Trying to get pregnant was a full-time fucking job. Of all the useless and weird shit humans have done, we hadn’t figured out a way for women to knock ourselves up. It infuriated me that science hadn’t gotten with the program and checked off this minor issue on the gay agenda. Sure, there were some interesting schools of thought along with the women’s separatist movement in the 1960s and 70s. I totally get why women would abandon mainstream society to go live in a commune in a hidden holler somewhere. Sounded nice and could work with a broader queer lens in place for my generation.
In the meantime, I held tight to a long-standing fantasy that somewhere out there through space and time lived a brilliant, lesbian scientist who spent day and night in her very fly lab working towards our radical liberation from the y chromosome in human reproduction. I could picture her in a crisp, white lab coat, cute goggles. Beth Ditto and Patti Smith playing an infinite shuffle as Genevieve, Viv to me, pipetted things into petri dishes and test tubes and voice recorded her meticulous notes on the results and discoveries from her carefully performed experiments. For years, I’d sent her thoughtful mental bouquets of wildflowers; I’ve dreamt of Viv taking me as her guinea pig lover.
My girlfriend Tori was doing her best to knock me up, and miraculously so was Tori’s dip-shit brother, but the success all came down to me. This one needed to work, I was getting sick of charting my bleeding and sending rooster texts. No more goddamn meditation, no more negative tests. I’d begun to consider calling it quits but I wanted a baby to grow inside me and make me a lactating juggernaut, a super parent with a super partner, and a super house with super friends and damn near everything else that could be super.
I felt like an idiot texting rooster to Tori’s brother. But I did again about a half-hour ago. My temperature was elevated, and the ovulation predictor kit confirmed that I’d ovulated. He’d get to be an uncle. Why did he need a code word to get into it? I heard his tell-tale scooter zooming up the street. He parked on the sidewalk next to the neighbor’s tree, limbs heavy with figs, the ground underneath a mess of bird shit and squished fruit. For over two years, he’d parked in the same spot on the sidewalk. If he’d moved it just a few more feet he’d not block the path and be in everyone’s way. I was serious about being a good neighbor, he laughed hard at me and said he’d be in and out. If we had leftovers in the fridge, he’d eat half of everything, always sitting on my back porch dropping bits of food and leaving empty beer cans. Future uncle alright. Goddess why do we need sperm?
I held the kitchen door open; he walked in wearing white tiger striped pajamas and green crocs. He clicked his tongue, gave me a puny salute, and headed to the hall bath. What a jerk.
Two steps at a time, I made my way upstairs along the old, well-worn pine banister. I was fourth generation Culotta who slid down the banisters, my cousins and I terrifying our parents and getting the dogs riled up. I ended up with the house after my aunt Frieda died and my mother took off with a traveling preacher from Florida. Guess the gay agenda included homeownership too.
Tori was feeling extra-bohemian lighting candles, setting them out all over the room. On the fireplace mantle, on our nightstands, across our antique chest of drawers with ornate gold pulls. She wore cutoffs and a turquoise blue t-shirt sliding off of one shoulder. Her wavy brown hair skimmed the nape of her neck, her undercut a few months grown out. Tori seemed to be on the verge of saying something important but hummed and worked steadily while her brother expeditiously jerked off in the downstairs bathroom, leaving us a small, milky-snot wad of sperm in a sanitized jelly jar. I heard the toilet flush, then the back door slam, then his pee-wee motor scooter revving up. He took off, beeping a goodbye, maybe a good luck. Before this major act of love and solidarity, to me he was just Tori’s dumb brother.
Shadows from beeswax candles flickered across the sage smudged walls. Our bedroom was the second largest in the house and was connected to our own bathroom by a set of ancient cypress French doors, with lace curtains and glass mottled and original, not damaged in Katrina. The house was old and had fourteen-foot ceilings which were built for comfort back before air conditioning. Before ceiling fans even. The air around me warmed from the little flames dancing. The rituals were getting to be a bit too involved.
Tori smoothed out the new bedsheets, her fingers and rings clinking together. For my birthday she sprang for high thread count. That’s what grownups got for each other on their birthdays. I guessed anyway. Her windcatcher tattoo sat high up on the back of her bare shoulder and was rust colored, with white accents on the feathers, a brown leather cord strung with blue and green beads dangled below. It was well done, good shading. But she hated it and was sketching a design to cover it up. “It’s utterly embarrassing,” she said after the first time we got naked together. She was determined not to be an appropriative white woman from the east coast.
Tori showed up like that, continually working to improve herself. After all the jaded misfits I’d dated, it was refreshing to meet a wide-eyed seeker. It gave me space to be the experienced expert in our relationship, a role I fully embraced. Charlie Cullotta was useful and competent, two Cullotta family traits that I’d actually claim and hoped to pass on to my kid.
