Carole Rosenthal

      The couple upstairs is fighting again. Or moving furniture.
      "No they're not! They're fucking." Arnie pulls his lower lip up to hide a grin, and yanks me down onto the bed next to him, grabbing at my toes and trapping them between his legs. Just correcting me gives him an erection. You can imagine how much he gets off on his students when he's teaching. In fact, we met when he was the teaching assistant in my advanced zoology lab. Years ago.
      Not five minutes has passed since he told me he was too tired to even talk. He'd been working on laboratory slides all day, peering into microscopes, couldn't I understand how exhausted he was, why was I trying to have a serious discussion with him? He covers my face with slippery snail tracks of affection.
      "How do you know what they're doing?" I ask. "They're so noisy."
      "Would they move furniture every single night? You think we have interior decorators in this tenement?"
      Later, when I'm in the bathtub, a watery trickle of blood falls through a crack in the ceiling onto the white tile floor. "Help!" I yell to Arnie. "Call the police, they're killing each other!"
       "Rust," Arnie says, slipping his fingers into the redness and sniffing. His voice is crisp and factual as he bends over, the Voice of Science. But my panic excites him.
       He carries me into the bedroom on his back, fireman-style-- though I'd like it better front ways (like Rhett took Scarlett, like King Kong took Fay Wray)--and he levers me off his shoulder like a backpack. I fall spread-eagled below him and pretend to be asleep.
      "Do you like what I'm doing?" he asks me, his head bobbing upward from my belly and pushing next to my cheek on the pillow. "You should tell me, I want to know."
      "Yes," I nod against him. His skin feels loose, a size too large. It scares me. Since his thirty-fourth birthday last month I worry a lot about his mortality, about how fragile our connection is, about blue veins forking helplessly beneath his surface and lying thick and passive above his thighs and along his cock, throbbing susceptibly in his temples. What if he leaves me? What if has a heart attack?
      I've got to stop feeding him salted soft-boiled eggs for breakfast. All that cholesterol. I lick the shallow cavity between his ribs and worry.
      "What're you thinking?" He turns off the light, stretching, then smiling and issuing instructions. "Why don't you talk to me? Talk dirty." He tells me what he wants to hear and how to say it. "Use your legs like calipers," he urges. "But gently, gently."
      His mouth comes over my face like a hollow tube. A laboratory siphon. My head begins to spin, separating my thoughts from the feelings. My eyes shut.
      I'm fixating on light splotches behind the lids, the colors are shooting into my head and I feel myself being rolled over and pressed down beneath his moist body weight. He checks to make sure that my diaphragm is inserted correctly and then begins kneading me like yeasted dough beneath his fingers, pulling at my flesh. I am growing bigger, budding, rising. Growing right up against the corners of the room.


      "I want a baby," I tell him, but he's not listening. He's sleeping. I'm sitting in our apartment four flights up with my nose pressed against the cold morning windowpane, the sunlight reflecting into my eyes from the steel building across the way.
      I don't like being alone in the morning. It makes me nervous.
      "Wake up, Arnie, it's already half-past ten. Get up, I want to talk with you."
      Even though we tangled close for sleep last night, we weren't touching this morning. He sleeps with one arm cupped, protected, between his thighs. There's something inviolable about him even in sleep. The curl of his lip, or maybe the color of his hair which is filing cabinet gray against the sheets.
      When he opens his eyes he can't understand why I'm bothering him, why not let him curl into his Sunday morning dreams like other members of the zoology department.
      "Fill in crosswords. Amuse yourself with funnies from the Daily News, Becky!"
      And: "This is my weekend, Becky. I let you do what you want, why can't you leave me alone?"
      "I want a baby," I say. "I'm almost thirty years old. We're both getting older."
      He simulates a snore.
      We've had this discussion--a fight really--a hundred times before, a billion times it feels like. What does a baby represent, he wants to know, talking about finances and responsibility. I talk about love. The form is so ritualized I hardly know much I mean what I claim.
       "You're not even paying attention to me," I say. And finally, I begin to cry. His jaw, marked with shadows, juts out.
      I picture my ovaries: a tin of open caviar that has been sitting too long in the refrigerator, the little black eggs getting harder and tinier, until finally they have to be scraped with a spoon and flushed away.
      Abruptly he sits up, not looking at me. "Oh, for the love of it, stop feeling sorry for yourself! I don't know why we have to plan the future of mankind before we even get breakfast."
      "You used to say we'd decide as soon as they put you in charge of the laboratory."
      "Sure, he says, folding his arms across his chest and pulling into himself, his knees close together, so tight the air around him is vacuum suction. "Do you really want a baby?"
       "Really, yes."
      "And not a new job? Or plants, or tropical fish? How about a Burmese kitten, or a border collie pup, you'd probably like that." Then: "Just teasing. You know."
      "I want you to take me seriously. I want a permanent connection between us, something created by--"
      "Crap! Do you think you can send a kid across the street to pick up a carton of milk for his breakfast? How'll we pay for it, who's going to change the diapers and get up in the night?
      "I've got an 8 a.m. lecture to give, so? Try worrying about a kid instead of about me or yourself and it's going to be twice as painful, you'll see. We're young. That's a lot of responsibility you're talking so cheap."
       "But I'm prepared. We weren't a few years ago, but I am now. Besides," I touch the tip of my nose with my finger, a sign of honesty from my childhood, "we said when we were first together that we could have a baby. You promised!"
