The Year I Got Pregnant with Timmy
The year I got pregnant with Timmy, my husband, Joe, was having an affair with a woman from the laundromat. Was that same year, I lost my desire to speak. People say I lost my mind too, ‘cause of everything that happened. But they dunno nothin. They dunno.
At first, his affair bothered me, the same way it bothered me when he screwed all the other women before. But this time it was different. I was jealous. I was outraged. I wanted what they had. I wanted Joe for myself. And then I didn’t want him. A confusion, I know. Maybe it was all those hormones from the pregnancy.
Joe pretended he didn’t know I was pregnant. I wasn’t no Slim Jim, never was, and my bulge wasn’t obvious, but he was living right there in the house with me, and he didn’t comment on my retching, he didn’t comment on my tiredness, he didn’t even comment on my enlarged breasts. I find it hard to believe he didn’t notice those things. Maybe he didn’t comment ‘cause I wasn’t giving him no honey; well, just a lil’ taste now and then. Was sometime in September, when I was about five months pregnant, he asked me about my weight gain. We were in the kitchen, just after sunset, when the place was still bright so there wasn’t no need to switch on the light. He sat at the table drinking his black coffee and I was prepping for next day’s lunch. I bent to take something from the fridge.
“But Sylle, yuh backside gettin’ bigger than Farmer Steffy truck!” When I didn’t answer he continued. “If I din’ know better I would say you ketch!”
“Yes I ketch.”
My husband threw back his bald head and laughed. Was a long time I’d heard him laugh like that. He slapped his knees and banged the table, spilling some of the coffee. “I thought you was barren.”
I had a mind to slap that damn bald head and make him choke on his coffee. When he saw my wax up face he stopped laughing. He pushed back the wooden chair on the patch-up linoleum floor, making a dragging noise, and stood. A loose piece of carpet shifted under the main carpet and I made up my mind to buy new linoleum for Christmas. Joe came closer to where I was standing, near the sink, two inches taller than me. My husband regarded me, hard, as if it was his first time seeing me. “But Sylle you serious for true? An vyé jou mwen? In my old age you want to make me a father?”
Joe had to think of himself as old. He was forty-eight but looked much older, consuming too much alcohol, tobacco, and pussy. He was a honey color when I’d met him fifteen years before, a handsome man with small dark eyes that squinted when he laughed. I’d just started working at the dentist’s office, Joe had just started working for himself in the construction business and I was impressed with him. Now, he was a darker brown, with blotches on his face and skin, like the sun had baked him. The eyes that looked at me were bloodshot and wrinkled at the corners, still handsome if you look at him closely. People used to ask him what he saw in me, Ma Trubin’s daughter – short and fat, and black like the coals we used to sell.
“I thought you’d be glad to finally have a baby,” I retorted.
“I happy. I happy,” my husband tried to convince me. “You happy?” He watched me again, too close, making me feel naked. And guilty.
“Of course!” I tried to sound excited. After twelve years of marriage, I’d given up hope of getting pregnant, and had thrown all caution out the window. Yet, at forty-four, I was beginning to warm up to the idea of motherhood.
Joe was looking at me with so much intensity I thought he could see right through my soul, right through my lies. I turned my head and continued chopping celery. I watched from the corner of my eye as he walked to the brown painted cupboard where he stored his hard drinks. He pulled out a half bottle of gin and poured some into a glass that was already on the table, most likely dirty from an earlier round. “I’ll drink to that!”
I turned to look at him. He held his glass mid-air as if making a toast. Was a slight smile on his lips and I couldn’t figure out if he was making fun of me or if he was really happy.
“How much months?” he asked.
“Not sure. Have to go to the doctor.” I lied.
He nodded, swallowed the gin in one gulp, then washed it down with the rest of his coffee. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and took his hat from the hook on the wall. “Goin’ down de road to check Ronnie.”
“Uh huh.” I kept my eyes on my business, sprinkling chopped herbs over diced beef. I knew the Ronnie he was going to check had breasts and a vagina. And a slim body. The rumors about his affair had started swirling about long before I was pregnant. Me and my cousin Jean did our investigation and discovered the affair with May. I knew May from little girl days when our mothers used to send us to pick peppers for Farmer Steffy so we could make a lil’ money. May used to greet me politely, not overly friendly, but like an acquaintance. Not anymore.
