Emily scooches down in bed and sets a cup of tea on her belly, just for the fun of watching it dance in its saucer as her baby kicks. She is forty-one-and-a-half weeks pregnant, and this raspberry-leaf tea is supposed to bring on labor. So are dancing the hora, eating spicy food, and having sex – all things she used to enjoy; all of which she has tried several times each day since her due date, to no avail and without a scintilla of pleasure. She wonders whether she will ever again be able to do a circle dance, take a bite of vegetable biryani, or make love to her husband without first saying, “Ugh, fine, here goes nothing.”
Dr. Blumberg has promised that he won’t let Emily go a moment past forty-two full weeks. He will induce, if necessary; section if warranted; call AAA for the jaws of life, if it comes to that. But Emily’s forty-second week isn’t officially over until this coming Thursday, so in the meantime, she is drinking enough raspberry-leaf tea to float a cruise ship – gallons and gallons of raspberry-leaf tea – which means getting up to pee an extra six or seven times a night. That’s six or seven on top of the four or five times she had been getting up to pee each night before her due date sailed by like a fastball – whoosh! – and the 99 other times she gets up each night because of her unrelenting heartburn (Biryani? What on earth had she been thinking?) and her failure to comfortably arrange her leviathan abdomen on the mattress.
Her husband, Michael, hasn’t been getting much sleep, either. Emily is a dramatic moaner in her pre-dawn discomfort; an aggressive blanket-yanker in her sleeplessness. Night after night, she flips from side to side like a fish on dry land, shaking the entire bed and jarring Michael wide awake. But that’s okay. He doesn’t mind being up with her. Emily (even sleep-deprived, quilt-hogging Emily) is his very favorite person to be around. The needlepoint pillow his aunt Elaine made them as a housewarming present – “Happiness is being married to your best friend” – might not be their aesthetic (Michael’s architectural firm designs modern multi-use buildings; Emily is an editor at Urban Interiors magazine). But it is their truth. They have the same world-view and the same sense of humor; admire the same filmmakers and dislike the same books. They have good laughs and great sex; are simpatico enough to finish each other’s sentences but respectful enough not to. And so, when Emily apologizes for waking Michael up every half hour in the middle of the night, or for still having the lights on long after Michael might want to turn in, he just smiles and says, “Serves me right for knocking you up,” and kisses her, gently, on the belly.
“Want to watch a movie?” he asks now.
She shakes her head no. “Can’t concentrate.”
“Want me to read to you? Rub your feet?”
“No thanks, Sweetie,” she says, and takes another sip of tea.
“Wanna fool around?” He waggles his eyebrows comically.
“For the third time today? You’re hot, Michael, but not THAT hot.”
He clutches his chest melodramatically. “I’m wounded!”
“Deal with it,” she says, smiling. And then, more seriously: “Actually, can we please talk about names? It’s making me kind of anxious, not having one yet.”
Ten days past her due date, they still haven’t settled on a name for the baby – whom they know to be a boy, thanks to the sonogram technician who ignored the big red warnings all over Emily’s medical file – “DO NOT REVEAL GENDER!!” – and said, “Young Master Miller seems to be enjoying himself quite nicely in there.”
On the drive home from that secret-spoiling appointment, Michael had opened his car window and started singing in a put-on Baritone: “My boy Bill, I’ll make sure that he’s named after me!”
“We are NOT naming our son after you, and we are not naming him Bill, either,” Emily said, laughing at Michael’s faux-operatics.“Bill Miller! It sounds like a weatherman.” They laughed about that for a while, but when the car was quiet, Emily said, “We probably should start thinking about names, actually.” They had resisted throughout the pregnancy, superstitious after a miscarriage last October. But now the baby is – as the same sonographer had so charmingly put it – “fully cooked,” and every time Emily speaks to her mother, she is subjected to yet another story about a baby who wasn’t allowed to leave the hospital because he didn’t have a name yet; or a boy whose parents were still deliberating an hour before his bris. So yesterday morning, she had logged on to Amazon and ordered a copy of BEST Baby Names Ever, springing for one-day shipping just in case her son should decide to make an appearance before the dawn of the twenty-second century. And now, at two in the morning, with nothing to do but wait until the next time she has to get up and go to the bathroom, Emily sets her tea aside and opens the book.
“Anything good in there?” Michael asks, getting under the covers next to her.
“Hang on, let me grab my glasses,” she says.
“I’ve got it,” he says, taking the book from her hands gently and opening it. “Can we please agree to skip the whole chapter on ‘trendy names’? Listen to these: Huck. Django. Jagger. Django? Blech. You know that kid’s parents are going to get divorced before his first birthday, right?”
