It’d all started innocently enough: Pamie wanted to go on the pill. Said she wanted to be sure that we couldn’t have children — ever. She wanted to be Double Income, No Kids all the way.
“It’ll fuck you up, though,” I offered, sitting in the dining room, over breakfast. Scrambled eggs. The way I’d always had them, even since I could remember.
“They wouldn’t make something available and put it on the market if there was anything wrong with it,” she replied as she poured herself a glass of orange juice in the kitchen, framed like a picture through the hole in the kitchen wall. I looked at her as though she were a piece of art, a still life in mid-pose. You know, something out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
“Look at it this way. We’ll be able to have more of whatever we want, whenever we want. Don’t you want that?”
I shook my head. Pamie could be so naive. She once told me she’d thought that the Ramones were really brothers. And that had been just the tip of the iceberg. At one point in our relationship, she confided that she’d actually thought that Matchbox 20 was a pretty good band. I don’t know what we saw in each other at first. Thankfully, I’d trained her to the point where she didn’t mention them around me anymore.
“It’s still experimental.” I said. “This thing is still in clinical trials. You’ll be nothing more than a guinea pig. What if it gives you cancer or something?”
Pam glared at me warily.
“I’m more worried about getting your new subwoofer through a hole the size of a pea.”
I huffed under my breath. Pam could be so damn dramatic, too. When she wanted to be.
“But it’ll come in parts,” I said, chewing bits of egg as I tired a new approach: taking her side. “You know, as in ‘Some assembly may be required’.”
Pamie snorted heavily, nosily put the OJ container onto the kitchen counter, and left the frame I’d been so intently gazing a few moments before.
“I hate it when you treat me like I don’t know anything,” she said, walking towards our bedroom, orange juice in hand.
She then slammed the door to the bedroom. I heard the TV come on. Pamie then turned it up real loud. I could tell she was watching one of her home cooking shows.
I pushed my fork into the remainder of my eggs, scooped them up. Couldn’t let them go to waste, even if I wasn’t really all that hungry anymore. She’d already made up her mind. Of this, I was now sure. That’s the thing with relationships. Supposedly, you get to know someone, and they don’t have to tell you what’s on their mind. You already know. And then, when you think you do know, all of a sudden you don’t know.
You just can’t win. Damn it, you just can’t win.
The pill had been the big medical breakthrough that year. I still have no idea how it worked — it was some kind of psychosomatic thing where you hopped women up on enough acid at a certain part of the menstrual cycle. Then, if you got them to concentrate hard enough during sex, you could get them to will things other than babies into existence. Material goods. Cars, cell phones, video games. The whole she-bang.
Originally, the doctor Pam and I had gone to see about this told us that there’d be no way that Pamie would be able to bring, say, a Corvette into the real world.
“This is the fallacy most couples stepping into this office have,” the doctor explained, pushing his glasses onto his nose.
But then the doctor totally contradicted himself as he went on to explain — using charts and all sorts of photographic representations that nearly made me lose my breakfast — that it was, indeed, very, very possible. Over a period of time, he could get Pamie to conceive all the nuts, bolts, tubes, pipes, glass, leather, chrome and so on that would allow us to eventually put together the car ourselves.
Well, in nine-month installments.
“How long would it take to get the entire thing?” I inquired.
“Results may vary,” said the doctor. “Depends on how much pain the subject is willing to endure, although there are certainly all sorts of new morphine variants coming onto the market that I can prescribe.”
“Oh,” I said thoughtfully.
Pamie just looked at me wide-eyed and about as pale as a white bed sheet, like she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. I couldn’t either. I mean, Christ, think about how much money we were going to save.
“It would also depend on how hard the subject would be to concentrate on obtaining all of the necessary parts,” explained the doctor. “Sometimes, you see, the subject gives birth to pieces that are defective or not fully formed.”
“It must be a real process,” I offered.
“Well, it is. No refunds, for one,” said the doctor, who smiled at his clever little jab, then readjusted his glasses.
By the way he was squinting, I could now almost swear he was checking out Pam’s cleavage. Not that she really had any, since she was practically an honorary member of the Flat Earth Society. I grimaced uncomfortably, wondered if perhaps this might be the source of her discomfort, and squeezed Pamie’s hand. She looked at me wide-eyed, as though I were about to break her wrist or something. She withdrew her hand away from mine.
“So, tell me doc: How do you get, say, a muffler or a Cadillac converter out of … well … … um … you know,” I asked, pointing awkwardly to a medical diagram of a woman’s insides behind him.
