I put my hand over her flat stomach. It’s warm and moist and makes a gurgly noise. Is it hungry? I start caressing her skin with the tip of a finger, mapping the shape of an expanding circle until there is no more space and then it recedes. I repeat the gesture absent-mindedly, mechanically. The rest of her body mirrors her stomach: immobile and fragile, yet underneath it’s a steaming, boiling kettle. Next to the bed where we lay is the open window, whose gap is so slim that only an ambitious and determined mouse could force its way through — or the current breeze, rare on this humid day but welcomed, that carries along with it, faintly, the distorted tune of Radiohead’s No Surprises. I take a deep breath and devour the ever growing colony of freckles resting on her subtle nose, that small, untraceable and untouchable smelling equipment that lies with an unworried mind between her eyes and her mouth. And even though her eyes are closed, I know that she’s not sleeping, just like I know, wasting my gaze out the window, that the moon hidden by the clouds is still shining bright somewhere in the darkness.
”How did we get to this?”
It doesn’t matter whose voice utters this, hers or mine. Maybe it isn’t even a voice, deep or high, masculine or feminine, but rather ink on paper, or telepathy. Or a cruising thought in a traffic-less highway of a vast mind.
Silence, in its dominant reign, allows the echo of the last word to be carried by the intruding breeze to the four corners of the room, and even into the chimney, but so weakly that the word gets lost, confused, tangled: this … iss … iss … bliss … iss ….iss … kiss. I regret the question and curse the fool that voiced it. Maybe it was me. The question evokes the past when the solution should solve the future; it evokes sins when we’re seeking redemption. The question evokes stupidity from the questioner. The question is meaningless because only the answer matters, only the answer dictates our future, only the answer can be split in two and down the middle by a thick fluorescent gray line visible from the abyss of our ephemeral mind all the way to the surface of the ever-expanding and eternal universe. The answer. Only it will torment us for the rest of our lives. It = the decision.
My finger ascends the mount of her breast, earthed mostly by implants, an act committed a decade ago by a naïve 18 year old girl with rich grandparents. The journey to the top begins with a small brown mole that guards the foot of the hill and ends with a long, erect nipple. The whole region is slightly shaken by the steady rise and fall of her chest.
The tiniest of whispers, so close to being thin as air that it is barely audible, escapes from a slit between her delicate and crimson lips: ”Fuck.”
”What’s wrong, honey?” I express my concern in a three-worded sentence, cutting right to the chase.
”Fuck! You fucked me, I got fucked by you, we fucked like rabbits, say it however you want. It was fucking. That’s how we got to this. Fucking great, don’t you think?”
”Well, personally, I think you’re missing a few fucks before you can appear in the Guinness Book of Records.”
It’s been a while since the frames on our walls — filled with pictures of Mick, Madonna, Carla Bruni, Led Zeppelin, our dog Zeppelin, and Johanna and I in Israel — have witnessed such a lengthy conversation. My jaw could almost ache from the effort. And my mind could almost open-heartedly embrace a cigarette. Almost. Until it remembers that it’s one of the few things I don’t regret having quit in my life.
Johanna ruffles her feet under our black dots-covered white sheets; the action stirs Zeppelin from his dull, lopsided rest in his wooden basket; our mini-Yorkshire, still in his teething phase, whirls out of his sleeping place, glides across the carpet, and hops onto our low bed. Biting occurs while caressing and boredom continue. Conversation, ephemeral, has ended.
Time to think: I’m too young to be a father but even younger to be a murderer. I’m too young to have regrets and sleepless nights, too young to have quit smoking out of good conscience and even much younger to have picked it up again out of freak nervousness and I can’t even explain how far too young I am to consider myself responsible enough to make — and take — decisions, let alone life-changing ones, and let even more alone lives-changing ones. Conclusion? I’m too young for this shit. My mother should have kept the notice that came with the product when she gave birth to me; then, I could have gone to page 13 to see when I won’t be too young anymore.
”You’re cold,” she states.
I’m surprised by the comment. Maybe she’s gone to the other side. Craziness. I’m sure it’s happened before, to another couple, in a similar situation. The girl simply couldn’t take it anymore, and so told her boyfriend that he was cold when in fact, he wasn’t, because it was the middle of summer and the sun scorched during the day and their apartment was an oven that had been turned off but had cooked all day long.
”Nah, actually, I’m a bit warm honey. Are you cold, though? I can get you a sweater if you want?”
