At the Finish Line!

At the Finish Line!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Fat Like Me

“And you won’t regret hiring Bess,” said Louise. “She could sell a comb to a bald guy.”

Erma was desperate. She made most of her money during the summer, and for the entire month of June she had been without decent help. Erma’s slick little boutique, called Je ne sais quoi, was stocked entirely with clothes she had designed and sewn on the premises.

“I had no choice,” said Erma. “I’ll take your word that she’s excellent and leave it at that.”

Erma was a trim woman, a size five, who dressed in an understated manner. Like the stylish summer people who came to town, Erma never wore any article of clothing with writing on it, and God forbid, nothing purple. Her clients wore simply cut garments of good fabric in earth tones. For a dash of color, Erma sold scarves made of Italian tie silks. A swath of red was enough to set off the elegance of black. No more and no less. Erma stood with a yellow tape measure draped around her neck and looked out at the bay where an ocean liner was dropping anchor.

“And a model!” said Louise, who on the other hand, usually wore tye dye because that was what she sold in her shop. It also went with everything. Or so she thought. On that particular morning she was wearing a new arrival--a turquoise and purple shirt splotched with orange leaping dolphins. The other half of her usual work ensemble consisted of acid washed jeans, flip flops, and bright blue nail polish as shiney as new cars. Her bottoms were always understated in order to feature her tops.

Twenty years ago, Erma and Louise worked together at the Sunglasses Hut. It was the sort of dead-end Mac Job college kids work before they go back to school. Erma and Louise, however, had no intention of ever going to school, so on they stayed through the winters, imagining an economically out of reach future where they could have their own shops. That was until one cold day in January when their fates were sealed and all future transgressions of fashion were to be forgiven for life. Louise had the common sense to arrive on the beach with a harpoon she had bought at a yard sale the summer before. It was a particularly windy day. Erma had summoned her, waving madly from the tidal flats when she had had the luck to spot a 800 pound blue fin tuna that had found its way into shallow waters. Together, they managed to spear the great fish and drag it up onto the beach. Later they hauled it from the bay side beach over to the fishing pier in the bed of Louise's pick-up truck. That night they sold it to a Japanese fish broker for $52,000. Cash in hand, the two women were able to open businesses across the street from each other.

"The girl does have a sense of style," said Louise.

“I can just imagine a tall creature strutting the sales floor.” Erma tugged the ends of her tape measure. “August will be beautiful,” she said, imagining a glorious future.

“She’s a hand model,” said Louise. “She only models rings and hand lotion in her spare time.”

“Oh,” said Erma. “Why’s that?”

“She’s a bit—unique. You'll see.” Louise set a small styrofoam duck on the counter. Blue glitter sprinkled off its tail. “When does Bess start?” said Louise.

“Right now,” said Erma. “She’s on her way over.”

“Whoa,” said Louise. “I thought you’d want to meet her first.”

“With that ship coming in,” said Erma. “I’ll need all the help I can get. Besides, I’m working fourteen-hour shifts, and supposedly—” Erma lowered her voice and looked around to make sure the two of them were alone. “Supposedly, the fashion editor of Self Magazine is sending a scout. They want to give me a spread for the fall.”

“How wonderful,” said Louise.

“They’re doing an issue about innovators in fashion,” said Erma. “Small people like myself. Keep it a secret, will you? I’m not even going to tell the girls sewing for me until after it’s a done deal. I don’t want to jinx it. So, get that duck off my counter. Don’t think I didn’t see you leave it there. You know I hate cute things.”

Louise dropped the duck back into her pocket and drummed her fingers on the counter.

“I’m so busy,” Erma said, “I’d hire just about anybody who didn’t stand in the front window and pick her nose.” She turned to fuss with the hem of a blazer on a mannequin.

Louise cleared her throat. “There is one thing about Bess I think you should know—”

“Yes?” said Erma, absentmindedly fluffing the hand knit sweaters.

“She’s a model, but she’s a bit—”


“Well, she’s chubby.”


“In fact, she’s fat.”

Erma’s heart sank as she turned to face her shop. She tried to attract clients who were between the sizes of five and nine. Despite her line making it into several fashion magazines, her sales over the last two years were down. Ladies from the cruise ships wanted mu mus and clothing the size of pup tents, not Erma’s haute couture. Damn. She glanced at the tastefully framed copy of the two-page spread of her designs that had appeared in the January issue of Allure. The spread hung near the door and was Erma’s proclamation of success to the badly dressed who trailed into her store and out again—too cheap and ignorant to buy anything. The year before, several pieces of her collection had made it into Town & Country. And the year before that she had made it into the Italian Vogue after she had passed the previous winter in Milan learning how to cut women’s suit jackets.

“Chubby,” said Erma, as though she had just said the word cancer. “Chubby? That can’t be. What will I do? I always dress the sales help with ready-to-wear.” Erma pulled out a pair of size 18 palazzo pants. “These are gigantic—a best seller, in fact. Will she fit these?” Erma stretched the elastic.

Louise shook her head. “Doubt it.”

“Oh why didn't you tell me?” whined Erma. “How big could she be?”

“You’ll have to adapt your patterns and make something for her,” said Louise. “Consider it an investment.”

Erma picked up her phone and began to dial Bess’ number. “I’m going to try and catch her before she comes in,” said Erma. “I’m not that desperate.”

“Too late,” said Louise, pointing out the door at a quaint and narrow lane. “That’s her.”

“Fat,” hissed Erma. “She’s enormous!”

Bess walked over the hill and through the crowd dressed in a daring tomato-red silk dress. The fabric moved beautifully over her bulk and flapped in the breeze around her shins.

“Oh no!” muttered Erma. “Quel dommage!”

On Bess’ feet were a pair of flat-bottomed shoes with painted leather flames curling over her toes. On her hands were mauve, crocheted gloves. Along the street, people turned their heads as she passed.

Bess passed by the front of the shop and entered the Mojo Diner five doors down.

“I thought I was getting some fresh young thing to be sweet to the non-buying customers while I worked on my fall line.”

“But you are. Bess is a born salesman,” said Louise. “When she worked at my cousin’s leather shop in the Village, he said the cash register would be so crammed with money, he wondered if she was dealing drugs on the side. Just give her a chance.”

Erma moaned as she looked at the daytrippers on the street. She tried to stifle her fury. “There has been an invasion of fudgies today and they’re collectively transgressing the laws of style." she jammed her fists in her pockets. "Look at them! I swear the tourists have turned into a herd of fudge-eating cows.”