“Yeah,” Emily says. “Probably because of fights over whose dumb idea it was to name the kid Django in the first place.”
“Pretty sure we can skip the Shakespearean names, too,” Michael says, looking down the table of contents. “Unless you want to name our baby Mercutio.”
Emily swats him playfully. “Ok, for real, now,” she says.
“For real,” Michael echoes, dragging out the syllables in a way that just makes her laugh again. And then, seriously, he says, “It’s kind of overwhelming, actually.” She agrees. With both their fathers still living, thank God, and their dead grandfathers already named-for by siblings quicker to the task of procreating, Michael and Emily can name their baby anything they want. And everything – save, perhaps, for meteorologist Bill – sounds good with “Miller.” The wealth of choices is paralyzing.
“Ok,” Emily says, “Let’s set some ground rules, then. Rule number one, it has to be easy to spell and to pronounce.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Michael gives her a mock salute. “Yes, officer.” But he enjoys watching her take charge like this, as if she’s running a story meeting at the magazine, and she knows it. She squeezes his hand, brings it to her lips and kisses it.
“Rule number two,” she says. “No pinochle-buddy names.”
“Huh? What’s a pinochle-buddy name?”
“The pinochle buddies. My grandfather played pinochle with the same guys for, like, forty years, third Sunday night of every month,” Emily says. “They all wore plaid pants with white belts, and chomped their dentures when they were trying to decide what card to play. Max. Louie. Harry. Gabe.” She makes a face. “And smelly cigars. Yuck. No pinochle-guy names, okay?”
“Okay,” Michael says, even though he actually likes the names Gabe and Max. “How about a biblical name?” Emily nods and he flips some pages. “Oh! Right here, first on the list: How about Aaron?”
“Ugh. No.” she grimaces. “There was an Aaron in my first-grade class. He picked his nose.”
“All first-grade boys pick their noses, Emily. Our son is going to pick his nose in first grade too. Might as well name him Aaron.”
“Ugh. Stop. Not Aaron. And –” she takes her glasses from the nightstand and reads over Michael’s shoulder – “we’re skipping Abel and Abner, too, thank-you-very-much.”
“Agreed,” Michael says. “Abraham?”
She shudders dramatically. “I had a great-uncle Abie, on my father’s side. He used to grab my nose and twist it, and scream ‘Got’cher nose! Got’cher nose!’ God, I hated him.”
“No Abraham, then. Oh! How about Adam?”
“My sister’s son is Adam. You know that.”
“So what? I’m one of three Michaels among my first cousins; there’s no rule against it.”
“Yeah, and everyone calls you Michael-Pauline’s, Michael-Florence’s and Michael-Shelia’s. You really want our kid to be Adam-Emily’s?”
“Okay,” Michael says. “Not Adam. How about Benjamin. Benjamin Miller. Ben Miller. That’s good!”
Emily smiles. “Yeah, I like Benjamin.”
“See,” Michael says. “That wasn’t so hard.” He closes the book and reaches to turn off the light. “Benjamin, it is. Let’s save the middle name for tomorrow.”
Emily sighs. “The first boy I ever kissed was Benjamin.”
“Really?” Michael turns the light back on. “Wait. Kiss-kissed or spin-the-bottle kissed?”
“Both. That spin-the-bottle kiss was so good I said yes when he asked me to be his girlfriend.” She sighs again. “Benjy Flaumberg. He was soooooo cute.” She wraps her arms around her chest and hugs herself dreamily. “I wonder what ever happened to him. I should look for him on Facebook.”
“Forget it, we’re not naming our kid Benjamin,” Michael grumbles.
“No! We can! It’s a nice name!”
“I’m not naming my first-born son for – ” he imitates Emily’s swooning – “Bennnnnnnjy. No way.” He picks the book up again and skips over a few names he doesn’t like: Bezalel, Boaz, Caleb. “Ok, then…How about Daniel?”
Emily doesn’t answer.
“Don’t like Daniel?”
“Well,” she says, blushing a little bit and giggling (in all the time Michael has known her, he has never heard Emily giggle before) “if you don’t want to name him Benjamin, you really don’t want to name him Daniel.”
“Ah,” Michael says, trying to keep his voice light. “I see. David?”
She shakes her head no. She is bright red now, red like when you hold a flashlight under your chin at a late-night bonfire.
She keeps shaking her head.
“Jesus, Emily, is there anyone in the Bible you didn’t date?”
