It had been eight long months and Christine’s bump was still no bigger than a small sack of potatoes.
“Our baby is due in twenty-two days and it’s not even nearly fully formed,” she said with concern to her husband, Richard.
It was true. Scans at the hospital had revealed that Christine and Richard’s baby was due to pop in twenty-days, but it was no where near ready. It still had no feet or hands.
“It will be ready,” said Richard in an attempt to reassure his wife. He held her hand, but she yanked it away.
“Ready? Ready?!” she asked heatedly. “This is not a ready meal, Rick. You think it’s going to suddenly get its act together and grow its limbs in twenty-two days? You think its fingers are all going to grow and its internal organs are going to start functioning in just twenty-two days from now? What is this? Some kind of magic baby?”
Richard sensed there was something magical about the whole thing.
“Twenty-two days is an estimate. It could be thirty days,” he said as optimistically as he could, but there was no conviction in his words.
Richard was inwardly as concerned as his wife, but he wasn’t going to admit it. Her father Billy had already pinned the blame on him for creating a baby that couldn’t form in time for its due date.
“There was some shit in his semen,” Billy had snarled. “He probably drank his own piss the night before. He’s a worthless piece of shit that can’t do nothing right. I just want a goddamn grandson.”
Christine herself didn’t admit it to Richard, but she was also sure that he was at fault. Before getting clean and converting to Christianity, Richard had delved in drugs. Not for long, but he had turned his blue veins brown with heroin and his nose white with cocaine.
Richard was also tortured with the belief that he was to blame. He knew he had poisoned himself with drugs and alcohol in his youth, and he was worried that it had contaminated his sperm. He feared that he wasn’t able to create proper babies.
His faith in God was the only thing that kept him strong during these dark moments in his life.
“Please God,” he would say in nocturnal supplication. “Please, let my baby form. Let my wife deliver our baby in time. I will raise it according to your Word. Please don’t let me be at fault for this.”
As the days edged nearer to the due date of March 9th, Christine and Richard began to wonder if it would still try to worm its way out of her vagina, despite being no where near ready.
“If it pops out the way it is,” said Christine while looking with tenderness at her small sack of potatoes, “it would surely die straight away. The doctor has already said its heart isn’t properly formed.”
“It might not die.”
“And if it doesn’t? How will it walk? Talk? Eat? How will it go to school? How will it learn to drive?”
“It will be fine. God will see to it that it will be fine.”
Richard picture a blind, limbless creature rolling around on the floor. His heart began to weep, and his face bleached.
A lone tear ran down Christine’s cheek. She began to quietly sing a lullaby as she stroked her tummy.
“Well, I’m not going to lie to you that this is certainly something of a unique case. At least here in Manhattan,” said their consultant, Dr Aaron Di Caprio during a consultation. He bounced a tennis ball between his hands.
“What’s going to happen on March the ninth?” asked Christine with a lump bigger than her baby in her throat.
“Nothing?” asked Di Caprio, as though surprised by the question. “Nothing can happen. The baby isn’t ready.”
Christine and Richard looked at each other in supreme perplexity.
“We know that,” said Richard. “But what does that mean?”
“You’ll have to postpone the baby shower,” replied Di Caprio with a warm smile. “Look,” he began as he stood up, placing the tennis ball carefully on his desk. “This is a most queer happening. But queer things happen. Take a look at this photograph.”
Di Caprio pointed the depressed couple in the direction of a black and white, grainy photograph of our luminescent galaxy that hung on his wall in an opulent frame that contrasted with the rawness of the image.
“See this? It’s our Universe. This is where you and I live,” he said as he pointed to a tiny white dot amidst the myriad other sparkling white dots. “Somehow, as if by a miracle, our earth was formed in such a way that life was possible. Lots and lots and lots of conditions had to be in place for our earth to be primed for life. If gravity was just a fraction stronger or weaker, we wouldn’t be here.
“Our Universe is a very queer thing. We have nothing to do but to accept that it’s just one of those things that happen. Your baby is just the same.”
Richard again looked at his wife, but this time her gaze was held steadfast on the doctor.
“Just now you said that this is a unique case – at least here in Manhattan. What did you mean by that?” she asked.
“Who knows if it’s happened elsewhere in the world? Maybe a baby has been delivered tremendously late in a Peruvian village in the past. I’m just musing.”
Months passed. March the ninth came and went without so much as a kick from Christine’s baby. Summer arrived, and the couple went for a scan at the hospital.
“I’m sorry, but the images did not process,” said the nurse as they waited impatiently in the hospital to see the latest black and white prints of their child-to-be. “You won’t be able to take one home. I’m sorry.”
With that, the nurse’s attention quickly turned to her next task.
“But what did the consultant say?” asked Christine, confused. “How’s the baby looking?”
“Fine,” answered the nurse, before gathering together a pile of papers.
Christine and Richard were both struck by the fact that the nurse seemed to be avoiding looking at them. She marched away from her desk with the papers pressed against her bosom. Two sheets slipped free and wafted from side to side in the air before landing on the floor like a parachute. She ignored them and burst through the doors into the next room.
