Eena Ruffini

It is a Wednesday afternoon, and almost-widow Lilly is staring at an egg-timer.

“God will forgive you for many things,” her selectively devout mother had once told her, “but being a dirty pregnant whore is not one of them.”

“Make sure you are on the pill,” she’d said. And: “Make sure you take precautions.”

For Mrs. Nelson Baker, nee Larissa DeMauro, a pregnant unmarried daughter—no matter what her age, no matter in what age—was simply unacceptable, even if the plans for cutting cake had been cut short through no fault of her own.

But even God’s forgiveness could be more easily achieved than the country club’s...

Lilly hadn’t dressed for the drugstore. Instead, she rolled topless out of stale, unwashed sheets, reached to the pillow beside her and pulled David’s ratty Dartmouth T-shirt over her black, boy-short panties. She snatched a plastic bag off the top of the Bo-Concept, espresso-stained, six-drawer dresser, where it had laid in state since the wake.

   Personal Effects: David A. Payton IV
   Cause of Death: Accidental/MVA

Popping open the seal, Lilly took hold of a worn brown wallet. Inside, she knew David was smiling. Beneath the calf-skin leather and the gold embossed letters, she knew David was seated in front of a benign blue backdrop, dressed in his usual white oxford, grinning from ear to ear.

Lilly knew, but she didn’t look. The DMV had caused her enough pain in life; it could not have her tears.

Keeping the billfold closed, she strategically slid a credit card out the top. The remaining objects looked up at her expectantly. A wallet in need of a pocket. Keys in need of a lock. A phone in need of a charge. A black flip notebook and his father’s Montblanc pen.

“What is to become of us?” they asked from behind their flexible plastic shield.

Lilly refused to answer.

She was not, after all, prepared to entertain the inquiries of inanimate objects, no matter how persistently they petitioned. She resealed the bag and chucked the whole lot into the tangled abyss of overflowing laundry.

31 seconds had passed, so two minutes and 29 seconds remained on the egg-clock.

Kicking her way through the mess, Lilly headed toward the hall. At the threshold to the bedroom, Kate Spade cups, bowls, plates and chargers sat in neat piles, rapidly accruing mold—Lilly wasn’t really eating during the day anymore...

After midnight, when the apartment grew so quiet that even the constant traffic below couldn’t drown out the silence, calories kept her company. Boxes of cereal with soy milk. Frozen appetizers pulled from the deep freeze. Apples with gooey jars of organic peanut butter. Blocks of imported cheese. An entire German chocolate cake.

The twelve-place settings her mother insisted she purchase always seemed an unnecessary extravagance. They had few guests and even fewer friends. But with each clean dish pulled from the golden brown cedar cabinet, with each sparking utensil plucked from the handle-less, self-closing drawers, Lilly found herself increasingly grateful. Volume was the only thing protecting her from paper plates.

She had banned the housekeeper from the building. Lilly didn’t do sympathy, and she most assuredly would not accept it in physical form when offered by a quasi-maternal figure reeking of goulash and bleach. The woman had tried to hug her and Lilly fired her on the spot.

But what was done was done, she told herself. No use crying over spilled milk—or the lack of well-trained professionals to clean up after it; guilt is not a flattering emotion.

In the significant open-living space of their (now her) soft-loft luxury condo, the unwelcome material of a new day unraveled in three extra-wide bolts. The floor-to-ceiling windows had been one of the apartment’s biggest selling points. Now, Lilly wished they were cemented shut.

As the light draped across granite countertops and stainless appliances, lead crystal and Austrian chandeliers, Kensington-leather sofas and flat-woven rugs, Lilly’s focus fell on the dining set. It had taken her months to choose those chairs. She had researched. Hunted. Obsessed.

Those chairs, those black bentwood chairs with flax linen upholstered seats. Those six-hundred-and-ninety-nine-dollar-apiece, more colors available, no assembly required, delivery-included chairs would be the last set she and David would ever need to buy.

They had never been married, but they had been happy. And they reveled in the glory of their chairs...

One minute, thirty-five seconds to go.

At Rite Aid, Lilly could feel the stares. Knee-high, hunter green rain-boots do not go well with underwear and 80-degree sun.

A chubby elementary-schooler pointed down the aisle and snickered. The glare she threw him included glass shards and hypodermic needles.

Procreation, she told herself, is highly overrated.

In fact, Lilly wondered how many of the shoppers in the family planning section had really planned to be there. She always assumed that most pregnancy tests were purchased by ruined teens from fundamentalist school districts in corn-growing square states. It never even occurred to her that some people welcome that little pink plus-sign.

Not that plus or minus were the only options anymore.

As Lilly scanned the shelves, she marveled at the sheer magnitude of the array. Lines, signs and LED. Floral, clinical or minimalist design. Mothers with babies and cartoons of cute-but-possibly-knocked-up girls on the go. Fast results. Scented strip. Easy grip.

It seemed a strange market in which to seek brand recognition:
   Unwanted pregnancy, brought to you by Nabisco.
   Personal ruination, new from Arm and Hammer.

They certainly weren’t the type of logo you’d want to see embroidered on a hat or a company softball jersey. The Elevated-Ph Panthers. The Quick-Response Raptors. The Crimson Tide.

And the product names. The names were the worst. Clearly chosen by boardrooms of men who thought these catch-phrases would appeal to every iteration of whore—“Answers.” “Clear Blue Easy.” “Choice.”

