Belly

By Andi Grene

“Am I talking too loud?” Winona laughs and rests her chin against her forearm, which she lays atop the plastic folding table that Jonathan told her he’d replace once Kyle was born. When Winona’s nose gets this close to the surface of the table, she is usually repulsed by the scent of Clorox wipes and pizza bites, but she is now on her third glass of wine and is unbothered. “I always forget how far my voice carries when I’ve had a little too much.” She motions her hand toward the bottle in front of her, which she has gotten for eight dollars at Trader Joe’s that morning. “I got this for eight dollars at Trader Joe’s this morning. Isn’t that incredible?”

“You said that already, Winona.” Jonathan gets up to drop his plate in the sink. Annie gets up to put her plate away and when she notices Jonathan’s dirty dish, she turns on the tap.

“No, no.” Jonathan waves Annie away from the sink. “I’ll get to that later. You just relax. You’ve had a long day.” Annie smiles and sits back down, moving from the dining table to the couch.

“Annie, have you ever noticed that when Jonathan says, ‘I’ll get to that later,’ what he really means is, ‘someone else will get to that later and I’ll forget about it in an hour?’” Winona laughs. It is a sweet laugh, almost childlike. Her cheeks are red, but neither Jonathan nor Annie is able to tell if this is from the alcohol or the humor. Neither Jonathan nor Annie laughs.

It is now 9 o’clock, which means Annie has been at Jonathan and Winona’s house for just about 12 hours. Annie’s parents always tell her that she should ask for compensation on nights when she is asked to have dinner with Jonathan and Winona, but Annie generally enjoys their company. She thinks Winona is funny when she’s drunk -- she is what her mother would call a “loose cannon” -- and Winona is always drunk on evenings like these.

Jonathan notices Annie looking at the clock. “Don’t feel pressure to stay, Annie. I know it’s getting a little late. I’m sure you have plans with friends tonight.”

“I don’t, actually. My parents came back from Sicily last night, so I’m supposed to go over and see them early tomorrow morning.” As silly as he knows it sounds, Jonathan always forgets that Annie has parents. Neither he nor Winona has ever met them. After 8 months of her watching Kyle, Jonathan likes to think that he and Winona have successfully integrated Annie into the family. Sometimes Jonathan thinks of Annie as an older daughter. Other times, he thinks of Annie as a younger mother to Kyle.

“How was the trip?” Jonathan sits across from Annie on an orange loveseat. It is the kind of loveseat that should really be marketed as a chair because it is so small. Winona sits beside him. Jonathan looks uncomfortable and crosses his legs.

“It’s Sicily, Jonathan,” Winona says. “Obviously it was spectacular.

“They did have a great time.” When Annie smiles she shows off her gums, which she has been told by Jonathan is her best feature. “Although they found it difficult to get used to the jet lag. Not that the time difference is even that significant -- I guess they’re just getting old.”

“How old are they?” Winona asks.

“They’re 55.” Winona says nothing, although she is struck by how young they are, only 15 years older than she. Winona’s friends always warned her about having Kyle so late because of “geriatric complications.” Winona knew plenty of people who had had children at 40; she thought her friends just didn’t want her to feel bad about looking old at Kyle’s gymboree class. Which she does feel bad about, now that she thinks of it.

“Did you miss them, while they were away?” Annie begins to nod, quite emphatically, when she is interrupted by a soft thud in the direction of Kyle’s bedroom.

“Should I go check on him?”

“I’m sure he’s fine. He probably just dropped one of his toys.” Winona thinks Annie’s ears must be supersonic because of how easily she is able to pick up on every noise Kyle makes. It is impressive, if not slightly annoying. “My parents always wanted to go to Sicily.” Winona rests her hand on Jonathan’s knee. She tucks her fingers underneath her fist. They are still swollen even though it has been months since she had Kyle. She thinks they look like burnt sausages, which is her least favorite breakfast meat.

“My parents have compiled a pretty extensive photo album from the trip, which I’m sure they’ll subject me to tomorrow.”

“That’s sweet. They want to impress you.” Annie nods and fiddles with her hair. Winona watches her from the loveseat. She is petite, only just over five feet, but her short blonde hair makes her neck look long and elegant. Winona doesn’t understand how someone with breasts small enough to be unaffected by gravity can whisper nauseatingly sweet nothings into the ear of an infant so instinctively. Winona always tells Jonathan that Annie would make a perfect girl-next-door typecast, and Jonathan agrees.

“A trip to Sicily must have been expensive.” Winona takes a sip of her Trader Joe’s wine.

