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By Gayle Brandeis

January 2009

She thought it was a miracle pregnancy, like Mary's. She thought she was carrying a savior, a bodhisattva, maybe an alien. She thought she was heralding the Second Coming. Lord knows she hadn't been coming, herself.

She thought it was early menopause at first. Some of her friends were going through it, too. Missed periods.  Hot flashes. Bone-deep exhaustion. But their hair was falling out and hers was growing more lush. Their skin was getting dry and hers was growing more supple, taking on more of a glow. Her friends accused her of sneaking off to get chemical peels, Botox injections, a prescription for Rogaine. She was as mystified as they were--she didn't use moisturizer; she picked the cheapest shampoo at the store. Why should she be the one to bloom?

Pregnancy never even crossed her mind. She hadn't had sex in over eight years.  The only penis she had seen since Larry left was her son's, but the last times she saw it, he was seven, and he was thirteen now. She hoped he was still pulling back his foreskin. He used to be scared to do it—he thought his glans was a little ball that could fall out and roll away if he pulled the skin back far enough.  She had to do it for him when he was very young. It always freaked her out to feel his tiny penis grow erect between her fingers, firm as a fresh green bean.

When her doctor told her she was pregnant, she laughed and laughed.

"Impossible," she said.

He showed her the computer print out. "Pregnancy: Positive" was listed right underneath "Blood type: O".

"You switched my blood with someone else's," she said. O was a common enough blood type. It would have been easy to make a mistake.

"We don't do that here," he said.

"I haven't slept with anyone in ages," she said.

"The rabbit died," he said. "And no one murdered it but you."

She went home and called her friends and laughed some more at her ridiculous doctor.  She drank a bottle of Zinfandel. She watched sitcom after numbing sitcom. When her son came home from baseball practice, she was half-asleep on the couch. 

"You used to be inside me, you know," she murmured. Even in the dark room, she could feel him blush, but he bent down anyway and let her wrap him in her arms.

 Her pants started to get tight. Some of her other friends were experiencing this, too—a bloating, a pooching of the area beneath the navel. Time to retire our hip huggers, they said. Time to get liposuction. Time to invest in some figure-controlling undergarments. But their pooches were soft and hers was firm. Theirs reached a certain point and stopped, and hers kept going.

When she started to feel little flutters inside, little kind-of-like-gas-bubbles-but-more-like- someone-shuffling-a-deck-of- cards flutters, she felt dizzy. She went to the pharmacy and purchased every single home pregnancy test on the shelf. She peed into cups, peed onto strips. She watched the windows of the little plastic wands, watched the ones that were supposed to turn pink, turn pink. She watched the ones that were supposed to turn blue turn blue. She watched the plus signs emerge, the lines and dots emerge, the fact that she was pregnant emerge and emerge and emerge.

Her friends had all sorts of theories.

"Maybe you were raped and you're blocking it."

"Maybe you walked in your sleep. Maybe you picked someone up in your sleep."

"Maybe you were really drunk and just don't remember. You blacked out that one time, after we went to Rockadiles, remember? Maybe you blacked out and you screwed someone and you just don't remember."

"Maybe you have a split personality. Maybe your other personality is a prostitute. Wouldn't that be cool if your other personality was a prostitute?"

"Maybe your doctor drugged and inseminated you. Maybe he's impregnating all his patients. Doctors do that sometimes, you know."

"Maybe a UFO beamed you up and aliens probed you and are using you as an incubator for their genes. Maybe you're going to help them regenerate their species and repopulate the world."

"Maybe it's a miracle."

"It could be a miracle."

"Maybe it's a miracle."

She started looking into immaculate conception. An elephant touching the thigh of Buddha's mother with his trunk. Zeus falling in a golden rain over the mother of Perseus.  Zarathushtra spilling his seed into Lake Kans so he could impregnate three bathing virgins during three different millennia.  She put her hand to her belly and felt something huge stir inside her.

 When she told her son she was pregnant, he blushed again. His cheeks seemed to be developing a semi-permanent ruddy stain.

"I didn't know you had a boyfriend," he said.

"I don't," she told him.

