“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit
one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender,
before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things
that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,”
said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you.
When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with,
but REALLY loves you, then you become real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse,
for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t
mind being hurt.”
The Velveteen Rabbit
I watched her for three days, sitting by myself in the
park underneath an elm tree, beside an empty fountain with a series
of uneaten sandwiches in my lap and my purse at my side.
Purse. It’s not a purse, really. Before, I had purses –
a fake Prada bag, a real Chanel baguette I’d gotten at the Barney’s
clearance sale, a Louis Vuitton clutch Sam had bought me for my birthday.
What I have now is a gigantic pink floral-printed Vera Bradley bag big
enough to hold a human head. If this bag were a person, it’d be
somebody’s dowdy, gray-haired great-aunt, smelling of mothballs
and butterscotch candies and insisting on pinching your cheeks. It’s
horrific. But nobody notices it anymore than they notice me.
Once upon a time I might have taken steps to assure that I’d
go unnoticed: a pulled-down baseball cap or a hooded sweatshirt to help
me dodge the questions that always began Hey, aren’t you? and
always ended with a name that wasn’t mine. No, wait, don’t
tell me. Didn’t I see you in something? Don’t I know who
Now, nobody stares, and nobody asks, and nobody spares me so much
as a second glance. I might as well be a piece of furniture. Last week
a squirrel ran over my foot.
But that’s okay. That’s good. I’m not here to be
seen, I’m here to see her. Usually it’s three o’clock
or so when the woman I’ve been watching appears. I set aside my
sandwich and hold the bag tightly against me like a pillow or a pet.
That’s when she comes. At first I couldn’t really tell anything,
but yesterday she stopped halfway past my fountain and stretched with
her hands pressing the small of her back. I did that, I thought, feeling
my throat close. I did that, too.
I used to love this park. Growing up in Northeast Philadelphia, my
father would take me into town three times each year. We’d go
to the zoo in the summer, to the flower show each spring, and to Wanamaker’s
for the Christmas light show in December. He’d buy me a treat
– a hot chocolate, a strawberry ice cream cone – and we’d
sit on a bench and watch people. My father would make up stories about
them as they walked past us. A teenager with a backpack was a rock star
in disguise; a blue-haired lady in an ankle-length fur coat was carrying
secrets for the Russians. When I was on the airplane, somewhere over
Virginia, I thought about the park, and the taste of strawberries and
chocolate, and my father’s arm around my shoulders. I thought
I’d feel safe here. I was wrong. Every time I blinked, every time
I breathed, I could feel the ground beneath me wobble and slide sideways.
I could feel things starting to break.
It had been this way since it happened. Nothing could make me feel
safe. Not my husband Sam’s arms around me, not his voice in the
ear, not the sad-eyed, sweet-voiced therapist he’d found, the
one who’d told me “Nothing but time will really help, and
you just have to get through one day at a time.”
That’s what we’d been doing. Getting through the days.
Eating food without tasting it, throwing out the Styrofoam containers.
Brushing our teeth and making the bed. On a Wednesday afternoon, three
weeks after it happened, Sam had suggested a movie. He’d laid
out clothes for me to wear – lime-green linen capris that I still
couldn’t quite zip, an ivory silk blouse with pink ribbon embroidery
that he’d bought for my birthday, a pair of pink slides. When
I’d picked up the diaper bag by the door Sam had looked at me
strangely, but he hadn’t said anything. I’d been carrying
it everywhere instead of a purse before, and I’d kept right on
carrying it after, like a teddy bear or a well-loved blanket that I
couldn’t bring myself to let go.
I was fine getting into the car. Fine as we pulled into the parking
garage and Sam held the door and walked me into the red-velvet lobby
that smelled like popcorn and fake butter. And then I stood there, and
I couldn’t move another inch.
