Everything would be fine.
That’s what Mia kept telling herself, while she sat in the breakfast
room. Every few seconds she glanced at the phone on the wall. It was
better, that Jerry had left on his business trip. This way he wouldn’t
be calling or e-mailing her every five minutes to see if she’d heard
anything yet. It was better for her to have the house quiet and calm,
better to sense all the cosmic space, clear and clean between this
breakfast room and the hotel suite across the continent in California
where, hopefully, Jerry still slept.
His absence kept her busier, too. Before settling in at the breakfast
room table she’d driven to the newsstand to fetch the papers (the New
York Times, and the Newark Star-Ledger), then stopped at the
gas station (though the tank wasn’t yet half-empty), and even treated
herself to a chocolate-coated donut (reviving a very long-ago pregnancy
habit) at the town deli. Now, at ten minutes to nine, the car gathered
frost on the driveway while she was back in the breakfast room, the
winter sun streaming in, the Star-Ledger atop the Times
and bearing another front-page story on that Poet Laureate character,
the donut uneaten.
Everything would be fine.
Just thirty miles away, at a Manhattan hospital, her daughter and
son-in-law were having a "second opinion" test. Her daughter and
son-in-law and the thirteen-week-old grandchild whose fetal image as of
the previous week (you could see the perfect vertebrae, already, and the
little arms and legs!) Mia could spend hours studying on the computer
screen. It was a beautiful sonogram.
"Don’t you think it looks just like you, Mom?" Mia’s daughter had
joked, to break the tension. Because as beautiful as the baby was, it
was also borderline—as far as its nuchal fold measurement went.
"Its what?" Jerry had asked, more confused than concerned in that
first moment when Mia had attempted to discuss the matter. "Noo-cal
what? What’s that?"
"The skin of its neck," Mia said, trying to sound knowledgeable.
She’d looked the term up on the Internet, after her daughter’s telephone
explanation had raced by too quickly for her to absorb. Jerry still
didn’t seem to grasp what she was saying, so Mia added, "They can
measure it, now, and if it’s too thick, that can be an early indication
that something isn’t quite right. With the baby."
Jerry was silent for a moment. Then he said, "How do you spell it?"
Mia had to admit she hadn’t known that initially, herself.
"Progesterone" she’d managed well enough, and explained to her husband,
when Allison first reported: "I have good news, and some possible bad
news," and proceeded to say that she was four weeks pregnant, but that
her progesterone level was low, and that her doctor had prescribed
supplementary hormones. There might be a miscarriage.
So there was reason to be happy, but not delighted. Not yet.
Then the progesterone levels had risen, and steadied, and they’d all
been happier. For awhile.
"We can be cautiously optimistic," they’d agreed.
Cautiously optimistic. A mother expecting her first child wasn’t
supposed to have to be "cautiously optimistic." She was supposed to
celebrate, to revel in the life growing inside her, to glow (like the
cliché dictated) and to tell everyone why. Mia wanted to cry. Some days,
when she was alone, she did cry, because it worried Jerry too much to
see her upset. She was prone to migraines, and, before the pacemaker,
fainting spells. Any indication of stress and Jerry would start hovering
over her. So she kept her unhappinesses to herself, until Jerry left the
The house was a five-bedroom colonial, with neat shutters and a
circular driveway and in truth it was too large for just the two of
them, now that Allison and Andrew were grown and out on their own. But
it also formed such a part of the life Mia had dreamed of, growing up.
One day, she’d fantasized, she’d have a loving husband and a house in
the suburbs. And of course, she’d have her children.
They’d married young, she and Jerry, and by their second anniversary
they had saved enough to "start trying." They didn’t anticipate any
difficulties conceiving, and they didn’t have any. So later, when she
learned of all the miscarriages and fertility treatments and emergency
c-sections and other traumas friends and acquaintances had suffered
through, and began to have "health issues" herself, she marveled at how
easy it had been. Two perfectly planned pregnancies. Two utterly
uncomplicated deliveries, beginning with labors that started well after
sunrise and had produced living, breathing babies by lunchtime. A
daughter, and then, after what she’d understood to be the ideal
three-and-one-half-year age difference, a son.
The first pregnancy Mia remembered with a clarity somewhat missing
from the second, when she had also simultaneously supervised Allison’s
tonsillectomy and transition to nursery school and their move to a
larger apartment and her own mother’s medical care. The first pregnancy
belonged to that golden time when life was still so very simple, when
she and Jerry lived in a West Side walk-up and didn’t even own a car,
when so much was still new and unknown, when so much promise filled the
future. She was twenty-three years old.
It never occurred to her that everything wouldn’t be fine. Back then.