What Lilly really wanted were “Easy Answers,” or a “Clear Choice.” Instead of “EPT” how about “OMG.” “First Response,” should be renamed “Last Resort.”

She should have just killed a rabbit; it would have made less of a mess...

One minute and 18 seconds left on the clock.

Lilly finishes wiping up the the travertine floor of their (also now her) en suite bathroom. She wraps the test tightly in toilet paper and sets it aside.

Lilly takes a long hard drink.

The vodka is stupid and a tad cliche, but Lilly doesn’t care. This baby, if there is one, is going to be screwed up anyway.

She watches the dial wind down on her Williams-Sonoma Aluminum Kitchen Timer, $69.95, catalog only, wipe clean with damp cloth.

It’s been two weeks.

Blame it on poor nutrition. Blame it on stress. Anything but pregnancy. Pregnancy is impossible. Pregnancy is ridiculous. Pregnancy is dumb.

Surely by now all David’s sperm are as dead as his rotting corpse...

58 seconds to go.

Lilly briefly considers calling her mother.

But Mrs. Baker never liked David. Despite the fact that he was well-moneyed and handsome and successful. Despite the fact that he was kind, and thoughtful, David’s significant assets were wiped out the moment he proposed just moving in instead of marriage.

No need to be predictable, he’d told her. No need to rush. Time, he said, was on their side. So were the interest rates.

So instead of a priest, they hired a realtor. And instead of a chapel, they went to the bank. Dressed in their workday best, the two stood before the altar of Western Mutual Trust and lovingly recited their credit scores. The broker read aloud from the annals of mutual property law, after which the happy couple vowed loyalty, fidelity and prompt monthly payments.

No one threw rice, but they did get to keep the pen.

Lilly thought her mother had gotten over it. She thought they had come to a pleasant, if rather persistent, detente. But when Mrs. Baker couldn’t be bothered to pull herself off a St. Bart’s beach to fly back for her daughter’s non-husband’s funeral, Lilly realized that her highly mortgaged chickens had finally come home to roost.

Karma was a bitch. And so, it seemed, was her mother.

“Please. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” Lilly sobbed into her cell in the middle of mortuary.

“That never stopped you before,” her mother said, yelling a drink order at some unfortunate island underling.

And with that, the line went dead...

30 seconds to go.

Lilly always assumed that kids would happen eventually.

Like paying bills, owning a sheath dress, or vomiting after high-carb meals, children are just something respectable women are expected to do.

That’s why Prada makes maternity wear. That’s why Louis Vuitton sells diaper bags. That’s why BMW sells ergonomically-advanced strollers.

Spawn are as much a status symbols as anything else. More than anything else, that was the reason David had finally decided they should have them.

A few weeks before the accident, he informed her that it was time to start a family. He didn’t have a ring. He didn’t have a plan, but he knew what he wanted and Lilly knew, like always, she would oblige.

“We’ll get married within the year,” he told her, “And if we get pregnant before them, so be it.” He then proceeded to throw out all her pills...

The buzzer sounds.

Lilly is so startled, she drops the test on the floor. Then, as she picks it up, she takes a pregnant—though hopefully not—pause.

Maybe a child would be good for her, she thinks. It could be just the things she needs—giving purpose to her aimless, selfish life.

But raising a child isn’t supposed to be about benefit for the adult.

When done correctly, child-rearing is an all-consuming, all-encompassing, soul-crushing endeavor. A marathon that only ends when you’re dead.

But Lilly knows she is not an endurance athlete—she gets overwhelmed by just babysitting her neighbor’s mail.

Sure, she could go the other way. She could underpay a Guatemalan immigrant to rear her progeny. She could ship the thing off to boarding school the minute it hit third grade and never visit, even on holidays, and send the gardener to fill her reserved seat during graduations. But not everyone followed what had been her mother’s pattern of parenting.

For Mrs. Nelson Baker, nee Larissa Demarco, the minute they cut the cord the kid was someone else’s problem: the nurse’s, the nanny’s, the headmaster’s, the husband’s.

Lilly knows she could never treat a child like that.

Maybe she should just get rid of it, she thinks.

Maybe she should just nip this thing in the bud—it wouldn’t be the first time.

But there was a problem. This is no accidental bud. It wasn’t a drunken one-night stand. It was David. And if she is “with child,” then this is the only piece of him left. She couldn’t end his life. She couldn’t kill him twice.

Lilly reaches once more for the friend she’s found in vodka.

She hopes the kick will give focus. Give courage. Help her choose.

Normally she would never have to do this. Normally, someone would tell her what to do. That had always been one of David’s most attractive qualities: he made the decisions for them both.

Lilly grasps the wrapped-up test between her fingers. Her hands shake. There is sweat on her brow. She starts to bring the stick to eye level.

Then, suddenly, she changes her mind. Lilly plucks several moisture-enhanced tissues from the holder and crumples them around the stick. She then chucks the whole lot into the tangled abyss of the overflowing trash.

Lilly doesn’t want to know.

She storms out of the bathroom, out of the apartment, out of the building and into the blissful ignorance of the world beyond.

Meanwhile, beneath the layers of Puffs Plus and two-ply Quilted Northern, the twenty-dollar digital display glows green with a single word.

Eena Ruffini is a writer and journalist based in Washington DC. She writes fiction, fact, and the occasional Thank You card.

  fiction    poetry    "fact"    photography
masthead      guidelines