Usually, Frida would put her T-shirt or nightgown on after. Now she was still naked. Intentionally so. She had decided that there was no right way to say this, so she elected to do it completely vulnerable.
“César,” she began, sliding her finger down his olive-toned arm to his index finger.
“Si?” He had been admiring Frida’s graceful form, and now raised his eyes upward to meet hers. Frida guided his hand to her belly.
“I am pregnant. You are going to be a father.”
The expression in English, “pregnant pause” came back to her. Maestro Garza at BUAP had used it so often, but that was so long ago. She hadn’t been back to BUAP since she had met César, except on a date.
“Well, aren’t you going to say something? Happy? Sad? Was there salmonella in the boeuf bourguignonne? Did I fuck the words out of your tongue, burro?”
“I already am a father, Frida.”
“And as long as we have been together, and as often as we’ve made love, it is inevitable that a form of birth control that is 99% effective would yield one pregnancy in this whole time. Now you have a five-year-old, Gabriel is 4, and you will have another one, maybe even Daddy’s little girl.”
The fire rose out of Frida’s womb. “Say something, damn you!”
“Frida,” César offered, “I had never thought about another child. I had never thought about any changes; my life is perfect just as it is now. I have a solid practice with a healthy backlog of work, I have the perfect queen of the city for a girlfriend, my son has a built-in playmate and younger brother in everything but the name…”
Frida’s annoyance rose to meet her anger halfway. “So Alejandro goes to first grade next year, and Gabriel is still with Aracely and me. Will you notice? Will you make the changes to be the father of a schoolboy? Or will you tell Alejandro, ‘Nómas, bebé, you can’t need me to help you with your homework. You can’t like what your schoolmates like. You can’t tell me what happened at school today. I want you to stay five forever’? Everything changes. What did you do when Magda got that scholarship to Temple University? Did you tell her, ‘No, you become an atheist, you go to no Temple, I command you?’ No, you gave the party of her life, and you hired two people, one for you and one for her dad. Things happen; you change. You grow. That’s called life. Next September, you will greet your new child close to the same day that you send Alejandro to his first day of school.”
“You are crazy.”
“I am a mother, and you are again going to be a father. Happy Father’s Day, Dad, I’ll be big as a taxi and you’ll love it.”
César reached over to the headboard and extracted a copy of Soil Dynamics.
Frida got up, tossed on an Abercrombie t-shirt, underwear with full coverage, and pink running shorts. She padded out of the room, found her briefcase at the front door, and took out her journal.
“My darkest thoughts walk with me like a foul body halfway inside my own; I am invaded by these doubts as to what I am doing here, or anywhere. What am I to César, to my Clientes, to my friends? Sandrina is managing Personas Desordenatas with no help; she has stopped asking me to act in anything except as the signatory to the check for program advertisements. Magda is gone, Tonto doesn’t call. Hector has moved on, no problem, what was I to him except a sex object? Maybe that’s it. Maybe Frida Garcia, Presidente of Delia SA, with my half-a-million peso income and company car, is nothing more to anyone but a very bright sex object. If the world is full of mujereros and mamasotas, what differentiates us from apes? Is our sex different from their sex? Is that all it is, sex?
“If all we are is animals, what does it mean for this gross second body to inhabit me? Is this what man calls conscience? Or consciousness? Is what humanity calls a conscience just this ogre in my skin? Is what I am bearing just a homunculus, like the Homunculus of Desire, but a nascent plague and not a blessing? What constitutes a plague? Is it different than a disease? In English the word means more like the antonym of ease. That’s it. The state of being conscious is measurable only by the level of uneasiness we experience. If so, I am highly, highly conscious, chinga la madre!”
Rituals. Mornings at César’s. Boys to Aracely. Frida to work. César to work. Evening at Frida’s. Playing with the boys while Aracely makes dinner. All to bed. Mechanical sex. Breakfast. Aracely takes the boys. César to work. Frida to work. One and a half days left until Cozumel. Time out! Call Flora.
