Pregnant With Possibility
It happened standing over the kitchen sink, rinsing onion residue from her hands – hands beginning to knot and shine from encroaching arthritis, a spray of pea-sized brown spots scattered over the tops. Minerva felt woozy as she reached for the countertop and eased herself into a chair. Her belly hurt something awful. A tugging sensation propelled her to the bathroom where she sat on the toilet. God help me, where is the phone. She banged on the walls, hoping her young neighbor would hear her. Janet was a graduate film student who had once before helped Minerva up after she took a tumble in the hallway of their building. She banged until she exhausted herself. The bathroom window was shut tight. An old woman living alone had to live like she could be assaulted at any moment. She had had 72 years of defensive living under her belt. A Goodyear Blimp bumble by like a gigantic honey bee. Minerva doubled over as the pain in her stomach intensified. It felt strangely like when she gave birth to her son, whose head circumference and body weight made hospital history then, forty-five years earlier.
When she awakened, Minerva was supine in bed, a cool cloth draped across her forehead, and Janet’s comforting hand smoothing her short-cropped hair.
“Minny, are you okay?”
“Well, I just don’t know what happened.”
“I found you on your bathroom floor—there was a lot of blood. I cleaned you up and walked you into bed.”
Janet lifted the cloth and peeked underneath. Minerva blinked as the morning sun emptied into her little bedroom. Her lace curtains flickered in a gentle breeze. Janet’s face looked stricken as she strained for control.
“Blood? Why—“ Minerva’s hand felt below the covers. “Oh—“
“And Minny," Janet took the cloth off completely, placed it on the floor and gingerly lifted something wrapped in a bloodied sheet to the bedside. “I found this in the bathroom doorway.”
She unfolded the sheet to reveal what looked like some kind of armored sea creature. It had two horseshoe shapes attached by a middle portion, and around the edges were tentacles that twitched spasmodically. Minerva was more curious than horrified. She poked out a finger and touched the surface. It was like car vinyl. The tentacles waved towards then away from her.
“Oh—“. Minerva’s eyes closed.
* * *
“It’s a Condylopyge, mid-Cambrian period, about 540 million years ago.”
Janet’s high school biology teacher, Mr. Baele, pushed his glasses up higher on the bridge of his nose and gave a satisfied sniff. Whatever it was had stopped moving a half hour after Minerva fainted back to sleep, and Janet, too frightened to go anywhere else, remembered this shape from Mr. Beale’s class ten years before. If anyone could identify ancient life forms, it would be him.
“Excellent replica. Where did you say you got this?” he asked.
“Oh, which one? Anyone famous?”
“No, I mean, yeah. Jeff Goldblum. Sci fi, murder mystery, kind of funny.”
She wrapped the creature in a towel and eased it into a duffel bag.
“One of those hybrid genre flicks, eh? Well, whoever is doing their special effects sure knows his stuff.”
“It’s a ‘she’, actually. And yes, she’s good, really good. Thanks, Mr. Baele.”
* * *
A strong cup of English Breakfast tea and Minerva felt better already. Outside, the lawn sprinklers arched high into the heavens, sending down a rainbow of glistening water drops. For the most part, Minerva kept to herself.
The congested freeways scared her. Too many possibilities of getting lost in strange neighborhoods where no one spoke English. The streets were a series of dead-ends where few children played and teenaged boys sat on car hoods scoping out each passing vehicle with narrowed eyes. Hers was a quiet world. Just the wooden clock she’d gotten upon retirement with its comforting tick-tock on the piano, the doves, the music she listened to on the radio.
Her experience in the bathroom was fast fading from memory. Some silly thing, that. Janet must have been playing a joke on her. A –what did she call it – Condylop, something or other. Some prehistoric creature replica she probably swiped from the shelves of one of the film studios, most likely. Minerva had to be more careful now, just in case she had those unsettling stomach cramps again. She’d go to her doctor soon enough. In the meantime, she kept a mobile phone in each room, and a boat siren Janet insisted on her wearing around her neck if she ever fell again. Goodness, that siren was loud enough to rupture an eardrum! She’d made herself a plate of pasta, a rare treat given that her appetite had diminished over the past few years, just as her figure had. As Betty Davis said, old age ain’t for sissies.
Janet dropped in, her dog, Hitchcock, with dripping tongue standing behind her. In one hand, she held a bag of pastries.
“What do I smell?” Minerva eyed the bag hungrily.
“Almond bear claws. Would you like one? But you don’t eat sugary things, do you?” She extracted the pastry. Minerva snatched it from her with lightning speed, biting into it lustily. “Well, I guess I’m wrong!”
She glanced about the kitchen. Every surface was covered with pots, plates, open jars of olives, pasta sauce, jam. Minerva followed her gaze and blushed guiltily.
“I’ve been famished lately.”
“You gone to see your doctor, as I told you to do?” Janet asked.
“No, well, I have an appointment for Thursday. I’m sure there’s no reason to fuss.”