“Excellent!" said Louise. "This means I’ll have a busy day. I saw three tour busses parked in the middle of town on my way over this morning.” Louise glanced at her watch, then across the street at her gift shop called Fisherman’s Trove. The store was momentarily empty because she had closed up and taped a “be back soon” sign on the door.

Erma tugged at her measuring tape. “Cows, cows, cows,” she said, looking at a fat couple—she with high hair, and he with an extended paunch, accentuated by a leather pouch clipped around his sagging middle. They were dressed in matching warm-up suits that went shish shish shish as they walked by.

“The horror!” Erma looked away. “The person who invented the butt pack should be shot,” she said. “Even the slimmest homosexual is reduced to a proletarian the moment he straps one on.”

“Shush,” said Louise. “Here she comes.”

“Oh my God,” said Erma. “She has the audacity to show up with a Mojo Malt! A two thousand calorie bomb! And I’m so starved.”

Bess came through the door of Je ne sais quoi.

“Hello Louise, love your top," she said as though she meant it. Then she turned to Erma, eagerly took her hand and gave it a shake. "I’m Bess,” she said. “Oh Louise, thanks for getting me a job. This is so cool—a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to work for a fashion designer. Especially since I’m too old to model and all. You have to be, like, a teenager to model.”

And thin! Thought Erma. Thin! Thin was the primary prerequisite to be a model. Erma wondered if Bess was an idiot.

“Wow!” said Bess. “Wow! Your shop looks like something dans le Rue de Rivoli en Paris. Totally Right Bank. Rive Gauche. And that bit there? Wow, just like a runway. I am going to strut the line like the Concorde landing! This is so cool!”

Erma started to open her mouth, but Bess interrupted her. “Here I brought you this protein drink,” said Bess. “You said you were too busy for meals, so I thought you’d need something. Wow!” said Bess. She tugged at the blazer on a mannequin in the center of the store. Then she fondled the hand woven rayon chenille scarves. “Even though I worship clothes—I really do—and I’m thankful for this job—I thought I’d stay the afternoon to see if we can work together. Wow.”

Erma nodded dumbly as she sipped the protien drink. “Can you by any chance sew?” she said. She wondered if she should try to keep Bess off the sales floor. She didn’t want a fat girl to scare anyone away. Especially the fashion scout, who was expected to drop in anytime before July 4th. The scout had refused to make an appointment. He planned to vacation in the vicinity and take Polaroids of suitable locations on the National Seashore. Then he would set dates for a photo shoot, if any, as he saw fit. Erma didn’t like that she was at his mercy.

“Sewing is like praying,” said Bess. “I just love it! If I’m too old to be a model, maybe I’ll just be a fashion designer instead.”

Erma sighed wondering what to do.

“By the way,” said Bess. “I saw your spread in Vogue a few years back and I thought it was excellent. I’d love to be able to wear one of your fitted suit jackets.”

Erma’s eyelid twitched. Fitted? The idea of anything fitted on Bess made her cringe.

“Well,” said Louise, “It looks like there’s a line to get into my shop. I can see there’s going to be a run on salt-water taffy. I best be going.”

“When is Patrice working?” said Bess.

“Starting today, Patrice will always work the dinner hour,” said Louise.

“Cool,” said Bess. “Patrice is my best bud.”

When Louise left, Bess told Erma: “Patrice worked at the head shop next to the leather emporium in the Village. We’re like you guys, you know? Only young. I’m all fashion and brains—like you, while Patrice is all business. You should see how Patrice sells the shit.”

* * *

Erma showed Bess her line of clothes and gave a tour of the workshop. There were ten sewing machines in Erma’s studio. The studio, like the sewing machines, was white, and looked out over the bay. In broad daylight, a green light flashed across the water from the lighthouse. Erma hoped the toot of the foghorn would add an ambience that would impress the fashion scout when he turned up. Je ne sais quoi was a part of real Cape Cod. She sold beautiful clothes that did not distract from the unadorned and breathtaking landscape. Her designs, like the great dune right outside of town, were great, simple in form, and like nothing else in the world.

Erma didn’t bother to see what on the racks would fit Bess. Instead, she showed Bess how to stitch labels on a pile of brown garments. She let the afternoon pass, hoping Bess would get bored and go elsewhere for employment. After all, there were dozens of shops that had “help wanted” signs hanging in their windows.

By the time Bess had labeled everything it was dinner hour. Bess made herself useful by Windexing fingerprints off of all the glass display cases. Erma stood in her front window glancing over at the Fisherman’s Trove with envy. What had Louise been thinking? Louise should have sent her Patrice, because Erma could see that Patrice was thin. Despite the young girl’s dreadlocks, despite the shapeless tie-dye skirt from India, despite the patchuli oil that wafted across the street, Patrice had line. She had nobby hipbones and a concave belly. She had hairy armpits that needed the attention of a hedge clipper. Erma sighed. Even so, with intervention, Patrice could have style. Most importantly, Patrice could be groomed to be useful to Erma.

“Is it always so slow?” said Bess. It had been a beach day. All the shoppers with money were out surfing. There was only two hundred dollars in the cash drawer.

“It’s the dinner hour,” said Erma. She looked out the door. No one was on the street. The fudgies had boarded their busses and gone away. The display cases squeeked under Bess’ attentive fingertips. Erma was rubbing her neck when a rather frumpy woman looked in the windows. The “frumpster” as Erma was fond of calling her, was wearing a very wide brimmed hat to shade her recent face lift.

“Her, again,” said Erma. “The hat is Bergdorf Goodman’s. It can stay, but she really ought to lose the Birkenstocks.”

“And the socks,” said Bess.

The corner of Erma’s mouth twitched as she watched the woman through the glass. “It’s Elizabeth Mumphry,” she said. “The richest woman in the west end. She has not one summerhouse on the ocean side, but two! She couldn’t decide which view she liked better so she bought them both. She never comes in.”

As Bess stood up, Windex bottle in one hand and rag in the other, she and Elizabeth Mumphry locked eyes.

Elizabeth leaned in the doorway. “Excuse me, miss,” she said, “but that is a fetching dress you have on. Might you have it in forest green?”

“Sorry, ma’am,” said Bess. “The dress is from my personal collection. But would you like a jacket? Or something of hand-woven rayon chenille?” Bess pulled separates from the racks, and waved them in front of Elizabeth.

