What Millie Would Choose
Alison Sloane Gaylin
She chose fame for herself and child. But someone important didn't get a choice.
"What are you doing?" said Lynda's husband.
Lynda -- who was lying in bed on her back with her legs thrown over her head, her toes touching the headboard and her privates four inches away from her face -- replied, "Yoga?"
Lynda stared at herself and winced. She knew she'd have to tell Dave at some point. But this was not the appropriate time. So she stammered, "It feels wonderful to do this after sex. It retains the sensation. I read about it in Cosmo."
"Can men do it too?"
She then watched her naked husband thrust his muscular, hairy ass in the air, grunting and groaning and bending his knees as he tried to kiss the headboard with the balls of his feet. "This doesn't feel good at all," Dave said. He sounded as if he were being politely strangled.
"Well, maybe it only works for women."
"Guess so." He eased his legs back down and placed his feet on the floor. Before he got up to use the bathroom, Dave gave his wife a quick look and wondered what she was thinking.
On this morning and in this position, there were only two words in Lynda's mind: retain sperm. Lynda wanted a Millennium Baby. A baby, born on January 1, 2000, the closer to midnight the better. A baby who would be famous from the moment she took air into her brand new lungs; a baby who would land on the cover of the New York Post before she so much as opened her eyes forthe first time. How could this baby not be a success in life? How could she not be eternally grateful to her mother, the woman who screamed in agony while the rest of the world set off fireworks and popped champagne corks and partied for the last time ever like it was 1999 -- the woman who literally made her a star?
Lynda thought it was a fabulous idea, but she'd only mentioned it once to her husband. He'd been in the midst of fixing the kitchen sink. "Wouldn't it be fun to have a baby on New Year's, Y2K?" she'd asked casually.
"Fun?" he'd replied, his voice bouncing off the pipes, the wrench dropping on his knee and clattering to the floor. "Ouch..."
"Well, maybe not fun," she'd said quickly. "More like... important. Don't you think it would be important to have a baby on New Year's, Y2K?"
"I guess so, honey," he'd said, as if the question and babies and the year 2000 were all things from a distant, inhospitable planet. "Can you grab that wrench for me?"
Lynda had sighed, squeezed Dave's foot, and handed him his unreachable tool. "Well," she'd muttered. "That's that, I suppose."
Of course, that wasn't that at all. Lynda checked out five fertility books from the library, calculated her ideal conception week and got to work.
Dave was smart, but not terribly perceptive, especially when it came to Lynda. In the past four years, she'd had many private plans in which Dave had been an unwitting co-conspirator -- getting engaged, marrying, quitting her PR job and becoming a homemaker, buying the house in Forrest Hills. With a mysterious silence here, a feigned disinterest in sex there, the seemingly unintentional rearranging of schedules and, occasionally, the carefully timed utilization of the Big Guns (tears), Lynda could get Dave to do practically anything.
She never felt guilty about her spousal adjustments because, whether he knew it or not, Dave more or less shared her feelings. This one, though. The Millennium Baby. (She'd already named her Millie.) This one was beginning to get to her. After all, Dave had repeatedly told her he wasn't ready to have children. She'd repeatedly assured him she was taking her pills. He'd repeatedly responded, "Okay, honey. I trust you."
Would he honestly believe this pregnancy was an accident? Would he honestly catch Lynda's case of Millennium Fever? Would he honestly learn to accept fatherhood, or would he just pack up his golf clubs and his Aerosmith tapes and leave his sensitive young wife and famous little Millie forever and ever and ever?
Now, that would be some Post headline, Lynda thought ruefully. Y2KISS OFF: MILLENNIUM BABY DITCHED IN DELIVERY ROOM!
Lynda lowered her legs and stared at the ceiling. She could actually feel Dave's life-makers swimming toward their destination. She'd worked so hard at this, monitoring her temperature, reading up on tantric, sperm-welcoming exercises, sneaking vitamin E extract, zinc and dong quai into Dave's morning coffee like slow-working poisons. She couldn't afford second thoughts now. It was exactly nine months before the dawn of a new millennium, and the future bucked and roiled before her like a sharp current from which there was no turning back. Lynda Tompkins was fertilized. She knew it.
For lack of a proper way to tell him, Lynda managed to hide the early pregnancy symptoms from her husband. Morning sickness was a no-brainer, as it typically accosted her after Dave left for work. The only other noticeable symptom, heightened emotional fragility, she tried her best to keep a lid on.
When she finally erupted in tears one night during Letterman's monologue, Lynda managed to gasp "PMS!" before he grew too curious.
All the while, she kept thinking of Millie -- thoroughly modern Millie -- still only cell-sized, but growing larger every second. Funny how few people knew of her now -- just Lynda and her gynecologist -- but how many would know of her in the future.