Back then they didn’t have nuchal fold tests. They didn’t have
sonograms. They didn’t measure the amount of progesterone in your blood
every few days and offer you special treatments in the early weeks of
the pregnancy. They didn’t have "chorionic villus sampling"; she could
only vaguely recall hearing, back then, the term "amniocentesis." But
that was for much older women. Wasn’t it?
She’d gone to the doctor—Jerry’s aunt with the four children still at
home had given her the name of her own obstetrician. Dr. Grossman, a
middle-aged man with a crowded waiting room, had spent five minutes
examining her and said, "Yes, honey, you’re pregnant. I don’t even need
to see the test results." He’d asked about her last cycle, then told her
the baby’s due date. And she’d reported it all to her husband, right
"I floated out of that office," she told Allison, many times,
recounting the wonder of that first pregnancy. "Daddy and I were just
floating, for the next eight months before you came. Not a care in the
Were they just ignorant back then? Was it so wrong to assume that
without thalidomide or DES in your history you didn’t need to worry?
"Didn’t you even consider Tay-Sachs?" Allison had asked, and Mia had to
confess that no, she hadn’t. But Allison was undergoing every test
imaginable. In fact, insurance had refused to pay for some of the
Mia separated the newspapers. She couldn’t handle the impending war
and other disasters no doubt filling the Times, not when there
might be another crisis coming through the phones lines at any moment.
But the Star-Ledger’s front-page focus on the latest Poet
Laureate problem made her massage her temples, too. At least, with
everything else to talk about today, it was unlikely that Allison would
start in on that whole subject again.
"She really should have gone to law school," Jerry said, frequently,
about their management consultant daughter. "Since she’s so fond of
prosecuting everyone and everything."
Mia left the breakfast table, headed to the computer down the hall.
She clicked onto the most recent sonogram and studied the picture of her
grandchild, a grainy figure floating in its dark sac. The tears pooled
Why hadn’t they called yet? The appointment was for 8AM. Surely they
knew something by now.
For God’s sake, her daughter deserved to float, too!
True, Mia had actually appeared rather—weightless—back then.
"You must be pregnant," Jerry had said, his voice gaining energy, as
they dined on hot dogs at Nathan’s the evening before that first visit
to Dr. Grossman. (Who knew about nitrates?) "Because I’ve never seen you
finish a meal before!"
She’d been so thin, in fact—barely 100 pounds when she’d first
conceived—that she’d not only felt Allison move in the fourth month, but
to her delight she’d soon seen the little knees and elbows protruding
through her skin. At night she and Jerry would lie on their bed and
watch the baby shift in her body, mesmerized.
"It’s floating around," she’d say, stunned at what was happening
within her. As if no one else on the planet had ever experienced such a
And she’d gained just fourteen pounds that entire pregnancy, because
Dr. Grossman was— well, to put it nicely—something of an ogre; she and
all the other women in that waiting room were so frightened of his
scoldings about weight gain that they essentially starved themselves
before each weigh-in. After the appointments, she’d cross the street and
find other mothers-to-be in the coffee shop, shoveling food down their
throats. Her own preference was chocolate-coated donuts, but the others
seemed to favor mocha layer cake, or apple pie.
Allison hated chocolate-coated donuts.
Allison’s obstetrician had an office on Park Avenue.
Jerry had given Mia a rueful look. "I wonder what multiple of
Grossman’s fee he charges."
"She charges," Allison corrected. "And hello, it is
thirty-three years later!"
Everything would be fine. The obstetrician and technicians would give
them the assurances they needed. And then they could tell the rest of
the family, the cousins and the close friends who were like extra
siblings and aunts and uncles.
After Mia’s first visit with Dr. Grossman, after she’d floated out of
that office and told Jerry that her suspicions had been confirmed they
could barely wait until dinner. They’d gone over that Friday night, as
planned—as usual, for the Sabbath—but for the first time greeted Jerry’s
parents with a: "Nice to see you, Grandma and Grandpa!" And there’d been
pure, joyful laughter, as the realization hit first Jerry’s mother,
always alert to anything medically-related, and then his father. Pure
delight. Absolute and unadulterated happiness. Her husband’s parents had
fled Hitler back in the 1930s. Jerry was their only son. This baby—and
its future sibling—would be the center of their lives, until the days
Grandpa and then Grandma had died, many many years later.
"L’chaim!" Mia’s father-in-law had shouted, lifting a glass of
Manischewitz Concord Grape.
To life. It was a time they had thought of nothing but new life. No
illness. No defects. No calamities or crises. Because back then everyone
was healthy and alive.