When Cousin Jean realized I stopped making a fuss over Joe and May she was surprised. I told her I didn’t have much to say to Joe 'cause I wanted to be careful with the baby.
The thing I didn’t tell Jean is that I didn’t think the baby was Joe’s.
The first time I cheated on my husband was after our scandalous New Year’s Day fight over May. I’d thrown a pot of hot soup at him when he had tried to sneak into the house at six o’clock that morning. After pummeling me, he chased me outside with a machete. Seeing my swollen face, the neighbors called the police and Jean suggested a restraining order. I moved in with Jean for two months. Was during those two months I responded to flirtations that I'd not experienced in years. I didn’t intentionally set out to have an affair, but I enjoyed the distraction, and one sweet whisper led to other sweet things. I didn’t want Jean to know what was going on and I didn’t want Joe to know either. So when he asked for forgiveness I moved back in with him and decided I would stop my affair. He still continued his relationship with May, although he tried to persuade me otherwise. I didn’t make a big fuss ‘cause I myself couldn’t resist my own fun.
When I’d missed two periods, I figured it was the onset of menopause 'cause I'd started experiencing irregular cycles. Was when I missed the third one and the nausea was on full blast that I panicked. I took four pregnancy tests – all positive. I cried then I smiled, feeling frightened and happy at the same time. Frightened of what would happen, what people would say; and happy, to finally be a mother.
That September night, a short while after Joe left to check the ‘Ronnie’ with the breasts and slim body, I took a shower and sprayed myself with the floral scented perfume Jean had bought me the Christmas before. The night was cool. Was no moon that night, and the sky was starry. Not a cloud. I went to the shop around the corner to buy milk and sugar. The usual group of men was there, playing domino or observing the game and I spoke with them for a lil’ while. When I left, I rushed home and my hands trembled as I placed the items in the cupboard.
I headed out the back door, my heart wild in my chest. My long skirt caressed the tall grass that led from my backyard to the back of the Catholic Church grounds. Soft breeze kissed my cheeks as I walked in the dark, guided by stars and memory. My heart was hustling my brain to breathe as if it was the first time coming here. I reached the church bell and leaned against one of the palm trees lining the perimeter of the property, willing my body to relax. Some teenage boys were talking just beyond the hedges at the front of the church about cars and bikes as if they had money to buy those things. Stars peeked at me through clouds, twinkling among themselves, twinkling about my secret. I was thinking about going back home when I saw a broad figure taking strides towards me. His lips met mine without speaking. His tongue tasted like tobacco and mint.
“I thought you weren’t coming to the shop tonight,” Boyd whispered in his slight British accent. He kissed my stomach, speaking softly to the miracle inside. I felt my baby flutter, just like the leaves around me. Boyd led me through a grassy path to a dilapidated structure, and we sat on its aged concrete steps, grass sprouting through the cracks. We didn’t always come to this location but it was easier and more discreet. Sometimes we would take a drive out of the village. Sometimes we would go to his house but his neighbors were so nosey, I worried they would tell Joe. Boyd was married too, but separated. His wife spent most of her time in England with their adult daughters. People said she was sick, but Boyd hardly discussed her with me.
He took my hand in his. Kissed it. “What did the doctor say?” he asked.
“So far so good. A boy.”
He nodded and a smile spread across his face, turning to a grin, then outright laughter. “I don’t believe it!”
Smiling, I nodded.
“I’ve always wanted a boy!” he beamed.
“Me too.” I snuggled closer to Boyd and he put his arm around me.
“We can name him Timothy, you know, after my grandfather.”
“I’d like that.”
That night I walked home with my heart full, wishing I could spend all my days with Boyd. On one hand, I wanted to ask him to move in with him but I was afraid to bring it up 'cause he had not offered and I didn’t know if he was ready for that. On the other hand, I didn’t want to bring this up with Boyd 'cause there was a small chance that my husband could be the father. Where would I stay if the child wasn’t Joe’s? Whatever the outcome, I made up my mind to face anything fate dealt me.
As my precious baby grew, my craving for Boyd grew. He was attentive, and wanted me around him every chance I could get away. I still slept with Joe, rarely, so he would not suspect my affair. Besides, he was trying to convince me his relationship with May was over, probably 'cause he felt guilty about the baby.
One beautiful sunny Wednesday, about seven months into my pregnancy, I called in sick, and me and Boyd were enjoying a river bath behind his carpentry workshop. (He did woodwork for a living). Although his workshop was about five minutes walking distance from where I lived, I hardly went there. I didn’t want my name in his two workers’ mouths. That Wednesday, they had gone out to deliver furniture.