Elizabeth Mumphry was frozen.

“Come in, come in, we have Extra Large.”

“The term Extra Large, is but a myth, dear,” said Elizabeth. “These days Extra Large has metamorphized to mean size Medium. No, I can’t bare the heartbreak of mis-marked clothing any longer.”

“I have just the thing,” said Bess.

Elizabeth stepped into the store and followed Bess as she ran her hand over the hangers. When Bess’ hand started to twitch, she plucked a hand woven blazer from the rack. Erma’s mouth watered. It was the most expensive garment in the store. “Try this,” said Bess.

“I think not,” said Elizabeth. “I need something concealing. As you can see, I’m, how you say, ‘well endowed.’” Elizabeth glanced about the store and saw the mannequin. The jacket was pinched in the middle to fit a person who was size three. “But what about that blazer on the mannequin? I do think it’s fetching. Do you have it in my size?”

“No,” said Erma.

“It’s a prototype for next year’s line,” said Bess. “It’s still one of a kind.” Bess held out the blazer she had chosen. “But try this. Humor me, I know it will work.”

Elizabeth reluctantly put on the jacket and strolled to the three-way mirror. It was a thin mirror, the type commonly used in dance studios. Elizabeth was surprised. “Do you have another color?”
Erma butted between them with another jacket. “Green,” she said.

Elizabeth ignored Erma, took the jacket and put it on. “Look at that—a diminished expanse,” said Elizabeth. “This design is priceless. I’ll take them both.”

After Bess put together three ensembles, all in size Extra Large, Elizabeth Mumphry rang up a tab of two thousand, nine hundred and forty-four dollars.

“One thing troubles me,” said Elizabeth, holding her Platinum Card in mid air.

Erma glared at the card—close, yet so far away.

“I know it’s illogical, but I don’t like the labels,” said Elizabeth. “I object to being labeled an Extra Large, when I prefer to think of myself as a Medium.”

“You are so right,” said Bess. “We’ll change the labels.”

“For a fee—”

“Free of charge!” said Bess.

“Could you?” said Elizabeth.

“Of course,” said Bess. “I’ll do it straight away, and you can pick up your clothes in an hour.”

Elizabeth handed over her Platinum Card. “Since you’re at it, would you mind attaching labels marked ‘Petite? It’s such a pretty word. It feels so good on the lips. Why be a Medium if you can be petite?”

“Right again,” said Bess.

“I never knew you had such a lovely shop,” said Elizabeth Mumphrey.

“What made you finally come in?” said Bess.

“You,” said Elizabeth. “Because you’re fat, like me. Yet you’re fatter, so you make me feel thin.”

“Well, thank you,” Bess said. “I guess.”

“It’s a pity you don’t sell the dress you’re wearing.”

The credit card machine spit out a long ticket—the sound Erma loved to hear most. Elizabeth signed it, lit a cigarette, and sailed out the door.

“Have a manageable day,” said Bess.

“I find it offensive that you are willing to mis-mark my clothes,” Erma said, when they were alone. “If something’s big enough to fit a cow, the label should say so.”

“But don’t you think the customer’s always right?” said Bess.

“That’s not the point. My integrity is compromised.”

“I believe the point is that you are three thousand dollars richer.”

* * *

Sales were up. Louise had been right. Everyday that Bess worked, she cleaned house. The shiny black shopping bags flew out of the store loaded with goods. Still, every dinner hour, Erma stared across the street at Patrice slouching on her stool over at the Fisherman’s Trove. Patrice spent afternoons at the beach and was happy to be bored through the dinner hour. She sold nick nacks hand over fist, barely looking up from her book that stayed spayed on the counter.

Night after night as Erma stared, Bess sold the store. She sold pantsuits from last year’s line that no previous customers would touch. Then Bess sold an entire rack full of impossibly tiny velvet dresses to a group of women who had come to town for Anorexic Pride Week. By the end of the first week, between the fudgies and the liner ladies, Bess had sold every last garment marked Extra Large. Contrary to what Erma believed, very thin people were not terrified by Bess. By Friday, Erma was forced to call in her seamstresses to sew deep into the night to replenish her stock.

“You are so hired,” said Erma, as she counted up the receipts at midnight. “This is the biggest day I’ve had in years."

“I guess I could work here,” said Bess. “If you’ll train me to cut and sew I could help you in other ways.”

“No, I’d prefer to keep you fresh for the sales floor,” said Erma. “My only problem is I don’t have anything that you can wear for the job, and what with your sales cleaning out my store, I have no time to alter my designs to fit you.”

“No no no,” said Bess. “I didn’t come here expecting a new wardrobe.”

“That’s a first,” said Erma, slightly disappointed. “Everyone who works for me covets my designs.”

Bess shrugged. “Do you sell gloves?”



Erma glanced at the leather flames curling over Bess’ toes. “Of course not, darling,” she said. “I sell Pret au Porter—Ready to wear. My clerks are expected to wear my clothes. It’s part of the job.”

“Nothing’s ready for me,” said Bess.

Erma eyed Bess’ dress. It was almost the same as the dress she wore on her first day. The forest green sueded rayon draped softly over what she imagined to be rolls of Bess’ fat. Scary, thought Erma, trying to look away. Just below where Bess’ waist might have been, the fabric was delicately gathered to flare all the way down to the hem. The dress was dramatic, yet understated. Erma found herself staring at how the fabric had been cut against the bias and assembled—at how the drape gave the illusion that Bess weighed, perhaps, fifty pounds less.

“You’ll have to trust that I’m capable of blending with the fine upholstery in your store,” said Bess. “I insist, at least until you have time to sew again.”

“Okay,” said Erma.

Erma had never been so close to a fat person. Fat people wore stretch pants and drew attention to the disparity of size between hip and ankle. Fat people were not supposed to have style. Yet when Erma saw Bess, she almost stopped minding how fat Bess was. Erma started counting the yards of fabric it would take to clothe Bess tastefully. Five for a jacket, three for pants, two, maybe, for a blouse. Erma whistled and tugged on her measuring tape.

“Really,” said Bess. “I’m too shy to be measured.”

Erma let out a sigh of relief. Every year she paid summer bonuses in clothing to her sales help. “Very well, then, she said. “So long as you wear simple things. Understate, understate, that’s the name of the game. Especially for you. Please wear things that look like a blank canvas waiting for the perfect jacket.”

Bess’ eyes lit up. “What I’d give for one of your blazers,” she said.

