Fluorescent lights flicker in and through the waiting room, casting crazy shadows on each surface. She and He sit together, close, in a corner, their knees touching and hearts close, maybe. The calls of magazines reflect from the glass tabletops, and all She can see is “Babies” “Babies” “Babies”. Then His name is called. Well, Our name, she thinks.
Each step across the room is tentative, holding each other’s hands to prevent slipping into the caverns of Difficult Pregnancy or worse, Infertility. It’s a long journey taking only a few seconds, and at the counter is a woman who looks like she has seen them before. The woman has seen all of it before, She thinks, and the woman looks as if she has molded herself to pass through it unfelt. The woman is all rounded edges, a marble, hard and unscarred. She wants the woman, the receptionist, to cry for her, although She doesn’t know if there’s any crying to be done yet. Still, it is obscene that the world may end and She would be the only one to cry for it. She harbors a dark, strange feeling that He will not, even if it does.
You may see the doctor now, the woman says instead, and He says thank you, and mutely the two of them, like swans, gracefully pass through the doorway and into the doctor’s office, at which point they both sit quietly in two chairs off to the side and once again find themselves in a corner. There are no words between them, because all the words have been said, and the reality of the situation is clear from the gentle swell of her stomach.
The doctor enters into the room as he has many times before, sits down as he has many times before, looks concerned as he has many before, and asks, as he has many times before, How are you feeling.
I am well, She says, because what else is she going to say, in this room to this doctor looking concerned.
No problems, the doctor asks, and She wonders why he asks this, and She squeezes His hand, and She replies, there are no problems, like She would really know, but She doesn’t add that last part.
Good, the doctor says, and She notices that the doctor has a folder in his hands, which opens as She stares at it, and papers appear. The doctor says, The reason I called you in here is because of some worrying signs with your amniocentesis.
That’s a silly word, She thinks to herself, staring at the corner of the room. A spider has made her home there, devouring insects. She wonders what it’d be like to be an insect devoured.
What is the problem, doctor, He says, as if it’s not obvious. As if it’s not exactly what They had been afraid of.
Well, your child is almost certainly going to be severely autistic, the doctor says. Do you know what that means?
Yes, He says, and She knows He does. She knows the years of screaming, crying, canceled playdates, unfair burdens He has hidden behind his ears and under his fingernails. He knows what autism means well.
Can we get an abortion, He asks, this late.
Yes, the doctor says, it is possible, but it is your decision. I cannot advise you on this, the doctor says, leaving them on the shore of the dark river. The doctor shakes His hand, reassuringly grabs Her hand, and leaves out the door, white coat swishing. The doctor’s work is done for now, She thinks. Done for now.
They do not speak in the car, and They do not hold hands. He drives long, winding roads, fall trees turning red and gold and orange as the car passes by them. The seatbelt caresses Her stomach, pressing against it, and the curve of her stomach is reflected in the convex windshield, and so is He. His face is stone.
They had fought, there, in the doctor’s office, their voices low and furious. He had assumed, and She had denied, maybe only because He had assumed but also because maybe she really did feel that way.
He had asked her to consider 29 years of His life, with the first 18 spent with two parents and a vortex. She had begged him to consider the past 4 months of hers, and the next 18 years of Theirs. He had said that’s what He had considered.
She brought up CRISPR and gene editing. He countered with Frankenstein. She presented Newton. He presented a vegetable. She accused Him of dominating. He accused Her of diminishing. She questioned Love, He questioned her love, She questioned his faithfulness, because hadn’t he still talked to the other girl after She told Him not to?
And so they had brought the fiery argument out to the car, where it became stony silence, and it settled over them. The car drove its long slow curves as they remained in the quiet. Outside, it is sunny, but the trees are barren.
Late that night, She lies on the floor of Their bedroom, the clock ticking in between the sounds of His gentle snores. The soft green and red lights of charging electronics mix on the ceiling, and She dreams of what could be, or what could have been, even just yesterday.
She wants to dream of her son, but she can’t, she can only see her sister’s son, and the sons of those she’s seen on the street. She has seen sons playing in the sand, and on playgrounds. She has seen them throw tantrums in restaurants, and She has seen boys trip on sidewalks. Her sister told her a few days ago that her son ate her cherry-flavored chapstick and denied it with bright-red lips, and even kept denying it when she took him to the mirror and showed him his lips. Denied it to the last.
She wonders what His brother is like. She has only heard stories of violent tantrums and of a grown man still unable to use the bathroom by himself. He has shared with Her the trauma, the ruined birthdays and the shame of never inviting guests. He has told Her of the fear, the loneliness, and the pain. But She wonders about the quiet times. There must have been quiet times. The brother must have smiled when he was happy. She knew that they could get absorbed when they found something they liked. What did the brother like?
Her hands rested on her stomach and she felt its curve once more. She could almost feel a heartbeat, She thought. If She just pressed, it’d be there, and She and Her son, and Their son, would be connected.
She falls asleep on the floor, in the room with lights dancing on the ceiling. She does not dream.
Do you want to try again, He asks. We could try again. There is much more time, and We still have the same dreams, don’t we?
Her hands steal over Her stomach, now flat and smooth, like a calm ocean. Her eyes, like they have again and again, fill with tears, drops from an ocean, and She feels deep and without bottom, like an ocean, and She looks at Him as if from across an ocean, and She says, I don’t know.
When will you know?
I don’t know.
Do you want to know? He asks with a peculiar look on His face, and She can see her reflection in His eyes, and He can see His reflection in Hers.
Not anymore, She says, not anymore.