“Well, Jesus,” she says, cracking her overtired self up.
But Michael doesn’t laugh. He doesn’t even smile. He pretends he has to go to the bathroom, puts the toilet lid down and sits for a while. He’s not sure why he’s so upset. Five guys in the twenty years between when Emily and Benjy Whatsisname spent seven minutes in seventh-grade heaven and when she met Michael – even eight or nine guys, if you threw in a few guys with NON-biblical names, too – was hardly a shocking statistic. And besides, he tells himself, those guys couldn’t have been such great shakes if Emily has never even bothered mentioning any of them.
In all the time Michael and Emily have been together – married three years next month; dating and engaged for two years before that – Emily has really never told Michael anything about any of her old boyfriends. That reticence, actually, had been one of the things he’d liked best about her when they first met. What a relief she had been, after his own exes, all those grudge-nursing girls who had insisted on picking at their own prior relationships as if they were pimples (with equally attractive results, as far as Michael was concerned); whose response to any affectionate nickname he tried to bestow on them was to whine, “Could you please not call me that; I had an ex-boyfriend who used to call me that,” followed by a recitation of the entire ugly history of that former relationship. Michael had been overjoyed to skip that – all of it – with Emily. He’d been so happy that she wasn’t barraging him with questions about previous women the way other girlfriends had (What was your last girlfriend’s name? Was she good in bed? Better than me? Prettier?) that he had happily squelched any curiosity about Emily and other men.
But now, he has a hundred questions. How old had she been with Daniel? (Danny? Dan? Had she called him “Sweetie,” just like she does him? The thought makes him slightly queasy.) Had she been in love with him? Was Daniel better in bed than he is?
“You okay, Honey?” Emily calls from the bedroom.
“I’m coming,” he says, flushing the toilet he hasn’t actually used and then washing his hands for a full two minutes. He looks in the mirror, rearranges his face into the best approximation of a non-jealous husband he can manage, and heads back into the bedroom.
“How about historical names?” Emily asks, overly cheerful, and Michael wonders whether she knows how jealous he is, how ridiculously jealous, of the men she had dated in – literally – another century, and whether she finds that sweet, or entirely pathetic.
“Sure,” he says, trying to muster some enthusiasm as he picks the book back up and turns to the historical-name chapter. “Let’s see: Albert, Arthur, Charles, Clarence…” He reads down the list quickly, and he and Emily shake their heads no in unison. “Franklin, Fredrick, George, Henry… Hmmm… Henry?” Emily makes a face like she’s just smelled month-old milk.
“Can we just go to sleep and do this tomorrow?” Michael asks, adding a loud dramatic yawn in the hope that she will take pity on him.
“No, I want to find one. What else is there?”
“Ok,” he says, closing his eyes, flipping to a page at random and circling his index finger above the print. “Eenie, meany, miney, moe. Whatever I land on is it, even if it’s Beelzebub, ok?”
“Ok,” Emily laughs softly and leans over to kiss him. Yeah, he thinks. She knows how jealous he is, and she feels sorry for him. Great.
“Oh, this is actually a good one,” he says. “Alexander. I like that. Nice, solid name. Alexander. Alex. Alexander Miller.” He looks at her, expectantly.
“No,” Emily says, so softly that Michael can barely hear her. For a moment – a hopeful moment – he thinks maybe she is getting tired, too. Maybe they can shelve this until tomorrow. But her eyes are wide open and she is sitting straight up in the bed. He waits for her to say something else, but she just looks away from him.
“What, now?” he says, not even bothering to keep the exasperation out of his voice. “Let me guess: You went to the prom with a boy named Alex.”
“I. Did. Not.” she says, as if he has just accused her of something heinous.
“Ok, whatever,” he says, looking up at the ceiling. “It’s fine.” And then – more pointedly than he means to, he says, “Look, I dated plenty of people, too. It’s fine, we’re grownups. Let’s move on.”
She doesn’t answer, and when he looks at her again, he sees tears running down her face. Whoever this Alex guy was, Emily must have really cared about him. Well, she’ll be fine, he thinks. And what does she want him to do, watching her cry over some guy from a hundred years ago? Offer her a Kleenex?
Suddenly, her silent tears morph into loud, harrowing sobs – the kind of sobs Michael has only heard from Emily when she had the miscarriage. Is that why Emily is crying? Had she been thinking of naming that first baby Alexander if it had been a boy? They hadn’t gotten far enough along, last time, to even discuss it.
“What is it, Sweetie?” he asks, feeling like an ass for having been so childish. She shakes her head; she doesn’t want to tell him.