“Later,” said Erma, dismissing her.

* * *

July Fourth came and went, and no fashion scout from Self Magazine showed his face. Erma was aggravated. The shop had been preened and cleaned, trampled by the weekend masses, then cleaned and preened again. The ensemble Erma had ready to show the scout still hung on its mannequin in the middle of the shop. It had been fingered and picked at, tried on by the microscopically petite, rejected and wanted. Erma refused all requests, instructing Bess to swat everyone off. The jacket was precious. It was next year’s line.

Late one afternoon, Erma caught Bess with the blazer turned inside out. She had the blazer lying across the counter where she was studying the seams and sketching how the fabric had been cut.

“Uh-uh-ah,” said Erma. “I don’t show anyone how I put things together.”

“Then what do you do when people buy your designs?”

“By the time my designs hit the boutique show, the major manufacturers are already copying me,” said Erma. “The time to be secretive about a design is now. Before I’ve shown a line. Turn the jacket around, now.”

“I just wanted to see how you did it,” said Bess. “I admire how there are no pads, yet the shoulders appear broad.”

“Company secret,” said Erma.

Bess stared at the seams.

“Turn it back around,” said Erma.

Erma was jealous. All week long customers wanted whatever Bess was wearing. Even the fudgies. Three times that afternoon, as she watched Bess sell the store, as Bess walked the runway sassing the clientele, customers had pleaded for Bess’ dress.

“I suppose I could make a dress like yours,” Erma finally said. “Being as my customers covet it.”

“I think not,” said Bess. “I don’t want to see copies of myself coming and going.”

Erma was piqued. She had spent so much time looking at her—Bess the sales clerk—Bess of mighty bulk—Bess who hypnotized Erma’s clientele until their credit cards were maxed out—Bess the charm as big as a barn—who attracted new customers, fat and thin alike—enormous Bess, far fatter than any Extra Large on the rack—the Bess who compromised Erma’s sensibilities—the Bess with enormous dimples in her elbows. The Bess who dared to eat cake on the sales floor! Erma was annoyed because she thought Bess was presumptuous. Who’d want to look like Bess? Erma felt entitled to copy the dress for her not-quite-thin customers because, day after day, wasn’t she forced to look at gigantic Bess and say nothing of her bulk? Didn’t Bess owe her something?

“No?” said Erma. “I should think you’d find it a compliment that I want to copy your clothes.”

“Compliment? Let me see,” said Bess. “Ah yes, you asked me on my first day if I could sew.”

“That was before I knew you could sell,” said Erma. “You’re far too valuable to waste on the back room. Besides, how I cut my fabric is confidential.”

“So are the dimensions of my dress,” said Bess.

“Are they now?” said Erma. “Why’s that?”

“Because I might want to go into fashion design.”

“Really?” said Erma who tried to hide the smirk on her face. Erma turned and went back into the studio. All the seamstresses were at dinner, so Je ne sais quoi was empty.

“You don’t think I could be a fashion designer?” said Bess.

“Of course not,” said Erma.


“You’re fat, Bess. You’re crazy if you think you could be anything in the fashion world. In fact, I’m a little bit embarrassed for you when you parade around pretending you’re a model.”

“Why’s that?”

“Oh come on, do you need a spelling primer? You’re not just a little pudgy, you’re beyond obese. I don’t know why you can’t see that.” Erma blushed and shook her head.

“Yet my designs are good enough for you to use?”

“I’d give you a cut,” said Erma. “You could come back next season, sell the store at night, and spend your days on the beach. That’s what you wanted isn’t it?”

“It’s not the complete equation,” said Bess.

The telephone rang. Erma picked it up. It was Louise who was waving in her store window from across the street.

“You’re a fool to want Patrice to work for you,” said Louise. “She just called in sick—more like getting laid, out in the dunes. My toilet’s backed up and running over, the taffy machine keeps overheating, and girl, I’ve got some goon coming over for three gross of crazy ducks, a box of which are down at the post office. Not to mention I have a line out the door. Someone put an ad in the paper saying I was giving out free back scratchers with every purchase. Would you come over here and run the cash register?”

Erma looked out at the front of the store. No one had been in for over an hour but the bald guy out front. He stood there wearing a fanny pack with a camera around his neck. One of his unmatched white socks was pulled up mid calf. He was fingering the ascots made of Italian tie silk. Erma stifled an impulse to run out and swat at his hands. She’d seen him in town all week. She passed him walking on the beach, dragging up driftwood. She’d seen him walking through poison ivy on the dune ridge. She’d spotted him grubbing through the shell shop as she walked by in the morning. She’d seen him at sunset snapping pictures of the lighthouse with a disposable camera. Erma wanted nothing to do with him. He was a fudgie who obviously had missed his bus.

Erma hung up the phone. “Let’s not fight,” she said.

“You hurt my feelings.”

“Well I’m sorry,” said Erma. “But you know and I know, that for you, fashion is pretty much out of the question.”

Bess looked down at the floor.

“I’m sorry to be the bad guy to tell you,” said Erma. “But you might as well figure things out now.”

Bess sniffed. “Bess do this, Bess do that. Did you ever stop and think what it’s like to be fat like me? To not have anything fit?”

“Of course not. I’m too busy trying to run a business catering to normal people. I’m sorry. Sometimes I open my mouth and rocks fly out. I don’t mean it.”

“Yes you do.”

“Look, I have to go help Louise. All hell has broken out because your pal Patrice bailed on her.”

“It’s not my fault,” said Bess. She used the hem of her dress to dry the corner of her eyes.

“I know,” said Erma. “Listen, I’m a grouch. When the store is empty close up for fifteen minutes and go get a Mondo Burger at Mojos. My treat. Help yourself to money from the till.”

Evading more confrontation, Erma squeaked out the back door, walked a block down the beach before she circled back up to the street to meet Louise in her gift shop.

* * *

Louise trafficked souvenirs with seaside motifs. The fudgie variety of tourists loved the musty shop that took up the main floor of a rotting sea captain’s house. Erma hated all the junk Louise sold. She hated the fake ambience created by fishnets, and the fake antique deep-sea diving suit Louise had bought at a rummage sale. Erma hated the fake harpoon and the glass fishing floats made in Taiwan that sold by the case. She hated that Bess moseyed across the street during lulls, and brought back handfuls of taffy that she not only ate on the sales floor but had the audacity to share with customers. Erma hated the cooking aprons that looked like giant lobster tails, the snowball paper weights with leaping whales. She hated the lighthouse lamps, and coffee cups that said Cape Cod. Erma detested everything in Louise’s store but Louise, herself. But what Erma detested most were the abundance of glitter-tailed Crazy Ducks.

