This was a question she hoped she knew the answer to already. She squeezed his hand.
"Haven't you ever wanted to just, be pregnant?"
"You're silly". He pinched her her side and held in her giggles.
No no no no no no no no!
"I can't wait to have this baby with you"
She leaned in and kissed him on the side of his head. His guilt became worse.
I don't want this. I'm not ready. The two of us barely make rent. I'm pretty sure you're not fucking laying a golden egg, idiot.
"That's good baby, because he's coming. Nothing can stop him now"
Not for lack of trying though. On his part at least. She felt the heat dash from his skin, with a slick of sweat. She thought it was just nerves, and it was, but they were in fear of the child they made, not for it.
He tried a thousand underhanded ways. He just could not have this conversation with her. Not years ago when they first met, not 7 months ago when he heard the news, and not now. He tried raising the temperature throughout the apartment to uncomfortable levels. He snuck tuna, swordfish, hot dogs, caffeine mints, and vitamin A supplements into her food. He left bottles of paint thinner open one day. He slipped Vodka into her orange juice a couple times and even released a few ticks into her hair while she slept. He bought a few tabs of acid but backed out of slipping them in with their normal stamps in case she ran out of things to mail and/or he forgot. This child to be made him feel like a monster and he acted the part.
It haunted his dreams. At first it was just kind of a "baby cloud", a vague formless threat lurking in his subconscious. It later became male-ish when he learned of its gender. He hung, still in the sky. Suspended and floating on nothing. There was a brown red fluid on the surface dripping beneath, filling its own shadow up with goo. It called his name. A name he had no use of anymore. A name he had been running away from for as long as he could remember.
His eyes sprung open. He laid motionless and on his back. He wanted to curl up with her and feel better. He was still afraid of him the child that would ruin everything. He did not want to get any closer to his future burden. They slept alone together that night.
He forgot that he worked last Saturday and was pleasantly surprised to find he had the following Thursday off. He picked up his check and ducked out. This whole thing, this little strip that proved his time was worth something would be gone in moments. He might be able to sneak a coffee before he throws it down the baby-hole but that would have to be the highlight of his whole week.
He deposited half of it and carried the rest in hundreds and a few twenties.
I'm doing something for me today
He walked down the street. He did not really think about where he was going and looked for corners he never considered before. He was normally the type to estimate property value whenever he walked into a new place. This time, he was considering more ethnicity.
What kind of people are these, uhh, people?
The buildings were tall and aged with colors between black, gray, and brown. There were flags with symbols and animals that did not look like they could have even been imagined on Earth. The people scurried about. They were holding bowls and round metals. Some had opaque blue plastic bags without labels. Their skin was covered in ornate and dirty coats, their faces in scarves and flu masks. They did not stare at him but they did occasionally peer and point as they went about their business at a slightly slower than usual pace. They were most definitely not afraid of this outsider.
He felt his feet stop before he saw where he was. They decided for him. There was a large and rotted white sign on top of a two floor apartment store. Small, clear, and centered read Solutions , you had to be looking (hard) to see it. He shouldered through the door. He tripped the bell as he swiftly slid in.
There was no one there. It smelled mostly of incense and moss. His eyes locked onto a figure on crucifix. The face was gouged out. It had to have been made once before in detail for the purpose of a savage hammering off. The material looked to be made of some sort of black stone. He could not tell if it was upside down or not, the arms seemed to be held low, on the sides. Defeated. He saw a few votive statues of sickly thin women with shrunken breasts and fuzzy faces. He saw frogs in jars; sterile and frozen in formaldehyde. He saw a jar full of parrot heads; their faces looking almost humanly terrified.
There was a picture on the wall of a ancient Arabian...?, his face captured in uncomfortable detail. He was holding hands with a child in an extravagant white dress. Neither of them look happy with the arrangement. Next to it was a picture of a sick, swollen Buddha. Obese and drenched in gaudy trinkets, wine, food, and women clinging to his sides. His right hand held a bag of coins and his left hand, a sword. He sat on a toilet, wisdom and serenity passing through him as waste. Then he saw him.
He just zoomed into his line of view. He never remembered the shop owner coming from anywhere. Maybe he was watching him and seeing how bad he wanted it. He smiled. The teeth were the first feature he could make out. They were huge and immaculate. You could ride a train on them.
"Jyess?" The shop owner was now a few inches from him. His eyes were somewhere between hazel and yellow. He had patches of skin snow white and coal black. It was not a neat nor consistent mix. He was covered in something between rags and a duster jacket. His hair was shaggy with flakes. He seemed to be shedding or molting something. The shop owner rose his hand above his own head and then slowly pressed it down his face. He breathed in deeply while doing this. It was uncomfortable.
He motioned to him to follow as they walked towards a small door. He opened the door and passed through, he accompanied him. The room seemed large, too big for the lot the shop was on. It was kind of dark. He could make out three structures. The center was tall and pointed with a curved and multilevel roof. There was two curved walls as well. The whole place was ornate like a temple. He felt his feet squish into something as he walked deeper in.
"I'm going to turn the light on, my boy"
He closed his eyes just in time so that it would not hurt. It was all for naught. The entire room was covered in blood and gore. There were vast red pools dripping down the roofs, onto the floor. There were pink, purple, red, black, clumps and tubes everywhere! Everything looked like it belonged in something else; behind, around or near some other organ. Something else more conventional and less acutely medical.
The shop owner breathed it all in.
"Shin-tao. Very clean religion. They ostracize people in butcher and tanning families for generations. They'll still eat the fish and wear the leather though. Its kind of funny really. This room is for unhappy customers from that sort of background"
He looked at the young man and cocked his head.
