was ‘all systems go.’”

And I saw it in his eyes.

“He lied to me didn’t he?”

He didn’t say anything. Instead he looked unhappy about being on the spot; it’s a felony for a doctor to breach confidentiality.

“Tests?” He said finally, like that made no sense.

“Sterile, isn’t he Steve. Sterile?”

And then, slowly, he nodded his head a fraction of an inch.

“He didn’t come in for tests. He knew he was sterile, it was just a check-up. In fact,” he thought for a minute, “he made some joke about his wife made him come in when I asked what I could do for him...” His voice trailed off as he puzzled it out.

Which I sure couldn’t. Three years. The bastard. I was hot enough to catch fire and I knew exactly what I was going to do to. I stepped close to Steve. Whatever those zones are called, I stepped way inside of his. I put my hands on his arms.

“Three years. Steve. I’ve been dying. Wondering. Why can’t I make my baby.” I saw that I was squeezing the muscles in his arms like I’d clenched the rail of my baby’s crib. I took a deep breath, made myself relax, “I’m ovulating right now. I am supposed to be pregnant. Right now. I was born for my baby.” I took his hands and brought them to my shoulders, slipped his fingers under the straps of my sun dress and pulled them down.

Katmandu and beyond.

Whatever else men are, they are always some things first.

Helpless, helpless, helpless and he was, gave in to it, and I feel a locomotive slam into my life as he laid me down and took me. Took me to that place. And yes, I said to myself. Yes, let there be life inside of me. I said this to myself and I pulled him to me, lost myself as we turned and twisted each other, pulled that cord as tight as piano wire, tighter, until it broke in that bright flash of light and we both cried out. And we were in that place. That place without horizons and nothing to hold on to and I was a feather. I swayed and floated for a long while, then slowly I drifted and settled back down into myself, I found my way back to me, but not to me, to us. The seed and breath of life were in me now. The voice whispered this to me and I knew that it was true. And I knew too, that the voice was mine. That it was always mine.

Two weeks later and Duane was ready to leave for another road trip. I knew for sure by then. He was at the door, it was time for my peck on the cheek and it was time for me to tell him.

“Duane?”

“Yeah honey?” In a hurry, he sounded like.

“I have something to tell you.”

I shared the joy with him, but he didn’t get it. He drew a blank and I repeated myself.

“I am pregnant, Honey. I am full of child.” And I smiled. I was radiant.

But he tilted, I saw something bend inside of him as cracks ran through the lens he viewed his world through, as the paint on the canvas of his life started to bleed and run.

After a second I added, “You were right honey, it was the full moon.”

Duane had broken into a sweat. He tried to swallow, then remembered to try and smile but it was not the one he’d practiced and it came out crooked. I thought he was going to be sick.

“You’re overwhelmed.” I patted his cheek. “I knew you would be.”

I pushed him out and closed the door behind him.

And then I walked to my baby’s room and I went to the crib. I reached over it and touched the butterflies of the mobile. I made them dance and move, up and down like the ponies of a merry-go-round.

And then I bent down to my baby’s pillow and I gently kissed the place where my baby’s head would lay, and when I looked up, sure enough, I caught Pooh and Tigger and Big Bird watching me from the sidelines.

(c) Michael D. Peters

Michael D. Peters graduated from San Francisco State University in ' 82, with a BA in International Relations/Middle Eastern Studies. Two years ago his poem, Where Babies Go When They Dream, was published in Tahoe Truckee Parents. He currently lives in Northern Ca., where he is raising three children and working on his first novel.


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