Jennifer Pashley

And One Blue Pussy

There are a num­ber of rea­sons I think this won’t work, but sit­ting there watch­ing the movie, it’s clear to me that I can’t watch this hap­pen, that it means noth­ing but gore to me, even though Wendy says it’s the most beau­ti­ful thing she’s ever seen: the intense cramp­ing, the slow leak of blood, and then the crown­ing, every­thing you know and love stretched beyond recog­ni­tion, the ripped vul­va, the gush of grey flu­id.

The film ends on a stuck, jump­ing image of the baby’s smushed head, the mother’s face. She pushed so hard her cheeks are pur­ple with bro­ken blood ves­sels, her eyes dark under­neath like she got punched. One nurse fid­dles with the VCR. She points up at the screen.

Don’t do that, she says about the mother’s face, but she doesn’t say how not to.

The oth­er nurse snaps the lights back on and we sit in a cir­cle of chairs. There is only one oth­er same sex cou­ple – moth­er and daugh­ter, the daugh­ter about six­teen and the moth­er under forty. They’re not quite the same as our same.

It feels less like a birthing class and more like a domes­tic vio­lence cir­cle, like we should be in a church base­ment, antsy and angry and remorse­ful. The nurs­es pace at the front of the room, they repeat the same mantras about respect, about lis­ten­ing to your part­ner, about antic­i­pat­ing her needs, mak­ing her com­fort­able, about know­ing when to touch and when to back away.

One of the nurs­es has a frost­ed bob and a ring on every fin­ger, she looks like some­one who should work in a bank, or some­one who might do your nails, sell you ear­rings at Macy’s. She doesn’t look like a nurse to me. She goes on about what things to bring along, lotion and pic­tures, a boom­box. She keeps call­ing it that like no one has moved on to any­thing less cum­ber­some, and then she men­tions Kenny G CDs to relax you. She says it more than once. You’ll want some­thing sooth­ing, she says, like Kenny G, although one time, some­one did bring a loud rap CD. She and the oth­er nurse, a woman who is maybe 42 but has adopt­ed the style of a woman in her six­ties, in high-waist­ed pants and hot-rollered hair, they share an uncom­fort­able tit­ter about that.

Wendy leans into my ear, she moves my hair to the side and she whis­pers that if I bring a Kenny G CD into the moth­er baby room, she will kill her­self and take me down with her.

I wait for any of it to be inter­est­ing, for the spark of recog­ni­tion that this will mean some­thing, any­thing to me. Then he catch­es my eye while the nurse talks about the rain­bow. A man in a base­ball cap that says CASH, a yel­low t-shirt that shows tat­toos up and down both arms, green and swirling sleeves made out of skin. He looks young, his face unflawed by any­thing, lines, whiskers or oth­er­wise. We sit there in a flu­o­res­cent room, on padded straight-back rose col­ored chairs on a mauve rug in a cir­cle: him, me, all of us with women who are round by vary­ing degrees and the nurse begins to talk very slow­ly about med­i­tat­ing on the col­ors of the rain­bow. About visu­al­iz­ing the eight col­ors of the rain­bow. I see him count on his fin­gers after she says it, and mouth the word eight to me.

After the med­i­ta­tion we get white pow­dered donuts and juice from a long table at the back. The women com­pare bel­lies and swap due dates, ask about strollers and if you’re going con­vert­ible with the crib or reg­u­lar. Do you have a car seat yet, day care, stay­ing at home, crav­ing, drink­ing enough water? One of the oth­er mom­mies asks Wendy if we are sis­ters.

She rubs my arm. Jan’s my part­ner, she says.

How excit­ing for you, the oth­er mom­my says.

Terribly. I reach for anoth­er donut, and he sidles up real qui­et, also reach­ing.

Even if you count indi­go, he says, you still only have sev­en.

I try to remem­ber which one is his, which roundish woman, in a cir­cle with Wendy, all of them stand­ing the same way, sup­port­ing their backs, rub­bing or itch­ing their bel­lies, and I see the one with red hair, the cop­per fall of pony tail and a stretched green shirt.

It’s not mine, he says, when my eyes land on the redhead’s bel­ly.

I glance back at Wendy and then look him in the eye. They are so light blue they are almost clear grey. Me nei­ther, I say.