When Erma banged through the door, Louise was unpacking Crazy Ducks. The styrofoam ducks were activated when the sun hit the little solar chips glued to their heads. At $2.99, Crazy Duck was still a best seller after five years. Set in a kiddy pool in front of the store—or even in a rusty pie pan in the shop window in the dead of winter—a succession of Crazy Ducks had spun about in the water, amazing the tourists. Erma took her place at the cash register and bit her tongue.

“Crazy!” said a tourist who had lined up twenty ducks on the counter to audition them.

“I’ll take two!” Ka-ching ka-ching went the cash register.

When there were no customers in the store Erma could bare it no longer. “Stupid tourist tricks,” she muttered. “Why me, god? Why? Where have all the beautiful people gone?”

“You know this is the hour when they’re either fucking in the dunes or having cocktails,” said Louise. “Besides, the beautiful people arrive when the rents go up.”

Louise had pink styrofoam pellets sticking to her arms. “Did someone hit you up side the head with a ‘let’s be mean’ stick?” she said.

“No,” said Erma. “I have Augustitous, and it’s barely July.”

“No fashion scout?”

“Not yet,” said Erma. “He hasn’t even called. Louise, is it my imagination or did the factory shit boxes of Crazy Ducks all over the store?”

“I ordered three gross for some artist. He wanted green, so I have to pick them out.

“What in the devil for?” said Erma.

“Beats me,” said Louise.

Erma ran the cash register while Louise fixed the taffy machine. Then Louise left to pick up another box of Crazy Ducks at the Post Office. While Erma sat in the window watching the sun set in the reflection of the mirror, she noticed Bess and the scrappy tourist with mismatched socks that had been in her shop. They were talking intently as they walked towards Mojos. The tourist held the door for Bess and followed her in the diner. When Louise returned, Bess and the tourist walked out of Mojo’s.

“Oh, that’s my duck man,” said Louise.

“Well I wonder what he wants?” said Erma.

“Beats me. He’s some friend of Patrice’s. She tried to hook him up with a discount on duckies, but I said no way. Though I did give in and take off twenty percent because he bought so many. He paid in cash.”

* * *

“You’ll never believe it!” said Bess. “While you were out, this photographer guy came in.”

“What!?” said Erma.

“This guy who freelances for Elle and Self Magazine,” said Bess.

“Did he see my ensemble?” said Erma.

“Which one?”

“What do you mean which one? The one you’ve been guarding since you started working here.”

“No, but he liked what I had on.”

“Of course he did,” said Erma hitting her forehead.

“Is he coming back?”

“To do a story about me!”

“You? But you don’t have a shop,” said Erma, putting her fists on her hips. “You don’t have any know how. And you’re—you’re—"

“Go ahead, say it.”

“You’re fat,” said Erma.

“So I should not have a sense of style.”

“That’s right.”

* * *

Come September, Erma received a polite little card from the fashion scout: Came to see you, you were out. Loved your sales girl, she had a fabulous line. See the October issue. I’ll call in April.

When Erma finally got her subscription, Louise came over with her copy and a pot of coffee. They spread the magazines out on the counter and flipped the pages. On page 208, there was not a two-page expose, but a four, then six-page spread titled: “F.I.T. student debuts collection.”

“Listen to this,” said Louise. “‘When the state of New York diagnosed Bess Rubens as disabled due to obesity, Rubens took the state funding for vocational training, and ran to the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology. ‘My only disability,’ said Bess Rubans, ‘is I could never find anything to wear.’”

“Give me a break,” said Erma.

“She goes on,” said Louise.

“‘Bess says the only thing a fat chick can buy Pret au Porter is shoes, gloves, hats, socks and accessories. No one should know more than Rubens, who has occasionally worked as a hand model since her teens. ‘I have gobs and gobs of cool shoes and accessories,’ said Rubens, ‘but nothing else.’ So Bess Rubens set out to create a line catering to ample women. Armed with her two year associates degree, Bess went to Cape Cod to work for fashion designer Erma Webb, where she learned how to adapt Webb’s famous designs to fit larger women.’”

“Oh Christ,” said Erma. “That’s my suit jacket! My beautiful design distorted!”

“Just the shoulders are yours,” said Louise. “And you learned them in Milano.”

“I should sue—I should sue because she’s ruined my look!”

“Well it says here that you were so nice to her,” said Louise, “and that you were a dream to work for. Listen to this: ‘Rubens says while working for Erma Webb she decided to enforce a new sizing system. ‘Erma’s customers inspired me,’ Rubens said. ‘No one wanted to be called an Extra Large, so I’ve altered my tags. Something marked Triple Extra Large by Jones New York will be marked Truly Substantial by me. And honestly, who wants to buy clothes marked Extra Large, when they can buy the same size marked Medium? I want my customers to feel good while wearing my clothes.’”

“I’m so disgusted,” said Erma.

There were pictures of Bess, not as a model, but leaning on her sewing machine in her rented cottage on the beach. Behind her, the bay out the window roiled with white caps. The green light was on in the lighthouse.

“It’s so cute, I could puke,” said Erma, flipping the page.

There were several pictures taken in the great dunes outside of town. The models were plump, but not as fat as Bess.

“‘So long as the United Colors of Benetton caters only to people size twelve and under, I’m excluded from their idea of a united world,’ said Rubens. ‘So I’ve decided to cater to the stylishly deprived. Because I’m fat I’ve lived like a negro relegated to the back of the fashion bus. Well no more’ says Rubens. ‘No more.’”

“She says negro?” said Erma.

“She says negro.”

“Politically incorrect. God, how rude.” Erma scowled at the dresses. They were beautifully cut. Fat women were frozen as they ran down the face of the dune. Two were caught in mid air. Shrouds of red fabric chased one and yellow paisley enveloped the other.

The last photo in the spread was taken at the beach forest pond. An obese girl had her back to the camera. Her fingers were laced behind her as she faced a pond of lily pads. Bess’ red dress was luminescent on the page. The shutter of the camera had been left open at dusk. A dozen fire flies streaked the photo with neon trails.

“Wow,” said Louise.

On the water was a gross of Crazy Ducks whirling hundreds of glittered circles onto the film.

