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Nearly all of the seven dwarfs of pregnancy have shown up by now: Sleepy, Queasy, Spacey, Weepy, Gassy, and Moody. The only one who hasn't checked in is Happy. But then, this isn't exactly a normal pregnancy.
Being pregnant and living here with Hillary and Victor Goettler in the famed Schier mansion in the King William Historical District reminds me of the bus trip Sinclair and I took to the Yucatan Peninsula. I'm nauseated all the time, everything I want to eat I can't, and I'm never sure of what's going on or how I should act. At least it smells better than a Mexican bus.
No, I'm happy to be sniffing the scents of lavender sachet tucked into cedar-lined drawers, of sheets washed in Ivory flakes and dried in the sun, of tung oil massaged by well-paid brown hands into furniture that has been on one side or the other of Victor's prominent San Antonio family for over a century. I'm particularly grateful to be surrounded by the smells of sunlight and subdued wealth, as pregnancy has turned me into a giant nostril attached to a hair trigger gag reflex.
Still, that Mexican bus smell, that blend of diesel fuel and the cheapest room deodorizer mixing with an on-board toilet that has been overflowing for fifty miles, can even now make my heart ache with longing. I've always longed for the wrong things. Junky things. Things of no value to anyone else.
I wonder what human breast milk tastes like. Probably a lot like powdered baby formula from a canister. I drank quite a bit of formula that first time. I knew I was pregnant then because I suddenly couldn't stand the taste of black coffee and added formula to cut the bitterness. I wouldn't admit that I was pregnant that first time, although I did go out and buy the baby formula.
I would heap that sugary formula into my morning coffee and drink it in the kitchen, since that is the only room in my apartment that gets any light. Toward the end of the off-and-on year we lived together, I spent a lot of time sitting in the kitchen in the morning waiting for Sinclair to come home. Sinclair David Coker, a freelance mystic with a lot of enthusiasm for the carnal. He thought we made a gaudy combination of the sort that would enhance his reputation as a man dancing in stardust. Pregnancy was far too flatfooted for Sinclair, and he was in the process of dancing off without me.
That special kitchen light comes in through the window above the sink in the morning and lands in warm, friendly puddles on the top of the Formica dinette table. I try to keep that table cleared off since I am so fond of the swirly aqua-colored patterns in the Formica and the way the sun hitting them reminds me of the ocean around Isla Mujeres. Sinclair and I once snorkeled out so far that the grass shack where we were renting hammocks for a few pesos looked like a matchbox. In the warm pastel water we took off our suits and made love. This was something Sinclair had always wanted to do but he had never found someone with enough "lubrication." He was impressed by my "lubrication." I've heard that the hammock shacks are all gone now, replaced by condominiums.
So I would sit there with my elbows in the Formica ocean and spoon baby formula into my coffee. I could tell by the color the coffee turned how long it had been in the percolator. Of course, a creamy café au lait was the best color; that meant fresh coffee. It got muddier the longer it sat until it started going from any tone you could call brown right into gray. The oldest coffee actually had hints of purple in it. When I saw that murky purple, that's when I knew it was time to start on a new pot.
It's important to make things last when a person has no money. This trait, however, can cause problems in other areas. I tried to make Sinclair last even after it was over between us. He'd told me it was over. Repeatedly. He was getting back with his old girlfriend. She'd started seriously dating someone else and, of course, her being chased by another man fanned his flame like nothing else could. There were more and more nights when he never came home. Still, I clung like a limpet. This panicked Sinclair, since our entire relationship was based on the myth that I was a free spirit with many another ticket to ride.
Having the father patching things up with his old girlfriend put a serious crimp on my pregnancy. As the days went by, I spooned more and more formula into less and less coffee. Pretty soon it was mostly hot water with just a few drops of coffee in it for color. I'd carefully float a tower of formula on the coffee water and watch it turn milky as the powder dissolved, an island crumbling into the sea in speeded-up motion. Toward the end I didn't even bother stirring the formula up in hot water, I ate it straight out of the can. It turned to taffy in my mouth and stuck to my teeth.
Since babies live on formula, I was certain that this must be good for the one growing inside of me. I thought that and kept eating formula even though I knew from the first time I threw up in the morning that I was never going to keep the baby. I couldn't. I didn't have any money. As most everyone who knew me agreed, I wasn't levelheaded. And, of course, the father was patching things up with his old girlfriend. The situation was far from optimal. So, I made a deal with the baby. I asked for a rain check. If he would go away, I'd try to engineer a suitable life for him to come back to in a few years.