“Lia?” Sam asked me. I shook my head. I was remembering
the last time we’d gone to the movies. Sam bought me malted milk
balls and Gummi Worms and a giant Coke, even though every sip caused
me to burp. When the movie ended, he’d had to use both hands to
haul me out of my seat. I’d had everything then, I thought, and
my eyes started to burn and my lips started to tremble and I could feel
my knees and neck wobbling, as if they’d been packed full of grease
and ball bearings. I set one hand against the wall to steady myself,
so I wouldn’t start to slide sideways. I remembered reading somewhere
about how a news crew that had interviewed someone caught in the ’94
Northridge earthquake. How long did it go on, the bland, tan newsman
asked, and the woman who’d lost her home and her husband had told
him, It’s still happening.
“Lia?” Sam asked again. I looked at him – his blue
eyes that were still bloodshot, his strong jaw, his smooth skin. Handsome
is as handsome does, my mother used to say, but Sam had been so sweet
to me, ever since I’d met him. Ever since it had happened, he’d
been nothing but sweet. And I’d brought him tragedy. Every time
he looked at me he’d see what we had lost; and every time I looked
at him, I’d see the same thing. I couldn’t stay. I couldn’t
stay and hurt him anymore.
“I’ll be right back,” I said. “I’m just
going to run to the bathroom.” I slung my Vera Bradley bag over
my shoulder, bypassed the bathroom, and slipped out the front door.
Our apartment was as we’d left it. The couch was in the living
room, the bed was in the bedroom. The room at the end of the hall was
empty. Completely empty. There wasn’t so much as a dust mote in
the air. Who had done it, I wondered, as I walked into the bedroom,
started grabbing handfuls of underwear and tee shirts and putting them
into the bag. I hadn’t even noticed, I thought. How could I not
have noticed? One day the room had been full of toys and furniture,
a crib and a rocker, and the next day, nothing. Was there some service
you could call, a number you could dial, a website you could access,
men who would come with garbage bags and vacuum cleaners and take everything
Sam, I’m so sorry, I wrote. I can’t stay here anymore.
I can’t watch you be so sad and know that it’s my fault.
Please don’t look for me. I’ll call when I’m ready.
I’m sorry…. I stopped writing. There weren’t even
words for it. Nothing came close. I’m sorry for everything, I
wrote, and then I ran out the door.
The cab was waiting for me outside of our apartment building’s
front door, and, for once, the 405 was moving. Half an hour later, I
was at the airport, with a stack of crisp, ATM-fresh bills in my hand.
“Just one way?” the girl behind the counter had asked me.
“One way,” I told her, and paid for my ticket home. The
place where they have to take you in. My mother hadn’t seemed
too happy about it, but then, she hadn’t been happy about anything
to do with me – or, really, anything at all – since I was
a teenager, and my father left. But there was a roof over my head, a
bed to sleep in. She’d even given me a coat to wear on a cold
day the week before.
The woman I’ve been watching walked across the park, reddish-gold
curls piled on her head, a canvas tote bag in her hand, and I leaned
forward, holding tight to the edges of the bench, trying to make the
spinning stop. The woman set her bag down on the lip of the fountain
and bent down to pet a little black-and-white spotted dog. Now, I thought,
and I reached into my sleepover-size sack and pulled out the silver
rattle. Should we get it monogrammed? Sam had asked, and I’d just
rolled my eyes and told him that there were two kinds of people in the
world, the ones who got their silver rattles monogrammed and the ones
who didn’t, and we were definitely Type Twos. One silver rattle
from Tiffany, unmonogrammed, never used. I walked carefully over to
the fountain before I remembered that I’d become invisible and
that nobody would look at me no matter what I did. I slid the rattle
into her bag before she could see me, and then I slipped away.
Her cell phone trilled as she straightened her back. The dog gave
one sharp bark and trotted away, and the woman with the long blond hair
in the long blue coat walked past her, stepping so close that their
shoulders brushed. Becky Rothstein Rabinowitz picked up her canvas bag
from the edge of the fountain, pulled the phone out of her pocket, winced
when she saw the number displayed on the screen, and replaced the phone
without answering. “Shit,” she muttered to no one in particular.