That night, Billy was angry that they hadn’t been able to get a print of their scan.
“How do we even know you’ve got a human baby in there?” he asked with venom.
His wife scorned him for asking such a question, but it had been one he’d been dying to ask for weeks. A few cans of Coors had spurred him on.
He begrudgingly apologised for his outburst but continued to insist it was a semi-legitimate question.
“It’s just so goddamn strange.”
“Queer things happen, Mr Hawkins,” remarked Richard quietly.
The remark inflamed Billy, who turned his anger on his son-in-law. “What did you say? You sick son of a bitch! What’ve you got inside you? Who the fuck are you?”
Billy rose from the table and pointed his knife at Richard. His wife rose too and stopped him from marching towards a frightened Richard. She had to hold him back, as madness got him in its grip.
“You ever have sex with my daughter again and I’ll hang you from the tree in my garden! You’re the Antichrist!” he spat out, chewed pork flying from his mouth.
“Calm down, Billy,” begged his wife, doing her best to calm him.
“He’s the Antichrist,” he repeated to her, his feathers ruffled.
“I know. I know, honey. Come on, sit down.”
Mary got her husband to calm down, but the beast was already out of its cage and everyone at the dinner table was rattled.
For Richard, the word was the scariest in the dictionary. It was one nobody used lightly. It was suggestive of something supremely diabolical. Indeed, it was loaded with apocalyptic connotations.
The Antichrist was meant to be the most evil person in the metaphysical world who had entered our mortal coil to effectively end humanity, taking the shape of a benevolent soul who was really a False Messiah.
His mother had talked about the Antichrist a lot when he was a young boy. She lived in dread of it, and kept telling Richard that the Antichrist would be coming soon, and that he would set the earth on fire.
The word had its roots in biblical times, but also in medieval times when villagers with lanterns hunted down witches they blamed for the cursed things that were happening to them and their families.
Richard knew now that the staunchly religious but ever so dim Billy thought he was a witch: A demon, an antichrist sent to impregnate a woman with the devil’s spawn.
Not just any woman – his own daughter.
And all because his retarded baby wouldn’t form.
Not longer after the dinner table incident, in which Billy had accused his son-in-law of bringing about the end of the days, Christine was ordered to live with her parents. She agreed immediately, and Richard was left to live alone in the home they had shared for three years as a happy couple.
He prayed to God for guidance each night. He spoke to his mom on the phone to ask if there had been any issues when he was in her womb. Had he remained in there too long? Did he perhaps slither out of her vagina with a few limbs missing? She told him that he had exited her body completely in tact, and asked with genuine concern if he was using drugs again.
He trawled the Internet in a desperate search for answers:
“Very late pregnancies.”
“What does it mean when a baby still hasn’t been born.”
There were no answers. The mystery deepened. His guilt was suffocating him. Was he really to blame for the defective infant? Had his promiscuous past ruined a life?
And was Billy right to ask his question: What was inside Christine’s body?
A few days later, Richard was filling up his car when a beefy man wearing a denim jacket and a trucker cap yelled out at him.
“Fucking faggot alien!” cried the man.
It shook Richard up.
The jibes got worse over the next few days, as his neighbours learned of his and Christine’s unusual situation.
Eggs were launched at his window. “Devil” was sprayed on his garage in blood red lettering. Friends began to desert him, cancelling meet-ups out of a fear that he would spit on them and infect them with his alien DNA.
Christine rang to say that she was thinking of getting an abortion.
“Of course I don’t really believe I have a demon inside me,” she said. “But this is taking over my life. I’ve been waiting for this baby to pop for almost two years. I need to move on with my life.”
Richard protested and asked if she would let them have one last consultation with the doctor and nurses about it. “Maybe it’s nearly ready.”
She sobbed on the phone, knowing that a second scan wasn’t needed. Her baby hadn’t grown inside her.
That night, Richard sadly wrote down possible baby names:
In the morning, he found out that Billy had died of a heart attack. The man had worked himself into a drunken stupor, raging at Christine’s unborn child to “pop already and give me my fucking grandson and heir!!”. He had goaded it, called it an alien, accused it of “being no grandson of mine” before butting it with his head.
Then, Billy died.
And so it was that Christine, unable to bear it no more, went to arrange to have an abortion. The hospital refused, saying it was well past the termination age that the law would permit.
“Your baby is nearly two years old. We can’t terminate a two-year old,” they told her clinically.
“But it isn’t a baby,” she insisted tearfully. “It’s a thing.”
She began to hate Richard for what he had done to her. She was left to walk around with a cluster of alien cells inside her that she couldn’t get rid of. After three years, the thing was still there, faintly lashing out every now and then to remind her not to ever forget it.
She and Richard didn’t speak anymore. He had been driven out of his house by his neighbours who burned baby dolls in his porch, set fire to his flowers, and smashed his windows with bricks.
But wherever he went in the town, he was tarnished. Women somehow recognised him and wouldn’t date him. To them, he was either an alien or he wasn’t a real man. He was a sap who couldn’t make proper babies.
They didn’t want to get stuck with an undeveloped baby in their womb for years on end like poor Christine.
