Type
Fiction
Category
Fiction

Honey babe

She was standing between rows of bras in Kmart when the pain came. She’d been having twinges all morning, twinges she’d put down to eating two bags of liquorice allsorts the night before, but it wasn’t that kind of pain after all, it was…appendicitis?

She grabbed a handful of bras, staggered into the nearest changing room and closed the door. The pain eased and she googled appendicitis symptoms—sudden pain, cramps, pain in lower back—and then her body heaved, and she found herself on all fours. She let out a scream.

The door yanked open and a shop assistant said Oh My God Are You Having A Baby, and then the intercom said If Any Doctors Or Nurses Are Shopping With Us Today Can You Please Report To The Ladies Changing Rooms A-S-A-P.

All of a sudden a little old man was peering up her skirt and pulling down her undies, and he said She’s Ten Centimetres Dilated Can I Get A First Aid Kit and she said Who The Fuck Are You and a little old lady crouched down beside her and said He’s Doctor Cook and I’m Doctor Cook Too And We’ll Look After You And Your Baby.

All she could think was But I’m Not Fucking Pregnant but then another wave of pain came and the Doctors Cook said Push and she pushed and one of the Doctors Cook said Look At That Fuzzy Little Head and then the pain was a tsunami and the Doctors Cook said Push Push and she pushed it right out.

The crowd of shoppers that had gathered burst into a round of applause, and some of them cried into their hankies and snotted onto their sleeves, and she was glad they were facing her front end and not her rear end, and the Doctors Cook snapped Give Us Some Privacy and banged the door shut. A hand apologetically slid a first aid kit in under the door, and then slipped in a towel, and then retreated.

The changing room was loud with the silence of the Doctors Cook not talking and her baby not crying, so she shuffled around in the cramped space and asked Is Everything Okay and the Doctors Cook eyed her with suspicion.

One of the Doctors Cook cleaned the baby with the towel and handed the baby to her, and it was a strange looking thing, but she’d never really been around babies much before, and obviously they did start out somewhat small and unformed and then developed more as time went on.

But she was worried enough that she said Do They All Look Like This? And when there was no answer she said Is It Okay? I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant. I Can’t Remember The Last Time I Had Sex. I Guess It Must Have Been Nine Months Ago, Ha Ha. I’ve Been Drinking The Whole Time. I Mean Not All The Time But On Weekends. And Some Weekdays. Is That Why It Looks Like This? Is It Going To Be Okay?

As she said the words she gazed down at the baby and felt a deep love. Her baby! She would do her very best by her baby. It would not grow up to eat two or maybe three packets of liquorice allsorts on a Saturday night while watching reality television and sobbing into its duvet. It would not grow up with nothing to show for itself but a poorly-rendered swallow tattoo, HPV and a student loan. She would give it everything she’d never had.

If she’d had a choice of changing rooms to give birth in, she would have chosen those at Smith & Caughey’s department store. That would have been a more auspicious location than Kmart Saint Lukes. But Saint Lukes had its own charm. Perhaps she would call it Luke. Or Kay. Or Marty.

Is It A Boy Or A Girl she asked, but the Doctors Cook just looked at her, until one of them said Did You Put That In There Yourself? It was a confusing question, but it was a confusing day; she hadn’t expected a day that had started with indigestion and a quest for a new bra to end with a baby, so she said I Guess So? And then What Do You Mean? And one of the Doctors Cook said This Isn’t A Baby It Looks Like A Very Large Peach.

Before she could say anything her muscles roiled, and one Doctor Cook grabbed the baby and the other delivered the placenta and cut the umbilical cord with the little silver scissors from the first aid kit.

Once the cord was cut and tied with a severed bra strap, she took her baby back and cradled it. The doctors were right: it did look like a very large peach. A very large, beautiful peach. She leant down and kissed it. You Can Be Whatever You Want To Be, she said. If You Want To Be A Peach, You Be A Peach.

But part of her felt stupid, stupid for not knowing she was pregnant, and stupid for not knowing she was pregnant with a peach.

On the other side of the door a sing-song voice said Is Everything Okay? I’m The Store Manager Just Checking In. And when no-one said anything the Store Manager cracked the door open and peered in with a bright smile. Congratulations On Your Bundle Of Joy!

They flung the door back to reveal a flimsy black stroller with a big red bow tied to the handlebars. We’d Like To Gift You This Newborn Stroller Worth One Hundred And Eighty Nine Dollars, they said. And Here Are Some Baby Clothes And Some Baby Blankets. The Total Value Is Two Hundred And Ninety Dollars. Can We Take A Photo For Our Social Media?