“I never knew Crazy Ducks could be interesting,” said Erma.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Infertile Maternity-Leave Temp

Part I

Unable to conceive on my own I ended up taking a job scheduling patients at a local hospital. I had two masters’ degrees and was working towards a Ph.D. when the diagnosis of infertility threw me for a loop and derailed me from my original intent—which was to be a college professor and have a fabulous life. I started working at the hospital as a temp—an adequately paid minion’s position in the hierarchy of hospital life that does not require a BA, though one would be preferred so that they know you can talk good. It turns out I talk very good so I was soon promoted to the role of maternity-leave temp. Yes, most sensible well-run organizations stock their human resources departments with a few maternity-leave gal Fridays to pick up the slack when someone goes on leave, or in worst case scenario—bed rest. Just look at the work place, the herds of folks working as mid-level administrative assistants are often breeding up a storm—or getting ready to get married so they can breed up a storm. Or plain and simply wearing big tops to mess with the boss’s head. Most women love these jobs because they get benefits and can support families without too much trouble. In my case, I became the infertile maternity-leave temp as I descended into a childless funk. How could having a baby ever be so hard?

To hell with a career—what I really needed at age 40 was a hospital-desk jockey job—where all efforts are spent on the telephone. Where I didn’t have to be a snappy dresser, where I could dash across the street without a fuss whenever I needed a blood test, or some other round of medical torture. I soon landed with the department of Coagulopathy Studies and voluntarily became the personal bitch to Dr. Eugenia Budd. Dr. Budd, a former oncologist, specializing in blood cancers, had a conversion experience upon giving birth to her first child: As she pushed him out—a healthy baby the result of four IVF attempts—she realized she wanted to work with the living—those who were going to live. In particular, those ladies with little clotting problems that sometimes cause numerous miscarriages. Well wasn’t this just my karma? WTF I thought when the temp agency placed me with her and all the other physicians who study blood, blood and more blood.

This is the story—and not exactly in order, There is a baby, oh yes, a baby girl, eventually, the result of many wishes, an unshakable will, and the contortions of modern medicine, and thankfully the HMO that footed the bill. And thankfully the state of Massachusetts and a savvy lawyer named Susan Crockin who lobbied our state legislature in the 1980s so that treatment for infertility is covered in this state. God bless her pea pickin little heart is all I can say. That or there is a baby that was born somewhere around here, we don't know, to a socially challanged individual who--or there is a lactose intollerant baby from Asia. Here goes—

I am pregnant again.
Five days pregnant, pee-on-the-stick-get-a happy-face pregnant. I am 44 years old. Before the infertile quietly say in their minds, where is my gun so I can shoot her and then myself, let me tell you about last time I was pregnant.

It was after an IVF cycle.
The fifth one. The very last one. My numbers rose. We were ecstatic, my wife and I. Yes, this one’s the deal, we thought, and we eagerly went back to the IVF clinic for that confirmation ultrasound only to find that there were no eggs in the basket. Oh, they were somewhere, likely to have drifted over to the fallopian tubes. But there was no gestational sack to be seen. No heart beat, just the rising numbers in my successive blood tests. On a January day, in a blizzard, the chemotherapy drug Methotrexate was jabbed into my ass. I was dismissed. And for two days I ached as the hopeful lining of my uterus melted away, and along with it, the happy hormones of pregnancy. I was in a biochemical post-partum state, clinging to the arm of my sofa. My wife watching from the other side of the room. Powerless.

I am four months pregnant.
Four months oh-god-could-it-be-true pregnant after a formerly frozen embryo was placed in my womb one hot July day. The day so hot, speeding to the IVF clinic across town. Resolved that whatever happens happens, and I don’t care so badly, but I do because I instinctively know, somehow that it will work. As we pass a used baby-toy store on Route Nine I see a giant ladybug that seems to be both a car and activity set. It is for a baby just starting to walk. I want the giant ladybug for the daughter I want to have. I want to sit it in my living room, like an auspicious sign because I know, I just know. I want it bad, but I say nothing. The car speeds on, the trees shading us. The nurse at the transfer holds my hand. Everything happens so easily, unlike the first 4 IVF attempts where I am still recovering from a trans-abdominal retrieval that feels like major surgery. The embryos go in. We watch them on the screen, they slide right in in a wash of lab-prepared serum. There they are. Perfect, thinking of dividing. We are given a picture. Somehow I know…I know. I am four months pregnant and carrying 2 pizzas and a two-liter of Coke for the workers installing windows at our house. I start to bleed. It feels like the first good trickle of menstruation. Maybe a twinge of a cramp. I lay down on the sofa. I call my doctor. I call out for my wife. We rush to the hospital and are put in triage. There is a line of people to be signed in. I don’t care about the woman who comes in behind me, suffering with the labor of her fourth child. I take the last available chair, sit, put my feet up on the wall and wait. I am angry and I am jealous. I am afraid I will lose this pregnancy. I start to talk to the baby. "Stay. We have so much. Each other and a nice home. A strip of green yard that looks like Ireland. Dogs that bound and play. Cats, and this beautiful city called Boston. A big sandbox called Cape Cod where we will turn you loose to play. Stay with us.

Agony. Let me tell you about agony.
I promised myself three years earlier that it would be easy. Yes. Put a little sperm in there and someone will grow. Just like that. It’s how it is done. Four cycles go by and anxiety sets in. Clomid is added to the regimen and wow. I am pregnant! Easy! I am so pregnant and fertile at 41 that my numbers skyrocket. The Dr. nods her knowing nod when she sees my rising HCG. It could be twins, but we won’t know until ultrasound. But when we get in there, there is no heartbeat. There are two empty sacks. Or are there three or are there four empty sacks? Or are those fibroids. I was blindsided. Blighted ovum. Lights on, no one home. A regular Andromeda Strain in my womb. I didn’t expect to fall apart later in the car, in the hospital-parking ramp. Dilate and Extract? Really? Missed abortion? How dare you call it that, check it off on a form that was printed in 1990 and then copied so many times the printing has blurred. I didn’t miss anything. I didn’t abort, that implies intention! But no matter my words, no matter my wishes, no matter how many times we wave the ultrasound wand, no matter how many times the hospital bills my HMO for tests and more tests. Nothing changes. A day after the Dilation and Extraction I can’t stop crying. My wife talks me into going to the movies. I decide to spend time in the bathroom because I can’t stand the theatre, the script, the everything. Don’t look in the mirror, I tell my self. Don’t look. But I do, and I start shaking, and I erupt with something I can’t explain. A tide of hormones, post partum rushing out, and me chasing them, begging them to stay. Please stay, yet I can’t move the moon overhead, It doesn’t work that way. I would have stayed pregnant forever, just to grow a fist of tissue. But that fist would never be a baby. Never. Six months later I look up the pathology results from my Dilation and Extraction to see what they excised. It was "grey tissue, the remnants of conception." It was cold and clinical. Probably some path-lab flunky writing descriptions late at night while going to medical school. Remnants. No curly blond hair or green eyes. No giggle. I print the pathology report. I hide it in my desk at work. I read it over and over again. Then I can’t stand seeing it and send it through the shredder.