“It was. My father is an oncologist, but we also inherited quite a bit from his parents, who died before I was born. So we’re very lucky.”

“Were they good parents?”

“They were, actually. I mean, it’s not like my mom made home cooked meals every night or anything” --Winona glances at the microwaveable pot sticker resting on a napkin in her lap-- “but I always knew they really enjoyed being parents. Which I think is kind of a rare quality to be conscious of all of the time.”

Jonathan nods and looks suddenly very serious. “That’s really beautiful, Annie, honestly.”

“I am very confident Kyle feels the same way about you both. Or he will, when he gets a little older and can make sense of his thoughts!” Annie laughs. “You both actually really make me want to be a parent. I know I’m still young”-- Annie is 22 but looks all of 16-- “but I just really want to love someone like a parent loves a child. I have no idea what that feels like -- to have love for someone who weighs less than 15 pounds consume every fiber of your being.”

Jonathan is quiet for a moment. Winona guesses he is gathering his thoughts.

“I don’t mean to sound cheesy or anything, but love for a child really does fill you up. It’s almost an obsession. You don’t realize how weighty love is until you hold your kid and realize how that feeling has taken up so much physical room in your body.”

“I don’t know if Kyle filled us up in quite the same way.” Winona gestures to her stomach.

Sometimes when Winona rides the subway she wears especially tight tank tops to see if she will still pass as pregnant and someone will offer her a seat. She is usually successful.

“I didn’t mean Kyle the person-- I meant the idea of Kyle. And the notion of human creation, and human creation of the tangible and intangible, and how frightening and wonderful it is that we not only have breathed life into a little boy, but also into ourselves and into this house.” Jonathan looks pleased by his intellect. “Sorry. I get carried away.” Annie looks moved, and cups her hand beneath her chin, looking at the couple with admiration.

“Does anyone want more?” Winona has begun pouring herself another glass of wine, her teeth having long since turned a muted purple.

“One of the perks of ending breastfeeding so early,” Jonathan laughs. Annie does too. When Jonathan decided to hire a nanny, Winona’s friends told her that they wished their husbands were as attentive as her own. Jonathan noticed that Winona was perpetually tired. Jonathan noticed that Winona could use help around the house. Winona isn’t quite sure if she appreciates how much Jonathan notices. “I can’t get away with anything now!” Winona always jokes to Annie and Jonathan when she feels them watching her with Kyle or watching her make dinner or watching her watch TV while she should be watching her son or the stove.

“I didn’t end it so early. It was six months. And everyone says that there’s really no difference between formula and breastmilk babies anymore anyway.” Annie nods. “Besides,” Winona continues, “my tits fucking hurt. I kept trying to get Jonathan to wear clothespins around his nipples so he would know what it felt like when Kyle’s teeth got in the mix.”

“That sounds awful!”

“For Jonathan or me?”

“Well, you. But I suppose also Jonathan, if he had been subjected to the clothespins.”

“Thank God I got out of that one!” Jonathan says.

“I guess there will be more opportunities to give him a frame of reference whenever you guys have another.” Jonathan and Winona are both quiet. Annie is embarrassed. “Oh, shit, sorry! I didn’t mean to presume there would be another, I was just--”

“Don’t apologize! It’s not presumptuous-- I’m sure there will be another one at some point. We just haven’t talked about it yet.” Winona removes her fingers from Jonathan’s lap.

“I mean, it is a bit presumptuous though, isn’t it?” Winona turns to look at Jonathan. “Not that it’s Annie’s fault. But it’s a bit presumptuous of you to have such confidence in a two-child household.”

Jonathan licks his lower lip aggressively and his mouth curls into a half smile that either means

I’ve really dug my grave now or I do wish she would shut the fuck up.

“I didn’t realize that we had such different visions for our family trajectories.” “And what might your trajectory look like?”

Jonathan looks at Annie, who looks at the floor. She notices a spare pacifier that has rolled underneath the couch and reaches for it.

“Don’t get that, Annie. You’re off duty.” Jonathan touches her forearm as a gentle signal for her to sit back. Winona watches him touch her and moves her eyes to the pacifier, which is covered with a layer of dust that she planned on cleaning this morning. “We can have this conversation another time.” Jonathan moves from the loveseat onto the couch and sits beside Annie, who has begun toying with her short blonde hair again.

“I’m sorry. I feel like I made things uncomfortable” Annie says. Winona turns her eyes back to Annie. Sometimes Annie can feel Winona watching her, but she never says anything. She assumes it’s a maternally motivated thing, as if maybe Winona hopes that if she has a daughter she’ll wind up like Annie. “Should I go check on Kyle now?”

