She leaned forward, her eyes staring in abject disappointment. Negative. Again. A light breeze blew in through the bathroom door. She stood up, pulled up her pants, hurled the pregnancy test into the trash, and then washed her hands. She watched her eyes well and then close. A dog barked in the distance. She and Lloyd had been trying for months now and still nothing. She opened her eyes and rubbed them. The door knocked.
“Anne, honey, you still in there?” Lloyd called.
She reluctantly opened the door and brushed past him.
“What was it?” he asked. “Are we…” he stopped short of saying the word, slowly realizing that he already knew. Negative. Again. “Shit,’ he muttered.
He followed her into the bedroom where she had collapsed into a muttering pile on the bed. He sat down next to her and put his hands on her back, moving them back and forth and up and down.
“Sometimes these things just take time,” he said, trying to be reassuring.
“I know!” a muffled cry rose from the bedding. “But it’s taking so long.”
He lay down next to her and said, “Maybe we should go back to the specialist. Make sure all of our parts are in working order.”
She turned to face him. “Again? They’ve already told us everything is fine, that things just take a while sometimes.”
Three months later, they returned to the specialist who had seen them before. He treated them with bemused annoyance. “Yes, yes,” he insisted, “everything is in working order. These things just take time.”
Three months after that, they sought out a second opinion, then a third, then a fourth. Each time they were told the same thing, and each time they both left the clinic feeling a little bit worse about the prospects of being able to raise a family the way they had envisioned so many times in their wishes and their dreams.
The night after seeking a fourth opinion, Lloyd drank a half bottle of whiskey while sitting in an old leather chair while Anne absentmindedly thumbed through a book on the sofa opposite him. After he passed out, she polished off the bottle, remarking to her husband’s comatose body how it didn’t matter because they couldn’t get pregnant anyway.
When she finally fell asleep on the couch, her mind drifted back to thoughts of the future and she dreamed of a day when they would raise a son.
The sunlight was hazy but the house was familiar. She was sitting where her body lay now, drinking coffee and talking to Lloyd, who sat next to her. They were discussing how they were going to split up responsibilities and outfits for school and what supplies they still needed to buy. They generally hovered at a near panic state, with sudden random sharp realizations of how much more work they still had to do before his first day in preschool. Each time her chest plummeted, her heart simply thought about the boy sleeping in the other room and she felt warm and elated again.
The door behind her rustled and she gazed back in anticipation of watching him shuffle his way out of his room, still half asleep and in a daze. The door creaked open. Dust oozed into the hallway like smoke. A thunderstorm manifested outside of the windows. She watched as he stepped out of his room, a tiny disfigured beast thudding toward her with his hands outstretched. She recoiled as he went for her eyes.
Anne screamed and woke herself up. Lloyd was vomiting in the bathroom. He stumbled back into the living room and slurred, “I should not drink that much my head is swimming did I just hear you scream?” He fell into the sofa she was on, nearly toppling her off of it at the same time.
“You smell like whiskey,” she said.
“So do you,” he replied and then kissed her.
She kissed him back. “It was just a dream,” she said, and then again, to convince herself it was true, “It was just a dream.” She pushed him backward until she was on top of him.
The next morning, each of their heads throbbing with dehydrated nausea, they sat in the dining room, downing water and coffee and wincing at the slightest noise, each of their noses buried into different sections of the newspaper. Lloyd turned a page and Anne glared at him.
“So loud,” she said. Her voice sounded strange, cracked with a dry throat. She could feel the blood rushing in her temples.
Lloyd ignored her for a second and then he pushed the paper down until his face peeked over the top of it. “Honey?” he said. She winced. “Honey, you should see this.” He laid the newspaper out on the table like a map and pointed toward an ad.
ALTERNATIVE FERTILITY TREATMENT
There was a picture of an ornate crib beneath it. The baby inside the crib looked uncomfortable.
Anne raised an eye at him. “You really want to? You’ve always hated this kind of thing.”
He inhaled deeply and looked her in the eyes. “Yes, yes I do, more than anything. I’ll do whatever it takes to start a family with you.”
She reached across the table and took his hand. “We already are a family, dear.”