Crude as it sounded, she and Dave could cash in big time on Millie's fame. Diaper and baby food companies would surely want to put her face on their labels. Pampers: The Official Diaper of the Millennium Baby. It didn't sound too far-fetched to Lynda, who had seen many farther fetched things during her years in public relations.
If Millie made them enough money, then Dave could quit his job at the insurance firm and do what he always wanted to do. Alone in the house, poring over her secret copy of "What to Expect when You're Expecting," Lynda tried to remember what Dave always wanted to do.
Oh, yes, she recalled dismally. Sail around the world.
Still, Dave will understand. She said it aloud for emphasis, repeated it three times, like a mantra. Then she ran to the bathroom and threw up.
At a little over four months, Lynda's morning sickness abated, but there was another symptom she couldn't hide. Dave noticed it, but hoped it would go away before he actually had to bring it up. It wasn't something you wanted to bring up with any woman -- especially a woman as sensitive as his wife. But facts were facts, and this fact was alarming. Lynda -- a firm twenty-nine-year-old with a trim waist and thighs as smooth as glass -- was beginning to develop a gut. Her heart-shaped face was growing rounder and her large breasts were bordering on pendulous.
Three nights in a row, he'd come home from work and found her sitting on the couch, finishing a pint of Ben & Jerry's in front of Live and Let Live. He'd discovered two -- two -- empty containers of chocolate sauce in the trash -- not to mention all those wrappers. His wife had always liked cheese, but this was unnatural. She was inhaling cheddar and Monterey jack.
Dave didn't know much about psychology, but the weight gain, the chocolate sauce, the sudden obsession with dairy products -- it all had to mean something.
I'll bet it's my fault, he thought guiltily. Maybe she's bored in the suburbs. Maybe I'm taking her for granted. Maybe the sex isn't good. Maybe she's substituting cheese for love.
He waited until after Letterman's monologue, because he knew how it tended to upset her. (And what exactly was that about?) A commercial came on, and Lynda jumped out of bed to fix herself a snack.
That's my cue, Dave thought, and grabbed her wrist.
"Honey," he said softly. "What's wrong?"
Lynda's face flushed. "What do you mean?"
Dave took a deep breath. "Well, I've noticed a... a change in you."
"Lynda. You're still beautiful. The most beautiful girl I know. But... I mean... You're really packing on the pounds, honey."
Lynda stared at her husband. The powerful warring forces of guilt and vanity played tug of war with her soul until she felt like crying out in agony. But that would only make matters worse. She needed to get a grip. This situation was, after all, quite simple. It all came down to two questions, which Lynda quickly spelled out for herself: Do I want him to know that I lied to him about getting pregnant, or do I want him to think I'm a blimp?
Liar or blimp? she thought. Liar or blimp?
The words chased each other around inside Lynda's skull, until she finally cornered them, grabbed them and weighed them, one at a time. Liar... Blimp.
"Oh, for God's sake," she exploded. "Dave, I'm not fat. I'm pregnant. I know you didn't want to have a baby yet, but this baby is going to be so incredibly special. A Millennium Baby, Dave. Do you know what that means? A once-in-a-thousand-years opportunity. Our baby will be born famous. And you'll be famous too. You're going to be the father of a baby born on New Year's 2000, Dave. You're going to be in all the papers. You're going to be on the Today show. And don't you worry, honey. If I can't push this baby out by midnight sharp, I'm getting a caesarian. You know how, when I set my mind to things, I get them? Well, this is one of those times. I'm getting it, honey. I'm getting it for you, for me, for us. After our Millennium Baby is born, you won't have to worry about anything ever again."
During this entire monologue, Lynda had kept her eyes shut tight, as if she were in prayer. It wasn't until she'd finished speaking and opened them that she realized her husband had left the bedroom.
So Dave could tolerate a blimp, but not a liar. Lynda should have known this. It was one of the many ways in which they differed. "It's easier to lose weight than to gain trust," Dave had said to her, after she'd chased him into the living room, begging his forgiveness. He'd delivered the sentence in an infuriatingly patient monotone. And, since it had been one of the last things he'd ever said to her, it still rang in her ears nearly five months later as she sat, huge and alone, in her den, with her sorry white aluminum Christmas tree (at least she'd been able to carry it) standing rigidly in front of the fireplace and "It's A Wonderful Life" playing on the VCR for the fifth time that day.
"George Bailey lassoes stork!" whispered Donna Reed again. Lynda mouthed the words along with her.
