She used to love soaking up the sun. Just last summer she had spent every day, sun-up to sun-down, laying on her lawn with Ann, reading magazines and talking all day. Now she watched the sun rise and cross the sky alone from the window of a strange house, in a strange town, waiting for her mother’s sister to come home. She waited, praying her aunt had remembered to stop at the post office on her way back from work and check the PO box they’d set up for Emily when she arrived two months ago. She watched the sun cross its zenith and start its long slide back down and she knitted little tiny hats and socks and blankets, and she watched her body change. She was amazed by how constant her pregnancy was, how ever-present. Just last year ago she’d graduated high school, so exciting about taking her first steps out into her own life, spending warm summer nights on blankets in the back of Richard’s Eldorado. Now Rich was in Vietnam, and her mother had shipped her to a town in NewJersey, telling the whole town she had left for secretary school and handing out a PO box address for letters, making her kneel in front of the crucifix on their kitchen wall and swear to never tell the truth of her absence, of her swelling body.
She put down her knitting and walked to the window. For four months her body had waged a cruel rebellion against her future, her very sense of self. She had felt her identity split, felt what she had always considered a single entity divide into mind and body, and more than anything she felt betrayed by this division. She put her left hand against the warm glass of the front window and rested the other on her protruding abdomen, and wondered how one part of herself could plot against the other this way, how her blood and organs could conspire to take away everything her mind and heart and soul had ever wanted. Her mother and father were ashamed of her. They wouldn’t let her tell her brothers, not even Howard, who had been her protector and her guide, had been everything a big brother should be, who would have held her and told her he loved her, still. She bit her lip and told herself to not let this internal intruder control her emotions. She would not give into the hormonal swings this physical coup brought against her. Howard would still love her, even if he knew she wasn’t away learning how to type, even if he knew the truth. She brushed her hair away from her face, suddenly angry with herself for feeling sad, and angrier with her mother for the vow to secrecy. As much as she resented her aunt’s grudging welcome and condescending treatment, she counted the minutes until her expected return. Her trips to the post office were Emily’s only contact with the world her traitorous womb and ashamed mother had forced her to leave. She could expect regular letters from Ann, often with little notes from Howard scrawled on the bottom. Their wedding would be this summer, and she would miss it. Her best friend and her big brother were going to spend their happiest day without her. She should be there, standing next to Ann and holding a bouquet, making a toast at the reception afterwards, dancing with Rich. Not that Rich would be there, either. He’d shipped out before she even found out about their baby. She wrote to him at the address he’d given her, telling him about it, and given him her new address, but his letters were vague. She heard from him less and less often, and the letters she did get from him contained more heavy black lines each time they came.
She wandered back to the overstuffed chair across the living room and picked up her knitting needles, but held them in her hand for a long time before she remembered why she had picked them up. She glanced over at the growing pile of baby caps and baby blankets and baby booties and grimaced, turning instead to the pile of opened envelopes beside it. She re-read all the letters from Ann about the plans for her wedding to Howard, refolding them again for the hundredth time when she was done. She picked up a notepad and a pencil and wrote.
I’m so excited about the wedding! I hate that I can’t be there. Of course you’ll be beautiful, you’ve described the dress so well I can picture you in it. Maybe I’ll be able to convince my teachers to let me come back for it, but don’t count on it – people seem to take these typing classes very seriously!
She chewed on the end of her pencil, hating the lie. She sighed and plowed on.
I wish I’d never come down here. I miss you. I miss Howard. You have to make sure he’s looking after Bill for me, ok? I’m sure Pete’s keeping him out of trouble. I can’t believe they’re almost out of high school! You said in your last letter Howard was having trouble sleeping, is he doing better with it? From Richard’s letters and some of the stuff they’re showing on TV, I can’t imagine what it must be like over there. I hope he’s talking to you about it. I wish I could hug him. Hug him for me a lot ok?
She stopped to breathe again and pushed her hair back. Holding a pencil and talking to a pad of paper didn’t come close to actually talking to Ann, to hearing her laugh.
The dress you sent me fits really well! I can’t believe you made it, you were always so much better at sewing than me. All the girls here are jealous.
Another lie. Emily looked down at her body despairingly. If she kept expanding like this she’d never be able to fit into the dress Ann sent – or any of her old clothes.
But they should be! I have the best friend in the world and they only have each other – ha! Send the boys my love, and say hi to your dad for me. I’ll be back before you know it – probably just in time to be Auntie Emily!
Love you always and always and forever and forever,
PS – tell Howard no babies til after the wedding!
She wondered if her friend would see through her lies and her jokes and know the truth. Ann was no dummy. But even if she did figure it out, Emily knew Ann would never tell, would never even talk to her about it unless she brought it up first. She almost let herself cry then, for missing her friend so much, for her anger at missing the wedding, for hating New Jersey and wanting her life in Port Henry back. She heard a car pull up the driveway and started. Her aunt was home from work three hours early – she cursed under her breath. She was supposed to meet with the lawyer today. Shit shit shit. She ran into the bathroom and brushed on some mascara and was pulling her hair back when her aunt walked in.
“Emily? Are you ready? If we make this fast I can go back to work afterwards.”
