(A short-short story Originally published in the Laurel Review, Winter, 2008)
Even though he did not want a baby, even though he felt trapped, David was not exactly disappointed to find out that Myra was pregnant. He couldn't quite pinpoint the feeling, though it was a kind of relief—a place of reckoning where the roulette wheel had finally come to a rest and the suspense of waiting for "the thing that would ruin his life" was over.
She made him sit down when she handed him (literally) the news—a white strip with two pink lines as faint as his breath—but the next day in his cube he couldn’t sit at all, its three-and-a-half tan walls too tight, its barely patterned carpeting a strange reminder of the fetal development pamphlet he'd thrown in the back seat of his Honda. The development from sperm and egg to baby was astounding, a thousand changes—hundreds of thousands. But the part that really caught his imagination was at the beginning, before the zygote traveled downwards, splitting into 16, 32, 64. The fact that they doubled like bytes of computer RAM, that everything was so symmetrical, consoled him slightly, but he still had the irrational thought (blaming her, also irrationally) that if he'd only known about it earlier he might have stopped its descent. At 256 cells—or even 512. But once it hit a gig he imagined that it had too much momentum, and that inside Myra the patterns of his chromosomes and her chromosomes had already been braided into too strict a path, the final fetal form already divined to have his thumbs, Myra's eyes.
Myra. They had coasted along like all his failed six-month relationships. But where there had been trouble in the past—trouble about if they should move in together, or if they should get married—Myra said nothing. She liked coasting. They cleared nine months. Then a year—enough for three birthdays, two of his and one of hers. Her family actually liked him. She loved him.
He never actually loved her, although he said he did, until they were almost a year in. This falling in love may have happened gradually, but he became aware of it in a single moment. He was watching Myra from a third floor office window as she got out of her car and started to walk across the parking lot to fetch him for lunch. She stopped halfway, unaware that she was being watched, then turned and got halfway back to her car. She turned towards the building and froze again—for a beat, two beats—as if she couldn’t command her body, and then she was walking as if there had been no pause.
He felt something tighten at the base of his neck, not a tingle—almost a cramp—and then it moved into his shoulders, out through his fingertips. When he met her in the lobby he hugged her too tightly, hiding the sudden squall that passed across his eyes, and then, breaking their rules, he bought her lunch at the Turkish place they always went to. He would have told her that he loved her, but now that it was true the words felt false and instead, in her car, he kissed her awkwardly on her right temple, then later feared she had missed the importance of this act.
They decided to move in together—a new place, since their apartments were both too small. But no children yet. There was grad school for her, maybe. Travel to Thailand. Costa Rica.
Then the pink strips and their first real blow-out. "Railroad tracks" he actually said out loud and then, maudlin, though it felt good to say it, "The bars of a cage." He had always thrown tantrums though with Myra he had mostly managed to contain them.
At eleven weeks Myra wasn't feeling "right" and their practitioner asked for an ultrasound. The young technician typed with one hand on the console, squinting at the monitor before her, while they watched strange, dreamy shapes that loomed and flitted across a second screen.
"Are you sure you're at twelve weeks?" she asked, her right hand repositioning the wand on Myra's belly.
"Eleven," they said simultaneously, just as a distinct mass appeared—a dark gray cocoon with nothing close to arms and legs, not even a head differentiated from a trunk. David hadn't wanted the baby at all, but now that it wasn't to be, he felt cheated—almost numb. And something else—disappointment? No, whatever the opposite of relief was.
"I'm sorry," the Tech said, and Myra rolled over and tightened into a ball—as if she could compress down upon it to make a diamond from this lump of coal. He placed a hand on her hip but she did not return the pressure.
"It's what you wanted anyway, right?" she said, bitter, once they were outside the clinic. She handed him their paperwork. Among the pink sheets and miscarriage information was, bizarrely, the same glossy pamphlet he had received during their first visit. Her arms were crossed, and he couldn't look her in the eye; he had not secretly wished that things would go wrong, but he had not not wished it, either.
David went to get the car, walking down a long gravel corridor between buildings, then into the cool concrete of the parking garage. He took the stairs, but up one flight and halfway up the second he felt a tantrum coming on and he had to stop and close his eyes.
Then he was tearing the pamphlet in half, in quarters in eighths. He reached sixteenths, and thirty-seconds, and as he struggled to tear it into sixty-fourths, he slipped and the glossy fragments sprayed out of his hands, landing unevenly over his feet and the stairs below him.