This had to be Lynda's loneliest Christmas ever, and yet her mantle was covered in cards. There was one from nearly every print and electronic news outlet in New York -- editors, TV producers, on-air personalities, radio talk show hosts. All it had taken was a cleverly written one-sheet on baby pink paper, a handful of confetti and an 8-by-10 glossy of Lynda's cherubic, still-pretty face to make them all want to ride shotgun on the Millie Bandwagon. "Merry Christmas!" the cards shouted out in fresh red, green and gold ink. "Can we get an exclusive?"
Several articles had already been written about Lynda's quest to be The Millennium Mom of New York City. By the time the Christmas season shifted into high gear, she'd appeared on several local news shows and Entertainment Tonight; she'd turned down a phoner with Howard Stern; and she'd received parenting tips, live, from both Regis and Kathie Lee. Unemployed or not, separated or not, friendless or not, fat or not, Lynda remained a superb publicist.
An envelope with Dave's clumsy handwriting on it lay in the center of the coffee table. Though she'd found it in the mailbox the previous day, she still hadn't opened it. After all, she knew what was inside. Dave had been sending her checks every month since he left. He never sent a note, or a description of his whereabouts, or anything other than the check itself, with "child support" written on the short memo line in the lower left hand corner. Lynda justifiably took this as a dig. Since Millie hadn't been born yet, the only child Dave was supporting was his estranged wife. Though she always deposited the checks, Lynda didn't take much pleasure in opening the envelopes.
On the TV screen, Donna Reed was painting the walls of her drafty old house, which was quickly filling up with children. Lynda reached for the tub of Heath Bar Crunch and discovered it empty. For a few moments, she contemplated making a grilled cheese sandwich, but she didn't feel so much like getting up to do it.
Lynda picked up the envelope and slowly opened it. The check fell out. So did a handwritten note on plain white paper:
I hope you are doing well. I haven't written you all these months because I have been too angry to do so. But I want you to know I still care for you and have been thinking about you a whole lot. I would like to see you, but only under one condition: Please call off the publicity, and make the birth of our child private. I guess I'm ready to be a dad, but not Dad of the Millennium Baby. I don't think it's right to make money off of a baby, and I hope you understand my feelings.
I've saved up enough money to take a three-month hiatus from work. If you have the baby privately (and as far from midnight on January 1 as possible), I will move back in and spend the three months caring for you both. But if I see the kid on the Today show, we're through. I will continue to send child support, but I will spend my hiatus where I'll know I belong: on a sailboat.
With love and hope,
After rereading the note several times, Lynda found herself smiling, and realized it was the first time she'd smiled with no TV cameras rolling since Dave had left.
"Well," she whispered. "Well, well, well..."
She shifted her weight on the couch, and let her eyes wander from the letter to the television screen. Uncle Billie was misplacing the deposit money again, and Lynda knew she had a lot to think about.
He wouldn't take no for an answer. This will be Lynda's excuse. I tried to beg out of it, but he wouldn't let me be.
Of course, this is not an excuse; it is the truth. But everything sounds like an excuse to Lynda now. She's sitting at Le Cirque 2000, eating a huge goat cheese omelet, formulating true excuses in her head at one in the afternoon on December 27, 1999, as she stares into the chlorine blue eyes of the man who wouldn't take no for an answer: Jeff Jeffreys, Action News anchor and prime pursuer of Lynda's self-generated Y2K baby story. He wants to be the only reporter in the delivery room with Lynda. It'll be very tasteful, he's repeatedly assured her -- soft lighting, one hand-held camera, one stationary camera, placed unobtrusively in the corner for "visual variety," and Jeff. With admirable tact, he's extolled the potential ratings of such a once-in-a-lifetime TV event, remarking that little Millie could easily rake in more viewers than the Times Square Ball. Though she still has major reservations, Lynda is admittedly thrilled at the prospect of beating the Ball. And Jeff, who senses her enthusiasm all too acutely, is preparing to drop a shiny, new ball of his own.
"Lynda," the tousle-haired anchorman whispers seductively as he leans over his untouched mesculin salad. "Think of your baby. Think of her future." He reminds Lynda of Dr. Mike from Live and Let Live.
"But Jeff," Lynda replies, sounding not unlike Dr. Mike's terminally ill love interest, Carrington. "My baby needs a father."
"We will compensate you... generously," Jeff says, breaking the soap opera spell. "You won't get that from 20/20."
Lynda shoves a forkful of omelet into her mouth and chews slowly. She thinks about Dave's offer, then the potentially huge offer from Jeff Jeffreys' employers, then Dave's offer again. "What would Millie choose?" she wonders, but only briefly. After all, Millie couldn't choose anything. Millie can't even breathe on her own.
Wordlessly, Jeff pulls a Mont Blanc pen out of the jacket pocket of his Calvin Klein suit. He plucks Lynda's pink one-sheet out of another pocket, folds it in half, and writes a dollar amount on the back. Staring deeply into Lynda's eyes, he slides the folded press release across the table to her like a boxed engagement ring.