The doctor smiled, and took off his glasses. He wiped smidges all over his lenses with his shirt, and then put the frames and smudged lenses back onto his face.
“Certain parts of the human body can contort to all sorts of new shapes and sizes. Ask any gay man.”
The doctor laughed at this. Pam, meanwhile, just looked on, mortified. The doctor, perhaps realizing he was being offensive, coughed, and then went on.
“Some women, however, are much better at adapting than others,” he said, now taking on a much more scholarly tone.
Then, Pamie finally decided to speak up.
“How often?” she whispered.
“How often what?” I asked.
She looked at me like I was stupid.
“How often can I do this?” she said quietly, looking rather sober. “Deliver all these items.”
The doctor thought to himself for a few seconds, and then replied, “That, too, depends. Hospital beds cost an awful lot these days.”
I nodded. The doctor smiled in return. Then, Pamie looked as though she was about to say something else. I cut her off before she could say anything that might embarrass the both of us.
“We both have jobs. And health coverage.”
The doctor then flashed a particularly wide grin.
“Excellent,” he said. He walked around to a nearby desk, opened a drawer and pulled out a prescription pad. “I can start you at a low dosage. You know, until your wife’s body gets used to the chemical changes.”
Then he looked up and warned us with a hint of wariness in his voice, “But don’t be surprised though, if you fail the first few times. It’s usual. All the excitement and everything.”
At this point, I glanced over at Pamie and wondered if I needed to say anything. Something reassuring. Something like, “Aren’t you excited, hon? We can get just about anything we want, now.”
I didn’t say a word, though. I didn’t have to. From the weak, tired smile on her face, I was pretty sure she knew what I was thinking. She was just trying to contain herself. Just so she wouldn’t look too eager or anything. Chicks are like that, sometimes. They can play hard to get pretty damn well. That’s how they get what they want. I should know. Stick with a person long enough and you start to know what they’re thinking.
Well, maybe the odd time.
I was there in the delivery room when Pamie gave birth to our first speaker in what’d become our 5.1 surround sound system with subwoofer. I was armed with a video camera, to mark the momentous occasion. I was particularly excited, since the doctor who’d given us the pills had told us that we could expect to fail. Not us. Not this time — our first. We were Double Income, No Kids. We had absolutely no pressure, and all the time in the world to get things right.
Pam was breathing in and out like a train. I tried to encourage her to hurry things along.
“That’s it,” I said. “Keep her coming. That’s it. I think I see — Ugh!”
And then it came, that blood-curdling scream of hers. This was followed by the arrival of a single speaker cone made of rubber from Pamie’s private parts. The cone was covered in placenta, connected to its owner by an umbilical cord. A nurse picked it up as though she were merely taking a can of corn off a grocery store shelf.
“Good girl,” I said excitedly. “See, you made a speaker cone of rubber, not cheap-ass paper. Just like I told ya to do.”
Then, with another push and, this time, a toe-curling scream from Pamie, a bunch of wires and electronics quickly came tumbling out of her vagina and joined her counterparts. More progress! If Pam kept this up, I thought, maybe we’d luck out and not only get the materials to make a speaker cabinet, but an instruction manual teaching us how to assemble everything.
However, when nothing else came out, I tried to not act too disappointed.
“Well, that’s twins, so to speak,” I joked. “Not everyone can score quintuples on the first go round.”
The doctors then crowded me out of the picture and did their role, separating the woman from the machine parts she’d just birthed. I just stood around at the back of the room, waiting for them to finish up. I rewound the tape, fiddled with my smock, and started to feel utterly useless. As though my job was finally done, and there was nothing to do but wait for the doctors and nurses to clean off the components Pamie had given birth to. Then again, I wondered if maybe it had been done as soon as I’d finished making love to Pam.
We both left the hospital later that day, fresh with a bundle of new electronics cradled in Pamie’s arms. With any luck, I figured we’d both be back here within a matter of months to get the rest of the matching components. Thank God we both had jobs. I had no idea how we could pay the hospital bill otherwise. But, at least, we were young enough. We had so much to look forward to. The best years of our lives lay before us, and our house would soon fill up with all the things we wanted.
One thing I noticed about Pam being on the pill as the years started to pass: she was suddenly happy, like, all the time. She always hummed around the house, doing her nightly chores, usually while I tried to assemble the parts she’d just given birth to in the preceding days. This was easier said than done because, more often than not, there was a part missing. Somewhere. Then, I’d have to go and hunt a schematic off the Internet or something, plop her down in front of it and get her to concentrate on it as I proceeded to make love to her. This was a particularly awkward thing, I should mention.