That marked her mother-in-law Mimi’s fifth call in the last two
hours. She and Mimi had had a reasonably peaceful détente when
Mimi had lived in Texas with the latest in her five-husband series,
but the marriage hadn’t lasted. Now Mimi was moving to town, and
she didn’t seem to grasp the simple fact that her daughter-in-law
had both a job and a baby on the way and, hence, better things to do
than “just drop by” the shop Mimi’s decorator had
recommended and “take a little look” at Mimi’s custom-ordered
drapes. Nor did she have “just a quick sec” to drive half
an hour to Merion and “sneak a peek” at how construction
was proceeding. Her mother-in-law, an Atlanta native, was in the process
of building a pillared, gabled, veranda’d mini-mansioned that
looked, to Becky’s eyes, like the mansion made famous in “Gone
With the Wind,” if Tara had gotten shrunk in the wash, but she
knew better than to say that to her husband. She’d once made the
tactical error of referring to Mimi as Scarlett O’Horowitz. He’d
given her the silent treatment for the rest of the night.
Becky shoved the phone in her pocket and headed across the park to
her restaurant, Mas. It was three o’clock in the afternoon, and
the little kitchen was already steamy and warm with the scent of braised
pork shoulder in a cinnamon-spiked sauce, cilantro and garlic salsa,
peppers roasting for the savory flan. Becky took a deep, happy breath
and stretched her arms over her head.
“Thought you were off today,” said Sarah Trujillo, her
partner and best friend.
“I’m just stopping by,” Becky said as her cell phone
“Let me guess,” Sarah said.
Becky sighed, looked at the number, then flipped the phone open. “Hi,
honey,” she said. They’d been married for two years, and
they’d dated for three years before that, but the sound of Andrew’s
voice still gave her butterflies.
“Hi. Are you all right?”
She looked down at herself. Bag, boobs, belly, feet, all present and
accounted for. “Yeah, I’m fine. Why?”
“Well, my mother just paged me and said she’d been trying
to reach you, but you weren’t picking up your phone.”
Shit, Becky thought again.
“Look, I know she can be demanding. I had to live with her,
“Yes,” Becky said. And how you turned out normal is one
of the mysteries of the ages, she refrained from adding.
“Just humor her a little bit. Ask her how things are going with
“I can humor her,” Becky replied, “but I don’t
have time to run her errands.”
“I know,” her husband answered. Becky could hear hospital
sounds in the background, some doctor being paged. “You don’t
have to. I don’t expect you to. Mimi doesn’t, either.”
Then why does she keep asking? Becky wondered.
“Just talk to her,” Andrew said. “She’s lonely.”
She’s crazy, Becky thought. “Okay,” she said. “Next
time she calls, I’ll talk to her. But I have to turn my phone
off soon. Yoga.”
Sarah raised her eyebrows. Yoga? she mouthed.
“Yoga,” Becky repeated, and hung up the phone. “Don’t
“Why would I laugh?” Sarah said, smiling sweetly. Sarah
had eyes the color of bittersweet chocolate, glossy black hair, and
a dancer’s body, although she hadn’t laced up her pointe
shoes since she’d blown out both knees at seventeen. She was the
reason that Mas’ six-seat bar was packed three-deep every weekend,
and four deep on Fridays; the reason that of all the restaurants on
Rittenhouse Square, they could fill every one of their thirty-two seats
in spite of the two-hour wait. Sarah would put on red lipstick and snake-hip
through the throng, a plate of complimentary empanadas in her hands
and high-heeled sandals on her feet, and the grumbles would evaporate
and the watch-glancing would cease the instant she appeared. “What’s
the soup again?” Sarah asked.
“Garlic and white-bean puree with truffle oil,” Becky
said as she picked up her bag and took a look at the still-empty dining
room, each of the twelve tables set with fresh linen and wine glasses
and a little blue glass dish of spiced almonds in the center.
“And why do you think I’d be laughing about yoga?”