"Then who's the father?" he asked.

And she, she who didn't belong to any major religion, she who had never sent her son to Sunday school, who had never given him any reason to believe in a higher power, said, simply, "God."

She didn't know how the word got out, but it did. People showed up on her lawn with flowers, candles, bowls of milk. People came up to her crying in the supermarket, wanting to touch her belly, wanting her to touch their hot, dry foreheads, the tops of their skulls. People dropped their cans of corn, fell to their knees at the sight of her.  She kind of liked it. Especially when the gifts began to arrive—ten cribs, seventeen strollers, one festooned with rosary beads, countless sets of baby clothes. And money. Lots of money.

News vans began to arrive.  The phone rang constantly—talk shows, churches, the Vatican. They all wanted a piece of her, a piece of the action. They asked for interviews, appearances, a private audience with the Pope. She had always wanted to travel to Rome, but didn't know if she should fly during the pregnancy. She didn't know if she should leave the house at all. Her yard was clotted with petitioners now, clotted with people seeking her touch. Seeking her baby. Banging on the windows, climbing on the roof, waving banners and singing and crying and praying at the tops of their lungs. She hired security guards to stand outside around the clock. She enlisted a midwife who would deliver the baby at home. She asked her friends to bring groceries, paper products, movie rentals.  She told her son he couldn't go to school, couldn't go outside, at least not for a while, not until all this blew over.

 "This isn't going to blow over, Mom," he sighed. "People are still talking about Mary, and it's been 2,000 years."


The house began to feel very small and stuffy. She kept the curtains shut. The garbage piled up. The laundry piled up. Her son spent all his time online. She spent all her time watching TV. Whenever her face or the front of her house appeared on the screen, she changed the channel. She knew she should be eating well, should be trying to nourish this messiah-baby, but all she craved was junk. She ate Pop Tarts and TV dinners and jars of Fluffernutter at strange hours of the day.  She began to resent the baby, maybe even hate it a little. Why couldn't God have chosen a more willing womb? She stopped talking to her son. She unplugged the phone, just nodded to her friends when they came by with the latest bags of Fritos and grape soda.  What could she say? The baby, the pregnancy, was a lot louder than she could ever be.

She hadn't taken a shower in a week. She was starting to notice her own smell, a ripe, rank, stench. It was time to do something about it. The bathroom door was closed, but not locked. She swung it open just in time to see her son ejaculating into her bath towel.

"Oh my God," they said in unison, him smashing the towel to his crotch, her putting a hand to her belly. Hers was usually the only towel on the rack; her son always left his bath towel crumpled on the floor of his bedroom. She remembered feeling something sticky on her towel on occasion, but always imagined it was some spilled lotion, some misplaced conditioner. She never imagined it could be her son's seed. Her son's seed that maybe got inside when she toweled herself off. Her son's seed that maybe could be half a person growing inside her. Her own grandchild growing inside her. Maybe it would be a virgin birth, after all.

At least he's pulling his foreskin back, she told herself. She took his hand and pressed it against her belly and watched the color drain from his cheeks.  They stood there together in silence, their own small family, their own new trinity, the Mother, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Gayle Brandeis is the author of Fruitflesh: Seeds of Inspiration for Women Who Write (HarperSanFrancisco), Dictionary Poems (Pudding House Publications), The Book of Dead Birds: A Novel (HarperCollins), which won Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize for Fiction in Support of a Literature of Social Change, and Self Storage: A Novel (Ballantine) as well as the forthcoming novels, Pears (Ballantine, 2010) and My Life with the Lincolns (Holt, 2010).

Gayle's fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in dozens of magazines and anthologies, including Salon.com, The Nation and the Mississippi Review, and have won several awards, including the QPB/Story Magazine Short Story Award and a Barbara Mandigo Kelly Peace Poetry Award. In 2004, the Writer Magazine named Gayle a Writer Who Makes a Difference. Gayle is on the national staff of the women's peace organization CODEPINK and is a founding member of the Women Creating Peace Collective. Mother to two teenagers, Gayle teaches creative writing at UC Riverside and Antioch University. You can find her at www.gaylebrandeis.com.

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