Kate Duva lives and writes in Chicago, Ill. For more from her, order our 10th-anniversary book anthology, All Hands On, in which she commands a special section.
My parents held their wedding at home. It was 1979, a second marriage for them both, and their biological clocks were pounding. They lived in a scrappy Chicago neighborhood and instead of a living room, they had a private saloon with a mammoth mahogany bar. Al Green and Blood Sweat ‘n Tears sang through the record player, and the vast mirrors behind the bar reflected the guests as they mingled, sparking up, laughing, dancing, dissolving into stupor.
It was at this homespun wedding that my father’s father asked my mother’s mother for the service of a blow job.
Helen was my grandma’s name. She wore a knit turtleneck dress that night, and a silver owl-shaped bolo tie. She had beauty moles and her hips swooped like a ripe, soft, pear. She saw people’s auras, knew the arcana of the tarot as intimately as her alphabet, and smoked Luckies with a fuck-all verve that many men found magnetic. Helen had been married six times, and now she was about done with the male species.
My father’s father, on the other hand, kept the same sweetie his whole life. He made good money running taverns, and he passed a mighty alcoholic heritage and a liver of steel to all three of his sons. Cletus was his name, and his hair was white as snow. His brain was mildly seasoned from a drag-racing accident many years past. He was the kind of fellow who would walk into the lounge of his favorite suburban supper club just as they opened at 5 p.m., booming “All right, ya sons a’ guns, let’s get this show on the road!” Cletus attended church weekly, but only since his first heart attack, when he had a sudden vision of hell.
His wife was a submissive woman, a casserole baker and a collector of figurines who chose to remain as woozily unaware of his roguery as possible. She was the forgiving kind, the forgetting kind, the kind to sit quietly swallowing vodka until she fell off her stool.
My mother wore a simple cream-colored shift and a string of precious pearls that night. “Never wear a dress that’s prettier than you.” That was always her advice. She looked stunning. She was a chiseled blond sexpot. She was a fiendish reader, a wicked gossip, the kind of woman who would cross the street to give a dollar to a panhandler. She had sworn that day to forever love and cherish my father, a pothead with a healthy salary, a foulmouthed, exuberant man who collected rocks and cried whenever he was happy. She made him cry a lot.
In the kitchen, Grandma lit Mom’s cigarette, caught Mom by the small of her back, and reeled her in. If you’d watched her holding her daughter close, you would have noticed Grandma’s huge, honking rings of tarnished silver and speckled turquoise. I imagine her aura at that moment as blazing orange.
“Hey,” she whispered to her daughter. “Your new father-in-law just asked me for a blow job.”
The bride’s blood jumped to her face and then she crumpled halfway floorward with a seismic laughter, choking on her smoke.
“I was heading for the john,” Grandma said, “and there he was at the door when I turned to close it — ‘how ‘bout you give me a blowjob, babe?’ I just shut the door in his face!”
That bathroom where my grandma was propositioned is exactly the same as it was in 1979, but everything else has changed. My parents made a baby and split up. Helen died of lung cancer. Clete met his maker and ascended to heaven from his adjustable motorized bed.
When I enter that crapper today, I note the golden eagle knocker that’s always hung on the door. The tiles are the same beige and the walls are the same dusty rose. The wood of the cabinets still matches the wood of the toilet seat, and my father still lives here, still a pothead and a rock collector, still a man who cries when he’s happy. When I sit on his toilet, I envision my face in the mirror as a fresh-blooded combination of my various ancestors. I envision my dad’s dad rejected by my mom’s mom, tottering back to the bar muttering, son of a gun, ya used to have to beat the broads off with a stick. I envision my mom’s mom plopping to this very toilet with rolled eyes and a girly snort, murmuring, mmm hmm, still got it. I flush. I cackle. I bang the door open, eagle knocker quivering in my wake, and my dad says: “Whadayou laughin’ at?”
Philip Brunetti lives and writes in Brooklyn, N.Y. Find more from him by searching his name here. Brunetti commands a special section in our 10th-anniversary anthology, released last year, All Hands On: THE2NDHAND After 10.
All of the monsters are pregnant and I want them. I don’t know why they are monsters. They weren’t born monsters. They were born baby girls, infants, and then became toddlers, children, adolescents, adults — and at some point monsters. Usually they became monsters after they got married and right before — or right as — they got pregnant. And once pregnant the transformation became complete: swelled bellies and ankles, bent backs, widened hips, bulging, tired eyes… I don’t know.
Monsters. I love monsters.
