THIS STORY CONTAINS MATURE CONTENT
To Do: | The baby kicks one way and the steering wheel pushes the other, and now Amy has to wear the too-tight sweatpants. She has to leave the car parked right where it is, too, unless she wants to drive in a warm puddle of pee.
Her belly bumps against the gearshift when she reaches to the backseat. She tosses clothes around until she finds the only other pair of pants she can still get into and double-checks the parking lot before opening the car door.
The morning air steams off her wet legs as she changes out of her track pants and into the sweats. The pants are so tight her thighs sting as she pulls them up. She wrestles the waistband up over her bum and it snaps under her belly, digging deep into her hips. She stretches her top down until The Cigarette Shop logo flattens her boobs, but it springs right back up when she lets go, and a roll of fat sticks out below her shirt.
She walks around the car and sits in the passenger’s seat to make a list. Amy messes up without lists. She does stupid stuff like filling her gas tank when she’s outta cash, and then people yell at her or she has to drive away and hide so she doesn’t get caught. But if she writes lists, she’s all organized and in control. And it feels so good to cross stuff off. She doesn’t put a checkmark beside the things once she’s done them, like some people do. She puts a line right through, like a sword.
Today her list says:
1. Lock car
2. Brush teeth, hair, wash face
3. Grab smoke
4. Grab coffee
5. Sneak a puff
7. Call Rodney
8. Taco Tuesday!
9. Wash sweatpants
She underlines that last one ’cause it’s important, except she’ll have to get the pants after work so Shannon doesn’t smell them in her backpack. Amy counts the money in the bag’s top pocket and writes:
Then she makes sure everything she needs is packed and she starts to leave. Oh, wait:
10. Entrance 3B
The biggest in the world, it’s easy to forget where you’ve parked at West Edmonton Mall.
Amy’s gut feels real tight, so she better hurry up and get to the washroom. She sits on a lemony toilet seat and tries to go but she can’t, so she just washes up and leaves real fast. If she gets to work before Shannon, she can poke a hole in a cig pack from the back and sneak out for a quick puff. It’s so much nicer smoking in the morning, no one around to stare. Last week she got in trouble for having a smoke on her lunch break.
“Not in uniform,” Larry said, pointing at her belly. “Makes The Cigarette Shop look bad.”
Dammit. Shannon’s already there, bent over the magazine rack with earphones in like she’s a real-life poster from the men’s section. Shannon is Larry’s girlfriend, and since he owns The Cigarette Shop, she doesn’t have to wear a uniform or work weekends or anything.
“Holy cameltoe, Chubs!” Shannon eyes are little slits, sparkling the same as the glitter on her cleavage. Amy lifts the section of counter that flips up and turns sideways to shuffle in. She tries to look at her flip-flopped feet and wonders when she cut her nails last. Cameltoe?
“Your pants, Pity Fuck. Not leaving much to the imagination.”
Amy glances down into the warped steel of the counter in front of her. It’s true, the tight pants show everything, and man, is she ripe. She’s been real thick and heavy between the legs for weeks. It hurts, the fullness there. She thinks of when mom was pregnant with Miranda and wonders if she had the same problem, but mom was always skinny and beautiful, not big like her. Flat-ass and fat-ass, one of mom’s boyfriends said before mom threw a bottle at him. The next day Amy cut her foot on the glass, and her mom felt so bad she pulled the glass out with her teeth ’cause she couldn’t find the tweezers. She wished she knew where mom was now.
But here right in front of her, Shannon won’t stop giggling, her head cocked and staring at Amy’s crotch. Amy’s face gets red hot. Her stomach cramps up again.
“I’m just going to go to the washroom,” she tells Shannon.
“You better not sneak a smoke!”
Amy visits the bathroom three times that morning but just can’t go. It feels like someone’s turning a corkscrew in her gut and she pushes until her legs shake but nothing comes out.
The fourth time it happens she’s counting Players Lights in the back, and it makes her fingers clumsy. “I’ll be right back,” she says, picking the carton from the floor.
Shannon snorts. There’s only one guy at the counter, the first customer of the day, buying a paper.