“I can do it.” Jonathan gets up from the couch, leaving Winona and Annie alone. It is silent for a few moments, aside from the labored breath of Winona, whose nasal passages always get blocked after her fourth glass of wine.

“Do you want to feel something weird?” Winona asks suddenly. “What is it?”

“Here. Come here.” Winona beckons Annie over. Annie moves to the loveseat, and Winona directs her to sit beside her. Winona can smell Annie’s lotion-- it’s Jergens Cherry Almond. Winona uses Jergens Ultra Healing for Extra Dry Skin. Annie’s skin is never dry.

“What is it, Winona?”

“I wish that someone had shown me this when I started thinking about having kids.” Winona lifts up her shirt and reveals her stomach to Annie. Annie sits back, although there are no extra inches with which she can distance herself from Winona on the loveseat. She looks at Winona’s belly. It is pear shaped, and the lower half of her torso puckers out along the lines of her jeans. They are a size 27, even though Winona knows that she is now much closer to a 30. Her skin is wrinkled around her belly button, which looks sunken into her midsection. “Touch it, Annie.”

“No, thank you.”

“Come on, Annie. Please.” Annie watches Winona grab a fistful of flesh.

 “Don’t you want to know what motherhood feels like?” Winona nods toward her midsection. “This is it. This is what you’ll feel every time you put on a pair of jeans or run your hands over your body with soapy fingers in the shower. This is what your husband will feel every time he’s fucking you.” Annie thinks it must be painful to squeeze one’s skin so tightly and wonders if she should tell Winona to ease up so as not to cause any bruising.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Winona, honestly. You look great.”

“So feel it, Annie. Feel it and tell me I look great.” Winona shakes her head.  “I wish someone had offered me the opportunity to hold maternity between my fingers when I was your age.”

“Really, Winona, I’d rather not.” Winona’s gaze, which was not unthreatening to begin with, has turned into eye contact so imploring that Annie realizes she must either look away or reach a hand below the folded line of Winona’s shirt. She decides to go for the belly. As she lightly touches Winona’s flesh, Jonathan emerges from the bedroom. Though Jonathan has often wondered other things about Annie, he has never wondered what she might look like touching his naked wife.

“Winona, what the fuck?”

“What, Jonathan? It was normal for people to do this when I was pregnant, wasn’t it?” Winona turns to Annie.

“Winona, put your shirt down.” Jonathan looks at Annie apologetically. Jonathan had noticed Winona examining her body in their mirror earlier that morning but had decided not to bring anything up because he didn’t want to start a thing. Winona was an expert at making things out of everything.

Jonathan often felt like he was responsible for un-thinging Winona’s things. When they were first going out, Jonathan described this as Winona’s flair for dramatics.

Jonathan yawns. “I am exhausted,” he says. Annie yawns, too. “Me, too.” She says. Winona rolls her eyes.

“You know what’s worse than sleep deprivation? The fact that I literally don’t own my body anymore because it belongs to a creature who can’t even feed himself. That’s exhaustion.”

Annie feels sorry for Winona. There are some people who just don’t want to be happy, and end up reveling in their unhappiness, but Annie knows that Winona isn’t one of those. Annie thinks Winona is just unhappy. “I could always spend a night here if you want to take a night off. You guys could stay at my place, if you wanted. I have a spare room for when my parents come to visit.” Annie is so nice it sometimes makes Winona want to vomit. “I think I’m going to vomit.” Winona leaves the living room and sounds of retching can be heard from the living room, where Jonathan and Annie now stand with their arms at their sides.

“I should probably go.” Annie gets up. This is not the first time she’s felt tension between Winona and Jonathan, but it is the first time she’s seen Winona’s stomach. She’ll never say anything, but it does gross her out a little bit, seeing the way Winona’s stretch marks form a sort of ghoulish face against the brown of her skin.

“I mean, of course. It’s tough for every new mother. All of the hormones and everything… it’s a lot.” Annie has no idea what hormones are or aren’t released after pregnancy, but she likes to sound smart in front of Jonathan. Annie often finds herself trying to sound smart in front of men she finds attractive, but if she thinks about this too hard she feels rather unfeminist. She reaches for a strand of her short blonde hair and pushes it behind her ear. Winona emerges from the bathroom.

