A Division of Labor

Evie filled her plastic champagne flute nearly to the brim before adding a splash of orange juice.

“We call this the Evie Morning Special,” her sister, Hazel, joked. Mostly booze with enough juice to pass for a mimosa. A stampede of children burst through the back door into the kitchen, and Evie had to quickly pivot to avoid a head-on collision with a curly-haired eight-year-old.

“Sorry ma’am,” the boy offered, and Evie looked sideways at her sister and the rest of the mom huddle.

“Ma’am?” she questioned, but the others didn’t offer an answer in the form of validating reassurances like ‘you’re still young’ or ‘you’re hardly a ma’am.’ “I guess I should get used to it,” she said as she topped off her Evie Morning Special with the dregs of the champagne bottle. Evie tallied up the expenses of her sister’s kitchen remodel in her head and calculated how long it would take her to pay for the same were she to update her condo. On her paralegal salary, it’d take at least six months. She added other parts to this algebraic equation, like the two-three unwarranted compliments on how she filled out her skirt from Bert, one of the partners each month, the cost of the Zaleplon and Alprazolam she’d started taking since her unending anxiety-sleep deprivation-anxiety cycle had begun, the billowy blouses and low-hanging scarves she’d had to buy to cover up the pregnancy a year prior for fear of coworkers touching her belly. The equation was not balanced.

“The cabinets look great,” Evie said.

“Don’t they? Watch this.” Hazel opened up a drawer and bumped it shut with a swing of her hips. Right before the drawer closed, the motion slowed, and Hazel reached up her finger as if she were a magician commanding it. “These soft closing drawers will save my marriage, I swear to God. Sometimes, I miss the satisfaction of slamming stuff shut, though.”

“There’s always the front door for that,” Evie offered.

After two glasses of champagne, the early afternoon birthday party for Evie’s nephew, Jacob, transformed into a roundtable discussion about pregnancy and new motherhood.

Evie’s nephew wouldn’t remember the birthday party. He was only turning one. But that didn’t matter. The party was a way for couples to get together and enjoy each other’s company as their children were watched over by the slightly older children and all adults felt reassured by a vague sense of security that hovered above them. Someone was certainly watching over the kids.

“I didn’t want the epidural, but my doctor said I had to get it,” Jannie said, and the other women nodded in a show of solidarity. “Isn’t that what happened to you too?” she asked, gesturing toward Erika.

“Yeah. With Ben I had to get one.” The women nodded along again, the slightest bit of judgment furrowing their brows. “But not Teddy. He was a natural birth,” she quickly added.

Jannie’s husband walked into the kitchen and interrupted the conversation by situating himself next to Jannie and pointing his finger into the air.

“What’s the situation with those cupcakes?” he asked.

“If the situation you’re asking about is the flavor, they’re chocolate, and if you’re wondering whether or not you can eat them, you can. Leave some for the kids though,” Hazel said. He wore the smile of an enthusiastic messenger armed with good news as he returned to the group of husbands and boyfriends positioned in the corner of the living room. The men and a few members from the child stampede raided the dessert table after Jannie’s husband took the first one, marking the ceremonial go-ahead.

“Where is the birthday boy?” Evie asked, emphasizing the word “is” to insinuate that Hazel was not doing a very good job keeping track of her son.

“He’s still upstairs napping,” she said and picked up the baby monitor positioned on the counter next to the refrigerator.

“That thing creeps me out. It looks like you’re watching him through a game cam. Especially with the delay.”

Two of the women glared at her. “It’s a good invention, though,” she added. “What did they even do a hundred years ago?”

“They probably drank less champagne,” Hazel said.

When Evie went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror, she saw that her bright teal shirt was hugging her stomach tight enough so that a darker teal o marked where her belly button hid beneath the fabric. She’d lost all of the weight from carrying her sister’s baby, but despite being mostly flat, her stomach had taken on the consistency of a slightly under-filled waterbed. She balled up her hands into fists, reached them up under her shirt, and punched forward to stretch out her shirtfront.

When you don’t get paid to carry someone else’s baby, it’s called an altruistic surrogacy, but between the back pain, the breast pain, the every single body part pain, the two hospitalizations from dehydration, the hair now two shades darker, the episiotomy that didn’t quite heal right, the fights with the boyfriend, the uncomfortable “not my baby” explanations to acquaintances, the demotion at work that wasn’t called a demotion, she wasn’t feeling too altruistic anymore.

Evie took one of the three remaining cupcakes from the table, and Hazel gave her a furrowed brow-crinkled nose-disapproving older sister look even though Evie was the one who’d picked up the cupcakes in the first place. She thought of when she was five and Hazel was seven and Hazel licked her ice cream so forcefully that it toppled off of the top of the cone. Evie offered her scoop of Rocky Road, but she’d forgotten that Hazel was allergic to nuts, and in the three hours spent at the emergency room, she swung her feet back and forth as she sat in a stiff-backed waiting room chair, wondering if her sister would be okay and when her dad would thank her for being a good sharer.

“Seriously?” she mouthed to her sister and then bit into the cupcake. She pretended to enjoy it even though it was too sweet. Jacob started to cry upstairs, and Evie walked toward his room. She didn’t need a baby monitor to hear him.  

Copyright © 1999 – 2024 Juked