Somewhere in there I grind to a halt. Dig my heels in like I used to get­ting in the bath so you can’t pull me any fur­ther with­out dis­lo­cat­ing some­thing. It might be when she brings home the paint chips. Lavender and sea grass and some­thing called hon­ey bee, which I tell her sounds like a ter­ri­ble col­or for a baby’s room, sounds dan­ger­ous and con­jures up images of swollen lips and epi­neph­rine injec­tions.

Why not just call it ana­phy­lac­tic shock? I say. And she does it, she looks at me like I am the worst girl­friend ever, the worst moth­er-to-be, which I have to remind her I am not. I am not the moth­er-to-be. I am noth­ing. No part of this trans­ac­tion she’s drawn up with­out me. It’s the begin­ning and the end of every­thing.

The begin­ning involved iden­ti­fy­ing our unique fer­til­i­ty prob­lem. Intrauterine insem­i­na­tion is ide­al if your part­ner has low sperm count, or poor sperm mobil­i­ty. They wash the sperm before they put it in. It’s a sell­ing point for them: the wash­ing. Not the dirty kind of sperm you get from sex. And I’m sure, too, that it’s med­ical, that wash­ing has some­thing to do with the suc­cess rate, which is either out­stand­ing or I have a par­tic­u­lar­ly fer­tile girl­friend, the choic­est of choice moth­ers, preg­nant on first try.

At class, we line up with our pil­lows, you see us walk­ing from the garage, two by two with pil­lows right from our beds which says a lot about any­one if you’re look­ing, who brings stripes and who brings flow­ers, which ones are sol­id or dark or satin.

His and hers don’t match. And not in a way that sug­gests a mere back up in the laun­dry room. His is red flan­nel tick­ing. Hers, geo­met­ric blue cot­ton. High thread count if I had to guess. So I men­tion this to him, on the heels of our rain­bow con­ver­sa­tion last week, and while Wendy is get­ting a water bot­tle from the vend­ing machine.

I say, Your pil­lows don’t match.

And he says, We don’t live togeth­er. He holds his pil­low low and loose over his waist, makes his own bel­ly out of it, just hang­ing there.

One of the lights is out tonight, leaves a dark spot, like a cloud hang­ing in the front cor­ner of the room, and the nurse calls us in, is clap­ping her hands to round us up again. Breaks over, just like hell you go right back to sit­ting your ass flat in a win­dow­less room, on an uncom­fort­able chair.

Come have a beer with us, he says before I can ask him any more about his sit­u­a­tion.

With who? I say.

He rais­es his eye­brows. The dads, he says.

He has a pony­tail that hangs halfway down his back. Blond and most­ly straight. I don’t notice it until he walks away – because of the cap, because of his face. Like a mannequin’s face, carved out of wood or plas­ter, seam­less and smooth and all the same col­or, even the lips. Like you could pose his stiff arms in a polo, that his fin­gers would hold the shape of dain­ty point­ing, you could hang your keys on them, place them at his waist, or his col­lar, fanned out like the fin­gers on the baby Jesus in an old paint­ing. He walks away and I see the pony­tail, longer than mine, and way longer than Wendy’s. She cut her hair in her first trimester and now couldn’t make a pony­tail if she want­ed to.

Not many of us go out. The bars in the hos­pi­tal neigh­bor­hood are col­lege bars, and it’s June. The one guy who goes with us won’t ful­ly sit on the seat, and his wife texts him through his entire beer. He nev­er puts the phone down and it keeps ping­ing, he keeps look­ing, he fum­bles through short mes­sages with his fat thumbs. Right after, he says he has to go. It leaves us in an emp­ty place on a Monday night, with some piped in Grateful Dead, a lone bar­tender with a mess of dreads, a big bel­ly and a salmon pink t-shirt.

I wait for him to make his own expla­na­tion. He says, Who wouldn’t want to date a red­head named Bridget?

I’ve dat­ed a red­head named Bridget, I say.

He says his friends set them up, and only told him that she was unpre­dictable, that he would love her, but that she would sur­prise him.

I also dat­ed a red­head named Sam, I say.

Sam, he repeats, fish­ing.

Samuel, I say.

You’ve had boyfriends, he says, not a ques­tion.

Sure. I’ve had boyfriends. I’ve had twen­ty-five boyfriends, all named Sam, I say. Smirk. He orders anoth­er round.

What’s that from? he asks, like it’s a line from a movie. Behind him, the bar­tender wipes in a cir­cle.

Andy Warhol, I say.

Andy Warhol had twen­ty-five boyfriends named Sam? he says.