And that's how I ended up where I am now. Sitting on a four-poster canopied with an ethereal floral print. Listening to the Brandenburg concerti. Sipping a special raspberry leaf, uterus-toning tea. Nibbling occasionally on a Carr's Water Cracker. Sniffing lavender sachet and tung oil. Looking out on the San Antonio River from the second story window of the famed Schier mansion in the heart of the King William Historical District.
The baby, Sweet Pea, came back last year to collect on his end of the deal and this was the best situation I could find for him. I think I did pretty well. For a surrogate mother.
My real home, my apartment on Laurel Street just off of San Pedro, on the other hand, always reeks of the burned plastic stink of Sculpie clay baking into my latest project.
Still, I miss it. I miss the view from my second story bedroom window. It looks down on an empty lot where the eponymous Laurel Theater once stood. Sinclair and I used to sneak in the side door and spend entire days in the air-conditioned darkness. I even miss my view of Gil's Used Tires. Gil also offers Delicious Barbacoa and Free Water and Air. Across San Pedro is the Quik-Pik Ice House and its perennial specials: Little Debbie Cakes 49¢, Armour Corn Dog 39¢, twin pop Popsicles, asstd. flavs. 19¢. Summers in San Antonio require many twin pops, primarily in the coolest of the asstd. flavs., lime and grape.
So much for the old neighborhood. The views from the windows of my bedroom here at the Schier mansion are radically different. From the amplified spiels of the tour buses that troll the streets, I've learned more than I ever wanted to about the King William Historical District. For starters, it was built by a bunch of rich German merchants in the 1870s. Ernst Altgelt, founder of the Pioneer Flour Mill that still stands at the end of the block, named this street and the whole neighborhood for his beloved king of Prussia, Wilhelm I. Perhaps that's why Ernst's seven-story-tall mill looks like a castle with its crenelated tower and American flag snapping at the top.
King William had over half a century of glory days before it began a long, gradual slide. By the sixties the rich Germans' mansions had deteriorated into flophouses and dope dens. But money eventually calls to money, I suppose, because the neighborhood staged a comeback and was returned to the rich people. Now the Germans' mansions are the restored homes of lawyers and bankers who need permission from a neighborhood board before they can change the color of their porches.
From my back window I can see the San Antonio River making a slow olive-colored bend. I feel like a Peeping Tom every time I look at it. As a young girl growing up in San Antonio, the river, little more than a gutter running through town back then, was something shameful. The nuns warned us about "going to the river," and we all understood the code, if not the technical details, for the moist and impure activities that can occur in such moist and impure places.
That's all changed. Now the river is contained within pristine cement banks and plied by tour boats filled with visiting families. The operators always idle their engines behind the Goettlers' rolling expanse of lawn with its fountains, and rose arbor, piles of jasmine, pots of red geraniums, magnolia tree with blooms the size of carving platters, and rows of palm trees three stories high. The tour boat operators point out the "magnificent" cypresses, the "stately" pecans.
"Stately" and "magnificent" are not conditions I've previously had much acquaintance with. They put me on edge. That's pretty much where I've been since I moved in two weeks ago. It's not as if a certain degree of alienness is new to me. Pariahhood has been a constant of my life except for two periods: one, when I went to high school at Our Lady of Sorrows and Aurelia and the rest of the Mexican girls were my friends. And two, when I had my first and, to date last, art show in the early eighties.
1. In preparation for her “Power of Myth” class, Hillary must write a description of her parents in terms of gods and goddesses. She defends the concept to Victor by arguing: “If we’re going to have a child, we first have to liberate ourselves from the child within.” What does this statement reveal about the differences between Hillary and Trudy? In what ways does it forecast the end of the novel?
2. Trudy states that what held her relationship together with Sinclair was a shared belief in supporting all that should be, and ignoring what wasn’t as it should be. How do you think this type of bond will serve them in their relationship in the future? How might this belief system translate into parenting methods?
3. Trudy experiences polarization of sensory experiences during her pregnancy; she is consistently nasally overwhelmed, but mostly deprived of tactile stimulation and tasty food. In what ways does this affect her state of mind? Of what do you think her particular cravings are symptomatic? What changed in her when these yearnings began to be met?