“Okay, Soft Shit, do what you gotta do.” Shannon winks over the till. The guy’s older than Amy, probably about Shannon’s age, but good-looking, wearing those low, baggy pants Rodney likes. Shannon leans over the counter like she’s whispering but she’s not. “This is, like, the eighth time she’s gone this morning.”
The guy laughs. He glances at Amy real quick and then eyes right back to Shannon’s tits as she counts his change. Amy stops going to the washroom then, and tries to ignore the pains. Then she thinks to write down when they hit:
At 9:42 she says, “I think I’m in labor.”
Shannon rolls her eyes and stares back into her phone, thumbs punching the screen. “Whatever.”
“I get a pain every eleven minutes.”
“Bullshit.” Shannon looks up; her lips look soft and pouty, but her eyes are sharp as broken glass in her heel. “I’ve been right here all morning and you haven’t said shit. This is, like, reverse discrimination. This is why I told Lar not to hire a preggo. You don’t get to just take off when you don’t feel like working.”
Amy’s mouth opens and closes but no words come out. She hates it when Shannon’s mad at her. After the baby’s born Amy’s gonna come back and say hi and Shannon’s gonna be so surprised. They’ll probably end up being pretty good friends, actually. The guys will get along too, and they’ll party together at those clubs Shannon’s always talking about.
“I didn’t mean I have to go right now. I was just—”
Amy shuts up and sits down. What is she supposed to do? Breathe, she thinks. Right. She’s never been to any of those birthing classes, but she’s seen lots of movies. She writes down:
1. In, Out, In, Out
2. Huh Huh Huh
3. Hee Hee Hoo, Hee Hee Hoo
4. Hoo Hoo Hoo, Hoo Hoo Hoo, Hoo Hoo Hoo
She doesn’t make a big show of it, but practices breathing when the cramps hit. Then Larry shows up with lunch for Shannon and hears Amy breathing and he tells her to go home even though Shannon sighs real loud.
“Last thing we need are her guts on the floor.”
So this is what Amy does:
1. Get Food
2. Call Rodney
Tuesdays mean Taco Meal Deals at the food court so Amy gets two tacos, deluxe Mexi Fries, and a diet iced tea. She still has six dollars and she only needs a Loonie to call Rodney, so she buys another Taco Meal Deal in case she gets hungry later. She gets paid in a couple of days anyway and she’ll be at the hospital tonight, so there’s no reason not to spend the money.
She stuffs the food into her backpack and heads back to 3B. Walking makes the pain so bad. It’s like her hips are falling apart, like the baby’s trying to dig out of her back. She carries her bag in front, imagining her crotch getting fatter with every step.
She stops at a payphone on the way and her stomach turns all slippery like the baby’s rolling around, except it’s not. It always makes her head hurt, dialing his number. What if it’s out of service this time? But last week there was this click like someone picked up and then all this shuffling and another click, like maybe he wanted to talk but chickened out. Maybe today he’ll answer.
Amy lifts the black receiver and pushes the buttons and holds her breath. Her stomach drops ’cause the call goes right to voicemail.
“Hi Rodney, it’s me. Amy. I think the baby’s coming. I keep getting pains but not too bad, though. It kicked me when I dialed your number. Feels real weird, the kicks, kinda gross. But it was cute this time, like it knew I was calling you. Anyway, I’m probably gonna go to the hospital soon. Bye.”
And then: “I really wish you were here.”
She blinks and blinks and tries to breathe. It’s real warm out now and she forgot about this morning, so the smell of pee surprises her when she opens the driver’s side door. She wants to cry when she remembers her comfy pants are still wet, but the hospital’s gotta have extra clothes.
Amy leans against the side of the car and tries to figure out what to do. It’s too early to go to the hospital, but people will stare if she’s moanin’ all around the mall. She looks at the junk all over the backseat through the rear window. She’s not gonna show up at Rodney’s smelling like smokes and piss and fast food grease, so she grabs her pen and writes on an empty McDonald’s bag:
1. Fold clothes
2. Throw Out Garbage
3. Empty Ashtray
4. Clean Up Pee
She crosses the chores off her list in order, but the driver’s seat is still wet so she sprays it with the Febreze she keeps under the back seat and puts a blanket on top. The air freshener smells like Rodney. He’d spray it in his bedroom whenever they smoked weed or had sex, so his grandma wouldn’t know what they had been up to.