The office, if it could be called an office, was painfully boring at best. It looked like most of the furniture had been bought second hand from dental offices, but none of it matched, as though someone had rummaged through all the dental offices in town, only taking one piece with them at a time. Anne sat on an uncomfortable blue chair while Lloyd sat, one leg over the other, on a red chair. The walls were eggshell white, paintings of scenery hung throughout the room. One depicted what appeared to be a dust storm in the desert, a lone cactus bracing against the wind. Another showed a storm riding in toward a bright red barn, cattle huddling inside.
“Hello Mr. and Mrs…?” A young mousey woman walked in with a clipboard. There was no receptionist desk so she squatted down in front of them on the floor.
“Barry,” Lloyd replied uncomfortably, “Lloyd and Anne Barry.”
He’s trying so hard, Anne thought.
“Okay, good!” the mousey woman said cheerfully. “My name is Flower…” Anne could feel Lloyd’s eyes roll, “... and I’ll be assisting you before you meet the Twins, just to be sure you’re a good fit.”
“Excuse me?” Lloyd stammered, “The Twins?”
Flower looked up at him, visibly confused. “Yes,” she said, “the Twins. That’s who you came to see, right? That’s how they prefer to be named. They don’t like having their actual names used. Names hold power, you know.”
Lloyd nodded slowly. Anne put a reassuring hand on his leg.
“Of course, dear,” Anne said to Flower.
“Great!” she exclaimed like the exchange had never happened. “Okay, so, now for the questions: how long have you been trying to get pregnant?”
“Over a few years at this point,” Anne replied.
“And you’re certain that you’re capable.”
“Yes,” Anne responded, “very certain. We’ve been to several--”
“Good!” Flower interrupted. “Any history of heart disease?”
“Spinal muscular atrophy?”
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“Have you been to church recently… say, in the past three months?”
“Church?” Lloyd looked at Anne, “What does church have to do with anything?”
She shrugged at Lloyd and then answered Flower, a slight tinge of embarrassment in her voice, “We have not.”
“Oh, perfect, perfect,” Flower continued. “You have no idea how many I have to turn away because of how devout they are.” She said the word devout like she was spitting out poison. “Okay, everything seems to line up, please follow me.” She hopped to her feet and disappeared behind a door.
Anne and Lloyd stood and exchanged glances. “I know, I know,” she said to him. “It can get a little weird. Let’s just go with it,” she gave his arm a squeeze, “for our family.”
He nodded and they followed Flower into the next room. It was dimly lit and anything but boring. Dark heavy curtains hung from floor to ceiling on either side of the room, one set red, the other blue. Two figures covered head to toe in robes, one blue, the other red, stood at the end of the room. Two pillows lay on the floor, one red, the other blue. An arcane symbol was painted in front of them.
Both Lloyd and Anne were taken aback and hesitated to enter the room. Flower spun on her heel. “Oh shit!” she exclaimed, “I’m so sorry! I should have told you. I always forget that some people are not used to this.”
Lloyd whispered to Anne, “I didn’t realize it was going to be this… alternative.”
“Oh, you know how people get; they like to be dramatic. It’ll be fine,” she whispered back and pecked him on the cheek.
They shuffled into the room and Flower gestured for them to kneel on the two pillows on the floor, one red, the other blue. They did so and the hooded figures stepped forward, pulling their hoods back to reveal the most nondescript faces either had ever seen. One was a man, the other a woman.
“Welcome,” they said in unison and then the man continued, “Today we bring you life.”
“Today,” the woman continued, “we give you a child.”
Anne’s heart was about to leap out of her chest. She tried as hard as she could to not hold onto hope, to not believe that this place and these people were somehow going to give her what she wanted. She tried not to let her countenance give away that somewhere deep inside of her, she truly believed in miracles. The hairs on her arms stood on end and she couldn’t resist its charms anymore. She closed her eyes, inhaling and holding her breath, allowing her unrelenting desire to take hold.
Lloyd was trying not to look annoyed but then blurted out, “So what do we have to do,” he joked, “make a deal with the devil?”
The Twins stared at Anne and at Lloyd, their dark eyes unblinking, and responded together, “Not the devil… a devil.”
by Dan Diehn (@diedan)