They were cats, I say. Sugar Magnolia comes on. It’s a book: Twenty-five cats named Sam. I cross my legs then under the table, and fin­ish the title for him, clos­ing my eyes when I say it. And one blue pussy.

He appears to work some­thing out of the side of his cheek with his tongue, which is pierced through with a round steel ball that clicks against his teeth. It goes pret­ty quick from there, talk­ing and not talk­ing, my foot on his foot under the table. His arm against mine above the table. Drinking, pay­ing, walk­ing to the car, the quick nego­ti­a­tion of who will dri­ve and where, and when I ask him lat­er, how many girl­friends he’s had, to at least try and even up the score of ques­tion ask­ing, he only says not enough.

Wendy and I went to a women’s col­lege. For her, it was a fam­i­ly thing, her aunts, cousins, her grand­moth­er even. I went because they gave me mon­ey and because when my broth­er went to State, he slept with about 100 girls.

That’s a hun­dred girls, my dad said, who were will­ing to sleep with your broth­er. So who knows who’ll charm the pants off of you, he said.

There were boys and boys and boys, before and after Wendy, because she scared me, the round blue­ness of her eyes and the per­ma­nence of her hand in mine – she always slips it in when you’re not look­ing. Not the con­fi­dent hand hold­ing of equals, but a lit­tler hand, fold­ed and tucked into your own, sud­den­ly just there, when you’re walk­ing through a crowd. The way she talked about her Nanny’s house, nev­er a hard argu­ment, but a plan slipped by you before you could dis­agree – a brick cot­tage on a street with pick­et fences and a side­walk. We could live there some­day: two gin­ger­bread les­bians.

You sur­prised me, I say to Wendy. She strokes the soft inside of my arm. It makes me sleepy and tingly, like my head is held up by some­thing else. A wire, taut to the ceil­ing.

It’s not like we didn’t talk about it.

We lean with the island between us. We use the island for par­ties, for com­pa­ny, for hold­ing big wood­en bowls of chips, glass­es of wine, for gath­er­ing round. One of the things that drew us to the house. Wendy holds her hips out fur­ther to accom­mo­date the size of the bel­ly.

Right, I say, but talk­ing about it doesn’t mean do it. It’s not like you asked me whether or not I ever eat cheese­cake and then went out and bought one.

But it hap­pens all the time, she says.

What does?

Accidents.

It wasn’t an acci­dent.

But it hap­pens, she says.

Not with us. I take my arm away, the nerve end­ings sen­si­tive, over-touched. I can’t acci­den­tal­ly get you preg­nant, I say.

My point, Wendy says.

That is the point, I say.

What do you mean it’s the point? It’s the rea­son you have sex with me?

Not the rea­son, I say. But a rea­son.

Are you kid­ding me? she says. She backs away from the counter and leans on the refrig­er­a­tor in a shirt she would nev­er nor­mal­ly wear, flow­ered with a peter pan col­lar. She itch­es up both sides of the bel­ly. Are you kid­ding me with this?

No.

So you’re telling me, that if there was some way, if you had some mag­i­cal pow­er to get me preg­nant, you wouldn’t do it.

No.

Never.

Wendy, if I had mag­i­cal pow­ers, I say, get­ting you preg­nant would be the last one I would choose. The last one.

Really, she says, hands full on now, and with her hands on either side you can see how small it actu­al­ly is, just a pouch there, below her navel, swelling upward some­day to leave lit­tle space for breath­ing. You wouldn’t want this to some­how be ours, she says, instead of just mine.

I think of him look­ing at the ceil­ing, the way his eyes rolled up, pret­ty, his mouth open. His blue green tat­tooed arm against mine on the table. I think about my own skin. About fam­i­ly, for bet­ter or worse, around a kitchen table, kids and spilled milk and all. About our house, with its gran­ite coun­ter­tops that Wendy insist­ed on, mar­bled deep with black flecks that glint in the sun, about what I saw at his house, old teal lam­i­nate coun­ters that were cov­ered in bot­tles, full and emp­ty, about shov­ing hard against it, the rail of the counter in the small of my back. The only oth­er room there, a liv­ing room half the size of ours, a futon instead of a bed, the walls lined with books and records and pic­tures from par­ties and pic­nics, of friends and girl­friends, post­cards from far away places, that adver­tise friends’ art shows or books of poems. Candles that are burnt down to the base, have melt­ed into the shelf or the top of the stereo. Incense sticks jammed into the spaces left uneven by pic­ture frames, or win­dow frames, blow­ing fra­grant smoke around the room, about com­ing home smelling like a head shop, and tast­ing like some­thing else.