“Like it never happened,” he’d wink, hipbones sticking out over his shorts. It was awkward, sometimes, him so scrawny and her so thick, but he was so strong when he was on top. She always felt safe with Rodney, proud to be his girl.
It took a pretty amazing guy to love a girl for her insides, to not care what she looked like or where she was from. He was the one that taught her how to drive, too, that time he got drunk playing basketball. He liked it when she drove, liked to tease her, try to make her crash, his hands between her legs. She feels as warm as chocolate left on the dashboard when she thinks of Rodney like that. That’s love. That’s what he’s gonna feel like when he sees her with his baby.
She doesn’t even blame him for being scared. She should have been more careful, should have made him wear a condom. She rang the doorbell of his grandma’s house every day for weeks after he found out she was pregnant, but no one would answer. Then one day she noticed the kitchen light on through the window when she showed up, but when she left, it was turned off. That’s when she figured out what was going on.
She would’ve had an abortion if he wanted her to, too, but how was she supposed to get to the clinic without a ride? The bus didn’t stop anywhere near it, and the girl on the phone said she wouldn’t be allowed to leave alone anyway. Her foster mom thought abortion was murder, and mom was gone and Kookum and all her old friends were up north on the rez, and Amy hadn’t seen or heard from any of them since she and Miranda were put in care anyway. Then all of a sudden, the baby was kicking and as if she could get rid of it then!
“Karen tells me you’ve got a boyfriend, Amy,” Amy’s caseworker said one day, eyes back-and-forth-back-and-forth from her files to Amy’s stomach.
Amy shrugged. She crossed her arms over her belly and stuck her chin into the neck of her hoodie so she could see without really looking.
Lena turned to Amy’s foster mom. “Treaty?”
Karen frowned. She shook her head and messed around with her necklace, rubbing the little gold cross between her fingers and thumb like Jesus was a genie inside it about to grant her wishes to make Amy good and skinny and white. “I told you from the start—teens only.”
Lena shrugged. She closed her eyes and shook her head like don’t worry about it and then snapped her fingers. Be gone like that, she mouthed. Amy’s heart thumped like Rodney’s basketball. She pushed her head down deeper into her sweatshirt, trying to hide her red-hot cheeks. She knew people wanted babies, knew they got scooped up real quick, but she hadn’t realized she wouldn’t even get a say.
So when Rodney’s brother showed up four months too late and gave her three hundred dollars to get rid of it, Amy asked for his old Dodge Spirit instead and disappeared real quick and quiet and, just like mom, no one’s looked for her yet.
The pains are coming every eight minutes now, so Amy drives to the hospital. The road blurs when her gut seizes, and she has to work real hard not to swerve. It’s like driving with Rodney, but the opposite. The hospital isn’t too far from the mall, but she forgot she’d need change to park there, so she parks across the street and just hangs out. The earlier she checks in, the more questions she’ll have to answer. Amy’s plan is:
2. Get in Just in Time
3. Have Baby
4. Pretend to Not Speak English
5. Sneak Out With Baby
6. See Rodney
Amy closes her eyes and tries to sleep but can’t. Then she remembers the Benadryl sitting in the glove box.
In her dreams, they’re all staring down at her: Shannon and Larry and Karen and Lena, all staring, all weird smiles. Amy’s stomach is torn open and they reach into her until their elbows are sticky red. They’re pulling her guts out like giant worms and she whimpers no please stop owie owie, like a little kid. Then her guts change into pieces of the baby and they’re ripping the baby apart and it’s sick and it’s terrible. And then Rodney’s there, and he’s holding her hand and telling her it’s okay, it’s okay, and she pushes her face to him but he’s tricked her too and please stop please stop, mommy, mommy, mommy!
She wakes up screaming and then the pain stops and she opens her eyes, and it’s way too dark. She’s all wet, too, like she peed again. And then, oh no, she shouts again and bends into the wheel and, oh oh oh it’s like she’s turning inside out!
People are standing in front of her car and she realizes she’s parked in front of a restaurant. Stupid, stupid, stupid, why didn’t she look? The pain starts again and she sees two girls looking and laughing while they smoke.