After dinner with her in-laws she and Jerry had dropped by her
"This is a surprise," her mother had said. "Weren’t you coming
And then, in a microsecond, Mother had seen their smiles and let out
Next to know were Mia’s own brother and sister-in-law, themselves
already waiting for their second child. Mia recalled the sense of
familial love and warmth enveloping her from that moment on, just like
the sheets and blankets that wrapped her in the most peaceful sleep of
her life, all through that pregnancy. Never again would she sleep so
well, and not only because babies could keep parents awake.
Thirty-something years later her mother was dead. So were Jerry’s
parents. Her brother’s wife was gone, too—breast cancer. And now Mia’s
nights were punctuated with those moments when she awoke and wondered
how to help her brother through his own treatment. The prostate. Good
news carried so much more responsibility, these days. So many burdens.
Because floating was so much more elusive, in this life, with the holes
of loss and absence, the demands of replacement, the trials and terrors
tearing through the hours and days and years.
She returned to the breakfast room, to the donut and the newspapers.
In the Times she skimmed the world news, the weather, the
obituaries. And then she dared to read the Star-Ledger.
"N.J. Senate Votes To Eliminate Poet Laureate Post."
This she must absorb, as Allison was obsessed with the issue.
"It’s outrageous," her daughter had said, when the kids came in for
the weekend of Jerry’s birthday in October (Andrew had even brought a
new girlfriend), and they’d all sat around this very table, with bagels
and lox and the Sunday Times, and Allison had gone straight for
the Week in Review. The new girlfriend, though likely warned, still
seemed slightly nonplussed by Allison’s intensity.
"What’s outrageous?" the poor girl had asked.
"Here we go," Andrew said. "Anyone want more coffee? Or a
Allison’s husband laughed. Jerry frowned.
"You don’t know about the Poet Laureate?" Allison’s eyebrows raised.
And then she’d explained the situation. How in a poem this man had
perpetuated a conspiracy theory that Israelis—read, Jews—knew in advance
of the September 11 attacks.
"Never mind that hundreds of Jews were among the people killed that
day," Allison said.
Allison’s husband sighed.
The new girlfriend looked at Andrew. "What did the poem say?"
"I’m sure Allison can quote it for you."
"Not quite." Allison glared at her brother. "But almost." She
addressed the girlfriend again. "One line suggests someone warned
‘Israeli workers’ at the Towers not to go in that day. And another
implies there’s something fishy about Ariel Sharon being off-site, too."
She shook her head, while her brother’s girlfriend’s expression seemed
to freeze halfway between bewilderment and terror. "Can’t imagine why
Sharon wouldn’t have been there. I mean, he only runs another country in
an entirely different part of the world."
"Doesn’t this man—this poet—have the right to express himself?"
"Does anyone want another bagel?" Mia broke in. "Toasted?"
"Well, I like to think that something others might read as historical
truth is at least quasi-accurate, but let’s put that aside, because I
know you’ll just tell me," (and indeed, Andrew’s mouth had opened),
"that ‘truth’ is a subjective concept." Allison paused, and Andrew’s
"So sure, let him express himself—but I’d prefer that as a
representative of the state, especially, he not do it quite this way.
And not on taxpayer money," Allison continued. "Which, please forgive me
for pointing out, Mr. ACLU, but in this county, in particular, happens
to include a lot of Jewish taxpayer money. You think Mom and Dad really
want to be, for all intents and purposes, funding anti-Semitic
"Allie—," her husband interrupted. Or tried to.
But she was on a roll. Refocusing on Mia, as if she knew it would be
hopeless to try to politicize her father she demanded: "I mean, aren’t
you upset that your taxes are going to support this man? And that he’s
spouting such poison—really dangerous poison—so nearby?" For Newark,
where this poet was now preaching and teaching in the schools, was their
own County Seat.
Mia had felt another migraine coming on.
"Allison, for God’s sake," Jerry had pleaded. "Leave your mother
The phone rang. Mia stood, too quickly. Usually the pacemaker
regulated her heartbeat, but now she felt light-headed. She held onto
the back of her chair. She must not collapse. That was all she
needed—another episode for Jerry to worry over. The answering machine
clicked on. Allison was speaking but Mia couldn’t distinguish the words.
Again tears blurred her vision. All she could hear was her
father-in-law’s voice, all she could see was his still-familiar smile.
The machine clicked off. Mia steadied herself and made her way over
to the message. Everything would be fine. Just fine.
Erika Dreifus’s short stories, essays, and articles have
appeared in the Boston Globe, Lilith, Teachers & Writers, The
Writer, and elsewhere. In 2003 her story, "Homecomings," won the
David Dornstein Memorial Creative Writing Contest for Young Adult
Writers, and she has been awarded residencies at the Kimmel Harding
Nelson Center for the Arts and at the Vermont Studio Center.