“Is it about the other – ?” He never knows whether to say “baby” or “pregnancy” or what. “Is it about –?” She shakes her head no, and for a moment, he wonders if Alex – Alexander, whoever the guy she’s crying about, is dead. Leukemia, maybe. A car accident? God he hopes not. Who the hell wants to compete with a ghost? He hates himself for the thought as soon as he has it; reminds himself that this isn’t about him.
“What is it, Em?” he asks, torn between sympathy and impatience. “Come on, Honey, talk to me.”
And then the story comes out – slowly at first and then so fast and so sob-choked that Michael can barely follow it: A party for the magazine at Cipriani, the year Emily started as an editorial assistant. Champagne – lots of champagne. An advertiser – someone from a car company, or maybe wine, she doesn’t even remember – who had a collection of original sketches by Norman Cherner he wanted to show her, and a signed letter from Aero Saarinen. His loft in Tribeca. More champagne. She told him to stop, but he wouldn’t. She screamed but nobody heard.
“He RAPED you?” Michael’s voice sounds crazy in his own ears.
Emily looks back at the wall.
“Oh, my God, Em. Oh my God. Did you call the police?”
She doesn’t answer; just shrugs.
“Why the hell not?” The minute that’s out of his mouth, he regrets how much it sounds like an accusation. “I mean, oh, my God. What happened? Did you go to a hospital?”
She shakes her head no. “I just… I just went home.”
“I don’t understand. For God’s sakes, Emily, that asshole –” Michael can’t bring himself to say the word rape again. “He – Do you know where he works now? We can call the police NOW.” Michael jumps up off the bed and starts pacing. Surely the statute of limitations on rape has to be longer than fifteen years, he thinks. They can find this guy – they can Google. Michael can find him himself. “I swear to God,” Michael starts again.
“Who would have believed me?” Emily says, in a shaky voice Michael can barely hear.
“I believe you,” he says. And then more loudly, “I believe you, Emily.”
“Come on, Michael,” she says, looking at him with sadness and more than bit of condescension. “That isn’t how the world works. He was this respectable guy in an Hermes tie and I was a drunk 23-year-old wearing a dress up to HERE –” she karate-chops an imaginary hemline on her upper thigh. “And I left a party with him and went to his apartment. Everyone at the party saw me holding his hand.”
“You held hands with a rapist?”
“You see?” she says, sounding angry and tired. “Even you think it was my fault.”
“I do not think it –”
“Yeah, you do. A little. And everyone else would have thought so, too.”
Michael knows that the more he protests – he really does not think it was her fault – the less convinced she will be. But still, he has to say it: “I believe you Emily. You have to know that I believe you.”
“I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”
“But you have to – we have to.”
“No, Michael. We don’t. I shouldn’t have even told you. Can we just go to sleep? Please?” Without waiting for an answer, she clicks the light off and turns away from him.
“You can’t just –”
“Please, Michael? I can’t talk about this. I just can’t. I thought maybe I could, after all this time. But I just – ”
“But I’m your husband. You have to.”
“No,” she says, her voice half-muffled by her pillow, “I don’t.”
He hears her crying quietly for a while, and then the sound of her steady breathing. It’s the first time he has actually witnessed her sleeping in weeks, and he knows it would be a good time for him to get some rest, at long last, too. But he can’t close his eyes.
For hours, he sits in the dark, imagining Emily struggling under a sinister-looking man – although, Michael reminds himself, the guy probably hadn’t looked sinister at all; if he had, Emily wouldn’t have gone home with him in the first place. No, he probably looked harmless, like the kind of guy who would show her the sketches and – sure – made his move; but would put her in in a cab like a gentleman if she said no. Hell, he probably looked like Michael, himself, who had taken plenty of girls home from plenty of parties, too – horny, hopeful; no shame for him in that – but had backed off if they said no, and just said goodnight.
For hours the scene runs through Michael’s mind, an endless loop of horror, starring Emily as herself and – who? Mark Rufallo? Russel Crowe? In each re-run it’s somebody different – as Mr. Hermes Tie. After the twelfth reimagining of Emily trying to scream while Billy Crudup covers her mouth with his animal’s paw of a hand, Michael realizes that he will never know what the guy looked like (not that that matters), or what street in Tribeca the loft was on, or what time of year it had been.
He’ll never know, because Emily will never tell him.
How many other secrets has she kept from him? It was just this one thing, he tells himself, understanding – feeling very noble for understanding – how hard it would have been for her. But still, as he watches her sleeping on her side, she looks simultaneously familiar and entirely unknown.