And then the Store Manager’s smile dropped, and their words stopped bubbling out, and they seemed to notice the grey faces of the Doctors Cook, and they backed away slowly, but left the stroller.
The Doctors Cook stood to leave and she felt a thousand questions rise inside her. What Should I Do Now?

She’d made a mess of the changing room. The placenta lay like a hunk of liver in the corner, the new towel was soaked with blood, and red finger prints marked the floor and the walls.

Do You Have A GP, You Know, A Doctor? You Should Go And See Your Doctor, the Doctors Cook agreed, and they scuttled away. But it was a Sunday and they must have known she wouldn’t be able to see a doctor, and anyway she didn’t really have a doctor, she seemed to see a different person at her medical centre every time she went. And also she was fine, in fact elated, because she had a baby and she suddenly felt as though she had an anchor, and she liked that feeling.

She looked in the stroller’s basket and pulled out the tiny little clothes, but none of them were going to fit her beautiful baby because her beautiful baby had its own unique and special shape, and just as she was about to cry because her baby’s shape was so unique and so special that she couldn’t dress it, she found in the basket a little woollen hat with two little pompom ears, and she put it on her baby, and it looked adorable. She laid the baby in the stroller, buckled it in, and covered it up with a duck print blanket so only a peep of its rosy skin showed between the hat and the ducks.
She needed to give it a name so she could introduce it to her flatmates. She googled peach names: Golden Grace, Red Haven, Early Amber, Southern Flame, Garnet Beauty, Florida Prince, Honey Babe.

Honey Babe.

She stepped out of the changing room with Honey Babe in the stroller before her, and a security guard appeared and marched behind her, and kept marching until she left Kmart’s dazzling white walls and was back in the mall.

A man with a notebook said I’m From The Paper Are You The Lady Who Just Gave Birth In A Changing Room and she said You Must Have The Wrong Lady and he peeked into the stroller and said Are You Sure Because Your Baby Does Look Very Small Can You Just Give Me A Quick Quote Because Everyone Loves A Baby Story and she said Fuck Off and FUCK she’d already failed her baby because she hadn’t meant to swear in front of it, and all of a sudden her eyes were streaming and she walked as quickly and gently from the mall as she could.

It was an average day but as she walked towards Morningside the grey sky seemed blue and the weeds in the pavement looked beautiful and even the rubbish on the side of the road looked fun and interesting because She Had A Baby. The people walking towards her passed by with smiles on their faces, and a tickle rose in her chest as she thought about her unique and special baby and what her flatmates would say when she got home.

She reached the old villa, lifted the stroller up the front steps and pushed it triumphantly into the dark lounge. Her flatmates said Where Did You Get That From and she said I Gave Birth In A Kmart Changing Room and her flatmates looked at each other sideways. But You Weren’t Pregnant they said and That’s What I Thought she said and Shouldn’t You Be In Hospital If You Really Just Gave Birth To A Baby they said and Meet Honey Babe she said.

What Is That A Pumpkin they asked Why Do You Have A Pumpkin In A Stroller. It’s My Baby she said, and she lifted her skirt so they could see the braided rivers of blood that had dried on her thighs.

But her flatmates weren’t interested so she took Honey Babe to her bedroom and put it on her bed and stared at it and stroked its soft cheeks and said Hey Honey Babe Aren’t You Cute With Your Little Pompom Ears, and she cuddled and kissed it and took a photo of it and posted the photo to social media with the caption My Baby Is That A Pomelo Is That A Melon Why Is There A Hat On Your Melon Did You Grow That Yourself people asked, and she was hurt that no-one said Congratulations or What A Beautiful Baby or You’ll Be A Wonderful Mum.

That night she wanted nothing more than to sleep alongside the baby in her bed and she wished she’d had a midwife or a mum or a best friend to give her a woven flax baby pod, but actually the cane fruit bowl worked just as well once she’d taken the old apples out of it and lined it with a pillowcase, and Honey Babe lay in it as snug as a bug in a rug.

She got up all through the night to check on her baby, turning her lamp on and marvelling at Honey Babe’s golden beauty. In the morning she woke before her alarm went off, and realised she was smiling. Yesterday she’d been a loser with a useless degree and a dead-end job. Today she was a hard-working solo mum providing for her baby.

She tucked Honey Babe into the stroller with the hat and the blanket and promenaded to the train station, and when the train arrived she took her place in the special space for mothers, and the other passengers beamed at her all the way to Mount Eden, craning their necks to catch the peep of Honey Babe’s rosy skin between the hat and the blanket, and smiling at the jaunty red ribbon still tied to the handlebars.

When she got to the shop, Taylah had already opened up and the bell over the door tinkled as she walked in, jingling a happy hello. What Have You Got There asked Taylah, and before she could reply Taylah said Did You Hear About The Lady Who Gave Birth In Kmart Yesterday It Was On The News.