“Yes. I’m ready.”
“Good. Get in the car.”
Her aunt turned the radio on to some oldies station, Sinatra crooning Blue Velvet. Emily smiled to herself as she looked out the window, remembering how much Ann hated this song. Any reminder of her old life made her smile now. They drove to a squat building on the edge of town, and her aunt maneuvered the wide car around to the back entrance. Emily knew this was to prevent anyone from seeing her in what her aunt referred to as “her condition.” Like she had leprosy. Like her shame was contagious.
“I’ll wait in the car. Try to make it quick. The man is getting paid by the hour. Don’t know why your father does it…”
Emily slammed the door slightly more forcefully than was probably necessary and walked into the office building with her chin up, trying to ignore the heavy drag on her posture, her new relationship with gravity.
She ground her teeth together when she approached the front desk and watched the secretary’s eyes rake her body before meeting hers.
“I have an appointment with Mr. Wolshein. For one o’clock.”
“You’re early. You can wait or…” the secretary’s voice trailed off heavily and she raised her eyebrows, “I guess I can check if he’ll see you now.”
“Thank you.” Emily forced all her pride into her voice. She stood as straight as she could, trying to project annoyance at the wait. The secretary walked around her desk and across the room, giving Emily a wide berth, and knocked quickly on a wooden door. A gruff voice responded, and she stepped inside. Emily looked around the waiting room, keeping her chin up but silently hoping no one else came in for an appointment. As she waited, a couple walked out of another door and rushed past her, looking pointedly at their own feet. The secretary stepped out into the waiting area and indicated the door she just walked out of.
“You can go on in. He’ll see you now.”
The lawyer stood when she entered and shook her hand across his desk.
“It’s Emily, is it? Please, please, sit. You must be exhausted. My wife could barely stand when we were expecting our first. Though she didn’t have your youth, did she?” He smiled warmly, as if he had made a joke or paid her a compliment. She sat down.
“Now, legally, you do have some say in how we select the family into which your child will be placed, though I’m afraid you won’t be able to meet any of the candidates. What kinds of requirements do you have in mind? Would you like a couple who has other children already? Do you want a specific religion? Career? Tax bracket?” He chuckled again. Emily found it an annoying habit. “Pets, even?”
She cleared her throat. “I want them to be young. A young couple. And I want them both to have college degrees.”
“Well sweetheart, that limits our pool of candidates by quite a bit. How about just a degree for the prospective father, eh?” Another chuckle.
“No,” Emily said firmly, “I want them both to have degrees. I don’t care about their religion, and I’d rather they didn’t have a lot of kids, I want them to think this one is special.” She realized as she spoke that since learning of its existence, she hadn’t thought much about what she wanted for this person sharing her body with her. “No, no other kids. This should be their first. Find a couple who really wants a baby, and already knows where they want to send it to school, and who have both graduated from college. And who love each other. Find a couple who love each other so much that they want to love my baby, too.” She pushed her hair out of her face again and locked eyes with him. The simpering smile melted off his face.
“Well, Ms. Emily. Let me see what I can do. Can you come back here in two weeks so I can talk to you about who I’ve found?”
“Yes,” she said, but finished the statement in her head with “my aunt’s work schedule be damned.”
He stood up and she followed his lead. He reached across his desk again to shake her hand, and she responded firmly.
“I’ll see you again very soon. You take of yourself until then.” He pressed a button under his desk and a moment later his secretary opened the door, eyebrows raised inquisitively. “Show Ms. Emily out,” he directed her, and though her eyebrows shot even further up her forehead, she opened the door widely, escorted Emily across the lobby, and held the back door open for her.
“Thank you,” Emily said with a polite nod as she stepped outside.
Her aunt looked up from her novel, annoyed, when Emily knocked on the car window. She leaned across the front seat and unlocked the door.
“That was fast. Probably isn’t too much to say I’d guess. Good. I can drop you off and get back to work.”
“He’d like me to come back in two weeks at the same time. Can we stop at the post office on the way back to the house?”
“And let you parade about in public in your condition? Of course not. I’ll stop by on my way back from work this evening.” Her aunt turned the radio back on and steered the car back to the house, pulling safely out of view into the garage before she let Emily out.
Back in her aunt’s house, Emily walked past the armchair where her knitting needles laid waiting for her and into the bathroom. She closed the door and stared into the full-length mirror behind it. She turned sideways and examined her body, for the first time thinking about its new form as changing to accommodate a whole new person instead of leveling an assault against her own personhood. She meditatively peeled her baggy sundress over her head and stared at her swollen stomach, her newly heavy breasts, her full hips. She let her hands stroke and circle her new curves, seeing them for the first time as powerful instead of debilitating. Her body certainly hadn’t asked her for permission to compile a new identity inside her, but she couldn’t stop it. Now that she had actually spoken to another person about her baby – now that she had actually referred to the result of her pregnancy as a baby – she was starting to think about it as an entity unique from her, but not separate. It couldn’t be separate – it was part of her. Whoever was growing inside her didn’t want to steal her life from her any more than she wanted to give up her present to allow it to grow, but here they both were, in this bathroom, together. She looked at her belly in the mirror, and said, very quietly,