We triple checked my temperature; it was in fact one degree lower than the day before. I knew I’d ovulated; I’d had the pimple to prove it. This pimple, I’d named Betty, grew glossier and more painful by the minute.
I stripped and sat on the edge of the bed; the sheets already smelled like a head shop, patchouli, and sandalwood. “Go time!” I said, lying flat on my back with my legs and hips propped up by yoga blocks. Tori’d read that it was a well-documented, successful position for at home insemination.
Tori said something, then snapped her fingers close to my ear. “Ready?” she asked.
I winced at her cold hands. “You’ve got ice blocks, babe.” She rolled her eyes and picked up the plastic syringe—it looked like a comedy stage prop. I could feel sweat beads gathered on my upper lip. Her eyebrows were serious and a little unsettling as she drew back the plunger. I gave two thumbs up then spread my labia. Tori gently slid the syringe in, until it bumped up against my cervix. I felt pressure as she pushed the plunger and hopefully millions of go-getters were rushing to find my egg. It didn’t hurt, just skeeved me out a little. Breathing in and out I felt a bit fuzzy from holding my breath.
Tori went to work placing crystals along my body’s meridians or chakras. She’d placed fresh flowers in jars around the room. It was pretty, but I didn’t exactly feel relaxed. I closed my eyes. Halloween was coming up. I didn’t have a costume ready. Stop thinking. We might be low on coffee. Stop thinking. This was impossible.
I took deeper breaths, Tori stroked my forehead, then she began to hover over me—she’d been studying Reiki. Tori was woo-woo like this when we first got together and try as she might, I wasn’t buying all the woo-woo stuff. But I took notice when she rubbed my scalp and neck.
“That feels wonderful.”
“You should go ahead and have an orgasm. I’ll leave you to it,” she said, pulling her hands away. “How about cup of Chai?”
I waved a no and pretended to concentrate on my breathing.
I didn’t want a cup of tea. I wanted an orgasm but not without her. My disappointment in our declining sex life led me to spend any alone time madly masturbating. If she’d just sit on my face now and then, there wouldn’t be a problem.
She left to go downstairs, closing the bedroom door behind her. I mean, I couldn’t fault her too much. This shit stopped being sexy a few tries ago. The first time we thought we could make it hot, we’d had some wine, danced around naked. She’d been going down on me for a while before we both realized that her brother’s sperm was inside my junk and probably also inside her mouth. Not the conception story I wanted to tell my kid someday.
I re-started my brain and tried to remember the last good porn I’d watched while placing the cold crystals on my nipples and rolling a smooth rock around my clit. This could work, I thought, feeling the cold tingle. This had potential, so I kept going. I took a lit votive from the nightstand and dripped off all the pooled hot wax onto a plate, then I let a few fresh drops land on my belly. I rubbed the candle wax, it was warm, then it firmed up. I took a large purple crystal, an amethyst (Tori’s favorite), and put it between my teeth. I bit down hard enough to keep it in place. Tasted like soot, or dust, or potpourri. Who the hell in this house had potpourri?
I poured more wax and placed more crystals. Nothing about this was sexy, not an inkling of kink. It was weird and I was terrified that Tori would come back to find my body covered in wax splatters, crystals in my belly button, asphyxiated by an amethyst the size of an avocado pit.
I stopped and put everything back the way she’d had it, for the most part. My eyes darted around the room. The ceiling fan needed dusting and I noticed a new crack in the wall, one near the ceiling by the window that went all the way to the floor in what looked like a line of ants. I looked at my watch, big moon faced and self-winding. I had seven minutes left to lie here and try not to die.
I heard the staircase gently creek with her steps. Tori opened the bedroom door and the perfume of jasmine tea wafted in with her. She grabbed my robe that hung from the headboard, my old man robe, blue and white striped terrycloth, deep pockets, deep enough for fruit, the remote control, a bottle of water, a rolled-up newspaper to thump at the dog for peeing in the house. I missed having a dog, and I never ever thumped a newspaper at her, but I could picture it with the robe. It had that kind of effect. The belt wrapped three times around Tori, one and half on me. I liked our couple proportions. It’s not like I looked down on her or anything, but I got off on her looking up to me. It was thrilling when she’d rest her head on my chest. I could sit my chin on the top of her head, and we’d be blissed out and stay that way for a slow song or two—dancing together wherever we found music.
One by one, we cleared the crystals and she wrapped me up, suspiciously looking at the spilled wax. I shrugged and she sighed into a laugh.
“You feel something?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Something.” And I did, but I didn’t know what.
For the next two weeks, I checked my underwear two to three times a day in addition to every pee, when I took a shower, and when I changed clothes. Days went by and I saw nothing, not a hint of pink, or red, or rust. Two weeks and now four more days, and not a drop of blood in my underwear. My heart felt bathed in a hot, wet, beating rhythm. We’d never made it this far. It was time to test.