He read The Bible more and other ancient prophetic texts to find answers. Had he not been properly redeemed for his past sins? Was he really the Antichrist? Was he in the Book of Revelations? He grew a beard and became more mystical.
As the years passed, Richard moved to a new town. It was still a while before his confidence returned and he felt able to date women again. They didn’t know who he was, and while a part of him was thankful for this, another part of him felt deceitful. He was The Man Who Created Monsters, but they only knew him as Richard the Christian. With them, he had a blank canvas on which to paint pretty pictures of benevolence, warm and healthy sperm.
Eventually, he found love with a church-going woman called Elizabeth. She was a sweet, caring and kind woman who doted on him.
One night, they made love and she became pregnant. She was overjoyed, but he was apprehensive.
Impregnating another woman after Christine had become almost like an obsession for him in recent months. He wanted to prove to himself that it was just “one of those queer things” as Dr Aaron Di Caprio had put it. He wanted to prove to himself that it was just a trick that nature plays on us from time to time.
He likened it to excreting blood. When you excrete blood, you’re desperate to use the toilet again as soon as possible to prove that it was just a one-off, and that your bowels aren’t being torn apart by a tumour. But when you see the blood a second time, you know you’re in trouble.
After a few months, the doctor broke the news to the couple that their baby wasn’t developing properly.
Richard turned ashen. It had been a moment he was dreading, but one that he was hoping wouldn’t come.
Richard knew now that he was in trouble. Elizabeth had taken the news quite well. She was optimistic that the baby would eventually develop. Like Richard, she had great faith in God.
And if it didn’t develop fully, she insisted they would give it whatever life they could. Her reaction was so different to Christine’s that he was astonished.
But Richard was troubled. He knew the reality. Elizabeth was now just another subplot in his personal tragedy. Her life was in ruins.
As he watched her dutifully prepare dinner, he began to cry. She sang a hymn to herself as she lovingly prepared his potatoes. She had no idea what evil had befallen her. Her life was effectively over and she didn’t know it.
“Honey, dinner is ready,” she said with the happiest of smiles that was shaped like the crescent of our moon.
There wasn’t a soft, poor human soul feebly rummaging around inside her tummy. There was an alien that was maliciously cocooning itself.
The guilt of what he had done to his dear Elizabeth was too much, and Richard left home, leaving her a brief note on the dinner table.
“I’m sorry about the baby,” he wrote.
He left her grief stricken. His departure tested her faith.
Richard became a wanderer. Impregnating women became an obsession to him that developed into a full-blown neurosis. He said to himself that he hadn’t been condemned by God for his promiscuous past, nor was he the Antichrist. And he was out to prove it.
He had with all kinds of women. He wasn’t making love like he had with Christine and Elizabeth. He was making babies.
In Denver, he made a baby with a student named Emma. Four months into her pregnancy, she got the news that her baby wasn’t developing properly. She was unable to hand it with the stoic resolve of Elizabeth and became hysterical. For days and weeks she sobbed without control. She had no idea Richard was to blame, or that there were two other women in America who were suffering a similarly disastrous fate.
She fell apart, and Richard couldn’t take it any longer. He left the town and made babies with more women in other towns in a mindless bid to prove that he wasn’t an alien fugitive.
His faith cracked and bled, and he sought refuge in drinking. He impregnated a woman in Michigan and threatened to kill their doctor if he didn’t make their baby form.
“Make it grow limbs or I’ll cut you, I swear to God! I am not the Antichrist!”
At his lowest, he drank half a bottle of whiskey in a barely furnished motel room in San Francisco. It was here that he heard news of Christine’s death. She had taken her own life.
He knew she had been unable to bear her burden anymore.
The death of his wife didn’t affect him, and he continued to impregnate women. Many times he didn’t stick around long enough to find out if the baby was developing properly or not, but whenever he did, he and the mother-to-be were given the devastating news that their infant was retarding in the womb.
His life became a squalor of drink, drugs, guilt and deformed aliens that never saw the light of day, but continued to ferment inside their mothers, mothers who were never able to kiss and hold them.
During a spell in rehab, he was visited by a priest he had never met. He always claimed afterwards that the visit was too mystical to be real. It was a hallucination.
He was told the ultimate truth by the priest. He was told that Christine’s pregnancy had been a test. It was a test that he failed.
“Instead of listening to your heart and what other people were telling you, you became selfish. You weren’t concerned with the welfare of the women you supposedly loved. You cared only about eradicating your own guilty conscience, to prove that you weren’t defective, alien or the Antichrist. You went on the rampage, destroying lives to try and save your own.”
There was no end to his misery. He grew old. His penis became limp. In desperation, he tried to get an erection to impregnate more women, but it was impossible. As he tucked his organ into his trousers and yanked up his zip while a Mississippi prostitute sighed in his motel bed, he thought about what was waiting for him in the world to come.
He thought about his transgressions.
He thought about the women he had ruined.
He thought about all his babies.
He named them.
His heart wept.
All of them were trapped. None of them would get a chance to experience the human condition in all its grime and misery.