Yeah It Was Actually Me, she said, and Taylah screeched and sprang from behind the counter and peered into the stroller. Their brow furrowed. But What Is It, they asked. This Isn’t A Baby It Looks Like A Massive Peach.

I Am Surprised Taylah That You Of All People Are Not Accepting Honey Babe For Who They Are, she said, parking the stroller behind the counter where it would be out of sight of their customers. I Expected More From You Taylah I Really Did, she said, even though Taylah was more of a work colleague than a real friend.

Taylah stomped across the shop floor and flung the front door open and shoppers trickled in to buy clothes to make them feel better about their lives. The two of them barely spoke for the rest of the day, except when Taylah snapped at her that her lunch break was over and she should Stop Staring At That Stupid Peach And Get Back To Work.

They didn’t talk the next day either but as they closed up Taylah said Have You Noticed Anything Different About Your Baby Are You Sure It’s Okay and she realised that Honey Babe was not growing, in fact Honey Babe’s rosy cheeks weren’t as plump as they had been, not that she’d admit it to Taylah.

And as they closed up on Wednesday Taylah said Is Everything Okay With Honey Babe Are Those Bruises, and Honey Babe’s lovely skin did seem sunken with bruises. And the next morning when she wheeled the stroller into the shop Taylah said Honey Babe’s Got Whiskers, and she had to acknowledge that something strange was indeed happening to Honey Babe. By Friday Honey Babe’s beautiful skin was completely covered in fine, silvery down, and when they closed for the night Taylah said Love You Girlfriend You Look After Yourself. And on the way home the people on the train didn’t seem as entranced by Honey Babe as they had been on the previous days; in fact they seemed to keep their distance.

She spent the evening wiping the down away as gently as she could without damaging Honey Babe’s very soft and squelchy skin. Honey Babe was too fragile to move into the fruit basket and spent the night in the stroller instead. And in the morning, even with the curtains still drawn, she could see that the down had been replaced by thick black fuzz, and that Honey Babe had shrunk away to almost nothing.

All at once she realised she had not in fact given Honey Babe everything she had never had. Aside from those few minutes in Kmart, Honey Babe had only ever been inside a sad little shop and a dingy flat. Honey Babe had never ridden a horse, gone paragliding or driven in a limousine. Honey Babe had not even played in the grass or swum in the sea.

She flung the curtains open and dressed in a frenzy. Honey Babe’s hat no longer fit, so she draped the duck blanket over what was left of her baby and set off into the sunshine.

She walked down New North Road and waited at the bus stop, avoiding the glances of the people who passed by. The sun beat down and a dark stain appeared on the little duck blanket and the stain spread and grew. The bus arrived and she took her place in the special space for mothers, and the other passengers scowled and shuffled down the back and opened the windows.

She got off the bus in Point Chevalier and walked down the long, wide road towards the ocean. Finally she came to the leafy green park and the old stone steps that led down to the sand where the other mothers played with their babies, tickling their soft bellies and dandling their chubby legs in the water. She sat among the mothers but none of them acknowledged her, in fact some of them moved away and one of the little boys said What’s That Mum It Smells.

So she went and sat by herself in the knotted roots of the Pōhutukawa tree and said How About A Swim Honey Babe Would You Like To Try The Water, but when she peeled the blanket back there was nothing in the stroller but a dark pool of sludge, and sitting in the middle of the sludge was a peach pit. And she felt stupid, stupid for giving birth to a peach, and stupid for not being able to care for it properly.

She stood up and manoeuvred the empty stroller across the sand and up the stone steps. She walked back through the leafy green park and down the long, wide road, pushing the stroller before her. She walked past her bus stop and kept walking until she was going the wrong way from home. She kept walking until sweat rolled down her body and soaked her clothes. Kept walking until there were blisters on her feet beneath her Kmart shoes. Kept walking down blurry streets she could barely see through stinging eyes.

Further up the block was a Salvation Army shop with racks of second-hand clothes, a broken chair and an old lamp jumbled up on the footpath with battered bikes and faded toys. She stopped and parked the stroller in among the junk. She reached into the dark sludge, picked up the peach pit, and tucked it into her tatty bra.

She turned and continued down the road, blood seeping from her blisters, the peach pit hard against her heart. Behind her, the red ribbon on the stroller hung limp in the sun.

 

 

 

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Kathryn van Beek has an MA from Victoria University of Wellington’s International Institute of Modern Letters. She has won the Mindfood Short Story Prize and the Headland Prize, and in 2020 she released a collection of short stories, Pet, which is also available as a podcast. Kathryn was the driving force behind a recent change to New Zealand’s Holidays Act that enables people grieving miscarriage to take bereavement leave.

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