The Wonderful World of Pink Clouds

They told her there would be problems. There were already complications. She’d been confined to bed rest, her swollen belly resting on a curved pillow she tucked between her spongy thighs. Daytime television already bored her, the bright figures with their asinine banter and helmet-like hair. Soaps were too confusing – and dull – and she just couldn’t stomach the mentally unstable women appearing on Dr. Phil. Only Jeopardy! was a relief to watch, but even that became monotonous after a few weeks.

Still, the boredom, the sacrifice of her independence and freedom was worth it. She could feel the pebble of life growing in her, and now she rubbed her hand over her tight abdomen.

Yes, it was worth the complications.

She pushed back stringy black hair from an unwashed, freckled face and reached over to the nightstand. Dan left a tray for her every morning before he went to work; today’s selection was brittle toast and peanut butter. She snapped off a corner to pop in her mouth and leaned back into poufy, goose-down pillows. The remote, her constant companion these days, rested next to her on the twisted sheets.

She’d recently come to the conclusion that this sliver of leisure time would be her last for the foreseeable future. Once the baby came, out would go Tracy of Sleeping In, Midnight Movie Premieres and Luxuriant Baths accompanied by Bestselling Novels. In would come Tracy, the Mother. She couldn’t wait.

Wiggling her toes in excitement, she allowed herself one bubbling giggle. She’d been so lucky to get pregnant in the first place, she thought, surfing through channels so swiftly they flashed by in a rainbow-like blur. All of her friends, bless their hearts, were still trying. Junie had just come to terms with IVF, Maude had suffered her second miscarriage a few months ago. But Tracy, she’d been blessed within weeks. Of course, Dan hadn’t known they’d been trying, but he’d come around. And he’d come around again, after the baby was born.

Yes, this baby was going to be perfect.

Dan still needed to get started on the nursery, too. He’d been reluctant to take on any projects, and the stack of books she’d given him lay unread on the floor next to his side of the bed. She knew he’d been avoiding them. The spines hadn’t even been cracked.

She sniffed, settled on a rerun of “A Baby Story” on TLC. It seemed appropriate (though why women got their pregnant tummies and enlarged breasts encased in plaster to paint and hang over their fireplaces was beyond her; how weird). She snuggled down into the pillows and pulled a soft blanket over her legs. When the phone rang, she reached out a hand, stretched to pick up the handset.

“Hello?”

“Tracy, dear, it’s Mom.”

“Mom.”

“How are you feeling, honey?”

“I’m fine, Mom.”

“Tracy.”

“What.”

“Just…have you given any thought to what the doctor said?”

“He didn’t say anything. The baby is perfectly healthy.”

“Well, honey, that’s not what Dan said.”

“Mom, who cares what Dan said. He’s barely putting forth any energy over this.”

Tracy snapped off another piece of toast. Crumbs scattered over the unmade bed.

“But, honey, Dan told me what the doctor said about the baby’s problems.”

“What problems? There are no problems.”

“Tracy. Are you listening to yourself? The baby has defects. Cerebral palsy. Who knows what else?”

“Defects? What kind of word is that, Mom? Jesus. No, she doesn’t. Leave me alone. I’m very busy right now, and I don’t have time to talk.”

“Wait, Tracy, please. I’m concerned about you. I just want to–”

Tracy clicked off the call and tossed the phone on the carpeted floor, just out of reach should someone else call. She was done talking for the day. The only one she felt like conversing with was her sweet little baby.

She watched the flickering screen before her, watched as a woman gave birth to a red, squalling newborn. That would be her in just a few weeks. She was giddy with anticipation. (Although her baby would come out plump and pink, just like in the movies.) She’d already spent hundreds of dollars online shopping for adorable little girl outfits. Satin dresses with frothy lace and matching bloomers. Pink and purple onesies in soft organic cotton. A turquoise tulle skirt with matching slippers. A pink terrycloth robe with a hood sporting hippo ears.

Now the computer sat on a tray in the corner of the bed, its screen black and blank. Dan had taken her credit cards, forbidden her to keep shopping for a baby he supposedly didn’t want. Said he didn’t want to take care of. Couldn’t understand why they hadn’t terminated the pregnancy when the test results came back.

Tracy wiped at the hot tears now streaming down her puffy cheeks and dropping off her chin into the folds of her neck. Their baby was going to be perfect. Just perfect.

Humming a lullaby, Tracy opened a jar of cocoa butter and rubbed it over her stretch marks.

“I love you, baby,” she whispered.

Then she puckered her lips and sent it a kiss.

Bad Day

*Note: This story is just something a little light and fluffy. Please read with a grain of salt!

Auggie overslept, which rarely happened. She was so anxious about being late that she routinely woke up at least 30 minutes before her alarm went off. But not today.