My finger is stroking in the proximity of the mole, encircling it toyingly, threateningly, like horse-mounted Indians circling around a group of adrift cavalry men in the desert. The jukebox from the apartment below us, still procuring us tunes, has now gone on to Morcheeba wondering What New York Couples Fight About.
”No, you’re cold,” she says, slowly, accentuating the articulation of the last word. Then she adds, in crescendo, ”Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Writer, do you prefer indifferent? Stolid? Impassive? Emotionless? You just don’t give a flying fuck, do you?!”
The stars remain calm. Always. They’re the ones who are indifferent, stolid, impassive, emotionless. They’re the ones who don’t give a flying fuck, except maybe for the shooting stars. They’re the ones who don’t have a mind split down right the middle, each side filled with undesired doubt and an immense ego who are pulling so hard in the opposite direction from each other that the thin invisible cord that holds our minds together — Sanity — is ready to snap at any moment. The stars watch the Earth, enjoy the show with a big stupid grin on their faces, and they mock us.
My eyes are like a dam with a tiny but present crack that is unable to hold the tons of water anymore. Soon, a flood. If only, I think to myself. If only I were cold, if only there was a switch that you could turn on and off, if only I didn’t have the recurring image of an austere hospital room in which a Johanna covered in sweat and in a green robe had just given birth and a baby was crying in a meaningless doctor’s arm and then suddenly crimson blood trickled down the camera screen that filmed the scene and the crying abruptly stopped as the screen turned all red — if only I didn’t have all that, then what the fuck! I’d be happy! But happy is one of the words that vanished from my dictionary.
”I’m not cold,” I say, because I must say something, because I must fill the void. But am I cold? Or am I in shock? Am I anything, or just a concrete body empty of emotions? The dam can’t hold the water anymore, the crack is spreading, the flood begins, the tears stroll down. As I cry, I amuse myself with one stupid thought that pins one infinitesimal smile across my face: although I’m a rightie, the first tears always pour from my left eye.
”I’m sorry honey, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I know you’re not cold, I’m stupid, it’s just that–”
”It’s OK,” I interrupt. Truth be told, it is OK. I understand her. She’s a more sensitive person than I am. I don’t comprehend yet that in the future I will look back on these few days, this week of reflection, as the most important period in my life. The defining moment of my life, probably. I don’t grasp the magnitude of it only because I am still in it, and while I am still in it, the sun still rises in the same place, which is East or West, I don’t remember, and it still sets in the opposite direction. In near or distant future, tomorrow or in ten years, when I will look back on today, I will think that time — that linear, pain-in-the-ass stress machine — broke down to give me eternal deliberation. But it didn’t.
”Are you mad? You don’t love me anymore, do you?”
I look at her and grin at the preposterousness of the question; she beguiles me with the same look Zeppelin gives when he knows he’s done something bad and has been caught, a look that says: I’m so sorry and so cute you’ll forgive me anything. Right?
”If I didn’t love you anymore, I wouldn’t have knocked you up. I would have told my sperm to hold back.”
She takes my hand, squeezes. ”Let’s talk about it, then. What do you want to do?”
I know she’s naturally weak, I know also that I’m the man and that she awaits me to make the decision for her. She won’t ever admit it, and might not even be aware of it on the surface, but deep down she wants me to make the decision because it will assuage her conscience. Scapegoat. That’s what I will become. Unconsciously, I am aware. She will never hate me for this.
Small decisions are hard. Suffice to say, big ones are impossible. You can ponder, you can wonder, but you can’t squander doubt. You might as well toss a coin. I look at Johanna’s face. Her eyes are greenish, scintillating stars. They’re calm, like the ones up there, and they always bring a feeling of light and security within me, like a lighthouse would to a ship stranded in a furious sea in the dead of night. I think to myself that these eyes have allowed me to remain at peace these past few days, that whenever I felt my heart ready to burst out of my ribs, all I had to do was look into those two stars, or think about them, and the wave of anxiety would retreat.
And now, I could allow a baby to come into this world, and breathe our polluted air, and walk (or crawl) our shit-covered sidewalks, but most importantly, bring me another pair of stars.
”I don’t know what I want to do,” I say. ”What I do think, though, is that we’re lucky to have the possibility to be scared shitless about making a decision. Some parts of the world, abortions are illegal. That’s scary.”
”So you’re scared shitless?”