“Sorry about that.” She wipes her mouth, suddenly incredibly self-conscious. “At least I don’t have to worry about anyone suspecting I’m bulimic anymore.” She laughs her sweet, tinkling laugh and smiles hard enough to make her cheeks block her eyes. “Are you headed out?” She watches Jonathan retrieve Annie’s coat and help her put it on.

“I think so. I’m getting pretty tired.” Annie gives Winona a hug. She wonders if Annie will give Jonathan a hug goodbye, too. Annie does. Jonathan returns to the living room.

“Are we going to talk about that?” “About what?”

“That episode?” Winona ignores Jonathan. She is good at selectively hearing him. Jonathan is quiet for a while, but Winona cannot tell if this is because he is angry or hurt or humiliated.

“I think that you should be happier than you are.” Winona does not know what to say to this except, “I am happy.”

Sometimes Jonathan worries that Winona might leave him. Jonathan doesn’t love every part of Winona. Jonathan is the type of person who hates the scene in When Harry Met Sally where Harry lists all of Sally’s horrifically annoying habits as reasons why he actually loves her. Jonathan dislikes a lot of

things about Winona, and has no trouble admitting it. But Jonathan is sure Winona dislikes a lot of things about him, too, which is why he likes her. She’s no bullshit. She’d never pull a Harry.

“I bet Annie looks just like her parents.”

Jonathan doesn’t know how to respond to this, so he doesn’t. Winona walks to the fridge and fingers a wallet sized photo of Kyle at gymboree. “He looks nothing like me.”

“What are you talking about? He doesn’t look like anyone. He barely has a face. He’s not even a year old.”

“He doesn’t look like me, Jonathan. He spent nine months in me. He ruined my body. And he doesn’t even look like me. He’s so…”

“He’s so what, Winona?”

“No one thinks I’m his mother. He ruined my body and he looks nothing like me and now all the proof I have of producing him is my disgusting stomach and my swollen fingers. Motherhood is supposed to be the greatest thing in the world. If this is the greatest thing I can expect from life, then--”

“Then what?” Jonathan hopes Winona doesn’t try to kill herself before Kyle is out of the house.

Winona gets up from the loveseat.

I’m going to bed.” Winona goes to her bedroom and undresses. Winona’s throat feels like she is near crying, but Winona doesn’t want to cry, so she shuts her eyes instead and slips under the covers.

When Jonathan comes to bed about 20 minutes later, Winona opens her eyes and turns to him. They have sex, but it is nothing spectacular. It hasn’t been in what feels like a long time, but Jonathan will never say anything to Winona and Winona wishes so badly she didn’t notice that she doesn’t say anything to Jonathan. While Jonathan is on top of Winona, he makes sure not to graze the soft flesh around her navel with his hand. He thinks that if he does not touch her, she will forget that Kyle has ruined her body and he does not look like her and she is tired from living for him alone and she can never go back. Winona sees that Jonathan’s hands do not leave the pillow from behind her head. She wonders if, behind the faint fluttering of his eyelids, he is imagining she is Annie. If he tries hard enough, can he picture Annie’s short blonde hair grazing the nape of Winona’s neck?

________________ 

The sun has not yet risen but Winona is awake. She has found herself in Kyle’s room, which she often does at 3:30 in the morning. It is dark, but she can just make out the outline of Kyle’s chest moving as he sleeps. She has the urge to rest a hand atop his silky belly and feel his sweet warm breath tickle her fingers, but she does not touch him. Winona watches him instead, because she’s always thought that beauty is best left undisturbed, and boy, is he beautiful.

Andi Grene

Andi Grene is a sophomore at Princeton University, where she studies English and violin performance, and works as an opinion columnist for the Daily Princetonian. She has had four of her plays workshopped and read by MCC's Playwriting Lab in Manhattan and has participated in Lincoln Center and Princeton University creative writing forums for her prose

Bonnie Dewitt

1983-2017, painter, graduated from Tufts University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, in 2005. In 2007, she earned an MFA at the New York Academy of Art where she taught for nearly a decade. Bonnie’s deep respect for and knowledge of art history and classical figurative painting traditions made her a vital and enthusiastic participant in the Academy community – as teacher, mentor, and advocate. She worked with the unique medium of gouache to create thoroughly considered compositions, with subtle and overt symbolism. Her work was published and included in exhibitions both nationally and internationally. She pursued her passion for art in Manhattan, working as a curator of the Kraine Gallery and later at the Red Room in the East Village Much of her art resides in the homes of her many friends across NYC and a collection of 350 paintings has now been compiled and brought together in a Zenfolio by Dan Woulfin. Photo credit for headshot:  https://nyaa.edu/bonnie/