When she scrambled out of bed, her foot got tangled in the sheets. She fell to the floor in a heap of twisted cotton, and she banged her elbow on the hardwood floor. She extricated herself from the mass of fabric to take a shower only to find that the hot water was out. Miserable under the ice cold spray, she stayed in just long enough to shampoo her hair. Oh, and her eye. That felt fantastic.

She wrapped her dripping hair in a threadbare towel – she kept meaning to go buy some plush Turkish ones from Target, but never had enough cash in her wallet – and stepped in front of the sink to put on her make up. Her foundation was out, and her mascaraed eyelashes left black smudges under her overgrown, Cro-Magnon-style eyebrows. She got red lipstick on her teeth. When she plugged her hair dryer in to the socket, sparks flew. She screamed. Loudly.

Finally, she gave up and stalked back into her bedroom to get dressed. She ignored the mess of sheets on the floor. For someone as fastidious as herself, a self-proclaimed neat freak, not making the bed was a rebellion. So there, she thought, and nodded primly at the pile. She picked her go-to outfit for emergencies, for the days when she couldn’t find anything to wear among the silks and cashmeres and linens in her closet. She pulled on a pair of black trousers and grappled with the hook. Stunned, she looked down. Had she put on weight? Seriously? This was just what she needed, honestly. Just what she needed. She shrugged on a white button-down, slipped on a pair of black kitten-heeled shoes and wrapped her still-dripping hair up into a tight bun. It was chic, she reassured herself. The wet look was in now, right?

She grabbed her briefcase – a red snakeskin number that was classic and brand new, thank you very much – and tugged her camel peacoat from the coat rack. Stomping to the doorway, she wished her apartment a hearty f-you, and stepped out into the pouring rain. At least her hair was already wet, thank God. One less thing to worry about.

Auggie ran through the downpour to her car and wrenched open the door. As she slid into the driver’s seat, she dragged her clean trouser leg against the muddy car, leaving a giant brown streak. Auggie merely sighed and made a mental note to stop at the dry cleaners later. She turned on the car and pulled out of the apartment complex.

After a traffic jam on the highway, Auggie, frantic and sweaty at being so late, pulled into the office parking lot. There were no available spaces. Typical. So, like any woman in a hurry, she parked illegally, just for this one time, really, and hurried into the office. She ignored Stacey, the perky young receptionist who excelled in delivering back-handed compliments.

“Auggie, love your hair! So wet and messy. By the way, you’ve got doggie doodoo on your pants. Just letting you know!” Stacey trilled.

Bitch, Auggie thought, but continued striding to her office. She tossed her briefcase on the leather loveseat, flung her coat down on top of it and collapsed into her fancy swivel chair. First things first, she thought with a sigh. Email. And she had them, email after email after email. She spent, according to the clock on her screen’s bottom righthand corner, three hours responding to requests, deleting junk mail, avoiding the set of messages sent from her mother between 5:25 a.m. and 6:02 a.m. It was too early in the day to deal with family, and Auggie was too sober.

Handling her mother, who was just dying to know about Auggie’s latest break up, had become practically a part-time job. Her mother was single after her fourth divorce and had decided to reinvent herself Madonna-style. As a cougar. But she was stuck somewhere between a nagging, overbearing parent, and a cleavage-baring, blond-highlighted, slang-using single girl. It was getting exhausting setting personal boundaries.

Anyway, Auggie was still sore about Jim dumping her apparently overweight butt last week. She needed approximately five more pints of Ben and Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk, a bottle of tequila and a girl’s night out before she could even attempt to talk with her Nosy Nellie of a mother.

She must be tired, Auggie thought, if she was beginning to think in clichéd phrases. That’s just how the cookie crumbles. Ha. Which reminded her, she hadn’t eaten breakfast, and it could be time for an early lunch. She stood up and reached her arms in the air. She yawned and leaned back, bending her sore back. Just as she was in the height of her stretch, the hook of her pants sprang off and tripped across her desk top. Her pants fluttered to floor, exposing her enormous white cotton panties with the gaping hole at the waistband between the elastic and the fabric.

It was, unfortunately, just at that minute that Auggie’s boss, a no-nonsense company man, walked in.

Auggie froze, her arms still in the air, her back still bent. Shit! She and her boss stared at each other. Five long seconds ticked past before Auggie suddenly reached down and yanked her pants back up.

“Just one of the days,” she said cheerily and let out a nervous giggle.

“Uh…yeah,” her boss said. “Listen, draft these for me and have them ready by the end of the day.”

“Sure thing,” she responded, her pants still clutched in a white-knuckled hand.

He tossed a thick file folder on the desk and walked out of the room, shaking his head.