Tori and I snagged the last two un-locked pregnancy tests from the neighborhood 24-hour pharmacy. She fixed their dented cardboard boxes and checked the expiration date. “Two more years left,” she said, taking my hand. This was a good sign, I thought. Like the universe had launched gobs of potent fertility bombs into our neighborhood. We stood there and swayed between the shelves of pads, tampons, and various other feminine products. I scanned the bevvy of pink and purple pastel boxes and bottles from top to bottom. My eyes caught the locks on the name-brand, top shelf tests. Locked up with the condoms and lube. Deodorant, pampers. Those aisles had locks now. It was easier to lift a bottle of vodka or rum.
It was Friday just after midnight. Only a few customers were in line buying chips and cigarettes and picking out pints of liquor from behind the cashier. Before the baby quest, that’s what my late-night shopping generally included.
Up above our heads, a few drop-ceiling panels were missing letting a long orange power cord dangle to the floor. I heard the whir of a fan at the cashier’s feet. By the door, hot air surged in with each new customer. An armed security guard half-sat on a stool. Under the twitchy and bright fluorescent lights, he looked too tired to stand, head nodding, droopy eyes struggling.
“Good evening. How ya doing?” I said to the cashier. Tori put the tests on the counter. Doubt barged in and made me question the reliability of the dusty, off-brand tests. I told myself that they were just fine; they were just the regular, low-rent kind, no bells, no whistles. Perfectly capable of telling us whether I was pregnant.
She nodded and scanned a tests’ barcode. “Think I could get some kind of discount on these? The boxes are all dented up and there aren’t any in better shape to choose from.”
“I’m sorry. Please ignore her,” Tori said pushing me out of the way to pay.
The cashier handed me the bagged-up tests and said, “Good luck, baby.”
The security guard snored himself awake and tipped his hat as Tori and I booked it through the glitchy sliding glass doors, out onto the sidewalk. I couldn’t help that every time I walked through those doors, I heard glass windows crash and helicopter blades whirring above my head. Days after the levees broke, I took water, was a looter depending upon who told it. I took crackers and canned soup. A handle of shitty rum and a two-liter of Coke.
I shook off the memory and wiped the sweat from the back of my neck. Goddess it was a stiflingly hot night. We unchained our bikes from the makeshift rack covered in bumper stickers and spray paint.
We biked out of the parking lot side by side. “Good luck, baby!” Tori shouted out, up to the sky and back to me. I followed close behind her, watching her short cutoffs and thighs, zooming around potholes. Cars rode too close, the drivers like big game hunters with their eager anger and impossibly long stares. I thought about them shooting and stuffing us, mounting us to their uptown mansion walls to be shown off at dinner parties. Bloated rich bitches bragging about how they’d bagged two downtown dykes. I hated those fucks.
Turning towards the river onto our street, it was darker than I expected. The streetlight was out. A giant sports utility vehicle pushed past us. Another echo scratched at my heart, from years ago, when military hummers were everywhere. These streets were built for pedestrians and horses. Under layers of concrete were bricks that peaked out here and there, a break in the pavement revealing another layer of the city. As we slowed and eased up to the house, my heart bounced. I was the dyke with the pink and purple polka-dotted house. The glowing yellow porchlight was on, with winged bugs circling a spiral to their zapped demise. The Victorian two-story stood fairly still, foundation sinking a bit, surrounded by sweet olive trees, variegated ginger that stretched just about six feet tall, and the parasol palms my mama loved so dearly.
We took our bikes inside, up the back porch stairs and through the dimly lit kitchen, and down the hall. Our bike tires squeaking on the wood floors. Tori’s Queen of Hearts card swiped from my poker deck, clipped to her spoke, pitched a classic click, click, click that could make the hair on the nape of my neck stand up and quiver when I heard the cards getting closer. It felt fine to have a lover. Before Tori and I’d embarked upon our baby-making mission, I held parties, everything from arm wrestling to queered-up burlesque. And now I thought it’d make a great playroom.
We dropped our bikes and flew upstairs to our bedroom. I didn’t hear any music, no chanting or breath yoga from our roommate, Brick. Maybe if we’re alone for a while Tori might get in the mood, so I quickly ripped open the box and handed Tori the test stick. I dropped my pants and pissed in the petite plastic cup like the ones we got in grade school with fluoride rinse. That awful bubblegum taste appeared on my tongue. Harsh. Careful not to splash my hands, I filled it close to the rim and handed it over. Tori’s hands shook and she dribbled a little on my thumb. I wondered if she was actually nervous. Tori was the type of woman to walk up to a lion and domesticate it on sight. She wore one of my flannel shirts, unbuttoned and hanging down past her knees.