I am seeing a newborn girl held up in the air.
She has an ancient look in her eyes. Like she is saying "What? I was happy there." My wife holds her. I see that look on my daughter and wife’s face for an eternity. I have known this baby forever. Yet in that moment I think, sense that something is terribly wrong.

That I am dying. After 5 days of induced labor the cesarean section was an emergency procedure. I ask later if I walked into the OR. My wife shakes her head, having been through a 5-day ordeal. So many times it seems I have walked into an OR in a Johnny with rubber socks on my feet. Somewhere around that third day something was wrong. I was begging for a c-section. I turned my head and closed my eyes. I will keep them closed until this or I am over. My ankles swelled up. My kidneys failed acutely. I wanted water fiercely. I was furious every time it was refused. I told my wife to shut the fuck up. Water.

I am watching a silver spotted dog fly down the length of the yard.
She spots a Frisbee and with honed skill becomes airborne, connects her mouth to the disk, snatches it out of the sky, lands with the grace of a dropped piano, and returns in a swift loop, insisting on another throw.

I am watching a small brown dog, a terrier with elegant legs that lives to jump. She cartwheels over the grass. She flips blindly in pursuit of the ball. She does a victory lap before placing the ball in my hand and posing like a short stop.

In my heart as I hear it on the monitor with the bongo clip of the infant’s heart rate, I imagine that silver dog galloping in the sheep pasture. Her galloping raises a yellow dust. Let me do this, my wife said just days before. She meant that she had to go be with the dog as they put her down. My beautiful silver problem dog with a Lone Ranger's mask and hemangioma carcinoma. Inoperable. We came home on a Tuesday after work and she could not run. She limped out of the house, her gums white, her toes splayed, looking at me knowingly. Truth is, she had been wheezing on the stairs, moaning in her sleep at the foot of the bed. I had thought she was imitating me at first because we are so in sync. I don’t know why, but this dog came into our home, chose me as her person and pushed the small brown dog out of my arms. There I was eight months pregnant, sitting on the filthy veterinarian’s floor waiting. My beautiful silver dog wasn’t glad to see me, her side shaved and re stitched up like some kind of Frankenstein, unable to lean on me. Already she knew what was in store, though I didn’t. As we parted, all I could think to do was to put three pieces of kibble in her mouth. It was all I had thought to put in my pocket. I slipped it in her mouth, feeling her tongue, and tickling her lips one last time. I love you. And she is glad to be rid of me. Our work together finished. If I could bring that day back, I’d have packed my pockets with sausages and raw green beans and buttered toast crust. All her favorites so she would know.

She went, the baby is to come. The dog, named for the goddess of motherhood is to watch and protect us.

I am getting a call from the nurse eleven days later.
This is after the 4th IVF, after a 3rd IVF was botched. This is after the surgeon got 30 eggs and over half of them were fertilized. This is after 10 were placed back inside me. "I’m sorry, but I don’t have the news you want." Everytime I get this call, every time right before I bleed, it’s as though those embryos are fire works—going up into the sky, exploding in beautiful promise one after another, yet they dissipate, fall, and fade.

This is after the embryologist comes into our blue curtained cubical to announce to the entire world—you have beautiful embryos, BEAUTIFUL! Six of them, ten of them, twelve of them, nine! It’s as though she says it on purpose within earshot of the woman next to us who does not have beautiful embryos—who will be 43 next week and cut off from all future IVF attempts with her own eggs. I know all this because our previous IVF attempts have crossed paths. I see her get up, in her Johnny and rubber hat and walk into the procedure room with as much dignity as she can muster, her graceful husband bringing up the rear. What I heard through the curtain: "Fragmented" "only one" "so very sorry" "Might as well try…"

The waiting room. Or:
The hierarchy of patient folders in the Assisted Reproductive Medicine Suite at a major hospital in Boston: No folder—couple holding hands: there for initial consult, scared, hopeful, or completely innocent of how their lives are about to be hijacked for a few years. Blue folder—novitiate: declared infertile—on to injectable medication and 2 well-timed interuterine inseminations (IUIs) per cycle. Easy-peasy, we will be pregnat in a snap. The red folder—The mother load, the infertile warrior—if there is a spouse, they are not holding hands because the social work department has probably suggested they commence marriage counseling. The very rarely seen shiny green folder—If held by an "older" patient yet hopeful-looking woman, she has probably plunked down somewhere in the ballpark of 30K to become ocyte recipient. Likewise, a shiny green folder held by a young annoyed-looking woman usually means she is being stimulated to donate her eggs. The wait at this hospital—the hospital where I have come to work—is always heinously long. No wonder the college kid is perturbed. Having arrived at 1 pm for a 1:15 appointment it is now 2:30 and counting, and that’s just how it goes. The inhabitants of the waiting room often get to know each other, or they slyly glare at each other, wondering, wondering, just what is her story?

One time so gleeful after an ultrasound on the 11th day of injectable stimulation, my wife hushed me when another woman got into the elevator. She was clutching the telltale red IVF folder to her chest and tears were pouring down her face as we rode to the 3rd floor in silence. "She didn’t have a good ultrasound" my wife said. "I heard them say they were going to cancel her cycle." And we? Well, this was going to be the time we told ourselves because I was growing eggs like a she lobster grows berries.

"I’m sorry, but I don’t have the news you want to hear."

