There's a Rubbermaid storage container that lives in the back our closet. Clear with a blue lid and about two feet square, it serves as a repository for future gifts for friends and family--the mid-century green ceramic vase set aside for B.'s birthday; the comical Portuguese guide to English grammar and usage I picked up for my father, the O.W.; the emergency presents--candles, mostly--for acquaintances' housewarming or holiday parties.
The container has also housed baby presents--cute too-big items that I picked up in July for dispersal in December, when size 9-12 months would fit my friends' baby girls, all born in a spring batch. And there are the onesies and little tee shirts that J. loves to personalize--silly pictures of Eric Gagne for the tyke of a Dodger fanatic, iron-on Parliament photos and lyrics for the toddler of a funk aficionado. When I bought The Contraband, I figured this would be a good place to store it, since it could be easily camouflaged as gifts.
The purchase of The Contraband didn't raise any eyebrows at the time. I was just sale shopping, after all, and though J. thought it slightly odd that I would buy so far in advance, he accepted my explanation--"They're for our niece's birthday next year," I said with conviction, hoping he couldn't see my blushing face. The face of an impostor--an impostor pretending to her husband to be buying for a real, live baby belonging to others; an impostor pretending to herself that she was not infertile.
But, you see, I couldn't do otherwise: the dresses belong to our baby--our baby girl, who will have an old-fashioned name and brown hair and brown eyes and be allergic to cats, just like us. She will wear the yellow sundress with applique leaves at her first birthday party, where we'll take her picture as she smears herself liberally with whipped cream from a lumpy strawberry cake. When she's a little bit older, babbling and burbling and pointing at things she wants us to see, we will take her to the Children's Fairyland at Lake Merritt in her steel-blue polished cotton dress, the one with little pearlized buttons up the side and a pleated skirt, and she will giggle and be warm in her soft-white knitted sweater.
I seldom daydream about a real, live child. I keep myself focused on the next goal, and maybe the goal after that: a pink line, perhaps a doubling beta. But when I touched the dresses that day, the pictures were so vivid that I had to close my eyes and shake my head to dislodge them. For a moment, I had seen the ultimate goal, and she was real to me.
The Contraband has been in the container for more than a year now, nearly past the point of usefulness for our niece and most of the other baby girls we know. I hid it at the bottom all those months, taking the dresses out surreptitiously, even shamefully, during the two week wait on particularly hopeful cycles. I would run my fingers lightly over the pliant fabrics--smell them, sometimes--and the images would come back, fully-formed. I could even hear her tiny, high voice in a cry of excitement or a wail of displeasure.
J. mentioned The Contraband recently, when he pawed through the container looking for an errant Christmas gift--"Oh, look, weren't we going to give these to Niece for her birthday?"
I turned away to compose myself, not wanting him to see the subterfuge in my transparent face. Said, "Oh, well, we'll have to wait for the next one--I'm sure someone we know will have another baby girl soon." J. said, yeah, he was sure that would happen...in fact, he forgot to tell me, KathFromCollege is pregnant again. Maybe she'll have a girl this time.
But my composure crumpled, and I told him that I had lied, that these were for us, and that KathFromCollege would never get her hands on them--never!--because they were going to be for our brown-eyed daughter. Our daughter.
We went to Ikea a week or so ago in the middle of a workday to buy some shelves for J.'s office. Normally, he cannot stand Ikea because he gets vaguely claustrophobic and can't abide lines, but it was relatively empty and we made our way up the escalator. We strolled past Dalselvs and Karviks and Lacks and Snigs--set of three for four dollars!--and I asked if we could slow down and take things in a bit, since there was no rush and no crowd. So we slowed, and started to wander off path, going against the usual pattern and zig-zagging drunkenly. When we came through an entryway that we thought would take us to office furniture, we found ourselves in a world of bunkbeds instead. Thinking J. would get irritated, I started to pull him back through but he asked me to stop--he wanted to take a look. At bunkbeds?
"Well," he said, pointing to an inventive model with a sturdy ladder and a cunning little bureau and wardrobe built in underneath, "I like this one."
I stared at him, confused, and wondered if he meant to use it in his office somehow. But his office ceilings are only seven feet high; it would never fit. Eyebrows drawn together, I let out a quizzical, "Hunh?"
"For the baby. When he's not a baby anymore. When he's old enough to sleep on a bunkbed. In the TV room. Which would be the nursery then. I can picture it. I like this one," he said, his voice cracking slightly. "I like it a lot."
It was real to him--he could see his tousle-headed son clambering up the ladder in a pair of flannel pyjamas. This was his Contraband--this pine-and-laminate bunkbed made up in blue striped sheets and turtle-green pillows.