“Next Stop” was published in Hypertext Magazine, and appears below as well.
It was a time in their life when every period was a heartbreak. Their hurt recycled monthly. Hope, then reality. Spirits rising and falling. Hope, reality, rise, fall.
Then one day it wasn’t.
After three years it happened. And the smile that was faked for so long — while his guts twisted tighter and the resentment between them simmered, then boiled — was suddenly, permanently, genuinely etched on his face. Hers too. Twelve weeks. Almost through that first trimester. He was so cool on the outside, but lived with the inner fear that something would go wrong, that they’d have to start over, that it would take another three years, and he worried it would wreck them. That stress manifested in a small rash on his left cheekbone and side of nose. Bumpy red splotches that looked like pizza sauce. But twelve weeks passed. After so much disappointment he still grabbed his crotch, a gesture his wife hated, to make sure he wasn’t dreaming, though the reality of what was to come didn’t fully register.
Before leaving he bellowed at her belly, as he found himself prone to doing. I love you peanut. I loveeeeee youuu peanut. Is that why parents called their toddlers peanut? Did it start in the womb when the fetus was an unformed apple seed? A nickname for a child you haven’t even held yet?
The train rattled, wobbling along the rails, his back bouncing off the train door as he stood firm trying to keep balance. A brunette in an oversized winter coat sat across from him, jeans so tight her skin seemed denim. Left leg crossed over right, left foot shaking rapidly; her cheetah-printed high heel blurred, like looking at the side of the road in a speeding car. No stockings or socks. He stared at the top of her bare right foot, glanced up, and she was looking at him. She turned away quickly. He did too, but laughed to himself. Five years ago he was freaking out about marriage, that women would never look at him again, the ring some sort of invisibility cloak or chick-repellant. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. First, it was other married women, as if he entered a new world where the betrothed or espoused felt safe staring because they were in the same situation as him. From an anthropological perspective this fascinated him. Not that he was an anthropologist. But in his heavy pot smoking days he liked to fancy himself a surveyor of people, their actions, their perceived emotions, what they were feeeeeeling. From a marital perspective — and despite understanding the reality of human nature, that we all fantasize, have all pictured anonymous sex with a stranger on the street we locked eyes with for too long or wondered about the taste of that random coworker who always stares as we walk near their desk — those looks made him sad as a newlywed; every glance a slight betrayal.
Eventually, it wasn’t just married women who looked. The things he’d heard rang true: the ring makes you look more mature, stable, is a sign to other women that you’re a good catch, that someone’s willing to spend their life with you, thus making you very attractive, even with a pizza sauce rash by your nose. He wondered if mom did that for his dad — made him seem like a good catch — or if women could sense his dad was trouble immediately. Probably not. Mom didn’t.
He didn’t mind being checked out now. When all the fucking past couple of years felt like the pressure and fear of a terrorist holding a gun to his head, it was nice to be noticed once in a while. Felt good to know he still had it; despite the heft under his chin and the early fading of his hairline, like lifting a veil on the top of his cranium.
He was on his way to see friends and didn’t want to drink. He knew he shouldn’t, he promised, but as soon as he told them the news it would flow. He wasn’t supposed to say anything just yet. Superstition. They’d gone for the nuchal testing only two days before and awaited the results. Wait to find out if the baby had Down syndrome. Wait for the clearance, the next bit of good news, then announce. But fuck superstition, he knew they were fine. After all the effort, the quiet breaking down, would God really make them suffer the heartache of watching Peter Pan grow old? Besides, the technician was so sweet and said everything looked good. Even asked if they wanted to know the sex. They did, but not just yet. Just soak in the initial excitement a bit longer.
His friends would want him to drink. They’d want to celebrate. There wouldn’t be the usual comments. Why are you waiting? When are you guys gonna have a kid? Ya gotta pull that goalie already. Find out if your boys swim okay. And they’d hand him a drink. No gin. He promised. Hadn’t touched it since he patched the hole in the wall. Come on, just one drink. No shots. He promised. Not since the Sunday morning she found him sprawled in the middle of the stairwell between the third and fourth floor. Hand him a beer. Never woke up with a bruised jaw and blood in the crevices of dry, cracked knuckles drinking only beer. Just a Bud Light. It’s like water. It’s not a gateway. It’ll be fine. Couple beers never hurt anyone.