I washed my hands then clicked on the bedroom lamp. The moon called out to us through floor to ceiling windows. We were deep into the witching hour, the time-of-day for us to look into our future. I thought about how other couples might do this, swoon from each other’s love, giddy with the possibilities. Not us though, this was our third try. Tori was all lock-jawed precision dipping the little porous rectangle tip end of the pregnancy test into the cup, holding it steady and letting it soak up my straw-colored urine. Hopefully my pregnant urine, flush with hormones from a tiny fetus saying, “Hey, you two! I’m here!”
The window unit groaned and puffed out almost cold air. I hated the thought of replacing it, so I texted myself a reminder to find a tutorial on YouTube. I could fix it just like I fixed the fridge and the ceiling fan, and Tori’s bike. I was badass butch woman who could fix anything. I wanted to fix the fact we’d not had sex in forever, I wanted to grab Tori, toss her over my shoulder and onto the bed. I would fuck her with earnestness and early relationship zeal.
Without a doubt, my period was officially late—like five whole days late—and my tits felt heavy and tender when I put on my binder. I felt both optimistic and nauseated. These were textbook early signs of pregnancy I’d learned from the audio books I’d listened to while huffing and puffing tourists from restaurant to bar to bar to restaurant in my pedi-cab. That job kept me incredibly fit. My thighs were thick-cut boulders within the first month, they grew so large I had to cut slits in my cutoffs to keep from cutting off circulation to my feet. This late in summer was just too damn hot and I was glad to take a break.
Standing in front of the mirrored medicine cabinet, I studied my reflection, squinting my eyes; I imagined my breasts growing, two big fleshy handfuls. I wondered if they’d still be a-symmetrical and if righty would stay the runt. Would my nipples change colors and get long? This part of becoming a parent stood in direct opposition to my desire to remain flat-chested. It was a total shock to me when I decided to do the whole breastfeeding thing—like I really wanted to do it and honor something immensely cool that my tits could do—what’s cooler than being able to feed a baby. But that was it when it came to my tits. I rarely let anyone go there for good times.
Sufficiently soaked, Tori capped the end of the test stick and placed it flat onto the back of the damp, cool toilet tank. I’d say it was the coolest thing in the house. We stood on either side of the bowl, hovering above the test, our foreheads touching. The control pink line appeared strong, followed by another pink line, parallel and rushing to fill the window all the way from bottom to top of the test window.
Two lines. “Two lines. Tori, look.”
“I know,” she said ripping open the second box and handing me a cup. Her eyes flashed goldenrod specks, they looked almost wild with want. I peed, she dipped, and we waited. Tori took my hand and together, we stared down at the second test as one pink line appeared, and so did the other. Again. I had a baby inside me. My head rushed images like a flip book crow flying across the sky, but I saw my belly growing so big and just as it was about to bust, I’m handed a baby that I’ve just pushed out of my uterus, through my vagina and into the world.
Tori began kissing my hands and wrists and making tiny leaps into the air. Up and down and up and down, infectious and fun, I joined her and jumped and laughed and smiled so hard my molars hurt.
I heard a knock, then a pound, pound, pound on the bedroom door. “Hey! What’s happening? Charlie! Tori! What’s going on? My heart can’t take this kind of stress! Let me in.”
I grabbed both pregnancy tests and ran to open the door. I shoved them into Brick’s hands. They looked down, then looked up at me and squealed. A genuine, high-pitched sensational squeal. “We’re having a baby! Oh! Oh my god! A baby. A little, tiny, punk baby!” My heart swooned; I finally had a tiny little being growing inside of me.
Brick passed back the tests, pulled me in and hugged me with the deep love hugs they were famous for. I felt Tori, she’d moved closer, and we all wrapped our arms together. I knew what they were thinking, and they knew what I was thinking. My period could come just like the other times and then we’d cry and eat lots of popcorn and watch movies.
Later that night, I heard steps and feet tiptoe into the bathroom. Tori stood in front of the glass door, quiet. With the stage presence of a dancer, a burlesque art of the slow tease, she slid her shirt off, shoulder by shoulder. Shimmied it down to her ankles. Her skirt was next to go. She stepped out of it, then stepped into the shower and put her hand on my lower back. Her body pressed up behind me; she washed the back of my neck. Her slow and gentle touch soon quickened with more pressure and she squeezed my hips and rocked me back into her body. My skin rippled, alive, awakened by her. She kissed my back and I held tight to the handrail, trusting it would hold.
About the Author
Crystal Gross grew up in Southwest Ohio and moved to New Orleans, Louisiana in the late nineties. She dedicates her time raising two children with her partner, writing short stories, dancing, and building queer community. Crystal recently earned her MFA from Southern New Hampshire University and holds a BA from Loyola University. She works as a writing coach at Delgado Community College. Find her at: https://crystalgrosswrites.wordpress.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/crystal.gross.14.
*Featured image by Goran Tomic