5.09 / September 2010

Just Another in a Collection of Objects Not Good Enough to Be Considered Planets

Lucy started calling the baby Ludwig, as a joke, and when she got far enough along that we found out it was indeed a boy, she thought the name was fitting, cute even. Lucy is the musician.

I am the scientist—an astrophysicist, the lone woman in a universe of old, crusty men, studying all the junk out at the farthest edges of our solar system. I wanted to nickname the baby Jupiter or Galileo or something, but Ludwig stuck.

It was hard for me to imagine having a little Ludwig. What would he think when he started to figure it out'”the two moms thing, I mean. Would he end up resenting us for it? Would he think it was cool?

“I’m afraid of raising a boy,” I told Lucy one night. This was after I’d taken a walk past the playground in our neighborhood and saw a bunch of boys playing basketball. It was nearly 90 degrees, and they were tossing balls in the air but also daring each other to lie shirtless on the dark paved court, taunting the smallest, palest one to do it until he agreed, pressing his white belly to the ground, stretching his arms out wide while the rest yelled, “Nipple burn, nipple burn” and their basketball rolled off into the weeds.

Lucy just laughed. “You have three brothers, Kelly,” she said, exasperated, pointing a carrot stick at me. “The fact that you’re still alive after that means you will be fine.”

This was the way Lucy was—a nonchalant attitude about everything. Even her pregnancy went smoothly. No morning sickness, no weird cravings. She still worked out more than me. When we went out, she got the attention. I started hating having to always think about making sure there was a seat around, about carrying the shopping bags, cleaning the litter box, turning the air conditioning high so she wasn’t too hot. Things that, before she was pregnant, I would’ve gladly done anyway.

“You get maternity leave, too?” one of my friends asked. And another, “Aren’t you worried about bonding?”

Then Pluto got declassified as a planet. They voted he wasn’t “dominating his neighborhood” enough. They said he was a dwarf, that his moon was too large.

I started having nightmares, hot fiery dreams in which I woke up to find Ludwig sitting on top of me, cleaning his fingernails, shaking his head at me like he was disappointed, and saying things like, “A planet must be large enough to have become round due to the force of its own gravity.” Or another dream where Lucy and Ludwig were sitting in a soundproof room, playing with toys, while I watched from the other side, unable to get in, unable to hear them.

“Stress dreams,” Lucy said. “We are in this together, remember? Don’t let other people tell you what you are and what you aren’t.” We did the nursery in green and purple. We painted little dinosaurs on the wall.

One night after dinner I was catching up on some work while Lucy was sitting at the piano, playing a very soft tune. She had a very definite belly at that point, and I remembered staring at it bumping up against the keyboard and wondering if there would be a time near the end when she wouldn’t be able to reach the keys well enough to play. “I just don’t think it’s fair,” I said suddenly. “How can they just tell Pluto that he isn’t a planet anymore? All those years, and they’re just shutting him out, saying, thanks but no thanks.”

I could tell Lucy wasn’t really listening, her fingers flitting over the piano keys like butterflies. I thought about Pluto, out on the edges of the solar system, frozen and alone, circling and circling not because he knew why but just because that was the way things worked. Scientists were, like everyone else, creatures of habit. If something didn’t fit into the way things were classified, then they just de-classified it. End of story.

“Oh my god, Kelly,” Lucy said suddenly, stopping her playing and resting her hands on her belly. I grew stiff, still. But then I saw she was smiling. “The baby. He just kicked.”

I went to her, pressed my hands on her belly, moving them to where she guided them. Her flesh was taut, frighteningly so, and she was giving off heat like a fireplace. But there was no movement, nothing.

“Oh no,” she said. I could smell her breath, strawberries, and for a second I longed for those times when we’d first started dating, so young and silly, road trips and picnics. “He must’ve stopped.”

“I missed it,” I said, pulling away.

“Don’t worry, I’m sure it will happen again. I’m sure it will happen many times.”

I nodded, tried to smile, went back to my desk. The air conditioning kicked back on and the blast gave me goosebumps all up my arms. I rubbed my hands, trying to get warm. Lucy rubbed her belly again. She went back to playing her song, still smiling, and though she was only a few feet from me, it was as though she was spinning off into a completely different orbit.