He was learning to control the beers. He could do it. He wouldn’t be like his old man. Fuckin’ guy’s hand never left the bottle, never left the couch, found him there when his liver ruptured. Old man was a drunk. A cliché. Of course it’s a cliché. People knock clichés because they take for granted well-worn human truths. Love hurts. No shit it does. But when your heart’s extinguished and then twisted like an Indian burn until it pops, well, fuck, that cliché really does resonate. He wouldn’t be like dad. Engaged. Little peanut would know him. He would keep his promises. No drinks.
Also sitting across from him was a light-skinned, melancholy-eyed black man, about twenty-two, with a baby boy in a purple carriage that had a Winnie the Pooh emblem stitched on the hood. The man wore a purple North Face winter coat matching the carriage. He stared at the asses of some teenage Puerto Rican girls who stood further down the train car in front of an older Asian woman, holding grocery bags on her lap like her children, muttering with her eyes closed.
What if he had a daughter? Men would look at her like that. With that lascivious eye-wagging. Blood rushing from brain to prick. Deviant thoughts masked behind friendly smiles. Oh God. Or if it were a boy, would he have unprotected sex? He did constantly in his twenties. He knew better, but did anyways. Always called his doctor friends asking if they thought he had AIDS. Oh Lord he was going to raise a child. This little peanut would be his to hold, love, teach, and fuck up. Would Peanut hate him? What if he or she snuck out of the house to party? Smoke cigarettes? How would he punish his child? Could he be a good disciplinarian? Would he only be the fun parent? Would Peanut only listen to mom? Would his kid take him seriously? He needed to save for college; he needed to make a will. Would they mourn him? Would he outlive the child? That great hurt, the worst pain imaginable, worse than death. How could Peanut avoid kids who weren’t vaccinated? A Measles uprising, the return of Polio, toddlers all fucked up covered in bumps, rolling on the sidewalks because their legs don’t work. What about SIDS? What the fuck was SIDS? He needed to read parenting books. He needed to know more. He didn’t know shit. Oh God. This was happening. This was real. Life continues. His little peanut would read? How long would that take? When would the nugget talk? Would his kid have the same stutter he got when he was excited? He should start reading to the baby now. Play Peanut music, some Mozart or Beethoven, or at least The Beatles. Help it’s little brain lobes grow. Would the baby inherit the disease? The unquenchable thirst. He’d been trying to control it. Trying to be better. He wouldn’t be like his old man. Dad. Daddy. Like he’s fuckin’ Sylvia Plath. Daddy. He’d hear that name himself. Dada. Daddy. Dad. Father.
He looked at the baby in the purple carriage: little legs and feet bopping up and down, tiny puppet fingers flicking against each other.
The swell of his heart filling the train, eyes cumulus clouds crammed with rain, rock forming around throat, soul collapsing into itself. He could fall apart right there. Pull yourself together. He smiled. “How old?” he said to Purple Jacket.
Purple Jacket looked at him apprehensively, eyeing him up and down stiffly. “Seven months.”
“Oh wow. My wife is pregnant; almost 4 months.”
He wasn’t sure why he lied about how far along she was. The cheetah-heeled brunette glanced up at him. Purple Jacket nodded slowly and then smiled widely, a gap between his front teeth, gums a purple slightly darker than his coat.
“Yeaaahhhh man. It’s a trip, my dude. Best thing I ever did. I’m a hard mothafucka.Hawrd.” Purple raised his eyebrows, his eyes bulging, head moving forward as if to say,You feel me. “But the first time I held little man in my arms my heart melted. He’s my prince.”
The train metallically screamed, slowing, and then sputtering into the station. “That’s awesome. Makes me feel good to hear stuff like that. Thanks.”
“Yeaaaaaaahhhh man,” Purple smiled.
“This is my stop.”
“Aight. Good luck, you’ll be all right.” The doors opened, he turned to walk off. “Just one thing, don’t worry about getting sleep beforehand. Nothing can prepare you for that, my dude.”