“Flora? Frida, que haces?”
“Nada, chica, I just miss Magda, that’s all. Other than that, I’m in my oficina.” The clinking of coffee cups and the ring of the cash register attested that all was well at the Panaderia Monsieur Remontel.
“I have to talk to you. Are you there for a while?”
“Si, si – I am on deadline today. We have a Christmas special. All the El Sol travel writers are trying to outsell each other on our cities. You can come with me and we can make a drive.”
Okey – fifteen minutes. Don’t go anywhere.”
While Frida and Flora made notes about their favorite memories of each neighborhood they had ever visited, and made up some experiences for neighborhoods that they would never visit, Frida told Flora how that night the day before yesterday had gone. It was immediately obvious to Flora, at least through her detached eyes, what was wrong. “Why buy the cow…”
“When you already have the milk?” Frida finished the proverb.
Flora opined, “Chica, no problem here. You have a good company. A solid customer base. A great reputation. You also have done all this with a baby between your breasts. So what’s wrong? If it’s the money, the solution is clear. Set up a joint account that takes care of the little one’s every bottle.”
“Even the big glass ones she will buy in college!”
“Especially those. Other than that, no change, no problem!”
Frida took a great deal of comfort from this bit of advice.
The morning of the Cozumel vacation, Frida got up at 5:30 AM to buy an assortment of baked goods from Panaderia Monsieur Remontel, but she had to pull over at Calle 56 and 4a Avenida because she knew there was a public wastebasket that could receive…
“¡Dios mio, Sara! If I throw up any harder, I’ll cough you up too!
Frida opened her glove compartment and found a packet of baby wipes exactly where she expected.
When she arrived at Remontel, she had mostly regained her composure, but not her color.
Sr. Andrez emerged from the kitchen.“¡Rayos, Señora! You look like serious as a donkey on a rowboat. ¿Estas en salud?”
“Nothing, nothing. I see your travel corner isn’t full yet.”
“No, Señora, Flora doesn’t come before 9:30 unless she has been out all night. But thank you for coming in. Here’s a fresh cup of coffee gratis. Would you like an ojo de elefante? I have to dust it with sugar, but the whole batch just came out of the oven.” Sr. Andrez poured the coffee into what appeared to be a pottery beer mug with a fleur-de-lis stamped into the clay before firing. He poured the cream into a twelve-ounce pitcher and set out the sugar.
Frida poured cream into her coffee; she passed on the sugar. The glistening golden glaze on the ojos de elefantes wafted straight from the kitchen into Frida’s nose, which certainly had been shocked by what it had inhaled at Calle 56.
“I’ll take a dozen. Have you baked anything healthy yet? We’re making an excursión.”
“Si, señora, a batch of carrot bran muffins just came out, and I have raspberry tarts also. You should eat the muffins within two days, but the tarts can make you salivate after a week.”
“Good, we can play Frisbee with them, and then eat them afterward. Give me a dozen of both, but in a plastic bag with a twist tie, please.”
Frida paid for the pastries, and downed the coffee.
* * *
Frida acted her way through the next week, enjoying her time with the children, and faking it through her time with César. Once the children were asleep in their own beds and corresponding houses, Frida met César in the courtyard of his building. With the sound of the peeing cherub in the background, César spoke first.
“Frida, I do not want to make this change in my life. I want you to have an abortion.”
“You want me to abort my baby – our baby?” Frida spoke deliberately, knowing that this was one of two possible reasons for this meeting, and César did not seem to have a wedding band disguised somewhere.
“Yes, Frida, I would like you to have an abortion.”
“And we will go on as we have, and nothing will change. We will be happy as we have been. I don’t want to change anything.”
“You don’t think I forgot what I told you, do you?”
“About change. Change just is. Ser, no estar. Change. Is. Life. Is. Change.”
“Frida, I have made my decision.”
“¡Pendejo! ¡Hijo de puta!” Frida slapped her lover of four years across the face.
César turned, without a word, and returned to his condo. The door closed with just a little bit more authority than usual.