and that’s how she got herself pregnant. We weren’t trying to conceive, and in fact, to ensure we’d stay childless, we took every precaution: I stayed on top, no kissing, no prayer before or after, and I made sure I lasted less than a minute; personally, I’d done everything right. That’s why I’m furious with Grace. And I know: If only I’d taken this negative energy into the bedroom, we wouldn’t be in this mess. No matter how badly my wife screwed up.

The pastor at our church insisted we keep the baby. In fact, he volunteered to counsel us to ensure nothing unGodly came to pass. Before Grace and I even talked about it, Reverend Pasquale and his wife Joannie were sitting in our living room, eating Grace’s duck liver pâté, playing Taboo, and instructing us on how to child-proof our apartment. The plugs would need caps, the corners were too pointy, and my stacks of CDS would have to go. Grace was excited to have people over, our first guests in eight years, especially the good preacher and his wife. What was weird, not keeping the baby hadn’t crossed my mind, not until Reverend Pasquale stopped us on the way out of service last week. Grace was none too happy when I pointed this out, Reverend Pasquale flummoxed by the notion he’d planted such vileness in my head, his face turning the color of the pâté. Joannie said, “You could put a changing table right where that TV is. You need to be able to change in every room.”

When I was a kid, my dad gave me the Talk when while we waited in line for a roller coaster. He explained the plumbing first, noting the different chambers, going into detail about pipes, wrenches, and reservoirs. When I was able to repeat every part of both my own self and my future wife’s, he switched tracks and demonstrated attitudes, techniques, even pillow talk, the difference between a child-rearing disposition and the other kind. By the time we reached the front of the line—me now a man and several smaller kids in line damaged for life—I knew three things: 1) If I ever had kids, both parties would have to consent; 2) No matter what happened, I was in charge; and 3) Why would I ever want to have marital relations when there were awesome things like baseball, bicycles, and roller coasters in the world?

After doing some research, then calling my dad, I was certain my Grace had planned this pregnancy. I thought back to that fatal afternoon, ran things over and over again, and there was no way the combination I remember could have worked, angry, fast, and missionary as effective as outright sterility. It had to be her, her cunning. At the outset of the last trimester, I accused Grace with this theory and she denied it. She swore her conception was the Lord’s work, a blessing He’d intended all along, at that moment. She then asked me if I loved our unborn baby, if I was grateful to the Lord for this gift. I told her I was grateful, and all of sudden, she turned the tables. She asked if I was the one who’d planned this, if I’d propagated without permission. Dear Lord, the doubt crept up inside me right then. Maybe I’d angled myself incorrectly. Maybe I’d thought about babies during climax. Worst of all, there could have been love in my heart. Within seconds, she was locked in her bedroom, sobbing and calling her sister, and I was questioning my own self: Did I plan that baby? Had I done everything in my power? I became so confused, I could no longer tell what transpired that day. Who initiated the coitus, she or I? Did I have my maroon pajamas on? Was she was afraid? And of course the most important step of all: Which testicle had the sperm come from, the left or the right?

–for Todd A.

Michael Czyzniejewski

MICHAEL CZYZNIEJEWSKI is the author of two collections of stories, Chicago Stories: 40 Dramatic Fictions (Curbside Splendor, 2012) and Elephants in Our Bedroom (Dzanc Books, 2009), and in 2010 received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is an assistant professor at Missouri State University, where he serves as Editor of Moon City Review.

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