Weekly feature by: Eric D. Goodman
An excerpt from Womb: A novel in utero
Mom’s inconvenient day was one that weighed heavy on me. It was Dad’s day to go to the store after work; Mom knew she had an extra hour or so before he’d be home. It was time to validate what she already knew but wouldn’t admit. Mom stopped by a pharmacy (not wanting to run into Dad at the grocery store) and did a little shopping of her own.
Another thing she didn’t want to do was to draw attention to her purpose for being at the pharmacy. So instead of buying only the pregnancy test, she bought it along with other items: a value-pack of chewing gum, a box of amber hair-color, a bottle of shampoo, and a bag of extra crunchy potato chips. The pregnancy test moved along the black conveyer belt as an afterthought instead of the main attraction. Mom carried the brown bag of products to her Honda Insight and drove home.
Mom needed to pee on the pregnancy test. She didn’t have to wait — it seemed Mom always had to pee, except for when she had just finished peeing.
I felt ill. Mom’s stress level was high as she anticipated the test, making me dizzy. I already knew what the test would say, but I still could not rationalize away her jittery emotion.
On that afternoon, in her bathroom, Mom carefully read the instructions and wet the plastic tester. As she waited for the result, anxiety swelled in her, ready to burst. I didn’t see exactly what she watched come into focus, but I didn’t have to. I began to vibrate, first small movements, then, like waves building momentum, large, full, shuddering. Mom was crying, and her mood seemed to waver between joy and despair. Now there was no denying me.
Some denial remained. Mom looked at the clock; Dad would be home any minute. She rushed to the corner store for another test. A fusion of feelings welled up inside her: joy, anxiousness, excitement, apprehension, all held together with the adhesive of confusion.
At the convenience store, she purchased an assortment of items: a pack of cigarettes, a bottle of Pepsi, a box of vanilla Zingers. By that time she was afraid Dad might already be home. She decided not to risk being caught. “Can I have the key to the restroom?” she asked the cashier.
The haggard woman took from beneath the counter a wooden block as big as the box of Zingers. Attached to the block of wood hung a chain, and at the end of the chain was the key to the public restroom.
Mom took her plastic bag and the block of wood and walked outside where I could smell people pumping gas into their vehicles. She walked around the corner to the side of the building and struggled to unlock the metal door, balancing the bag of groceries in her arm, using that same hand to hold the weight of the wood block and using her other hand to unlock the door.
She had to feel around on the wall for the light switch; she found something sticky before she found the switch. “Shit,” she said, although it was actually someone’s discarded gum. She locked the door behind her and secluded us in the small cell of filth, smelling of urine, waste, cleanser, bleach, and gasoline. She set the bag down on a dry section of the tiled floor. Mom peed again and administered the test.
There, in the convenience store washroom, she confirmed the inconvenient news: she was indeed pregnant with me.
The water around me was still, but I had the sensation of descending. It was the feeling of Mom’s emotions, falling into an acknowledgement of me. I’d imagined her moment of realization to be a euphoric one, the high of hang-gliding. Instead, we sat in the smelly, filthy bathroom, sadly sinking.
I could have told her, weeks earlier, about my residence within her, had she listened, or had I been able to speak in her primary language instead of this subtle language of feelings and moods. Her mood shifted again and she cried out loud.
Now what? she asked herself. We’re not ready for this. It’s not the right time.
But for some people, it’s never the right time. I wanted to get the idea across to her, but her crying was too disorienting.
Someone knocked on the door and asked if she was okay, and she lied and said that she was, that she would only be a moment. She didn’t bother washing up; this was one of those wash rooms in which washing and drying your hands was more likely to make you dirtier than cleaner. She didn’t bother to collect the groceries she’d bought. She just exited the room, dropped the block and key on the cement sidewalk outside, and returned to her car, sinking into the driver’s seat but feeling more like a passenger with no control over the road ahead.