"How are you feeling, my boy?"
"This is disgusting. I want to run out of here, but I need you. How do you think I feel? I feel awful"
but not as awful as I know I should. That may be even more awful than what I started with.
He walked closer and did a little hop in the wet.
"You must really want a solution?"
He was becoming less afraid by the moment. He said without breath or blink "Yeah"
The shop owner pointed to the door again. The lights went out. He waited to hear his footsteps and followed.
"This is a different door. You just remembered it wrong"
And so it was. Through the door they once entered from now led to a long white hallway. The light was shaped like a tunnel and only split slightly onto the walls. The shop owner turned around and loomed over him.
"I know but I want you to tell me your problem. This won't happen in your head anymore; it all starts with the words. Let them fill the air with your intentions".
Somewhere between relived and indignant, he said
"I don't want my girlfriend to give birth. I don't want my son to be born. Maybe later but not now. I want to keep her all to myself. I don't want it coming between us. "
The shop owner smiled. It seemed like a smile of fulfilled expectations. It did not rise rather it curled around the sides of his mouth. Whatever it was, it wasn't the conventional form of happiness.
"Jyessssss". The shop owner put his hand above his head and down his face again.
Like the owner before, the buggy zoomed into his view at the end of the hall. He had not seen it before. You had to move towards it to really make it out. It was an old Victorian style baby buggy. It was black and frilly with big wheels. It was pretty high off the ground.
"Take it. It's for loan. Leave the shop with it now. You'll know when the time is right to return"
He walked down the long hall. He hesitated for a moment before his hands felt sucked in onto the handle bar. It was cold. It squeaked as he wheeled it back out.
"How does it work?"
The shop keeper was getting hard to focus on. He seemed to be fading. He snorted in laughter, as if he could explain such a thing.
"Don't worry, all she has to do is accept it"
He walked out the door, grim and determined. This had to work!
"How much, old man?" He called back.
The door shut behind him and he was outside. Night had fallen.
"You'll pay later"
"This is so tacky, I LOVE IT"
He sat hunched forward at a slight angle. He was very close to the fire place, which was roaring with accusations only he could hear. It cast a shadow on the top of his face.
"I knew you would. That's why I got it"
She pointed to a drawer.
"Tomorrow, I'm going to get my kit and I'm going to redo the whole thing. I'm going to make it navy blue but I'm going to keep the long black frills. It will make our baby bad ass"
He laughed, despite himself.
How was this going to work? Is she going to fuck it up?
"I'm going to take a shower. I'll meet you in bed" He slowly drifted up the stairs.
"I love you baby. Though you won't be my baby anymore. You'll be something else"
He rinsed and plopped into bed, still a little wet. Later, he would feel her slink next to him, hours later. She curled his arms around him and whispered
"Thanks for being so great about this I wouldn't want to do it with anyone but you".
She kissed him. It sealed the deal and he fell asleep.
He dreamed of his son again. There were white streaks now in this floating mass. The only thing worse than dreaming of him was dreaming of him dying in agony. It screamed at him, his sound low and heavy. The dripping now felt more like leaking and he seemed to tilt on his axis.
He dreamed of this for days. Night after night. Until the evening before. This time it was an empty room. Nothing was there where his son once floated. He awoke to the sound of her vomiting. He recognized the patter of wet solid chunks mixing with coarse liquid.
He leaned a little bit forward, still in bed. The baby buggy was almost done. She made it look cool and exciting instead of a depressing relic. It was a cheerful deep blue. "You did a great job on this, baby". She could not hear him.
He waited for relief but it did not come. He underestimated how much this would affect her. He had not even considered what to do after his son was no more. After the remains were removed. He held her and cried with her, not knowing exactly where his own tears came from. He took her to therapy. He took time off from his job just to be there for her. It felt nice. There was guilt each and everyday but it was a secret one. He tried to cover it up and bury it in her and the time they spent mourning together.
Time went by and they got better. They even talked about trying again, since the doctors could not find anything wrong with either of them. They should look harder, he thought. He almost wish someone could find out about what he had done. Maybe it wasn't the buggy. Maybe all or one of those awful things I before worked. He had not heard from the shop keeper and was too busy taking care of her to visit him on his own. He was not sure if he even remembered how to get there.
One day he came home and found her working on the buggy again. She was almost back to her old self. Her project was near completed, she was making the last touches.
"You know, maybe we should go for it. I'm ready. I think this time we'll do it right. Let's try again. I want to have a child with you" Her hand flicked the exacto knife to the side for the final touch.
The last excess tassel was trimmed. It was complete. They stood together in front of the buggy. He felt different this time. Hopeful even.
There was a faint groaning sound. It was familiar to him. The buggy bubbled. The blue fabric sloughed off. All her work was gone. The room filled with the smell of burning plastic and old oil. She fell to her knees and wept. He remembered where the shop was. She choked, and sobbed, and sucked in air alone on the floor. He couldn't do a thing.
Hours passed. No one was moving. He breathed in through his nose.
She was silent and still. He walked over to the buggy, restored to its former ruin. His hands magnetized to the handlebar again and he wheeled it off. It squeaked down the halls and out the door, like it was laughing.. He was at the shop before he knew it. He looked up at the sign and he was suddenly inside and behind the counter. Next to him was the shop owner. He leaned into his ear. How much do I owe?
He motioned forward with his whole hand.
There was woman standing on the other side of the counter. Dirty, haggard, old beyond her years, she had a hunger in her eyes. She did not blink.
"I need a solution"
He turned to his right. The shop owner was gone. It did not matter, he knew just the thing.