* * *
I had wanted to make my wife a pregnant monster, but she wouldn’t let me. She was too smart for that. She’d figured out that life wasn’t worth living. Or really, that life was so worth living — from beginning to end — then why try to share it with a little hairless creature without teeth? Other things are meant to be done: Grand Canyons explored, Italian coasts considered, Icelandic spas stretched out in. Touristy things crossed with adventurous things. An early-21st-century march up the hill of variety and magnificence. Technologically drowned in data, but still resplendent and set in waves. Waves of fear — violence — joy — growth… The tremendous ache of freedom.
* * *
It happened at an X-mas party first. There was a pregnant woman standing in the center of the room. She held a red-plastic cup in her right hand and laughed lightly. She had a swelled belly and a husband in a plaid shirt and dark jeans. She seemed to order him around without words. He circled her like a rogue planet now caught in an intractable orbit. He circled his wife’s belly — and their precious package, growing pink flesh inside an amniotic cocoon.
I was stoned. I crossed my legs and put my drink atop the walnut speaker to my left. The hosts had a turntable too, cool. I looked at my wife. I flirted with my wife. She was dressed in all black, just opposite me. A gothic Christmas demon — just like I’d always wanted. But then here was this beastly woman, this pregnant monster, this strange lady with imperfect skin, a couple of jags taken out, craters on the moon’s surface. I’d gotten close to her. I stood within three feet of her and stared at her astonishing, savage face. She had canines at the corners of her lips. A vague trace of the animal left in her. Her belly was a bowling ball under a denim dress. A dainty denim dress. Who knew denim would give — but this denim was elasticized and enwrapping.
Her jittery husband stood off to the side like a preying hawk. He might swoop down on me with talons intent. But no, he was a mush. He couldn’t handle his liquor. And he wanted to play instruments in a band still. That was a laugh.
* * *
I didn’t do anything. What could I do? I never do anything and never can do anything. I followed the pregnant monster into the more furnished part of the loft and guessed her months along.
“Six?” I said. I was being vaguely harassing, just like women like.
“Almost,” she said. Her smile spread. Her lips were dark red. Her eyes off brown over milky white. She told me she kept thumbtacks in her purse to ward off the wicked.
“How did you know I was wicked?” I said.
“I didn’t say you were,” she said. She shot me a look — a desire to deflower me. To open her pregnant legs and let me hard-on first inside. Then any other body part that might fit: a fist even. Could I fill up that cavern bearing a newly forming fetus? Would my purple head bounce against a trampoliny skull and/or shoulders? Had it turned yet? Probably not. I’m not interested in such short-lived anatomic. I only want the monsters, the mothers, I suppose.
* * *
We stopped talking. Her husband reminded me of a band that wasn’t Nirvana. My wife had taken refuge in the glassy eyes of a middle-age, spiky-hair queer. She knew him, they were catching up, discussing leather products or something. I wandered into the back rooms and found three people smoking, including the large host. He had some artwork hanging in the hallway too. I liked an obscure one filled with dark blunt webs. Strange ones that can cancel the sun and brim the brain darkly.
“How much for the dark-web one?” I asked.
He had a long lumberjack beard and white t-shirt on. Black jeans. Black boots, maybe. “I don’t know,” he said: “But look at this.”
He pulled a smaller canvas, about the size of a NO PARKING sign, from behind a desk. It contained an ink blot resembling a herring human that’d begun to melt into a puddle of self.
“The Disintegrating Man,” he said. “That’s what I call it.”
He passed me the pipe and I inhaled deeply. And deeply again. I saw the lights of night out the opposite window through the bent Venetian blinds. I liked the piece, but didn’t like it as much as the nameless dark-web one. I told him I liked it and I liked the title too. In fact, it’d been title-less. I’d named it “The Disintegrating Man.” I simply inserted the title into the host’s head serendipitously. We’d both thought of it at the same time, but it’d come out his mouth. He gave birth to it, and I stood to the side and laughed over it. I took another hit. Good weed. Good Christmas weed, just like Santa used to smoke.
I left the room before I got overly tempted to play an organ that was there. I was about to flick the switch and start key tinkling. Tinkling without talent.
* * *
Back in the other room with my wife. What would I do with my wife, except love her? Keep loving her. A droll prospect. How can you keep loving? Love’s detonated, not kept. I’d detonate my love — like a bomb. The bomb of love. Here in this room, with my wife, again.
I went up to my wife. I told her I’d wanted her to become a pregnant monster, but I understood she didn’t want to be one. This I understood. I understood also that I was a miserable wretch who should never have children. I couldn’t care for anyone or anything, aside from my wife and cat. My parents and siblings and friends didn’t count — because they were from long ago. I’m talking about loving something new, creating something new, bringing a new being into existence. If it is a new being. If this is existence. If everything is what it seems. If, etc.