4. Who do you think Sweet Pea was? How did your assumptions regarding his apparitions change as the novel progressed? How did Trudy’s?
5. How are fathers portrayed in the novel? What do you think are the essential steps to gaining entry in the Daddy Club? Does Sinclair or Victor better fit the membership criteria?
6. Hillary clearly has an increasingly difficult time as the pregnancy progresses. What do you believe was her most important goal at the beginning of the process? How do you predict she would carry on afterwards?
7. Trudy says she never felt the hormonal shove towards procreation, yet she is clearly protective of Sweet Pea and eager to make good on her end of the “bargain.” Was her reversal predetermined? What do you think was the most important transition she makes on her way to the Mommy Club?
8. In the novel, the notion of a tidy, informed, but perhaps colorless existence is set against a chaotic, vibrant, but unpredictable one. How do these contrasting lifestyles inform the conflicts that arise between Trudy and Hillary? Do you feel one is a better environment for raising children?
9. What about the bohemian trio in Trudy’s birthing class makes her want to share her story with them? How might the pregnancy have differed if Trudy had someone to share honestly with for its duration?
10. How do the mother figures in Trudy’s life -- Randi, Cece, Mercedes --shape the way she views motherhood? In what particular ways to these women embody the role of mother?
11. What role does Hillary assume in regards to Trudy when she resides in the Schier mansion? Do you think the tensions could have been alleviated without the rigidity of life imposed? Can there ever be comfort in this type of situation?
12. Trudy believes that she lacks gravity on the planet. What are the sources of gravity for characters like Mercedes, Cece, and Aurelia? What are the antigravity forces at work on Trudy and Sinclair?
13. To what extent does Trudy’s prophetic ability enable her to make the right decisions? Does it ever cloud her judgment? Where do you think her abilities to make psychic connections with Aurelia or see into the future come from?
14. How are artists and art portrayed in the novel? Compare and contrast the creative process with procreation.
15. Trudy says a person has to be either fearless or rich to avoid lying. How do you interpret her numerous lies and her justifications for doing so? What fears does she overcome on her path to finding truth?
16. Sinclair believes that Trudy’s postpartum silence is a punishment directed at him. Do you think he deserves such a punishment? Has his character made a proper showing of atonement by the end?
17. The novel swirls around several notions of what a mother can be. Do you think anyone can be a mother? Is Cece correct in postulating that no one believes a woman when she says she does not want children? Is it different when men make the same claim?
18. Hillary, Victor, and Trudy decide to proceed with the surrogate pregnancy without a contract. How would you interpret this unanimous acquiescence? What do you make of Trudy’s later sentiment regarding Hillary: “All either one of us can do is march forward according to the plan we tricked ourselves into?”
19. Trudy treasures her eclectic hometown and finds genuine comfort in its particular urban buzz. How does the personality of San Antonio mirror her own? How much do you find location affects your attitude?
20. Is Sinclair’s assertion that he and Trudy are “river people” an accurate one? What is the importance of other water symbolism in the book?
21. Were you surprised by the outcome of the novel? Was it immediately convincing that the conclusion was the best possible scenario? Would you ever consider surrogate pregnancy as an option for infertility?
22. Trudy knows what her life would have looked like if she and Sinclair had stayed together. Do you think this circumstance is the best way for them to be reunited? Are some people just meant to be together, despite differences in the past?
23. Many people give Trudy advice during her pregnancy, ranging from the practical to the absurd. What advice do you think she could have used most before she agreed to Sweet Pea’s return?
24. What is particularly attractive to Sinclair about a woman who is otherwise involved? What does Trudy’s testament of his upbringing reveal about this quality? How did you react to Trudy’s manipulation of his weakness for another man’s woman?
25. From where does Trudy’s opposition to the amniocentesis stem? Discuss the potential outcome of the novel had she gone ahead with the procedure. Do you think it is better or worse for future parents to preemptively discover abnormalities in their unborn children?
26. Trudy’s treasures are literally another man’s trash. How does being a pack-rat enable her to view potential beauty in ordinary objects? And how does this compare to Hillary’s refined taste?
Posted October 14, 2005
I found this book to be dull and the characters were not more than surface deep. You can't stand the couple that is waiting for their baby to be born and the surrogate mom has no backbone of her own. More than anything, I felt bad for the soon-to-be born baby having to deal with the mess created by the author.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.