       His lips pull in against his teeth, tight, flattened until puffs of laughter push them out. He shakes his head, rocking forward, and squints like he's sizing me up. "You," he says. "You want to be a child, not to have a child."
      Tilting his head, as if he's taking me in. Dissecting me with his distance, peeling my skin back, cutting me down smaller and smaller until I almost disappear. Turning, bracing myself on the glass, I stare into the sun above the roofs. Maybe I don't love him after all.
      Back in the room, I see a tall silhouette edging off the bed--he could be anybody, no one special--he is all angles reaching a gray hand out to me. "Don't be upset. Do you really want a baby? I'm only kidding, we can talk about it . . . ."
      He begins stroking me with dark fingers, there are sunbursts in my eyes, scintillae disintegrate from him as he leads me to the bed. My breath is methane gas around him, my body, cooling, a foreign planet. Unreceptive. How does he survive. There is no life here. Slowly, I grow swampy.
      "We could make a beautiful baby," he says, teasing, taking little sucks out of the back of my neck, sponging the light on my cheeks with his brow. "Do you really think I'm serious. I've just been waiting for the right time."
      "You're making fun of me."
      "No," he promises, spreading his legs against the sheet and lowering himself slowly, his vertebrae uncurling, serpentine from Yoga exercises each morning. "I really mean it." He's not smiling, he's almost crooning. "If you want to have a baby, we can have one but you have to be the adult who takes care of it during the day."
      I think it over while white stars shoot around the room and bust open, while he pulls me down onto his body and prongs his penis into my mouth.
      "Do I have to take care of it all by myself?"
      I'm in the laboratory, working all day." He strokes my face with his penis. There are oceans on my body, crusts form, resistant but not unyielding. "You have to watch the baby during the daytime."
      "What if I break it?"
      "I'll make you a new one. And if you want to give it away, we'll sell it. Do you like that idea?" But his voice suddenly stops coaxing, his Science voice again. "As a matter of fact,
      "Becky, that's not so absurd. It's extremely difficult to produce good white babies anymore, do you realize we could probably trade a child--a good-looking high IQ child--for seventy-five or a hundred thousand, maybe more." The slow-voiced again, amused, steering me to his prick. "So come on, just pretend it's an ice cream cone and you can have whatever you want."
      "A baby!" I cry.
      "Yes, baby," he says as my lips fit over him and he begins to growl back in his throat like a canine, his eyes uplifted and rolling. "Oh, come on, baby, that's the way I like it, yes, give me some tongue."
      His finger is sticking into me, splitting me in two. This is the beginning of mitosis, cell division; he saws me with his finger. I don't need his sperm to come into me, to fertilize me,
      I am simpler than that. I don't need him at all, I am an amoeba, I split and have my children, I fuse and have my sex. My own child, my own parent, creating myself endlessly.
      "Baby," he is arching backwards, he looks as if he is creating the universe, crowding inside me, thronging life into my mouth, proud. I swallow. I am all hollow stomach.
      I open my mouth, breathe deeply, fill myself with air. Blow up, evolve. Damn him, I am not so simple as that! Not just an amoeba, a harmless blob. Does he think I'll take any shape I'm pushed into? Let him leave me if he wants!
      No, I am bright blue, purple, phylum coelenterata, traveling up the evolutionary ladder. I'm a Portuguese Man o'War leaking enzymes, devouring, eddying in the air inside our bedroom. Alternating: sexual, asexual.
      "Did you mean that about the baby?" I say. "Why did you come in my mouth then?"
      I'm getting bigger, thrusting outward, aggressive, pink- crested with anger, caught up by a riptide that catches the long knots trailing from me, poisonous, stinging nematocysts. They paralyze. He doesn't move.
      "You just said that to get me to do what you wanted, didn't you?"
      But he flexes himself away from me onto the mattress, then pushes me down, spreading his arms wide and lying on top of me full weight.
      "Roll over," he says.
"You're squishing me," I call, but it's as if he's buoyed up on my body and hardly hears me; he begins pressing the air out of me, pumping me down. Flattening, I'm diminishing. And then, almost gratefully, I realize that I'm a planarian, flat and cute with crossed over eye spots. I can barely feel anything, my nerves are fused into a small knot, primitive ganglia.
      Then, as he enters me, finding somewhere an opening, I begin to roll into shape,a round worm, a nematode, I'm churning the earth, writhing up, up, taking different forms. And now I am changing again, hanging onto him with pincers, then scuttling, silent, away from him as he rearranges himself above. To watch him I turn my skinny stalk eyes, phylum arthropoda, a lobster, curling my body upwards as the tension mounts. He mounts me, I'm almost a chordate I can feel my bones, sharp, sticking into my flesh, a sun-mottled carp.
      "Are you wearing your diaphragm?" he asks. Usually he checks me with his finger before we start. He doesn't trust me. But this time when I nod my head he doesn't stop to find out that
      I am lying about the rubber stopper, the cap, the plug in the earth. His body presses into me. I hear the sound of wings, a flapping, class aves. Almost human . . .
      "I'm coming," he says, releasing his life into me, premature amphibians, tadpoles, thousands, millions of baby froggies, black and swimming, no legs--like the ones he poured down the sink of his laboratory--into me. They're swimming like crazy, flagellating, they want to live, they want to join with the caviar eggs inside me. I'm not going to stop them.
      "I'm coming," he whispers into my ear, beginning to moan, pressing against me, his teeth against my mammalian nipple, a man thrusting his life and history into my core.
      "Oh, baby, I'm coming . . . . "
      Strange. Even unhappy. I don't know how to stop him.