In the post office, the line is long. It always is. Your husband’s aunt comes in and, behind her, a man in scuffed cowboy boots and a buffalo plaid shirt. One of his eyes is larger than the other. It drifts in space. You feel him watching you both, even though neither of you know him. Separated by another person standing between you (a fact that makes your conversation somewhat public), you and your husband’s aunt talk casually. She asks you about work, and you tell her you’ve cancelled class because - you gesture vaguely towards your stomach - you don’t feel well.  Then you lift the package in your hand and say that, unfortunately, you still have to mail this today. You touch your stomach again because it aches.

The man standing behind your husband’s aunt, watched as your hand made the explanatory revolution around your stomach. He began smiling and shaking his finger loosely in the air. Attracted by this motion, your eyes move towards him by reflex. This is a mistake. By living here, you’ve lost a good deal of the hardened city dweller who knew never to make eye contact with strangers.  You can hear your mother’s voice saying, "Don’t you look that stray dog in the eyes, or it’ll head right for you."  But here, in this town, you never scowl. You never set your jaw. You smile at everyone because you are happy, sometimes even ecstatic, except for one thing.
You and your husband cannot have children. Everyone in the family has guessed this by now, although neither of you has ever admitted it aloud to any of them. Secretly, over the previous months, you have been repeatedly stuck with needles, probed by sonogram wands, and invaded with filament-thin tubes of liquid in an attempt to achieve the desired outcome: the kind of familial validation that comes from having a child. You feel a formless, nagging shame over your childlessness, and neither your husband nor you speak of it to others. Always on this subject, you are gentle with each other.
When you look at the man in the red buffalo plaid, his one eye begins bulging slightly. It seems barely restrained by the lid, so perhaps there is also a little something wrong with his mind. You can’t tell for sure. He registers that you are looking back at him and a light goes on in his face. He laughs, “You’re pregnant! That’s why you’re sick.” He mimics the rotation you made over your abdomen with his own large-knuckled fingers. He bobs his head as if confirming his own assumption.
This was not what you had expected to come from him. Something inappropriate yes, but not this. You look at him for a moment, frozen, but with the sensation that your face has gone red with heat. Your ears tingle with an influx of blood. The man continues to smile, percolating now with an unsettling chuckle. The strange, bright eye bulges further and travels left. The other one continues to focus on you.
When you do not answer, your husband’s aunt looks up at him and says: “Oh, she has a husband and two dogs.  That’s enough to keep her busy.”
And you say nothing because this is a much better answer than you would have given. During your silence, all the humiliating things that have happened to your body in the last month came rushing up to your mouth. But you swallowed them back because you remembered you were in public and who would want to know such things? Even you don’t want to know them or remember how you know them. Around you, you feel everyone’s expectant gaze, their collective pause as they await your response. You will your face to stop burning.
Thankfully, you are next at the window, and you quickly move forward with the package clasped against your stomach. The box contains a book you have written. And in the moment you hand it over to the clerk, you think that books are, quite possibly, the only things you will give birth to in your lifetime.

Savannah Schroll Guz is author of American Soma (2009) and The Famous & The Anonymous (2004). She edited the theme-based fiction anthology, Consumed: Women on Excess (2005). She is fiction editor at The New Yinzer ( and co-directs the TNY Presents... Reading Series in Pittsburgh. She lives in West Virginia.
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This story was inspired by a similar experience I had in the local post office. Not long after I finished writing it, news of the event had actually spread through the immediate family. Because I had not answered the man’s question, some excitedly thought I was pregnant. (Dear Family, if you’ve read my story and are feeling disheartened, please take note of this next part!) While I ended the piece with a sense of finality, there’s still the possibility, even the probability of a child, of children (Look, Mom Near and Mom Far, I’ve used the plural). But like so many worthwhile things in life, the road to this particular destination is filled with mental pot holes, physical discomfort, and general uncertainty.



Copyright 2009