At that time of year, the river was cold, but my body was hot and I needed that relief. Sitting in a shallow pool that Boyd had created using large stones, and shielded by trees and shrubs on both banks of the river, we faced each other as he massaged my swollen feet. The river was clear but our pool looked emerald green ‘cause of overhanging branches from the mango trees. My pregnancy was more obvious by that time, causing random people to congratulate me or give me advice. Even my hair had changed, grown to a length and fullness I’d never experienced. My backside did resemble Farmer Steffy’s truck, a part of my body that excited both Boyd and Joe. The baby poked and kicked and we could see the areas where he stretched my skin as he moved.
“Our Timmy is reminding us he is here, you know. Think he has my eyes?” Boyd smiled, a broad smile that went straight to my heart. He was using a river stone to rub the heel of my foot, and paused to rub my stomach.
Boyd’s eyes were what I found most attractive on his face; greenish-brown circles that lit up when he smiled. Was a pleasure just to look at him. I'd forgotten how someone could have such an effect on me. “As long as he is healthy,” I said.
He resumed rubbing my heel. “So when do you plan on telling Joe?”
I splashed my face with the cool water. Boyd stopped rubbing my heel and let go of my foot. I could feel his eyes on me.
“When you plan on telling your wife?” I countered.
His eyebrows furrowed. “She already knows.”
Shocked, I stared at him.
“I was waiting for the baby to come, you know, but someone beat me to it.”
“I – I – how come you didn’t tell me?”
He shrugged. “We had a fight about it on Sunday. I feel bad she had to hear it elsewhere, you know. Especially in her state, battling cancer. My daughters are not too happy with me either.”
I wasn’t sure if I should empathize with him or confront him about the fact that he and his wife were supposed to be separated. I sighed, and looked upriver. Boyd held my chin and turned my face towards him.
“When do you plan on telling Joe?” he repeated, his expression intent.
I swallowed and felt my chest rising. “Dunno.”
“But you’re almost due.” He released my chin.
“Doesn’t know you’re pregnant? Sylle, everybody can see you’re expecting, you know.”
“He dunno..dunno the baby’s not his.”
“What the fuck Sylle? You mean you've been giving Joe my juice?”
“Answer me Sylle.” I heard his controlled breathing.
“But I – but, but-”
“You mean all that time you fooled me into believing you and Joe living separate lives?” He stood, towering above me, and water droplets transferred from his frame to mine. My body shook like how the land trembled with tremors during volcanic activity.
“Oh fuck!” His voice rose above the river’s roar and settled in the pit of my stomach. I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t see his expression, and when I opened them he was still standing there, fingers tented in front of his face, greenish-brown eyes boring through me, water sliding down his fair skin. I was afraid he’d ask more questions.
“I won’t tolerate lies, Sylle.” He gathered his clothes and walked towards his workshop. By the time I dried and dressed, he was gone.
My heart was heavy in the days and weeks that followed. Was more painful ‘cause I had to hide my feelings. I was afraid to ask for Boyd too often at the shop. His workshop was open but he was never around when I went. The stars continued to twinkle at me by the church bell. I slowly gravitated back to Joe, although I felt little for him. He was cordial, going about his day the same way, and every day it became more difficult for me to tell him the truth.
Christmas was around the corner and I was due the second week in January. My excitement rose and fell. I was happy I was finally going to be a mother but my heart ached for Boyd. Jean noticed my dejectedness and suggested a potluck for Christmas. I offered to bring beef stew and garden salad. A few days before Christmas Jean picked me up to go to the market to purchase the items for the lunch. By that time I was huge. These days the baby somersaulted and kicked beneath my ribs, causing me discomfort and so much joy.
“You need to tell me what’s going on, Sylle,” Jean said as she drove. “Been hearing stories.”
I leaned against the headrest and sighed. I was going to ask her what stories but decided against it. She must have known all along. “I guess everybody figure me and Joe couldn’t conceive so they’re speculating.”
“No, they’re speculating because you been going to the man's house and to other villages thinking people wouldn’t know.”
I sighed again. “I have to tell Joe.”
“Yes you do, but he probably knows.”
That thought had occurred to me a few times but hearing it from Jean made me burst into a sweat. How to tell Joe? How to tell Joe?