No, I say.

She walks away then and I stay for a long time, still lean­ing, lis­ten­ing longer than the sounds of the slammed door, the run­ning water, the draw­ers opened and shoved back in, hard.

In anoth­er week, anoth­er movie. This one, as old as we are, it could be our own births we are watch­ing up there, 1970s bell-bot­tomed mom­mies with long greasy hair, mus­ta­chioed dad­dies in cow­boy shirts, or tube socks that you can’t dis­cern under their Wranglers. One woman com­plains loud­ly on screen that she’d eat­en sausage and pep­pers. The class chuck­les. She has a heavy down­state accent. The woman with the sausage and pep­pers gives birth in a flow­ered room on flow­ered sheets with a flow­ered hos­pi­tal gown. Her hus­band, dark haired with a grand mus­tache. Her pussy dark and hairy like the hus­band. The baby, with a dark mass of hair, a soft wrin­kled head. The taste of pep­pers, metal­lic in your mouth after watch­ing.

He works at a bak­ery on Sundays. I sus­pect, hope, that he also does some­thing else, but at least on Sundays, he’s in the bak­ery, a hot room with a huge fan, where he sits perched on a stool, lis­tens to Johnny Cash and sells loaves of stretch Italian to peo­ple hav­ing Sunday din­ner. When I go in, no one else comes in. He says it goes on like this for hours.

On the counter, two plates. One with tips, most­ly quar­ters, but a dol­lar in there too. Another with ripped pieces of bread. I pull a stool around to the oth­er side, the cus­tomer side, and he push­es the plate toward me. Says it’s the best bread in the world.

Did you make it? I say.

He shakes his head, slow, bare­ly a move­ment. I would nev­er say that about my own bread.

But peo­ple do, I say. People feel that way about their own stuff all the time, this supe­ri­or attach­ment to it, a need to let every­one else know how great it is. I say some­thing like this.

He says, Those peo­ple are ass­holes.

Here’s what doesn’t hap­pen: I don’t go home, look at in utero pic­tures of babies, scrunched up, suck­ing their thumbs, and replete with eye­lash­es and fin­ger­nails, and have some heart­felt Hugh Grant moment where I trans­form from being the ass­hole to the good guy. Or girl.

I bring her some bread, and a pint of spicy toma­to oil to dip it in. We have a meal out of it, the counter in between us again. We start out not talk­ing, but then she tells me some­thing that hap­pened at school, a play­ground sto­ry, and goes on to say that my moth­er called, that they are pick­ing out the bed­room set for the baby, a con­vert­ible crib in wal­nut. I think about sit­ting at the kitchen table at home, the whole thing, the plas­tic place­mats and met­al legged chairs, the loud tick­ing of the clock on the stove, where we all ate around that one table jammed in there because there was no din­ing room in that house. About bread passed between us. About telling them, ten years ago, that it was Wendy. That we were not room­mates. Not friends. I remem­ber say­ing, We’re not friends. As if that explained it.

We eat the whole loaf. I tell her it’s the best bread in the world. She agrees.

Later we lie in the space that is ours, where I can detect the edges of the world, right there, only what you can reach with either arm out to the sides. Watching her come is like mag­ic. When every­thing that roils under­neath rolls into that full boil, breaks the sur­face, comes up for air. We make sense again.

Her bel­ly is split down the mid­dle with a trea­sure trail. All the hairs com­ing togeth­er like arrows. The bot­tom, heav­ier than the top. You’d think it just all pops out at once, but the weight of it is in that thick pod at the bot­tom. I put my hand there. Wait for move­ment, but noth­ing.

It puts the baby to sleep, she says.

Me too, I say.

It’s bet­ter, she says.

What is?

Coming. With the baby. The weight of it, she says. It’s stronger. Her voice is sleepy. She rolls from her back, where she’s not sup­posed to be – deprives the baby of oxy­gen. She rolls to her side and every­thing adjusts, set­tles, points up the way it’s sup­posed to, but side­ways.

She is some­thing else now, I think, right down to the meat. Right down to the stuff you think is the same, or impor­tant. Or both.

Her fin­gers graze her own skin, her eyes closed now, turned inward. It might be the only thing, she says, that makes this great.