“What are you thinking about?” I’d whisper in her ear one time as I plowed deeper into her.
One time, she breathlessly moaned, “Ten … inch-and … -a-half-long … Robinson screws!”
“‘Atta girl,” I’d said, patting her hair.
Pamie’s newfound happiness didn’t come as a complete surprise. When you watched all of those commercials on TV about the pill, it usually showed young things in fashionable clothing dancing around and jumping up and down with swirling lights all over their heads. I guess that’s what happens when you hop up a chick on acid or whatever it was that they put in those pills. The fact that the doctor was gradually increasing the dosage, so she could give birth to more and more items, might have had something to do with her sudden burst of contentment.
Maybe it also had something to do with feeling more productive? I mean, Pam had started getting really ambitious by this point. Pamie even told me one night as we lay in bed that we really needed to get a new wall-length bookshelf soon for the recreation room.
“Christ, that’s gonna hurt when it comes out,” I said, while reading a big, fat, healthy novel she’d recently given birth for me as a birthday present. “I mean, think of all the splinters.”
“Gross!” laughed Pamie, playfully hitting me on the arm. She’d never done that before, except back in the days when we’d been younger pups in the dating world. Back when we’d just met.
“It’s all particleboard these days anyway,” she continued, curling up next to me. It was an old trick: trying to distract me while reading. “It’s not like I’m interested in having parts of an antique oak bookcase come out of my crotch.”
“I should hope not,” I said, trying to sound disgusted. My eyes leapt to the next sentence.
“Really, it doesn’t have to be complicated. It’ll be kind of like IKEA furniture. It’ll be easy to put together. Like a jigsaw.”
“I hope so,” I said, still, reading, trying to sound enthusiastic. I was secretly hoping this was just a phase she was going through. I needed some new electronics to augment my home office downstairs. When was she going to get around to that? My needs? My every want and desire?
I didn’t tell her this, though. I could always blackmail her if she got too greedy by withholding sex from her. And I could tell by the way she looked at me whenever we went to bed that I wouldn’t have to do that. Call it intuition. That belly would just keep gradually rising, month after month after month, incubating all the things I wanted. All the things I would need.
I’d think all this, and she’d just would smile and look at me, then turn over and go to sleep. I’d shrug and continue reading, knowing that my brand new laptop and cell phone would be soon on its way. Pamie wouldn’t mind, I figured. Thank God those pills kept her so damn euphoric.
I should have known that by the time they started selling babies — real, honest-to-God babies — in Wal-Mart that something would fundamentally change in Pamie. By this time in our lives, she was regularly giving birth to plane tickets and reservations at luxurious resorts. We were always on the go, taking in the world’s most tropical locales. It was about time, I figured. Not only was my hair starting to go, I was just starting to get real tired all the time. I was working to cover the fact Pamie’s workplace had stopped covering her perpetual maternity leave anymore, so she’d decided to leave her job on a full time basis. All the lazy woman did after she quit was watch her home decorating shows and eat chocolate while I worked my ass off at work. It was awful.
Then, of course, she decided one day to take a trip to the local big box store just down the street to see how the other people lived. The same day I wanted to watch some television. I should have put my foot down and prevented her from going — let her watch the old TV in the basement — because when she got back, she looked as though she were a ghost. Moving about the house. Empty.
“You should have seen it!” she said. “There were so many people with all sort of kids. Tiny infants, even.”
“And why would you want that?” I enquired, fiddling with the big screen Plasma TV in our bedroom that Pamie had just given birth to. That had been a real bitch to put together, let me tell you. This wasn’t to speak of the fact that work was starting to get tough with all its added roles and responsibilities. Watching TV was pretty much the only thing I was starting to look forward to these days — well, maybe except for the sex, but even that was starting to get old. You know, mechanical. No creativity or experimentation, but mere breathless whispers in the night against a soundtrack of squeaky bedsprings, “Tell me what you’re thinking of? Is it a trip to sunny Acapulco? That’s it! Picture sunny Acapulco. C’mon, sunny Acapulco, Goddamn it!”
“Why not?” Pam replied. “Babies are so cheap these days. Cheaper still if I go off the pill.”
I pretended to ignore her, and picked up the remote. I pressed the Channel Up button. Nothing happened. No CNN to be found.