* * *
I walked out of the party with my wife. We had to go to another party. It was the Christmas season and parties were detonating all around and we were discharged from one into another.
At the next party I looked again for a pregnant monster, but couldn’t find one. It was a pity. Anyway I knew a pregnant monster was there: she just wasn’t showing yet. I walked round the room, hunched over, and pressed my right ear against the bellies of all the young to just-under-menopause-age women. I even asked a few to lift up their shirts, skirts, aprons, whatever. My wife rolled her eyes and flirted with the tallest, darkest, handsomest man there. He held a bottle of champagne like a bowling pin. I couldn’t decide if he was going to smash it over my wife’s head, my head, or twist his arm into an unorthodox pour. It didn’t matter. I had work to do. I kept resting my ear against the belly skins of strange women. Most giggled, a few cursed, one kneed my mouth, another shoved me off, then begged me to bring her a drink. I obliged but abandoned her when I found out she was menstruating. Not even close, I thought.
* * *
Later in the night, maybe a year later in the night, we were riding the subway home to Brooklyn. My wife had fallen asleep and her head tilted onto my askew shoulder and she slept a shaky, bobbing sleep. I scanned the subway car. A thickset, sad-faced, stark-naked woman sat alone at the end of the car. The corner loveseat. Not a stitch of clothing on her. Just her thickset body, a few folds of flesh, and a curved abdomen protruding as if she’d swallowed a beach ball. Entranced, I dislodged myself from my seat and gently nestled my wife’s head upon the window’s ledge. Meanwhile, my impregnated streaker stoically sat to the side, unfixing her sad face without breaking into smile.
I got down on all fours like a cat without a tail and crawled across the subway car. It was 4:30 in the morning and no one was aboard save the solitary streaker in shock mode. Though clotheless, she wore an Aunt-Jemima kerchief and had off-hue color skin. Something between bare-ass blue and screaming Munch pink. A decimated human being; a precarious pregnant monster. A madwoman.
I crawled along the car farther and came to her crossed feet. They were broad and unsurprisingly soiled at the soles. Her heavy hands crossed in her lap, blocking her wide bush. I stopped mid-crawl and sat up catcher-style on the balls of my feet. In fact, I wish I’d had a catcher’s mitt because, as I crouched, the woman’s water broke and she slimed me. Streaming watery blood and stinking fluids. I looked into her eyes and she smirked. She lifted her hands from her lap, opened her legs and gushed some more. I was half soaked and stranded in an amniotic puddle.
Soon a pale purple head appeared. She hadn’t meant for it to appear, but it appeared. She tilted her own head back and started to grunt and groan painfully. She shimmied in her seat and the purple head undulated out past its ears. Lots of gelatinous ooze slid and slinked down the gray bench seat. After the head flowered, a bare pink shoulder appeared. In a matter of moments the whole tragic birth was done and I sat with the slimy son in my stained lap. I grasped its ankles, dangled it upside-down like in an old obstetrician’s photo, and slapped its muculent ass. It screamed mightily in my face and I almost dropped it.
Though breathing heavily, the woman appeared relieved. She had a gleeful look on her face. A gleeful, lusty look. For a moment, I wanted to mount her messy mound. Dig in to those dewy, bristling pubes and ravage her. But the little living creature was out and she was a monster no more.
* * *
“Don’t tell me your dreams,” my wife says.
“It wasn’t a dream,” I say.
“Your dreams are like a puppet show I don’t want to see,” she says. “That’s another reason we don’t have kids. I never want to go to puppet shows.”
“Neither do I,” I say.
I’m frying eggs at the kitchen stove. The oozing egg whites and bleeding yolks bring back the irreality of my existence. I remember the queen mother of the subway with a bellyful of baby, a wombful of wee one. All come out to catch me. Or, for I to catch it. The livid, brain-colored blood mother like an alien princess of netherworlds and underworlds of ovarian fates.
“How can I be more comforting and supportive?” I ask my wife. She’s toasting some bread on the oven’s grill. Then she’s buttering it as the oil in the pan below me is sputtering and singeing my skin. A singeing like self-flagellation.
“There’s nothing you can do,” my wife says. “There’s everything you can do.”
“Everything and nothing,” I say.
Again and again.
Where are the pregnant monsters? I think. How did I ever get lost in a life without a pregnant monster? Why isn’t my wife a pregnant monster?
These questions and more and more questions and more and more eggs cracked and broken and bleeding.