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Fiction #257
(published December 15, 2005)
Must be Love
by Nadine Darling
He hasn't shaved since they bought the test.

He has his hand between her knees, then on her belly. It's already there, the belly, pressing out like the flat of a tongue.

"See here," says Jack, "how fat do you plan upon getting?"

"Oh, massively so," says Suzanne. "Massively."

"Just checking."

"I want to dance," says Suzanne.

"Fat people love dancing. It's humorous. Also, falling down stairs. Also, getting their hands caught in giant mouse-traps."

"Then, let's do all of that," says Suzanne. "Right now."

"I want to go home," says Jack.

They're in the new car, which smells of wet and leather and other people's air, and it's raining out and early. Several paramount stop lights are out; yellow-slickered traffic cops stand in the middle of intersections, arms akimbo, like Rubbermaid reverends, whistles clenched between their teeth, middle-aged dissatisfaction coming off them in waves like a musk. Jack drives carefully, hunched forward, his hand still on Suzanne's belly, listening for new-car sounds that shouldn't be there.

She touches his forearm, his elbow. She watches the side of his face as he drives, the peppery stubble, his fine jaw grinding gum, a slight chap creeping up his lower lip like frostbite.

"Do you know what this is like?" Asks Suzanne.


The doors of the Wal-Mart open automatically, but in an ominous, House of Wax sort of way, and the floor kicks up sick yellow light like a bonafide zombie ice rink. Suzanne selects a shopping cart with a wonky back wheel. She maneuvers it with some effort, occasionally careening into a display of cotton candy or one-time use cameras.

"That's the spirit, champ," says Jack, "Don't give up just because a thing is impossible, alternative options are plentiful, and you look foolish doing it."

"I'm no quitter," says Suzanne, and then, "I have to pee."

"Well, what else is new?" Says Jack.

He leads Suzanne down the clothing and apparel aisle, bedazzled headbands to the left of them, plus sized tunics to their right.

"If I was a car-seat, where would I be?" asks Jack.

"In a car, strapped in tight," says Suzanne, "snug beneath a baby's ass."

"Save the political stuff for Leno, sweetness," says Jack, "all's I have time for are acrobat poodles and acts that feature melon smashing in a prominent manner."

A young man in a blue smock saunters by ahead of them at the end of the aisle, disappearing around the corner into Hardware Supplies.

"Oh, young man!" Calls Jack.


"I say, young man," says Jack.

"Whomever are you speaking to?" asks Suzanne.

"Why, the young man who sauntered by in the blue smock, of course," says Jack.

"Oh don't just make shit up," says Suzanne. "What do you need? Attention? Do the other kids' have stay at home moms? Are you a latch-key kid?"

"Go straight to dear hell, dear darling," says Jack. He stops in the middle of the aisle and pushes his tongue into Suzanne's mouth.

"Ah 'ave ta peeee," says Suzanne.


The ladies' room is smeared in Lysol and desire, hearts and smudged Sharpie promises. I'll love you until I. . . I'm your girl until I. . . The lighting is thick and inescapable.

This is what it is like: artificial dripping yellow; popcorn butter Vaseline.

The liquid soap bubbles in its square plastic dispensers like melted bubble gum Lip-Smackers. Suzanne stares at herself in the mirror, one hand pressed flat to her belly, arrogant and a little provoked, like a fat Southern Sheriff.

The baby, you know. Oh, what is the baby not like? She pictures him, a boy in flight- arms spread, face tipped. A boy in flight.

He's a pensive guy, the baby. Very thoughtful. In utero, Suzanne feels he has already adapted his father's in-depth contempt for car commercials and being caught behind groups of power-walking women in special pants with sweatshirts tied around their waists. From Suzanne, the baby has a finely tuned moral outrage at things; he gets angry at the news and resents corporate types. He laughs when people fall down on television, when comedians dress up like ugly hookers or old ladies in wide-knit shawls.

Also Dolly Parton. Dolly Parton appeals to the baby's sense of hard-bitten whimsy. He would smoke if he could. He would stare and smoke and grind his foot.


The young man in a blue smock leads Jack through the child and baby safety section at the back of the store. Gates, you know. Gates. Locks and alarms so junior can't fall into the can and drown himself. Jack shudders. He slaps around, looking for his cigarettes.

"Are there any car seats under eight million dollars?" He asks. It's been a while, sure. Jack has children, a boy and two girls from a previous marriage. From a previous marriage that is not so previous as it might be.

The young man in the blue smock hasn't shaved, either. He has bumps, too. Purple-red spots that push up from beneath like tender new teeth.

"You can't smoke in here," he says.

"Why not?"

"I don't know. It's bad for you."

"My life is so good, then? I want to live forever?"

The young man in the blue smock shrugs.

Jack tugs on a price tag.

"Astronomical," he says.

"Can't put a price on safety," says the young man.

"Are you calling me a poor driver or an irresponsible parent? I just want to save a few bucks, here. Sure, we all want to keep the little motherfucker safe, but this world is filled with dangers. Polio, say. How is me buying an eight million dollar car seat going to keep my kid from getting polio?"

"Can't put a price on safety," says the young man.

"Don't you think," says Jack, unlit cigarette dangling from his mouth like a severed pinkie, "that there's enough fucking safety in the world?"


Suzanne, in her first delicate months of swell-age, requires a new brassiere. She stands in a fruit roll-up colored delicatessen of under-things on tiny hangers and gives the salesgirl a number and two letters. The salesgirl grants Suzanne the elevator eyes, and shakes her head. Suzanne nods. The girl taps about on the modified Etch-a-Sketch before her.

"That size doesn't exist," she says.

"Are you calling my breasts liars?" Says Suzanne.

"It's not in the computer, is all. I've never heard of such a size before in my life."

"Computers. What is this, fucking War Games? Think for yourself, man."

Jack wanders over holding a plastic wrapped package of sweat socks, ridged white and flat like thick strips of blubber. He throws them into the cart.

"Where is the car-seat?" asks Suzanne.

"Well, where are any of us, really?" says Jack. "Did you find the girls a new home?"

"Angela here says they don't exist," says Suzanne.

"Get out," says Jack.

"My name is Beth," says the salesgirl.

"Irregardless, Trevor. You can't just go around comparing my old lady's junk to a yeti, to lost worlds, to Loch Ness side-winding reptilian lore. Sure, they're unruly at times, but they give so much to the community, and they deserve to be recognized."

"That size doesn't exist," said the salesgirl.

"Oh, it exists, Louise," he says, "I have the Polaroids to prove it."


They pass electronics, and there is Jay-Z. There is Hard Knock Life or Dirt off your Shoulder or Gift and a Curse. There is Moment of Clarity.

"I want to dance," says Suzanne. "The baby wants to dance."

"Well, I don't see what's stopping either one of you," says Jack.

Suzanne breaks away does a crazy dance near the ink jet cartridges- hips like a stapler, chest like a three-hole punch.

She says, "Look here, sweetie. Look here at this."

"Ah, dignity," says Jack.

"I call this dance Millennium Ass Blender Neptune pt. 2."

"Jesus, I wonder why."

"You should have seen part one," says Suzanne. A power-strip, ass-casualty pt. one, hits the floor and spins there, pale and vibrant, like a break-dancing Coke bottle.

To the growing throng of rubbernecking blue smocked ex-gang-members who have gathered to watch Suzanne's interpretative dance salute to infant thug life, Jack asks, "Look man, do I have to pay for that?"

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