by Eugene Marckx
This kind of story happens all the time. The details change and even the characters, but the story happens more or less the same. It can happen to a man, but this time it was a woman, living with her husband in a nice home in a nice neighborhood. To help with the mortgage she worked downtown in a corporate office tower. She didn’t make a lot, and she was sure to show up every day ready for work. She and her husband had been going along like this for some years.
But one evening in the middle of the week, after doing the dinner and cleanup, the woman was tired and went to bed early. And she had a long dream, a dream of going to work.
There she is, getting on the bus along with a crowd of commuters heading into town. She steps out on the city street, enters the office tower and gets into an elevator crammed with all the others. And from floor to floor it stops and lets the others off in ones and twos. At last she finds herself alone and the elevator has not come to her floor. But it starts going down, slowly passing the floors, down past ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, and right down past the lobby and each of the parking levels where the bosses keep their cars, down ten floors, eleven, twelve, and one below that. Then it stops.
The door opens and she sees out through a hallway onto a street. It’s her street. She walks into her neighborhood, and up the block to her own front porch, unlocks the door and goes in. There she spends the day cooking and catching up on the cleaning. All day she wonders if her boss or a coworker will call, but her phone doesn’t ring. Then she thinks of phoning her husband, but he’s working. She doesn’t call him.
That evening he comes home and talks about his day. After dinner he is tired and goes to bed. But she decides to take a bath, and she stays in the bath a long time, until her skin turns whitish. As she is toweling off she sees a chalky rose design on her skin below her navel. It’s quite delicate. She almost wipes it off, but doesn’t. She lets it dry, and then it can’t be wiped off.
In the following days and weeks she feels a bit sick when she wakes up. She knows she is pregnant. She has always been irregular, as they say, and has some trouble remembering to take the pill. In spite of morning sickness, of her cravings, and of her increasing spread, she likes this baby that grows inside her. And working at her job then is okay. She is expecting. But what is she expecting? A boy? A girl? Does it really matter? She’s expecting the unexpected.
She gives birth to a boy. Her husband is happy. All of her friends are happy. And she is very happy. But as the months go by this little boy sometimes at night will climb out of his crib. She finds him crying in the dark corner of a spare room, hot to the touch, almost too hot to handle. Is he sick? Is he in a fever to get out the window? She does not want that to happen.
But during the day he is his normal hungry growing self. And yet one afternoon while he is taking his nap she has a few friends over for coffee. After a while they all hear sounds from the basement, small knockings and bangings. A friend asks if she has an animal down there. She opens the basement door. Halfway downstairs on the landing sits her little boy, head-to-toe covered in mud. He smiles up at her.
“Mommy, there’s gold down here!” He has a gold nugget in his dirty hand.
Her friend tries to look past her, but she shuts the door. Yet all of a sudden she’s worried that her boy will start crying and become even more fevered.
And this was what woke her out of her dream. She got up, made breakfast and sat eating with her husband. He was talking about paying down the mortgage so the two of them could retire that much sooner. She didn’t mention her dream. She caught her bus and went to work the same as every day. But now she saw children on the street corners waiting for school buses. In the office at work, instead of getting in on gossip at the water cooler, she found herself staring at the fluorescent ceiling, wondering at the face of the boy in her dream. It stayed with her whatever she did, wherever she went. And she didn’t need to tell herself that women give birth to children all the time, even when they don’t want them. But her house didn’t have a basement.
Early on a Saturday morning she saw her husband’s unshaven face. She had often seen him like this, but all of a sudden she recognized the face of that dirty little boy from her dream. She was astonished at how exhausted this made her feel. But she began to look back on how hard she always tried to please her parents. They’d wanted a boy and had her instead. And she saw how hard she kept trying with her husband, who was already planning for retirement.
Women give birth all the time. Could she let this happen? Would she take a risk? Perhaps nothing would happen. That was a risk as well. But not long afterward it did happen. And she told her husband.
He looked at her. “Did you forget to take your pill?”
She looked back at him and shrugged. “I’ve always been irregular.” And she saw him right there turning into a feverish little boy. So now she opened that basement door and saw gold.
A number of months later she gave birth to a girl, a child that her husband fell for the moment he saw her tiny face.