In A Name
Alistair. Ooh, Alistair. Maybe Alistair.
Allen. I grew up with an Allen. He stuck his gum in Beth Carmichael’s hair during history class once, and she had to shave her head right before homecoming. This one time, Mrs. Smithson’s one-eyed cat sunk his only yellowed snaggletooth in Allen’s hand when he tried to tie a firecracker to its tail. The wound got so infected, he almost lost his arm. None of us felt a bit sorry for him. Nope, definitely not Allen.
Anthony? Might as well sign him up for a job at a pizzeria. I like pizza. Actually, I could go for a slice or three right about now.
Must. Focus. This baby isn’t going to name himself.
Bartholomew. I furrow my eyebrows and shake my head. Sorry, Bart. Never gonna happen.
Billy. Who would name their kid Billy? Poor guy could be a hundred years old and people would still call him “Little Billy” or something just as obnoxious.
Someday the baby fluttering in my swollen belly will grow up to be… maybe not a hundred years old, but so old he won’t need me anymore. Right now we’re literally tethered together and so tangled in each other it’s impossible to remember a time before this bizarre game of Twister. It’s even more difficult to imagine a time he won’t depend on me for everything. Emotion lodges itself in my throat and I force it down with a gulp of ice water.
I pause on the name as I glance at the swallows bickering over seeds at the feeder on the other side of the big picture window.
With one blink, I’m on the launchpad of a rocket setting off for the darkest reaches of space. My boy grins at me from behind the visor of his bubble helmet, his solitary dimple creasing his right cheek.
“I don’t know why I ever agreed to this, Buzz.” I pull my sweater closed against the wind howling from the engines. “Couldn’t you have been a car salesman or something?”
“Don’t worry, Ma.” He wraps me in a hug. Since he’s in his flight suit, it’s like being hugged by a marshmallow man. “Someone’s got to prove that Pluto’s a planet, like you’ve always told me.”
I jut out my chin. “It’s totally a planet.”
He laughs, then marches up the ramp to the waiting vessel. Before he slips inside, he turns and waves to me.
Tears overwhelm my eyes so I don’t see the ship’s door seal between us. “It’s totally a planet.”
That’s a no to Buzz.
Announced by the groan of the worn floorboards and the clink-clink-clink-clink of his spurs, my son strides across the saloon toward the hulking man slouched over the bar. “Beg yer pardon, compadre. There must be some sagebrush stuck in my ear.” He sticks a finger in his ear and wiggles it. “I coulda sworn I heard you call my mama a—”
“Language, Cody,” I say. “Don’t make me wash your mouth out with pine tar.”
My son whirls to me, his brown—no, blue—eyes blazing. “Ma! You mind?”
The mountain of a man barks in black-lunged laughter. “Yeah, watch your mouth. You heard the filthy wh—”
Before the insult has a chance to spew from his blistered lips, I fly out of my seat and launch at him, connecting my wicked right hook to his meaty jaw.
“Really, Ma?” My son rubs his whiskered chin as he watches me land another punch. Then he shrugs and joins the melee.
I smile and pencil a question mark next to the name. Cody’s a maybe.
The baby rolls within my belly and pushes a foot between my ribs. I wince and flip to the E’s, then the F’s.
“Honey,” I call to my husband in the next room. “What do you think of ‘Leif?’”
Engrossed in the football game on TV, he grunts, “Game’s almost over, then I’ll run to the store.”
I wrinkle my forehead. “What are you talking about?”
“I ran out of lawn bags,” he says, then calls the referee a name that is definitely not in my baby name book. I shield my belly with one hand in a move I like to call fetal earmuffs.
Despite placing myself between the growling yellow machines and my son, the man with the long steel-wool beard and the hard hat swings the crane around until it is aligned with us.
“I’ve got orders, kid,” the man shouts over the putter of the engine.
“Do what you gotta do,” my son fires back, shaking his wavy brown mane. He’s chained to a large tree like a modern-day Jesus. Except he’s only trying to save a nest of endangered birds tucked away in the highest branches. It’s been like this his whole life—championing one cause after the next.
“It’s a tree, for goodness’ sake.” I point out. “It’s not worth dying for.”
He says nothing, just stares into the eyes of the yellow beast.
I grab him by his shoulders, the muscles taut under his favorite Peas on Earth shirt. “They’re just birds.”
That’s when he locks his blue?—well, maybe they’re brown, after all—eyes on mine. “And I’m just a Leif. That doesn’t mean we don’t matter.”
I smile and trace the name one more time with my fingertip before I move on. Leif. Possibly.
Lincoln. Lincoln. Fourscore and thirty weeks ago I drank too much merlot and look where that got me.
The band blurts out the national anthem as he steps up to the podium, flanked by a group of men wearing dark suits and frowns. He raises his hand to the crowd, flashing a megawatt smile—his teeth are fantastic. He must have a great dentist because he didn’t get the amazing teeth gene from either of us. Off to his left is a blonde in a coral pink business suit with white-gloved hands resting on the shoulders of two children. Twin girls, identical down to their polka-dotted sundresses and braids in their brown hair.
My mouth drops open. My grandchildren?
So focused am I on the girls, one of whom has flung a patent leather shoe into the crowd, I miss my son promise the nation that he will do away with taxes, skinny jeans, and Dubstep.
I’ll be a grandma.
A shudder runs through me. Someday I’ll want grandchildren, I’m sure; but not yet. Grandkids are for old people. I close the book and shove it back onto the bookshelf, giving up on the rest of the alphabet.
The wave thunders through my body as strong and wild as a runaway train. When it passes, my nurse’s face reappears again, too close. She holds my right foot in her gloved hand, ready to pick up my leg when the next contraction comes. Her eyebrows hang in an expectant arch; she’s waiting for me to answer a question I never heard.
“We haven’t picked a name yet,” my husband replies for me. “Isn’t that right, sweetie?”
He’s got my left foot in one palm, and he slides his free hand over my leg. He’s trying to comfort me, but the callouses on his palm snag on my prickly legs. Before I can tell him to cut it out, my breath catches.
Oh, God. Here it comes again.
“Shut. Up,” I hiss, pinching my eyes closed and yanking my thighs to my chest. If I hurt my husband’s feelings, I don’t notice. There’s nothing else but me and this baby. I push with all of my might until sparks dance behind my eyelids and my heart threatens to burst. He moves the smallest fraction toward the world, then slips maddeningly back toward the womb. We continue this dance—one step forward, one step back—until I let loose with a roar that could rival a lioness. Only then does his little body slip from me into waiting hands. Within seconds, he is in my trembling arms.
His lips part in the cry of new life, his gums a blank slate. He is still becoming, the blue of his toes and fingers slipping away with each breath. I bring his body, so wonderfully warm and sticky with vernix, to my chest. I look down into his unfocused gray eyes, blinking against the harshness of life on the outside, and I hold him a little more closely. In that moment, I know exactly who he is.
I speak his name.
Story by: S. J. Henderson
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