On the Moment of Conception

We wanted a child but no child came. When Joan suggested the procedure, I wasn’t so sure.

It didn’t seem natural.

She said, what’s not natural is that we haven’t made a child when we both want it so badly that we dream about it every night.

My nightly dream featured a field lined with branches, dogs running ahead of me. Their feet pounded the earth and the magnet pulled my body along behind them. To anyone watching I would look like the last dog in a line of dogs disappearing from sight. 

Meanwhile, Joan claimed to dream that she walked through a hallway of carriages, each carriage filled with sand. When she opened a carriage door, the sand poured around her feet. She had this dream every night, and would wake crying if she had a chance to touch the sand, which she described as being very cold.

We sat up in bed, sharing a bowl of chocolate pudding in the nude. We stayed up late on those warm, early summer days. We had made a life, but not a child. In the center of our home was our bedroom, and in the center of our bedroom was a wide, extravagant bed, which we had commissioned from a local craft person.  A stepladder was mounted to each side. Since the bed had been installed, neither of us wanted to climb down, and we would take our meals there.

Joan dipped her spoon into the pudding. She said, I’ve been thinking about this.

It would be nice if you would alert me when you are thinking of things like this, I said.

This is your alert, she said.  I have the supplies ready.  She told me of certain creatures in the ocean who undergo this procedure naturally.  I thought that we were not those creatures in the ocean, but then how could I be so sure?

You might as well show me the supplies, I said.

She collapsed onto her naked stomach and scooted toward the stepladder. She was always a handsome woman and had only grown more striking with the sprouting of wiry gray hairs, each reminding me of a sensitive antenna tuned to something I could not see. I recently discovered a gray, almost white hair, jutting proudly out of her mons pubis. The other hairs seemed to show the white hair some amount of respect, curling below.

Joan padded to her closet and returned with a shoebox. She placed it at the foot of the bed, out of reach, before mounting the stepladder again. At the top of the ladder, she got on her belly and scrambled up, rolling towards the center of the bed and patting the mussed sheets around her. She collected the box, flicked open the lid and pushed it toward me. Inside the box were half-moon shaped sewing needles, thick coiled thread, a hunting knife and a vial of white powder atop a folded plastic sheet.

You found my father’s hunting knife, I said.

It wasn’t lost, she said, picking it up. It was encased in its leather sheath which bore stamped scenes of my family’s shepherding history in Wales.

This would mean something to me, she said. And what’s more, she said, I think this really might work. She was coaxing me into tumescence through the sheet. I held her hand with both of my own.

It involves some sacrifice for the both of us, she said. She withdrew her hand and took the plastic sheet from the box, spreading it over the comforter. She lay down on the plastic and beckoned to me.

This is a woman who lied her way through her education, forging her transcripts to first get an internship she wanted, then a job. She lied to her mother, telling her we had moved to Boston, and then continued to make this claim in phone calls for the next five years. She lied at parties, while we were still invited to parties. She would open her mouth to tell a story about a hiking trip through the Andes and even old friends would turn and walk away. I have never heard her tell one true fact in her life, and at that moment, I didn’t believe her. I did not believe her. But marriage is built on trust, not belief. I didn’t believe that her plan would work, but I trusted her fully.

I entered her with some difficulty and we held there, looking into each other’s eyes while she readied her hand. She touched my hip, kissed my shoulder. When I was positioned properly inside her, she grasped my member with a firm hand and removed it at the base, the knife’s clean cut blinding me as if it had severed my optical nerve. I collapsed and felt pressure from her hands holding something to my body, a cloth, and upon regaining my vision, saw her injecting herself with a compound, and upon waking some time later, saw her sewing her bloody sex closed, my own still inside, with a hooked suture needle, a look on her face of pure concentration.  My body was already closed and cleaned, healing under a fresh bandage.

We woke pale and thirsty, the plastic sheet sticking to our bodies. Joan’s breathing stuttered as she moved her head in the crook of my shoulder and then she was quiet. There were things that we would do for one another, sacrifices we would make, and the proof was now before us as plain as an hour in the day. It was a beautiful morning or afternoon.



This story appeared in the December issue of  The American Reader.

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