I nod. ”Of course I am. Look, I’ve always wanted to be a father, just, I never expected to happen so soon. And you know, I don’t really believe in destiny and karma and all that shit, but I have to admit, this is an opportunity presenting itself. We thought our lives were plain, boring, empty of something. This could be it.”
”So,” Johanna answers. ”You wanna keep the baby?”
I think back about what I’ve just said. Sometimes things roll out of your tongue and parachute into the air, gliding to the other person’s ear, without you really meaning for it to happen. Sometimes, you just say things, without thinking. Do I really want to keep the baby? Didn’t I want to live a few months by myself in Spain in the very near future? Hadn’t we talked and accepted that proposition, only a week ago?
”I’m still not sure, honey. I don’t wanna kill it, that’s for sure. But I also want to have a bit of freedom in the coming future. Having a dog, that’s already being tied down. But a baby, that’s like being nailed to the fucking cross. And not everyone gets a resurrection, you know?”
Silence from the two of us. The dog is snoring on the bed. The stars are watching in through the window. My hand is now operating on her neck. Abortion is tormenting my mind, shredding it to pieces. Each second spent contemplating about it is like a dagger in my heart. I run my other hand through my hair, ruffle it, while my stomach growls in anger from the lack of food it’s received today.
”Be honest. You don’t want it?”
Breathe in. Moment of truth. Kind of like a time-out. I’m on the spot, which I hate, and I have to give a decisive, honest answer. No curving around that one. Straightforward. No strings attached. No buts or ifs. What do I do? I plunge into the real abyss, my heart, my soul, maybe, and search for what I really want the most. I think about the austere hospital room again, then flash forward to my parents and how I imagine them reacting to the news, then I picture myself watching the World Cup with my son in eight or ten years but I also visualize struggling for money and always searching for perfection.
What I fear the most, though, is slavery. Loss of freedom, loss of dreams, even those I know I’m too lazy to accomplish. It ain’t over till the fat lady sings, and a pregnant woman who loves humming along to her Madonna or Rolling Stones album is as close as it gets to a fat lady singing.
”It’s OK,” she says, not bothered by my silence, maybe able to see through my eyes and into my troubled mind. An army of tears is assembling itself in the field of her eyes. ”If you don’t want it, we won’t have it. That way, the baby will become a star and be a guardian angel for our next one, just like my brother is my guardian angel.”
The army is still holding back the attack, but not for long. I try to negotiate for peace and hopefully prevent war from breaking out, even if it seems improbable. ”Don’t say that. Maybe it would be better to have it. I’m scared, you know. I’m scared of having it, of spending 8 months with you pregnant, I’m scared of struggling for money so that he or she has a good childhood, and I’m scared shitless of telling my parents. You know, society creates an image about everything, about how normal is perfection, and in a normal life a 23 year old uneducated and job-less guy does not have a child with a 28 year old girl after only one year together. So I’m scared of the image. But deep, deep down, even beyond the scared shitless part, whatever happens, happens, and I know I’ll be happy once we have it.”
The army is attacking down the field of her cheeks, but instead of shooting bullets, flowers are coming out of the guns. She is crying tears, not of sadness, but of joy. And to welcome the army beyond the field of cheeks, a smile is in preparation. ”You would? Be happy?”
”Of course I would! I mean, since the choice is ultimately yours, if you decide to keep it then I get to choose the name, so obviously I would be happy. And I’m excited about the idea of arguing with you about what clothes to buy for the baby, of how to raise it, of feeding it, of everything. I love you, and I would love our baby.”
My fingers are now tenderly caressing her face, running up her cheeks and around her forehead, venturing out in the wilderness of her hair and looping around her ear lobe and contouring her lips and slopping down her nose.
My mind is racing through the past, the present and the future; it races through a Spring day, dictated by a scorching sun witnessing a shy boy scared shitless admitting to a beautiful Swede that he really likes her, and when she answers that she likes him, too, he counters in a shaky voice that he means he really likes her, and when he notices the flicker of a smile on her face he draws near her and does the unthinkable: he kisses her; it races through this evening, our conversation, her body and her tears, my mind and my fear, our parents and unasked questions, love and doubt, and eventually, risks; it races through to a father looking proudly and in awe at his son, a blond toddler in diapers with a curious grin on his face, on the floor crawling after a scared mini Yorkshire while the mother is on the couch laughing and Mick Jagger is singing that childhood living is easy to do, the things you wanted I bought them for you. It races and races, eternally and ephemerally, from one thought to the other, from one skull side to the other, from one star to the other.
And then, I put my hand, flat, over her stomach.