The bar was dim, narrow, mostly empty, and smelled of stale beer and feet. Just the type his friends would choose. One of the last in the East Village that was okay for mid-thirties men to get drunk in without feeling old. Years ago, when a few of them lived in the city together, they partied at a bar across the street, but that was shut down and turned into a ramen noodle joint. A Rangers game played on televisions in the front and back. A few aging drunks sat along the counter, heads down in their drinks, or eyes, glazed and faded, facing the front TV. He’d seen both looks plenty growing up.
His friends were at an oval table — the only table in the back — near the TV, and it was already covered with a variety of glasses – pint, whiskey, and shot. Admittedly, he was late, the game more than halfway into the third period. Eight shot glasses, four friends. A shot for each time the Rangers scored. They were up by one, holding off the Flyers with seven minutes left. From the moment he arrived, saw his friends at the table, and walked down the narrow bar, they’d vacillated from talkative to staring intently at the screen to screaming Yes! to talkative again.
He sat on the open seat, a chair that wobbled like a baby trying to stand for the tenth time — slightly unsteady, but not dangerously so — before stabilizing. There was a round of “Yooo mothafuckas” and high fives. He’d known these guys since he was five.
Brandon: three boys, Clinton Hill, scotch.
Shawn: son and daughter, Forest Hills, whiskey neat.
Greg: daughter, another on the way, Woodside, whiskey on rocks.
Danny: single, Throgs Neck, the old neighborhood, pupils dilated, vodka-soda.
They asked him how the new apartment was. A two bedroom on 105 and Central Park West. “You must be doing well sucka,” Danny said, while rubbing his nose. “Maybe you should buy us a round.”
The moment was right. He had to do it. He could handle what would come next…
“Maybe you should buy me a round.” He pulled out his phone and showed them a picture of the sonogram. “Because that’s my baby mothafuckas!”
A chorus of “Ohhhh” and “Congrautlationsssss” and “It’s about fuckin’ time” and “The boys are workin’” and “That’s why you got a two bedroom, we knew it” and “Let’s get the shots going!”
Smothered in hugs and the booze spilt and splattered across the table when they jumped to embrace him, he mumbled thanks. Hope then reality, but now just rising and rising.
“No shots guys. Just a beer is cool.”
“Fuck that! We’ll keep you from the gin, but you’re doing a shot. And beers!”
The Rangers scored. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!
“Get us 10 shots of whiskey! Make ’em double, this guy’s having a kid!”
“And a round of Bud Lights too!”
“Guys, guys,” he laughed, “I’m good.”
They were still standing, arms wrapped across each other.
“Relaaaaaxxx, we’re not going to let you turn into C.E.D.”
His old nickname. Crazy-Eyed-Disaster.
Maybe he could fake it. Pour out the shots as they were taking them and not looking. No he couldn’t. They’ll be looking. Nobody likes to buy a round and see it wasted.
“Get the sand out of your vag, you’ll be fine.”
Maybe he could handle the drinks. Just a couple shots and a beer. Maybe he could do this. He’d call it quits after. Drink water the rest of the night. Chew gum when he got home. His wife wouldn’t know. He’d be able to wake up early tomorrow and be functional for her boss’s daughter’s confirmation. He promised he would. She believed him. He could do this. He wouldn’t be like his old man. The tray came: ten glasses with brown insides, surrounding five Bud Lights sweating the lusty salts beer bottles perspire.
The shot glasses in front of him — brown liquid floating to the brim, teasing for touch to topple it to the table — the stench, sweet and harsh, like sugar-covered Band-Aids. He knew this would hurt. He knew this would burn. He could do this, but didn’t have to. It wasn’t too late to tell them to fuck off. He could be a man. Not peer pressured like a kid. Think for himself. He promised. No drinks.
He put his hand on the glass. The toast started. He wouldn’t be like his old man.
Eric Silvera’s writing has appeared in several publications including, Nerve, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Underground Voices and Shelf Life Magazine, won Slice Magazine’s 2012 “Bridging the Gap” non-fiction contest, and was shortlisted for Matrix Magazine’s 2010 Lit POP award. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from the City College of New York and is currently a member of the Paragraph writing center. He also performs stand-up comedy around New York City and works in ad sales to pay the bills.