I’m dying, I’m dying, she tries to shout but it just comes out like “I’m Di, I’m Di!” and the girls throw their smokes and walk away, smirks on skinny legs in high heels. She’s going to die here all alone and her poor baby too. Poor baby, she thinks, poor, poor baby. Why doesn’t anyone love you?
The driver’s side window gets dark. Death. Death is coming; this is what it’s like. And then it’s a face. Not death, a man. Oh no, who’s this? Black skin, all furry, big eyes staring. Why’s he looking at her?
He raps the window with his knuckle.
“Open the door!”
“I’m having a baby!”
“I know, open the door!”
Amy starts to cry. Drive, she thinks. Drive to the hospital. Beep the horn. They’ll save you. But that pain happens again, and oh no she’s going to be sick.
She opens the door and the man steps into the space, and she throws up on his shoes. He doesn’t care though and gets in even closer and almost kneels right in the puke.
“Can you walk?”
She shakes her head. All Amy can do is cry and cry.
He tries to scoop her out of the car, but she screams and clings to the seat.
“I can’t, I can’t, I can’t,” She drops and crawls on the asphalt and the lights from cars and the hospital windows across the road all blur and swim around her.
“No, Mama, you’re having a baby.” He pulls her up by her armpits and she clings onto his jacket. “I’m gonna put you on the backseat and drive you to emergency, okay?”
He opens the door, and she falls into the back and feels something cut into her belly.
“Can you take off my pants?”
She screams again. “Take off my pants!”
She moans and arches the best she can while he slides his hands under her, and then her bum and belly and legs are bare and cold and it’s so good and who cares about being embarrassed and oh no, no, no, it’s not good, OW!
The pain runs out just as the man gets into the driver’s seat, and she remembers the seat is wet.
“I’m sorry.” She starts to cry again, big tears running into her ears. “I had an accident.”
He shush shush shushes her, and she feels the car lurch forward.
“I need you to focus on me, okay? Don’t push. I’m gonna keep talking and you just keep listening—don’t push. We’ll be there in a minute.”
“You’re gonna have that sweet baby in your arms tonight, okay, Mama? You think of that. You gonna meet your sweet little baby tonight! Gotta be strong now, gotta be brave. Gotta be a mama bear, gonna fight for that lil’ baby bear, now, okay? Don’t push.”
Amy moans. She pulls her knees as close to her chest as they’ll go. She can barely breathe. Her head’s on the pile of folded clothes, and everything smells like wet dog. She fights the urge to push, focusing on his words and a rusty hole in the floorboard, the street flying by underneath. How’s a baby gonna live back here?
“I don’t know what to do.”
“Only two things you ever got to do, okay? You gotta be kind, you gotta be brave. Those the only two things anyone’s gotta do.”
Amy closes her eyes, and the car stops and he shouts out, his voice real high, like he’s scared. Then there are more voices and a woman at the door and then fingers between her legs and she’s on a bed and they’re running with her and everyone is yelling and playing with tubes and needles and that man’s gone and Amy keeps thinking don’t say anything, except she wants to because that one woman’s holding her hand, and she just wants a mom. And then it’s all blurs and shouts and lights and pain.
Next thing she knows, her clothes are clean and folded on the bench opposite her bed. Her car keys are on top of them and there’s a tray of food beside her. And that’s good, ’cause she is so hungry and tired and—
There’s her baby.
Amy peels the sticky white tape off her arm and slides out her IV. She sits up and holds her breath and leans over the baby’s plastic cradle. He’s beautiful and small, and his hair is all curly like how hers is when it rains. She wants to pick him up but he’s so quiet, and his little wrapped-up body is so nice and warm in his blue blankie, so she takes her hand away. She’s never wanted anything as much as she’s wanted this little boy, and a little voice in her head says, except Rodney, and she half laughs and half cries because that’s all so stupid now.
She knows what she’s gotta do, but it’s hard to think so she reaches for the napkin on her food tray and finds a pen and makes a list. She pulls on her gray sweatpants and ignores the way her nose stings and her body aches, and she grabs her keys and kisses his sweet soft head, and she puts the napkin in his cradle:
1. Be Kind
2. Be Brave
And then she wishes him every last little bit of happiness in the whole world and slips out of the room, out of the hospital, out of his life, and no one’s looked for her yet.