We drove around looking for parking. The market was a colorful, busy place; large umbrellas splaying over stalls, vendors calling for people to buy their products, women frying chicken, some roasting corn and plantains. When Jean parked, she unbuckled and turned to face me. “Boyd’s wife is here. She and one of their daughters. Heard she came to spend her last days with Boyd. Heard she came to divorce him. Stories, stories.”
My heart sank to my stomach and a lump formed in my throat. I felt betrayed and confused. Were Boyd and his wife back together? Had they ever separated or did she just live abroad? Was this the real reason why Boyd was avoiding me?
“Let’s get those things,” I said, and opened the door.
We walked towards the meat section. “All those scents,” I moaned, feeling nauseous. Jean led me to her friend’s stall.
“I’ll buy the beef and meet you back here,” she said.
The woman offered me a wooden stool and I watched her negotiate prices with customers. She wore a madras head tie and a white apron with two large pockets where she dropped coins and small notes. Her skin, dark like mine, was shining from perspiration.
Above the hubbub of the market, I heard Joe’s laugh. I stood, and there he was, in all his glory, hand in hand with May, walking in my direction. I didn’t know I could be so filled with rage or jealousy. In hindsight, I wasn’t sure if I was jealous of May with my husband, or the fact that I didn’t have what they had. My skin burned like someone had put a torch to it. I stood with my arms akimbo, my nose flaring as they approached. When Joe saw me he let go of May’s hand. I noticed no ring on her finger.
“Is so you finish with that stick, Joe?” My voice rose and quavered unexpectedly.
Joe didn’t answer. He took a few steps towards me, slow, as if I was a wild animal. I could feel May’s eyes on me, sizing me up. She rushed forward, overtaking Joe. “You wish you was a stick, you cow!” May was just as loud as I was.
Before I could answer, she came closer, her fetid alcohol breath assaulting my senses, causing bile to rise to my throat. “Go and look for your correct child father and stop lying to Joe!”
I lunged at her and clawed her pretty face with my fingernails. I grabbed her ponytail, wanting to root the long black hair from her head. She kicked my legs. I ripped her blouse exposing her small breasts to the onlookers that had gathered.
May pushed me. I staggered backwards and down I went, along with the vendor’s items on her stall. Fruits rained on me as I hit the ground. My mind registered Joe pulling May away. I saw his mouth moving but I didn’t know what he was saying. Vendors and shoppers were talking at the same time. Pain tore through my body and someone helped me up, asking if they should call the ambulance. I was concerned about the baby, and tears burned my eyes as searing pain twisted my abdomen.
Joe, reeking of alcohol, helped me to sit on the stool, apologizing profusely. He said he was going to look for a ride, and hurried away before I could tell him that Jean was coming. Someone offered me coconut water, but I only spat it out. Soon after, Jean came running and she and the vendor helped me to her car. Was only then I observed the swelling in my right arm, and the split down the middle of my dress.
By the time we got to the car, warm liquid was running down my thighs and I felt abdominal pain, sharper than any I’d ever felt before. Heart pounding, I groaned and grabbed Jean for support. She hurriedly adjusted the front seat and helped me into the car. I didn’t know what hurt most, my back or my abdomen.
“I’m taking you straight to the hospital,” she said.
The vehicle squeaked and rattled on the pot holed roads, causing painful stabs in my body.
“We have to make a police report. This woman had no right to attack you.”
She went on about it but I could form no words in response. The throbs were excruciating, starting in my midsection then spreading downwards and across my lower body, pulsing, increasing in intensity, tormenting my being. My heart was speeding, my chest heaving, my back exploding. There was agonizing pressure on my groin and I involuntarily opened my legs hoping for some type of relief. It subsided and intensified, subsided and intensified, getting stronger every time. When the pain abated, I tore the split in the dress, right up to my breasts, and freed myself of all constrictions.
I breathed through my mouth, letting out a whistling sound as I exhaled. I wanted to tell Jean I thought the baby was coming but I didn’t think babies came so soon. I started panting heavily, grabbing the seat, resisting the urge to push, but Mother Nature was rolling along, forcing my body to behave as she intended. My agony manifested in moans and screeches.
“Almost there Sylle, almost there,” Jean kept saying.