The dogs and I are driving away. We go to a place called the Sheep Pasture. The big dog sticks her ears out the sunroof, her front feet standing on the console and her rump resting on the back seat. The little dog rides shotgun. The pasture is so beautiful you would think it was heaven. We walk and walk, my big dog in unabashed joy, ready to charge off and make friends. I am swollen from all the injectable drugs, and I cry silently, feeling the earth beneath my feet. I cry until I see all the other dog walkers. We converge on a gentle hill top. Twelve dogs weaving in and out amongst each other. 12! Having an impromptu play date, their bodies brushing up against one another in perfect joy. I realize that I would be the mother who would get the calls from the teacher because my dog is so badly behaved. In fact, that’s why we are there, so my problem dog with a healed brain injury can socialize. It cures me some how. The small brown dog—15 pounds—is smaller than the rest. Yet she always gets the ball. Always wins, always does a victory dance. I am proud of her. I cry less that night.

I am put in bed, a dog on either side of me to sleep and guard me after an emergency intubation on the first IVF cycle. There they always sleep. Especially on a sunny day.

I am watching a two-year old girl run full throttle down the length of the yard. Her little legs fly, her perfect little butt cheeks hang out from under her top. Up somewhere by the shed are her panties and shorts. She has made a compromise with us. She will wear the top, but the pants must go. After a full day of encasement at school she feels this is reasonable. Some people have entire out-door kitchens and grills so that they can eat en plein air on a hot day. The more sophisticatedly artistic among us paint en plein air. Our daughter, well, she poops en plein air. It wasn’t our intention to start this habit. What happened is our neighbor brought over a spare hand-me-down potty-chair, and we forgot to take it in the house. Then we realized that the house is very far away when you are two and you have to go NOW! So the potty stayed, and so she sits, from time to time, giving us a wave to let us know she’s all right. Once she has finished she stands up; kicking off all layers on her bottom half. A look of glee fills her eyes and she bolts away. Free at last, free at last; thank god almighty I‘m free at last!

"Maeve, where are your pants?" we ask when she simmers down.
She shrugs, finding her words: "I’m a no."

There was a lady—attractive, long dark hair—looking like a retired fashion model. She seemed so nice. She had the red folder. I still had blue, which means I was still in the IUI phase. I saw her months later at the hospital and I thought—jeesh—still not pregnant? She looked sad and resolved. Then came the time I had graduated to the red folder and I saw the same lady again while we both waited in a waiting room full of Oprah magazines as old as a toddler. Jeesh—still not pregnant, I thought. And it must have been some kind of final meeting because as she left the waiting room, a nurse practitioner called out her name. They came together and embraced, sharing a final intimate moment. And that’s the last time I saw her. I wonder if she adopted, or maybe she was pregnant. It dawned on me then that it doesn’t work for everyone.

Four years and counting and still childless. I might be pregnant again.
Tomorrow, a Saturday I will stop off at my favorite IVF clinic for a blood test on the way to New Hampshire. I have all the symptoms: the feeling like I could cry and the feeling happy and the feeling anxious and the feeling like I could just die all at once. Dr. Eugenia Budd and I are having a chit chat. "You know you don’t have to wait until tomorrow all you have to do is pee on a OPK stick and it will tell you. Ha HA HA! Maybe I shouldn’t have told you that. Oh well, bye!" Of course I have an OPK stick left over from my pre Clomid days. My wife is fast asleep upstairs. I pee on a stick. It is ever so slightly positive. I call Eugenia Budd back on my speed dial. She says "Seeeeeeee?" I go up and nudge the wife to show her. She sits up. "Now I’ll never nap!" she says
"Might as well get used to it".

We stop at the IVF clinic and we know what they are going to tell us later that day when they call.

I am pregnant again.
Four weeks pregnant, but without the ultrasound confirming what we know. I am caught in a rainstorm on Cape Cod so I dart into a clam shack and end up sharing a table with two urban doctors, a husband and wife, who talk a blue streak about their four children. When she asks about my children and I tell her I am in that state of almost pregnant she says "I am rarely wrong, but I am pretty certain it’s a girl."

I can’t stop eating and buying chicken soup at 11 am in the hospital cafeteria. I take too much so that the lid squirts when snapped on the Styrofoam cup. "It’s like a little boy!" I say to Aida, the cashier, who responds, "Yah, but you’re having a girl"

This emboldens me a week later when I climb out of the pool on a hot day, suddenly with cramps, only to discover a brown pool underneath me, and brown rivulets running down my leg. Noooo! It can’t be—it’s going to be a girl—both the psychic doctor and the cashier promised me. A girl, our girl. I go to the locker room, I am hemorrhaging all of a sudden. Big fruit like clots, one with what looks like a beansprout. I am naked wrapped in a towel that bears a widening red stain. "I think I am having a miscarriage," I say to a friend so lucky to be 7 months pregnant at the age of 40. She lays me down on the floor. Cell phones are brought to me. Bottled water administered. I am acutely aware of the glare from an angry looking woman. Does a smirk curl her lip? Has she cursed me, is she the victim of failed IVF or failed romance only to find she can’t bear children, and is therefore vengeful with jealously? Is this the evil eye? I close my eyes. I will walk to the emergency room across the street in my towel. I will stay there all day, past midnight. I will bleed and bleed and bleed and no heart beat, no gestational sack will ever be located by the callous x-ray technician chewing gum.

I describe what happens to Dr. Eugenia Budd, the hematologist and expert of coagulopathy who takes care of pregnant ladies who happen to miscarry a lot. Dr Budd used to be an oncologist but switched her focus on to trying to keep people with blood disorders pregnant. In a nutshell, Dr. Eugenia Budd knows it all. She’s been there personally, done that, and would never shit a shitter.
"That’s not good, sweetie. Sorry, so sorry" and I know that once again it’s a scratch.

"Don’t breathe," says the Dr. at the IVF clinic.
We went in with a song and dance: bleeding in the pool—here’s a frozen clot the size of a grapefruit slice in a zip lock bag. Blah blah blah. D&C I suppose, oh well, its not the first time. I bite my knuckles, I will be so stalwart and brave. They get me up and into the saddle, feet in the stirrups.
"Stop breathing…now."
"Breathe, stop. Hold it hold it."
"Say doc," I say. "Why is it that you keep telling me to stop breathing?" He has the ultrasound wand pushed way up above my cervix inside my vagina. "It’s kind of hurting."
"Don’t breathe," he says.
And I see a look of puzzlement play on my wife’s face.
"But why?"
"Because when you don’t breathe I can see the heart beat."

Someday when my wife gets the car and comes to collect me with our daughter, I will swoop the girl baby into the air, and turn around, watching the hospital towers spin above us. I will blink just to concentrate on the delicious giggle of the baby before she is strapped in her seat and driven home.

More tk--