Part I: There Is No Try: Mallory

In Short Stories by Meg Sternbee0 Comments

Mallory is shaking. No matter how often she bends over the toilet, she can’t get rid of the panic for the initial surge and strain on her esophagus. As soon as she gets going it’s easy, the first push is what causes the weakening of muscle. Mallory is expecting. She is not hopeful. Not like she was three years ago when they started trying, when Josh came home early from The Mattress Outlet. She’d sauté steak, steam whirling up from the hot pan diffusing into the air of the apartment like a salty zephyr off the sea. Earlier, she’d spent an hour shaving, bending over her fat that bunched uncomfortably around the mid-section, using a slippery wall for support, meanwhile preventing her buttocks from bruising on the bathtub knobs as she went at the backs of her thighs. Mallory is lucky. Her hair is blonde. Still, Josh likes her legs smooth. He says frequently he doesn’t mind her rolls, or behemoth thighs—something to grab on to. After demolishing their back-straps, they’d go into the bedroom, strip down, and Mallory, being bigger, climbed onto the mattress first, positioned on her back. Initially Mallory wanted to make everything quintessential. That was the word she put on the blackboard the Monday morning before commencement. Big capital white letters in the upper right hand corner beneath the equally bold and laborious expression: “Word of the Week.”

After the first they tried again, right after Mallory recovered from bleeding. She took quickly and lasted longer than the first pregnancy. Five blissful months Mallory grew her fetus, taking careful notes on pains, cravings, and what to eat for optimal health. She even signed up for yoga after reading about brain development in the unborn. On Saturdays Josh went with her to Babies R Us where they filled baskets and a guest registry. Her sister, Anne Marie was planning the baby shower even though she had no experience with children of any age. “I’ll Google baby shower games. Don’t worry, it’ll be fun,” she promised giving Mallory a quick squeeze. By the time the planning of the baby shower was launched Mallory knew she was having a girl, knew the baby’s name and completely changed out her wardrobe to sweat pants and extra-large t-shirts. When she started having labor pains three days before Christmas, at 21 weeks she thought maybe they were Braxton Hicks. When they did not let up after several hours but increased to every four minutes, Mallory called Josh at The Mattress Outlet. He told her to pack her bag and drive herself to the ER. He’d be right behind.

Two hours later Mallory was discharged. “Emily Rene decided she wanted to stay with baby Jesus,” she told relatives into the phone is a raspy whisper, blowing her chapped nose into an endless supply of Kleenex. She’d attempted to shake the unsympathetic walls of the ER, but their ghostly impression could not be eluded and she slipped further into them, again and again towards the pain of delivering death.

Six months passed before Mallory would consider undertaking the strain of making another go at it. One day she told Josh to buy AI sauce on his way home from work and the deed resumed. This time she was not concerned about position or diet. Mallory told herself and Josh, who gave her a sidelong glance, she was potentially eating for two and the double chocolate fudge cake made it in the cart next to the greens.

The pregnancy that took the most out of her was full term, 34 weeks. A boy blooming belly, strong as ox, drop kicking Mallory’s gut showing off his marshal arts so that Josh joked with pride about his little Lee. By this point Anne Marie had thrown a baby shower, which was a huge success, Ann Marie kept saying afterwards, as she wadded up wrappings and folded tissue paper into a pile for second use. A few of the gals from Josh’s store put money together for a bassinet—white and yellow, they said, in case the doctor is wrong. “Oh they’re not wrong,” Mallory said. She’d seen the said penis twice. This gestation and every one after the first had required a plethora of ultra-sounds in order to keep tabs on her hostile womb.

Doctors, nurses and social workers continually assured Mallory these losses were not her fault. Something is usually wrong with the egg or sperm. Then came the pregnancy that was nearly complete, her baby perfect, a full head of dark hair, all toes and fingers in tact and a stout little penis. This time no one could tell her the fetus had an abnormality. They named him Cory, stroked his hair, kissed his cold cheeks and handed him over to the nurse. They donated him to research. Somehow this justified the chasm his brief existence left.

Cory’s death cut up Josh. He wasn’t the same in bed after loosing his son, like he didn’t want another pregnancy, like he was done. But the only thing that helped Mallory get over Cory was starting over again. After weeks of gorging herself on Thin Mint ice cream and a fertilization she did not bother to appraise Josh of, Mallory found herself at 12 weeks. Three months. For most women this means in the clear. For Mallory it’s the worst kind of danger. The longer she is pregnant the more worried she becomes. No matter how much she threatens herself with repercussions, she’ll get attached to the idea a baby is coming. She did learn to stop naming them, at least not until 28 weeks and this happened so few times most of her choice names are still available.

After loosing Cory the doctor told Mallory she would have a better chance of carrying a baby full term if she lost weight. “Try for 20 pounds,” he said, “and if you loose 40, great.” Mallory tried. Unfortunately, she is not prone to morning sickness, only hunger.

She confided in Anne Marie who tells Mallory to use a toothbrush. A what? “You know, jab it down your throat after you eat. Your finger works too.” Was that how Anne Marie stayed so thin?

Mallory tried out Anne Maria’s method. Except for the first stabs, it was a piece of cake. After awhile she learned which foods came up easier. Mallory thought hunger would follow, but she felt only relief. Josh started noticing the weight loss and asked what Mallory was doing. He worried about pills. “Just eating healthy.” Sure, she made huge salads and only ate white meat around her husband, but while he was at The Mattress Outlet Mallory binged on Toll House cookies, chocolate cake and bagels with thick spreads of butter and cream cheese, often going through half the bag in one sitting. When Josh asked about the grocery bill she lied “Diapers, I’m storing away diapers.”

Now, as she bends over and gags herself, gripping onto the rim of porcelain with one hand for support, she does not worry about her fib being exposed.

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