by Joe Thompson
I’m with Sherri in the handicap stall of the ladies’ room. She’s cursing a rotten blue streak while I brush her hair from her eyes, sitting on the floor in front of her. Her jeans with the special elastic front stitched in are crowded around her ankles and her shirt is pulled up to her boobs, her bulging belly protruding like a fleshy hot air balloon atop a porcelain basket. My child is soon to enter this world and I can’t do much more than hope none of the patrons outside the door hear us and call an ambulance. Things weren’t supposed to be this way, but then again nothing ever turns out the way a person plans it.
Sherri interrupts my thoughts intermittently with cries that she attempts to stuff back down her throat. She curses me, she spits my name out like it’s used dip, she sprinkles each outburst with my brother’s name, which always sends me teetering back into the real world, if such a thing exists. If my stepfather knew what I was up to now I’d never be able to live it down, although I realize with a blossoming suspicion that he is already fully aware of my plight. The baby continues to burrow downward from Sherri’s swollen stomach. I like to imagine it’s head is like a drill bit, body and all twisting like a screw until it peaks from the warm tunnel, perhaps never stopping even after being born, perhaps drilling through the tile and cement and foundation and dirt and rock and fossil until it reaches what would probably be considered the greatest womb of all, the center of the earth.
Again my thoughts are broken by the screams, although this time it’s mingled with the scent of Beef n’ Cheddars being crafted a few yards away from me in the kitchen. I swear I can see the trail of fast food stink leak through the crack under the door and encapsulate this moment around Sherri and I in a fog bank of brown sludge. I swear silently to myself and my brother that if I get out of this predicament in one piece, I will never enter an Arby’s again for the rest of my life. I figure that after my next death, I’ll be reincarnated somewhere that isn’t America. It would truly be a delight to uphold, somewhere not steeped in depression and obesity and pride and mistrust. Again, I realize too late that such a place does not exist in this world, at this time, or most likely in any time following. The seeds have been planted.
Being the brother of Jesus Christ has its perks, as one could imagine. The roundabout immortality is at the very least amusing. I can die like any of the fat sloptarts eating week-old roast beef in the plastic coated dining room outside the door, although I’m guaranteed an instant resurrection in another new body. My brother seemed to have gotten the short end of the stick, what with the ‘one body’ thing. He hasn’t resurrected in a couple thousand years, and the last time he did was only for a few days. According to his calendar, he won’t be back for a couple thousand more. I hear heaven is a pretty awesome place from his accounts of it, although I’ve never been inside the damned place. My stepdad keeps me at the gates until my next body is ready. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been sidelined from a family get together, like I’m watching one of the many families I’ve learned of eating Christmas dinner through a frosted window. I suppose it comes with the territory of the lives I lead.
Here I’ve run into some trouble though; I’m not supposed to procreate. Technically speaking I should be celibate, although there is absolutely no fun to be had there. I don’t see the point in living through the last two thousand years without the occasional century-specific one night stand. It worked the first few lives, but then everything seemed to drag on endlessly until finally I broke the seal. For someone who claims to demand sex only as a means for procreation, my stepfather sure made the act one hell of a good time.
Sherri was the only exception over all these years. I can’t believe this hasn’t happened earlier to be honest, but the fact remains that this is the first woman I’ve gotten pregnant. After a while I figured I was infertile, fruitless, a demigod that can never pass his abnormal seed down the line. Sherri proved me wrong. And try as I might, I just couldn’t talk her into killing the thing while it was still growing. I know just thinking that sends some terrible mojo towards my family, but I can’t help it; I’m more human than they’ll ever be. A child created by me should not be born. And yet here it is happening, in this Arby’s, on this cold Tuesday night, against the backdrop of shit and piss and used tampons.
In a different life, I would have married a woman like Sherri. I would have explained that I had a particular ailment that meant I had to refrain from direct intercourse. If she were one of the Middle Age women, that would’ve been able to fly no problem. As the years tread by though I’ve come to understand that in some ways, women want the same things men do, and their repression by my gender for so long has only made them more outward with each life I live. Sherri was and is no exception.
I’m watching the baby’s head crown and I’m suddenly filled with emotions I’ve never felt before. I wish I could father this baby, I wish that I didn’t have to drown it in that toilet as soon as it falls out. There’s simply no two ways about it though. Not even my brother knows what the fuck it’ll be. For all I know it could plop out spitting fire and reciting sections from the Psalms. At this point in my life nothing would surprise me. I feel worse knowing that Sherri will have to go too. She certainly won’t stand for the murder of our child. If I hadn’t waited, if I could’ve made up my mind at any time of the last nine months, I could’ve killed them both at once and saved myself the turmoil. It’s hard to feel too strongly about life and death when you’ve seen and done both so many times. My family understands the dire necessity of my situation. They’ll come to forgive me in time, although how many centuries it will take is uncertain.
Then I hear this screech.
Amid a sea of obscenities from Sherri comes this otherworldly retch, this gargling scream of life that is suddenly in my hands, bloody and writhing. It sounds inhuman and awful, something from the bowels of hell, something that I know simply should not be. But in that moment, I want nothing else but to hold it. I take my jacket from around my shoulders and wrap my son in it, him still yelping and screaming and crying and Sherri weeping and smiling in spite of herself, one still tethered to the other by the umbilical cord, one being with two minds and hearts and needs and wants and tears.
And then I start to cry.
JOE THOMPSON is an undergraduate senior studying at prestigious Binghamton University, one of the State Universities of New York, which is located somewhere within the lower rings of Hell. He aspires to do nothing more than write every day for the rest of his life, which falls in line with his career aspiration of grizzled homeless man.