“Well,” said Becky, picking up her canvas bag. “Just
because I haven’t exercised in…” Becky paused, counting
the months. The years. “….in a while.” Her last experience
with organized fitness had been in college, where she had to pass a
semester of phys ed before she graduated. She’d let Sarah talk
her into Interpretative Dance, where she spent four months waving a
scarf around, pretending to be, alternately, a tree in the wind, a child
of alcoholics, and resignation. She’d been half-hoping that her
obstetrician would put the kibosh on exercise and tell her to just stay
home with her feet up for the last twelve weeks of her pregnancy, but
Dr. Mendlow had been almost indecently enthusiastic when Becky had called
for permission to enroll.
“You probably think yoga’s for wimps.”
“No, no!” said Sarah, her eyes wide. “Yoga’s
very demanding. I’m impressed that you’re doing this for
yourself and, of course, for your darling little wee one.”
Becky stared at her best friend and narrowed her eyes. “You
want something, right?”
“Can you switch Saturdays with me?”
“Fine, fine,” Becky grumbled. She didn’t really
mind working Saturday night. Andrew was going to be on call, which,
more than likely, meant she’d be abandoned in front of the television
set at least once so that her husband could go tend to someone’s
inflamed appendix or obstructed bowel….or,. more likely, field
more phone calls from Mimi.
Sarah scraped the jicama she’d been julienning into a bowl,
wiped her cutting board, and tossed the towel into a basket in the corner.
Becky retrieved it and threw it back to her. “Two towels a night,
remember? The laundry bill last month was killer.”
“A thousand pardons,” Sarah said, and started scraping
kernels of corn off the cob for the roasted-corn salad.
Becky headed up the back staircase to a tiny room at the top –
a converted closet in the old row house that was Mas. She closed the
blinds and took another appreciative sniff of dinner coming together
– the mole simmering, the spice-rubbed brisket slow-roasting,
the undertone of garlic and the bright notes of cilantro and lime. She
could hear the sounds of the dinner crew arriving – waitresses
laughing in the kitchen, the dishwashers turning the radio from WXPN
to the salsa station. She set her bag onto the desk, on top of the stacks
of invoices and ordering forms, and reached into the locker where she’d
put her yoga outfit. “Loose-fitting, comfortable clothing,”
the yoga flyer had said. Which, luckily, was pretty much all she ever
Becky pulled off her elastic-waisted black pants, exchanging them for
a pair of elastic-waisted blue ones and added an exercise bra that it
had taken her forty-five minutes on the Internet to find at a site called,
God help her, Bigmamas.com. She’d had it shipped to work instead
of their house rather than running the risk that Andrew would be the
one picking up the mail that day. She pulled on a long tee- shirt, slipped
her feet into her sneakers, and pulled her curls into a bun that she
skewered into place with one of the chopsticks Sarah had left on the
desk. “Gentle, rhythmic stretching,” the flyer had said.
“Creative visualization and meditation for the mother-to-be.”
She figured she could handle that. And if not, she’d just say
something about heartburn and head for the door.
As she stuffed her clothes into the bag, her fingertips brushed against
something cold and unfamiliar. She dug around and pulled out a silver
baby rattle. She felt around in her bag some more, but she couldn’t
find a card, or wrapping paper, or a ribbon. Just one little rattle.
She turned it over in her hands, gave it a shake, then headed down
the stairs to the kitchen, where Sarah had been joined by the dishwasher,
the sous chef, and the pastry chef. “Is this from you?”
she asked Sarah.
“No, but it’s nice,” she said.
“I don’t know where it came from.”
“The stork?” Sarah offered.
Becky rolled her eyes, then stood sideways in front of the mirror beside
the dining-room door for another round of what was becoming her favorite
game: Pregnant, or Just Fat?
It was so unfair, she thought as she twisted and turned and sucked
in her cheekbones. She’d dreamed of pregnancy as the great equalizer,
the thing she’d been waiting for her entire life, the moment where
all the women got big so nobody talked or worried about their weight
for nine blissful months. Well, fat chance. Pun intended. The skinny
girls stayed skinny, except they developed adorable little tight-as-a-drum
basketball bellies. Whereas women Becky’s size just looked as
though they’d had too much for lunch.
