Tue 29 Apr 2014
Alison McBain lives in Connecticut with her husband and two daughters. She has short stories forthcoming or published in SpeckLit, On the Premises, and the anthology Fundamentally Challenged. You can find out more about work and read her blog at alisonmcbain.com.
The Maybe Baby
by Alison McBain
The fetus is abnormal, they told Katie. No blame on you, the doctors reassured her. Faulty wiring, some problem with connection.
She sat there, blank, as they rambled on with praise for her one healthy child. Not safe at her age to conceive, of course. With eyes dripping sympathy, the words they did not say out loud: her problem, not theirs. Ultimately, when she didn’t respond, they used the “A” word.
“No,” she told them. “Thank you,” belatedly.
Tom wouldn’t be bothered, she thought as she drove home. Sad voice, but transparent with a lack of catastrophe. What was one person’s end-of-the world meant nothing to another. “Bills to pay,” he’d tell her. “Mistakes are expensive.”
Feelings marked out in cash. Just like the doctor: nothing wrong with him. It was her complication, her fault.
She pulled into the driveway through a litter of unraked leaves, the tires crunching them like small bones. The babysitter was waiting for her. The girl popped gum and checked her black fingernails as Katie counted out bills. “Thanks, Mrs. J,” she said.
Katie’s daughter sat on the floor, playing quietly with puzzle pieces as the teenager left. None of the puzzles were complete anymore–they were all missing something vital.
She sat on the couch and looked outside the window at the grey clouds rushing towards culmination. Sometimes, she wished for thunder and lighting, not just the peace of rain. A simple lapse. Maybe the storm tonight would wash the air clean again.
Susan Tepper: Your story ‘The Maybe Baby’ asks more questions than it answers, which is a sign of compelling fiction. Do you think the husband will at some point come to understand his wife’s feelings?
Alison McBane: Through no fault of his own, I believe it would be hard for the husband to empathize with his wife’s feelings. Understanding has become a casualty of their long relationship, of lives lived side by side for so many years without much overlap. If a tragedy overwhelmed her husband, would she be able to support him how he needed? I think the answer might be the same.
ST: Do you picture the husband capable of loving the baby, assuming it does arrive into this world?
A.M.B.: If the baby survived, I think there would be love on Tom’s part. In the story, there is no indication that his wife thinks he is a bad father, just that his problem – and his wife’s – might be in expressing love in a healthy way towards each other. They can’t empathize with each other, and part of the fault seems to be communication. Katie imagines how a conversation with Tom might play out, but she doesn’t actually have the conversation. It stays internal, and thus remains wholly in her control.
ST: In this story you’ve created an immediate dramatic conflict, and also, in such a short writing space, you’ve created a strong sense of place. I feel her ‘aloneness’ as a physical space within and surrounding her. For me, it becomes the essential ‘place’ in the story. Do you think the husband has this alone space, too, or does he fill it up with ‘male things’ to escape what is pending?
A.M.B.: They approach the same situation from opposite perspectives, so while the husband is aware of a lack in their relationship, he probably wouldn’t see it as coming from within. Whereas Katie has created a complete internal landscape, her husband occupies a more practical world, where a problem is only a problem because one hasn’t looked hard enough for a solution. Problems to him aren’t internal, but external, and so can be solved with external things.
S.T.: Thank you, Alison, for your clear and frank answers about your story plot. It’s a subject that carries a lot of heat both politically and morally. And probably will continue to do so for some time to come.
Susan Tepper has authored 5 published books. The latest is a novel in stories called The Merrill Diaries, from Pure Slush Books (http://pureslush.webs.com/store.htm#916515853). She is a named finalist in storySouth Million Writers Award for 2013, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in fiction (2010), and nine times for the Pushcart Prize. Tepper is a staff editor at Flash Fiction Chronicles where she conducts the interview series UNCOV/rd. www.susantepper.com