“Shit,” I said. “Looks like we need new batteries.”
“Paul, you’re not listening to me again!”
“Sure I am, hon,” I said convincingly. “Say, do you think it would be more economical to get you to give birth to batteries or just get a new, fully loaded remote?”
I always liked to include her in the decision-making processes. This tended to make her a lot happier.
I pointed the remote at her. I pushed a button. Still, nothing happened. Well, except for the fact that her face suddenly turned all beet red.
“Jesus Christ, Paul!” she yelled. “There’s a fucking hardware store two towns over!”
Shit, I thought. It was time for damage control. I hit another button. Nothing happened yet again.
“Look,” I said, finally tossing the remote on the bed. “You’re just stressing. Maybe you should just lie down over and … .”
Before I got a chance to finish or even pat the bed, Pamie was out the door. Smoke lines practically followed her as she left the room. I sighed, and did what every man in that situation could only hope to do. Take the remote, and whap one’s palm onto it a few times.
Then, there was a flash and a click of electricity. The Packers suddenly intercepted a touchdown pass to the cheer of a hometown crowd.
“Oh hey! Hey, Honey, it’s working again!” I yelled. But there was no response. Just as well, I figured. If she came back into the room, she’d only want to watch her decorating shows, and pout. Just like before she went on the pill, all those years ago.
This was something I knew all too well. Believe me.
I knew things were starting to get screwy not long after Pamie started life as a freelance labour consultant — a blooming market if there ever was one. It wasn’t that I was worried that she would be going out all the time, telling other women how to go about giving birth to their every want and desire. No. It was that she started to walk the walk and talk the talk herself. You see, all the wrong things slowly began to appear in our house. DVD sets of old silent movies by Harold Lloyd, a bunch of classical music CDs, a few framed Renoir prints and two tickets to the ballet.
“What the hell is this shit?” I started yelling as we walked away from the hospital back to our car one time, with all these embarrassing knick-knacks stuffed into garbage bags. “Who the hell needs ballet tickets? You don’t even like ballet.” Then I added quizzically, “Do you?”
Not too far away, a young couple wheeling away parts of a new fridge still dripping with fresh placenta on a cart, looked at us weirdly, then looked the other way. I watched them head to their car, a Ferrari. I couldn’t help but feel seething envy. Now, there was a bunch of people who had their priorities straight. Or so I’d thought.
Pamie, though, didn’t say a word as we got in our second-hand Hyundai (we bought it used in order to pay down the mortgage faster) and drove home in near silence. I didn’t say anything either — I felt I didn’t have. She should have known better by now. See, I was too busy thinking how I’d have to reprogram her from her latest tendency. Turning someone off Matchbox 20 was one thing, but classical music was something else. Christ, that shit’s just about as bad as jazz.
I slowly came to realize, though, that maybe Pam was closing in on menopause. Maybe it was just that she was starting losing it, the ability to give birth to decent stuff — all the stuff we wanted. I wanted. Pretty soon, we’d be back to buying everything just like those sorry non-pill poppers that have to use eBay to find big ticket items.
Well, I was wrong — if not hopelessly naive. I found this out when I came home one day to find the house entirely and eerily quiet. Pamie was gone. In fact, it felt as though a ghost occupied our home. There was something tangibly missing. I can’t explain what it was, but something was up.
As I stumbled into the bathroom nearest our bedroom, I discovered that her toothbrush was gone. A more formal look through the medicine cabinet also revealed other items had gone missing: her comb, her hand-soap and her towels, among others. In fact, there was just one other thing left on the bathroom counter near the sink. It was a sign that told me she’d probably met another man had entered the picture, someone who was obviously more cultured than me, someone whom she shared interests with. Someone she could live out her final years with without worrying about fulfilling any of his wants.
You see, only one thing of hers remained in the bathroom — indeed, the whole house — something that sent me sliding down the wall with a hand resting on my by-then throbbing head.
Her pills. Those goddamn stinking pills.
As I said before, you just can’t win.
Sometimes, you just can’t win at all.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Zachary Houle is a resident of Ottawa, Canada, and is the recipient of a $4,000 arts grant from the City of Ottawa for emerging artists and a Pushcart Prize nominee. His fiction and poetry has been published in countless online and print literary journals and magazines. Additionally, Houle is an associate editor in the music reviews section of PopMatters.com, a web site that receives one million unique visitors a month. He writes music and book reviews, and the occasional feature, for said site.