Lynda reads the dollar amount and gasps. Her eyes moisten and grow wide. She wants to give Jeff the go-ahead immediately, but she can't. In her mind, she sees Dave, turning his back to her like he did when he packed his small suitcase five months ago. He's going to divorce me if I say yes to this, she thinks. But, then again, Dave has never seen such a fat sum, written so clearly on a pink piece of paper. I bet he was just bluffing in the letter, she tries to tell herself. He wouldn't really divorce me. Of course, she never thought he'd leave her either.
Lynda looks at Jeff's handwriting again. She can feel the anchor's bright eyes on her, their minds intertwining as they both envision the money, which could pay at least half of Millie's Ivy League tuition. I'll be able to change Dave's mind, Lynda finally decides, one way or another.... She opens her mouth; but before she can say anything, a wave of pain overtakes her and she cries out. "Oooh, she's kicking," Lynda sputters.
Jeff's teeth sparkle. "She's trying to tell you something, Lynda," he says softly.
Lynda readjusts herself in her chair, thinking he may indeed be right. She takes a deep breath and again begins to accept Jeff's offer, but then another, fiercer cramp detonates deep within her womb. What are you doing, Millie? Lynda thinks.
She clears her throat, envisions Dave on a small sailboat in the Caribbean. Then, she pictures Millie and herself flying high above him in a private jet. She wishes she could transfer this image into the mind of her thrashing child. And, when the pain subsides, she thinks maybe she's succeeded.
"Jeff," she says firmly. "I would be glad to... aaah!"Another, horrific cramp barrels through her. Lynda's eyes begin to well up with tears. Stop it, stop it, stop it, she thinks -- or says. She isn't sure.
"Nothing, Jeff!" Lynda nearly screams. She crosses her legs hard, seizes the arms of her chair and braces herself against the pain. "Oh no you don't!" she hisses. "Get back up there."
"Oh, Jeff. I... This offer is so generous. And it really is for my baby's own good!" Lynda grits her teeth. As her face turns a deep, purplish red, she tries to ignore the older couple, staring at her from the neighboring table.
"Is she okay?" the matron stage-whispers to Jeff.
If Lynda could only separate her thighs enough to do so, she'd get up from her seat and pop the interloping old broad right in the mouth. But of course she can't. The only one asserting herself here is Millie. And she's doing it with greater and greater resolve.
"Lynda," says Jeff. "I'm waiting for your decision."
Lynda squeaks, "I just don't know how I could possibly say no... No! No! Nooooooo!"
Her water has broken.
"Goddammit!" Lynda yells. It is the first time that anyone's voice has attained such a high decibel level in Le Cirque 2000.
She watches the waiter call for an ambulance, watches Jeff grab the one-sheet and run away, watches customers and wait staff she's never seen before help her out of her chair and carry her to the door.
"It's okay," says the young, goateed busboy who supports her as the ambulance pulls up. "It's okay."
"No it's not!" Lynda shrieks. "It's only December 27th!"
Wherever Dave Tompkins has been staying all these months, it must be close to Lenox Hospital, because despite the near-record speed of Lynda's labor, Dave arrives early enough to hold her hand throughout most of the contractions.
"It's gonna be okay, honey," he keeps saying. It's the first time Lynda has heard Dave's voice in nearly half a year. She'd forgotten how soothing it could be.
Labor is like nothing Lynda has ever experienced. It's truly and absolutely overwhelming. When you're in labor, there is no room in your thought process for plotting or fantasy or pretense or goal-setting, or anything even remotely related to the future. Your brain, like your body, is filled to capacity with the present business -- the labor -- that literally cries out for completion. That said, Lynda is still unexpectedly grateful for her husband's hand in hers, for his voice telling her that it's gonna be okay.
As Millie takes her first, hollering breath, there are no reporters, no satellite feeds, no cameras capturing images of her tiny hands grasping gently at the air around her. Millie's only audience consists of a doctor, three nurses and the two people in the world who will always want to watch her.Thank God, Lynda thinks.
Lynda feels the weight of little Millie in her arms and the weight of Dave's hand on her shoulder.She looks deep into her husband's eyes and sees the kindness that's always been there and the tears, which are new, and realizes now, on this fifth-to-last afternoon of our second millennium, that in the future, she may be wise to let Millie make all the important decisions.
Alison Sloane Gaylin (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer in upstate New York and a graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.
InterText stories written by Alison Sloane Gaylin: "Getting Rid of January" (v8n2), "Rules for Breathing" (v9n1), "What Millie Would Choose" (v9n6).
InterText Copyright © 1991-2000 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 9, Number 6 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1999 Alison Sloane Gaylin.