And plus-size maternity clothes? Forget about it. Normal-size women
get to wear little Lycra-blend sporty numbers that proclaim to the viewing
public Hey! I’m pregnant! Meanwhile, any pregnant woman bigger
than a breadbox got to choose from the offerings from exactly one –
yes, one – maternity-wear manufacturer, whose stirrup pants and
oversized tunics screamed Hey! I’m a time traveler from 1987!
And I’m even fatter than normal!
She looked at herself in profile, straightening her shoulders, willing
her belly to stick out farther than her breasts did. Then she turned
to Sarah. “Do I look…”
Sarah sailed toward the deep fryer with a tray of corn fritters that
Becky had prepared that morning. “Can’t hear you, can’t
hear you,” she said, as the fritters started to sizzle. Becky
sighed, did a quarter turn, and looked over at Juan the dishwasher,
who’d suddenly become very involved in the plates he was stacking.
She shot a glance toward the grill and found two waitresses with their
eyes averted, busily mixing, chopping, even, in Suzie’s case,
reading over the week’s schedule as if there’d be a quiz
on it later.
Becky sighed again, picked up her bag, along with a copy of the schedule
for the week and the specials for the weekend, and headed out the door
to cross the park, walk eighteen blocks east toward the river, and keep
her date with New Age destiny.
“Ladies, welcome.” The instructor, Theresa, wore loose
black pants that rode just above her hipbones, and a strappy brown tank
top that showed off exquisitely defined deltoids and biceps. Her voice
was low and lulling. Hypnotic, really. Becky stifled a yawn and looked
around the studio on the fourth floor of Theresa’s Society Hill
townhouse. The room felt warm and cozy without being stuffy. The lights
were dim, but votive candles burned in front of high windows that looked
out over the city’s twinkling skyline. A fountain burbled in one
corner, a boom box in another played the sound of wind chimes, and the
air smelled good, too, like oranges and cinnamon and cloves. In her
pocket, her cell phone vibrated. Becky hit REJECT without looking, felt
instantly guilty, and promised herself that she’d call Mimi back
as soon as class let out.
She replaced the phone and looked around the eight other students,
who were all different degrees of pregnant. On Becky’s right was
Yoga Barbie, a tiny blond girl with cornsilk-fine blond hair pulled
into a thin ribbon of a ponytail, and a perky little belly. She wore
one of those maternity workout ensembles that came in sizes Small and
Smaller – white-striped track pants, black tank top with contrasting
trim hugging her bump. She’d given Becky a friendly “Hello”
before spritzing her mat with a bottle of Purell. “Germs,”
she whispered, and offered Becky the bottle. Becky declined. Between
the germs her unborn daughter were exposed to at the restaurant, combined
with what her father brought home from the hospital, she probably had
a kick-ass immune system already.
On Becky’s left was the most beautiful woman Becky had ever seen
outside of a movie. She was tall and caramel-skinned, with cheekbones
that could have cut butter, eyes that looked topaz in the candlelight,
and a drum-taut tummy pushing at a light-brown cashmere sweater. She
had perfectly manicured fingernails and, Becky could see once she’d
pulled off her socks, perfectly pedicured toenails, and a diamond on
her left hand the size of a sugar cube. I know her Becky thought. She
couldn’t come up with a name immediately, but she knew her occupation.
This woman – her name was something exotic, Becky thought –
was married to the man who the Sixers had just traded a center and a
point guard to get, a superstar from San Antonio with some ridiculously
high points-per-game average who also, Andrew had explained during the
one game Becky had watched with him, led the league in rebounds.
Theresa sank to the floor without using her hands. As if, Becky thought.
“Let’s begin,” Theresa said in a slow, lulling voice
that made Becky feel like curling up and taking a good, long nap. “Why
don’t we go around the circle. Everyone can share their names,
how far along they are, how the pregnancy’s been, and a little
bit about themselves.”
Yoga Barbie’s name turned out to be Kelly! An event planner!
This was her first pregnancy! She was twenty-six years old and she was
twenty-seven weeks along! And she felt great, even though things had
been hard in the beginning, because she’d been spotting! And on
bed rest! Yay, team thought Becky, and stifled another yawn. Then it
was her turn.