Well, she thought, that could have been embarrassing. Auggie sat back down and, releasing her rascally slacks, laid her head on the desk, her face nestled in the crook of her elbow. Could this day get any worse?

She raised her head and fumbled in her desk drawer for a safety pin. It would just have to do for now. Tomorrow, she was going shopping. No, first she was going to sign up for Weight Watchers, then she was going shopping. Ann Taylor would surely be the antidote to this nightmare of a day. Maybe she should stop by Nine West, too. A nice pair of pumps would cheer her up.

She fastened the pin on her pants and then headed to the staff kitchen, desperate for comfort food. She should’ve eaten, she scolded herself, but lately, food just hadn’t seemed that appealing. When she opened the refrigerator door and was assailed with the scents of various salads and leftovers and overripe fruit, she felt her stomach roll. Ugh. On second thought, she decided to settle for a Sprite and some crackers from the vending machines.

Auggie spent the rest of her work day hiding in her office, avoiding her boss whenever possible. When her computer clock flipped to 5:00, she hustled into her coat, grabbed her briefcase and slipped through the side door. Taking the stairs down the three stories seemed like a good decision, a stealthy move, but with her heels clicking and clacking, and her head pounding from the descent, she landed on the ground floor with a nasty sense of vertigo. She clung to the railing, closed her eyes and shook her fist, still gripping the briefcase, at the gods. Someone, she decided, didn’t like her today.

When she slogged through the pouring rain to her car, she realized it wasn’t where she had parked. Damn, had she forgotten where she parked again? She was always getting twisted around in parking lots and garages. She saw a late-night infomercial once about a recording device old people could use to record where they had parked. At the time she thought it was for those with early on-set Alzheimer’s. Now it seemed pretty useful. Maybe it would be worth the three payments of $19.99 plus shipping and handling. Something to consider.

She walked around the parking lot, trying to locate her Mini Cooper, but it was dark, and the street lamps didn’t afford much view.  She waved goodbye to her colleagues as they ran through the dreary storm to their cars, and she ducked behind someone’s red Volvo when her boss came out. Within minutes, she found herself soaked and standing in an empty lot. Oh my god, she realized. She had parked illegally. Her car had been towed.

Cursing herself, she called for a taxi and huddled under one of the street lamps for cover. When the cab pulled up, Auggie gratefully slid inside, her wet clothes squeaking across the cracked leather interior.

“Where to?”

“18th and Walnut, please.”

Within the comfort of the warm car, Auggie let out a deep breath. She looked through the window, watched the rain pouring down, the pedestrians scurrying to buildings and cars, the windows in houses light up with yellow glows. Dinner time, she thought. Families would be sitting down, eating lasagna, talking about school and work. But she was headed to her quiet, lonely apartment.

When the cab pulled up to the building, Auggie reached into the briefcase to grab her wallet. She picked through file folders, her emergency make up and medicine kit, the library book she kept forgetting to read, her iPod. Her coin purse was there. Her wallet wasn’t. Figures.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I must’ve left my wallet at work. Can you wait just a minute? Maybe I have some cash upstairs.”

The cabbie looked back at her, his bored eyes taking on an edge of irritation.

“Fine, lady, but I’m keeping the meter running.”

“Ok, thank you. Thank you so much.”

Auggie scurried to the front door. At least she hadn’t forgotten her keys. She raced up the stairs to her apartment, water squishing between her toes in the waterlogged kitten heels. She unlocked the door and pushed inside. She went straight for her cash source – the wad of twenties hidden in her freezer. She clawed through frosted bags of peas and broccoli and took out the empty ice cream box. When she wrenched off the cardboard lid, she stood there, as frozen as her veggies. There was only one twenty left. What the hell had happened to her money? She grabbed the bill to go pay the cabbie and then trudged back upstairs.

She stripped off her wet clothes, tugged on a pair of flannel pajamas and popped a frozen meal in the microwave. As it warmed, she thrust her arms through her Snuggie – best purchase ever – and settled on the couch. After turning on the television to a  reality show where all the women dressed too young and wore too many skin-tight satin dresses – no one should wear satin that tight, hello – she saw the blinking on her home phone.

Sighing, she reached across and tapped in her security code to listen to the messages. The first was from her mother, of course.

“Hi, August, honey. I tried emailing you, and I left messages on your cell phone, but I guess you’re just too busy to answer your mom’s calls. You know, Ellen’s daughter talks to her every day, and I have to listen to her go on about how perfect Becky is. My daughter doesn’t even take my phone calls. But I still love you, so so much! You’re my Auggie muffin. Muah. Anyway, honey, I was calling to get the 411 on the ex-boyfie. I want to hear what the dealio was. I’ll come by tomorrow with some chocolate chip cookies, and I’ve just bought the ingredients for a Boston cream pie. Get ready to veg out girlfriend style! Love you so much, muah, muah, muah, muah, muah, mu… – beep.”