Minerva reached into her dress pocket and fed Hitchcock a Snausage dog treat. “One for you”, she smiled as he gulped it down, “and one for me!” and she popped a dog treat into her mouth. Janet made a face. “They’re more than tolerable. And surprisingly good for you.”
Minerva’s stomach tightened a moment. That feeling again. There was a strange fluttering in her belly. Butterflies and moths’ wings.
“Janet dear, will you excuse me?”
Janet asked if she could be of help, but the old woman waved her away with reassurances it was just indigestion. Eating so much so quickly perhaps wasn’t such a good idea.
What her kindly neighbor didn’t see was the table overturned against the back door, the grapes she’d hung from the bedside lamp, the over-ripe bananas she placed along the lip of the bathtub. Minerva did these things as though driven by some inner motor. No need for alarm. Such preparations were as instinctual as it would be for any whelping mammal.
This time, she remained conscious and relatively clear-headed. She spread extra sheets on the bed, put on the overhead fan, and waited. The fan’s whoosh-whoosh put her into a trance. Deep in her insides, forces gathered. Blood rushing to various parts of her body, the great and small tributaries, the streams, the pooling ponds, swirling, swirling, swirling. Somewhere in the distance she heard a helicopter’s steady drone. A police loud speaker. Drop your weapons and come out of the car with—over and over again. She could sing it like a lullaby. Whoosh-whoosh. Then the clenching started.
Minerva knew this time it would be no hard-shelled 540 million year old sea animal. When it emerged, she bent down and lifted it to her withered breast. Homo sapien, quaternary period. 1 million years ago. Its tiny face was all scrunched up, black tufts of hair clung wet to the pink ears, laid flat against its head. It nuzzled at her breast. After the dear one fell asleep, Minerva placed it tenderly on a pillow and rose to shower. When she returned, she found it sitting on the bureau, munching on a banana.
“Hello, love. Is that good, hum?” Lifting it into her arms, Minerva rocked as it ate and smiled at her. It had a perfect row of white teeth, like tiny seed pearls strung side by side. The bunch of bananas went in one night, the baby grew. Unable to leave it alone (it missed the toilet more than once and took to ripping the tea rose wall paper from the walls), Minerva employed a young Salvadoran boy to buy her groceries. When the baby could stand on its own two furry feet, Minerva opened the window and urged it outside. It was reluctant at first, hovering near her ankles and whining pitifully.
“Come now, it’s a good thing. The great outdoors. You’ll love it!”
She placed banana slices along the window sill, then threw some out into the garden. The creature followed the trail, finally leaping out the window with a delighted squeal. Though it was hard to see it go, Minerva felt confident it was the right thing to do. The house was getting crowded, and smelled like a zoo. She then opened all the doors and windows. Big band music filled the kitchen. One of her dear doves fluttered about the bird feeder. It wasn’t as empty as she had imagined it might be after the little creature swung out of the window and into the great unknown. All children must grow and separate from the mother. It is the way of the world.
* * *
The last time Minerva’s belly yanked at her, she was in the supermarket in the frozen food aisle. It was a scorching July day and the streets wavered in the mid-day heat as though liquid. She stood with the freezer door open, enjoying the cool caresses of air over her bare legs. She shut her eyes as her breath caught.
“Are you okay?” a teenaged girl touched her arm. She had a homemade tattoo, Manny on one arm, and held a plump baby boy in her other.
“Yes, dear, thank you for asking, just a bit tired, that’s all.” Minerva smiled weakly at the boy. His eyes were a startling shade of cobalt blue, although his skin was tawny and his hair shone darkly. The old woman’s rounded belly felt suddenly heavier, and she fought the urge to urinate right there in the frozen food aisle. Staggering to her car, she drove herself home, promising silently that she would never drive again. Not in this heat. Not in this traffic. Not in this city. Ever again.
The birth nearly killed Minerva. She barely had time to pull down the shades and turn the tv volume up so no one could hear her cries. Thankfully, Janet was away working on some kind of political documentary. She’d explained in an excited tone to Minerva the night before that it was to feature an interview with a well-known dictator, Castro perhaps, or perhaps Hussein, and then an interview with either peace-activist and actor Martin Sheen or Rev. Jesse Jackson. It was, Janet expounded, going to be one of the greatest films about good and evil made in the 21st Century.
“Imagine being in the same room as Castro! We might even have access to the Infamous War Room. And Rev. Jackson, well, I’ve loved him since childhood.”
And Minerva had nodded supportively. Janet’s enthusiasm and her good will overwhelmed her. Such energy, such positive energy. It’s quite glorious.
Now Minerva was truly on her own. The sea creature had disappeared like a back alley abortion. Secreted away to God knows where. She didn’t care. And the homo sapien she had released to the big green world with her deepest and most heartfelt blessings. When the child was born, he looked just like her son, blond-haired, with a tiny rose bud mouth and the most perfect fingers and toes. And such skin! Smooth silky satin skin that smelled of mother’s milk and promise. Such great promise. This one she would keep.