“I’m Rebecca Rothstein Rabinowitz,” she said, “and
I’m twenty-nine and a half weeks. I’m having a girl. She’s
my first baby, and I’m feeling pretty good, except…”
She glanced ruefully at her belly. “I feel like I’m not
really showing yet, which is kind of a bummer.” Theresa gave a
sympathetic nod. “What else? Oh, I’m a chef and manager
at a restaurant called Mas in Rittenhouse Square.”
“Mas?” gasped Kelly. “Oh my God, I’ve been
“Great,” Becky said. Whoa. Her own mother hadn’t
been that enthusiastic about eating at Mas. But the restaurant was gathering
buzz among the city’s hip and pretty. It had just been written
up in Philadelphia Magazine as one of its “Seven Spots Worth Leaving
the Suburbs For,” and there’d been a very nice picture of
Becky and Sarah. Well, of Sarah mostly, but you could see the side of
Becky’s face. Some of her hair, too, if you looked carefully.
“I’m Ayinde Walker,” the beautiful woman on Becky’s
other side began. “Thirty-six weeks. This is my first pregnancy
as well, and I’ve been feeling fine.” She laced her long
fingers over her belly and said, half-defiantly, half-apologetically.
“I’m not working right now.”
“What were you doing before the pregnancy?” Theresa asked.
Becky bet herself the answer would be swimsuit model. She was surprised
when Ayinde told them she’d been a news reporter. “But that
was back in Texas. My husband and I have only been here a month.”
Kelly’s eyes got wide. “Ohmygod,” she said, “you’re...”
Ayinde raised one perfectly arched eyebrow. Kelly closed her mouth
with a snap, and her pale cheeks blushed pink. Theresa nodded at the
next woman, and the circle continued – there was a social worker
and an investment banker, an art gallery manager and a public radio
producer, and one woman with her hair in a ponytail who had a two-year-old
already and said she was a stay-at-home mom.
“Let’s begin,” said Theresa. They sat cross-legged,
palms upraised on their knees, eight pregnant women sitting on a wood
floor that creaked beneath them as the candles flickered, and the women
swayed back and forth. “Let the breath flow up, from the base
of your spine. Let it warm your heart,” she said. Becky rocked
left to right. So far so good, she thought, as Theresa led them through
a series of neck rolls and mindful inhalations. It wasn’t any
harder than Interpretive Dance had been.
“And now we’re going to shift our weight to our hands,
lift our tails in the air, and slowwwly ascend into downward dog,”
Theresa intoned. Becky eased herself onto her hands and feet, feeling
the rough weave of the carpet against her palms, and sent her tailbone
sailing up. She heard Yoga Barbie beside her sigh as she got herself
into position, and the beautiful woman – AyeINday – groan
Becky tried to lock her elbows so that her arms wouldn’t shake.
She hazarded a glance sideways. Ayinde was wincing, and her lips were
pressed tightly together. “Are you okay?” Becky whispered.
“My back,” she whispered back.
“Feeeeel yourself rooooted in the earrrrth,” said Theresa.
I’m going to feel myself landing on the earth in about a minute,
Becky thought. Her arms wobbled…but it was Ayinde who dropped
the posture first and rocked backward on her hands and knees.
Theresa was kneeling beside her in an instant, one hand on her back.
“Was that posture too challenging?” she asked.
“No, the posture was fine, I’ve done yoga before. I’m
just…” Ayinde gave a small shrug. “I’m not feeling
“Why don’t you just sit quietly for a moment?” Theresa
said. “Focus on your breath.”
Ayinde nodded and rolled onto her side. Ten minutes later, after Proud
Warrior and Triangle Pose and an awkward kneeling posture that Becky
decided she’d call Dying Pigeon, the rest of the class joined
her. “Shivasana,” Theresa said, and turned up the sound
of the wind chimes. “Let’s hold our bellies gently, breathing
deeply, filling our lungs with rich oxygen, and send our babies a message
Becky’s stomach growled. Peace she thought, knowing that it
wasn’t going to work. She’d felt exhausted for her first
trimester, queasy on and off for her second, and now she was just hungry
all the time. She wasn’t sending her baby a message of peace,
but instead a message of what she was going to have for dinner. Short
ribs with blood-orange gremolata, she thought, and sighed happily, as
Ayinde sucked in her breath again.