Auggie rolled her eyes and dropped her head on the back of the sofa. Typical. A message that started with guilt and ended with 90s-era slang and sugar.

The second message was fro Jim, the “ex-boyfie.” He’d ended things last week. They’d been together for six months, happy for five. She hadn’t been looking for a boyfriend, but he’d sauntered into her life, sexy and suave and everything that she didn’t need. The first month was spent almost entirely in her bedroom. Months two and three were spent on picnics at the park, feeding each other bits of berries and baguette and rich French cheeses. They went to art festivals and saw indie films during months four and five. He’d made her feel smart, and she so wanted to be one of those sexy preppie chicks. He used to tell her she was the only woman who could pull off brogues and a sweater vest and still look doable. Then he’d stroke the back of his hand down her cheek, call her “pumpkin,” and kiss her until she felt dizzy. God, he’d been so beautiful with sparkling brown eyes and mocha skin. And he’d had a motorcycle. Every girl wanted to date the guy with the motorcycle. But no girl ever married that guy, as Auggie found out. She’d watched him rumble away on the bike, leather jacket hugging his muscled shoulders.

“Hey, Pumpkin. Listen, I think I left some of my things at your place. I’ll stop by when you’re at work or something if you don’t want to see me. I get it. Listen, I wanted to tell you before you hear from anyone else that I’m moving in with someone. Sherry. I think maybe you know her. Anyway, let me know when I can come by. Also, I borrowed some cash from your stash. I promise I’ll pay you back. I’m just waiting for this deal to work out first. Bye.”

As the machine beeped, Auggie felt the first tear roll down her cheek. Oh, she knew Sherry. Her roommate and best friend from college. The girl she’d shared all of her tears with when Jim had dumped her. The girl who said that Auggie didn’t deserve a douche like Jim and that she would always have her friends. They were moving in together. Great.

The horrors of the day washed over her in one image after another: bumping her elbow on the floor, almost getting electrocuted, flashing her boss, getting her car towed. Her bad boy lover, the one she knew – she knew – wasn’t Mr. Right but had cared for him anyway was sleeping with her best friend. He was too stupid to even know who her friends were. Oh, and he’d stolen from her. Taken $980 from her $1000 rainy day fund. And what do you know, the one time she’d needed money from the rainy day fund, literally on a rainy day, she’d been left broke. What a bastard.

She curled into a ball on the couch and wept. Hot tears slid down her cheeks. Her sobs shook her body, and she pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders. In contrast to Auggie’s break down, the women on the television screen bitched about petty drama. Auggie sniffed and wiped at her face with the sleeve of the blanket, completely ignoring the beep of the last message and the beep of the microwave.

She lay prostrate for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes. Then she pulled herself upright and considered that she’d indulged in a crying fest and should, by all rights, feel better. She didn’t. She sniffed once more and picked up the phone to listen to the last message.

“Hello, this is a message for August Sandborn. This is Dr. Krystofski at the Warner Clinic. We ran your tests from last week. Congratulations, you are six weeks pregnant. Please call the Clinic soon to schedule an appointment. We’d like to perform an ultrasound and discuss your pregnancy plan. Again, congratulations.”

The phone dropped out of Auggie’s limp hand. It hit the rug and bounced off the coffee table leg. It lay on the ground, as silent and unmoving as Auggie. Her mouth was open, her eyes wide and staring and unseeing, her cheeks drained of the rosiness her crying jag had brought on.

Pregnant. She was pregnant. Auggie brought one trembling hand to her mouth. A smile tugged at her lips. Auggie, bewildered and weepy, started to laugh. She laughed and laughed, and tears began to run down her cheeks once more. She felt a warmth rush over and through her, warming her skin, heating her bones and muscles. Her heart. She was going to have a baby. A baby. A family.

Today wasn’t so bad after all, she thought, laughter bubbling out of her hormonal, pregnant body.

The Death and the Cradle

She stood in the closet. Leaning in, she nestled her face among the dress shirts, the flannel shirts, the blazers. She breathed in deeply, comforted by the smell, a mix of detergent and cologne. It was, for her, almost like being with her husband.

She lifted her arms and wrapped them around the clothing, letting the hangers take on her weight. Her knees gradually lowered to the ground, and her body slid from the rack.

Denise curled on the floor next to a rack of shiny leather shoes. With a sob, she rubbed her swollen belly.

Her black dress clung to her clammy skin, and she reached up to pull one of the flannel button-downs. She spread it over herself, a soft blanket to warm and console. She closed the closet door, though filmy light filtered in through the wooden slats. And she rocked herself to sleep, burrowed among her sweetheart’s things.