My hair was drenched, sweat ran down my face, in between my breasts, and down my body. Jean was urging me to inhale and exhale, and I grit my teeth from the intense contractions. Feeling a compelling urge to push, I bore down hard, gripping the side of the seat, sweat and tears burning my eyes. I pushed again, and again but my son wasn’t coming. I screamed Jean’s name and God’s name; I swore at Boyd, I swore at Joe. My body felt spent, my legs hurt, and my arms hurt. Jean encouraged me to keep trying, that the baby shouldn’t stay too long in passage, but tried as I may he wasn’t coming.
After pushing for what seemed like eternity, Jean caught my precious son on a white shopping bag, then placed him on my sweaty laps, a mass of blood and flesh. She ran out to get help. Was only then I noticed we were in the hospital parking lot.
Excited, afraid, and in pain, I held on to my baby boy, as tears rolled down my cheeks. I was already in love with this beautiful human. His eyes were closed and he wasn’t making a sound. I didn’t know whether I should tap his fair cheeks or hold him upside down.
Someone wheeled us to a room. There, a nurse deftly cut my umbilical cord and placed Baby Timmy on my breasts. Within seconds, she took him away, telling me he needed urgent attention. My heart raced for my baby as I endured the extraction of my placenta, stitching of my torn flesh and a litany of questions about my bruises.
Jean had gone back to my house to get our bags.
I don’t remember how much time passed before I saw Baby Timmy again. Maybe two hours, maybe three. I was in and out of sleep. Jean had returned with the clothes and some food. Timmy was wrapped up in a white blanket, his eyes still closed. A nurse handed him to me, shaking her head. “There was placental abruption that disrupted the flow of oxygen to his brain,” she said. “I’m so sorry. We tried our best.”
I cradled my precious son, so tiny, so still, and held my breath until my heart fell apart and a shrill sound erupted from my soul.
“She killed my baby! That woman killed my baby!” I ripped the drips from my hand, causing the needle to break. In spite of the pain in my arm, in spite of the stitches, I flew up from the bed, making a beeline for the door. A squad of nurses rushed to my side, and led me back to my bed, saying words I could not understand, as my whole world shattered. Jean was there, smoothing back my hair, her cheeks wet with tears. I hardly felt the injection of morphine.
When Boyd came to see me the next day Baby Timothy had already been taken to the morgue, and I was a temporary patient at the psychiatric unit.
“Jean told me he has green eyes,” Boyd said, pursing his lips. I could feel his anguish as he squeezed my hands.
I swallowed, trying not to think about the present tense in which he referred to our son. I focused on the grey painted wall beyond his frame, an empty wall, just like me. I looked for words in the vastness of my mind to form a response, but they whirled around, some stringing awkwardly together, creating fragmented thoughts; some pieced together so sharply they pierced my heart. But no words passed my lips, not even when he tried to talk about our relationship.
Joe showed up two days later, his only visit. I was on my narrow cot, pushing rice around my plate. “You - you ready to tell me de truth?” he slurred in greeting.
I could smell him. I kept my head down, observing a line of ants scuttle across the brown tiles.
“You was tryin’ to make me believe is my child.”
I wanted to tell Joe to lower his voice, or just leave.
“I know you was pregnant before-before you tell me. I know. An’ that night. That night in de kitchen you still didn’t say nothing about de father.”
I thought I heard his voice quiver but I was afraid to look up. I wanted to tell him he had been cheating for so long, that I was faithful before Boyd. He slapped the plate from my hand, scattering rice and pieces of hard plastic across the floor. I remained silent when two security guards escorted Joe out of the building.
Jean came every day. “Brought your stuff to my house,” she said one day.
I stared at the empty wall.
“We’re worried about you, Sylle. Need you to talk to me.”
I stared at the empty wall when Boyd visited as well, bringing me crossword puzzles I never did, and talking about being hopeful. What did I care about hope? All I felt was sorrow.
I stayed at the psychiatric unit for two months, saying only necessary words like please and thank you. Jean welcomed me into her home, and I never regained no desire to speak. They say I crazy. But they dunno nothin’.
Lisa J Latouche is a Caribbean writer. She won the Nature Island Literary Festival Short Story Competition twice. Her stories were shortlisted for the 2020 Elizabeth Nunez BCLF Caribbean-American Writers Prize and the 2016 Small Axe Literary Competition. Publications include White Wall Review and a Dominican anthology. She is a graduate of the University of Leicester and a former Writer in Residence at the University of the West Indies St. Augustine in Trinidad. Currently, she is pursuing her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Maryland and her first novel is close to completion.