Becky pushed herself up on one elbow. Ayinde was rubbing at her back
with her eyes squeezed shut.
“Just a cramp or something,” she whispered before Becky
could ask. “I had them off and on all night.”
After Theresa had clasped her hands over her enviably firm chest and
wished them all namaste the women made their way down the twisting staircase
and walked out into the twilight. Kelly followed Becky. “I just
love your restaurant,” she gushed, as they walked south on Third
Street toward Pine.
“Thanks,” Becky said. “Do you remember what you ordered?”
“Chicken in mole sauce,” Kelly said proudly, pronouncing
the Spanish word with a flourish. “It was delicious, and…
Oh my God!” Kelly said for the third time that night. Becky looked
to where she was pointing and saw Ayinde leaning with both hands against
the passenger’s side window of a tank-size SUV with something
white fluttering on its windshield.
“Wow,” said Becky, “either she’s taking that
parking ticket awfully hard, or…”
“Oh my God!” Kelly repeated, and race-waddled away with
her ponytail bobbing like a flag. Becky hurried after her.
Ayinde looked at them helplessly as they approached. “I think
my water broke,” she said, pointing at the sopping hem of her
pants. “But it’s too early. I’m only thirty-six weeks.
My husband’s in California…”
“How long have you been having contractions?” Becky asked.
She put her hand in the middle of the other woman’s back.
“I haven’t had any,” Ayinde said. “My back’s
been hurting on and off all day long, but that’s it.”
“You might be having back labor,” Becky said. Ayinde looked
at her blankly. “Do you know about back labor?”
“We were going to take a class at the hospital in Texas,”
Ayinde said, pressing her lips together, “but then Richard got
traded, and we moved, and everything just…” She sucked in
a breath, hissing, with her forehead pressed against the car window.
“I can’t believe this is happening. What if he doesn’t
get here in time?”
“Don’t panic,” said Becky. “First labors usually
take a while. And just because your water broke doesn’t mean you’ll
be having the baby soon…”
“Oh,” said Ayinde. She gasped and reached for her back.
“Okay,” said Becky. “I think we should go to the
Ayinde looked up, grimacing. “Can you hail a cab for me?”
“Don’t be silly,” said Becky. Poor thing she thought.
Being in labor all by herself – no husband around, no friend to
hold her hand – was about the worst thing she could imagine. Well,
that and having her midriff appear on one of those “Obesity: A
National Epidemic” news reports. “We’re not just putting
you in a cab and abandoning you!”
“My car’s right here,” said Kelly. She raised her
keychain, hit a button, and a Lexus SUV across the street started beeping.
Becky helped Ayinde up into the passenger’s seat and sat down
in the back. “Can we call someone for you?”
“I see Dr. Mendlow,” Ayinde said.
“Oh, good, me too,” said Becky. “I’ve got
his number. Anyone else? Your mom or a friend or someone?”
Ayinde shook her head. “We just moved here,” she said,
as Kelly started the car. Ayinde turned around and grabbed Becky’s
hand. “Please,” she said. “Listen. My husband…”
Her forehead furrowed. “Do you think there’s a back door
to the hospital or something like that? I don’t want anyone to
see me like this.”
Becky raised her eyebrows. “Well, it’s a hospital,”
she said. “They’re used to seeing people come in with gunshots
and stuff. Wet pants won’t faze them.”
“Please,” Ayinde said, squeezing her hand even tighter.
“Okay.” Becky pulled her big black sweater out of her
bag, along with a baseball cap. “When we get out you can wrap
this around your waist, and if you think you can manage the stairs,
we can get to triage that way, so you won’t have to wait for the
“Thank you,” Ayinde said. She pulled the baseball cap
over her eyes, then looked up. “I’m sorry. I don’t
remember your names.”
“Becky,” said Becky.
“Kelly,” said Kelly. Ayinde closed her eyes as Kelly started