It’s already light outside when Michael falls asleep. When the alarm goes off, he asks Emily if she wants him to call in sick and stay home with her.
“Why would you do that?” she asks, as if last night never happened.
“In case you go into labor,” he says, avoiding her eyes. “Or, you know, whatever.”
“I’m fine, Michael,” she says. “You should go to work.”
On Friday, at forty-two weeks and a day, Dr. Blumberg tries to induce labor, but the Cervidil fails. An ultrasound shows the baby to be lying supine, arms akimbo, relaxed as a vacationer floating on a plastic raft.
“The only way this kid’s coming out is with a crowbar,” the doctor quips, and when neither Michael nor Emily smiles, Blumberg makes a serious face they must have taught him in medical school and says, “C-section,” and efficiently summons a prep nurse.
Under the operating room’s bright lights, Michael adjusts the paper cap they’ve given him and perches on the stool next to Emily’s head, averting his eyes from the action beyond the surgical drape lest he reenact the fainting portion of his ninth-grade-bio frog dissection.
“Looking Good!” Dr. Blumberg sing-songs after a few quiet minutes.
“Welcome to the world, little one!” a nurse whispers.
“Annnddd….it’s…. a…” Blumberg speaks in a suspenseful, game-show-announcer voice, as if he hasn’t known the baby’s sex for months; as if that sonogram tech hadn’t blown it, and Michael and Emily don’t already know, too.
Annnddd…it’s… a… GIRL!”
“What?” Michael swivels his head like an owl and sees the baby Dr. Blumberg is holding aloft between Emily’s feet. The baby is red-faced, covered in slime – and yes, it is a girl.
“Are you sure?” Emily asks.
“Yeah,” the doctor says with a chuckle. “They taught us the difference in medical school. Definitely a girl.”
“But the sonogram lady – ”
“Oy.” Dr. Blumberg shakes his head. “I keep telling her to stop it with that. She thinks it helps people who want to be surprised, be surprised.”
Emily laughs, as if it’s funny that they have been misled; as if being surprised – no, Michael thinks, lied to – is icing on the healthy baby’s sweet, pink, cake-like cheeks. But even as he reminds himself that all that matters is that the baby is here and that she’s healthy, and that he had never cared whether it was a boy or a girl in the first place, Michael is so angry he can’t speak.
“Want to cut the cord, Dad?” Dr. Blumberg asks, and Michael shakes his head, no, wordlessly. He doesn’t trust himself, right now, to keep his hand steady – or even to speak.
“OK, then. I’ll do the honors.” The doctor is silent for a moment while he snips, and then says, “The nurses will get this beautiful baby of yours cleaned up while I close, and then the three of you can all get acquainted.”
In the recovery room, Emily and Michael decide quickly and in easy agreement that they will name the baby Julia, for Emily’s aunt Judy, who died of breast cancer late last year. Middle name Rae, after Michael’s Nana.
A while later, the nurse wheels a plastic basinet up to Emily’s bedside and lifts Julia Rae up like a prize striped bass. “She’s a beauty,” the nurse says, with enthusiasm Michael tells himself means that his baby is prettier than all the others, even though he knows that all the other fathers on this corridor are thinking exactly the same thing of their own daughters.
“Look how nicely she latches on!” the nurse exclaims as Emily moves her hospital gown aside and begins nursing. “Just holler if you need me,” she says, handing Emily a buzzer on a long white cord. She leaves, and Michael watches Emily feed their baby – their baby girl; a secret Emily’s body has kept from both of them for forty-two weeks and – he looks at the date on his watch – two days.
“Can I hold her?” Michael asks, as Julia starts to doze. Emily nods and starts to lift the baby up to Michael, but instantly pulls back, wincing in pain. “Incision,” she explains when Michael jumps up, looking panicked. “I read about that; totally normal. Here, come take her from me?”
He does. And as he sits back down on the orange vinyl hospital chair, holding his daughter awkwardly and perhaps a bit too tightly, he trembles, imagining all the secrets Julia Rae will never tell him; everything that he will never know.
Susan Kleinman’s short stories have appeared in The American Literary Review, The Baltimore Review, Inkwell, JewishFiction.net, The MacGuffin, the William and Mary Review and TheWritingDisorder.com, and her articles have been published in dozens of newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times and New York Magazine. She is on the faculty at the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, where she was a Gurfein Writing Fellow in 2010. Susan lives near New York City, and is currently working on a collection of linked short stories and on a novel.