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Let Them Eat Cat Food

by Marina J. Neary

parts 1-2

Told by Antonia “Kitty” Rosenberg-Schwartz

1. A Seven-Course Journey to Enlightenment

When was the last time I had a traditional seven-course French meal? In my previous life, as Marie-Antoinette. I (along with at least two billion other women who claim the same metaphysical heritage) distinctly remember a porcelain platter with giant swan (all organic) stuffed with dried apricots and adorned with clusters of transparent grapes that shine like peridots brought in to the sounds of harpsichord.

I feast mostly with my eyes and nostrils. As much as I want to ditch my manners and tear that brown crispy skin off the swan’s wing with my teeth, my corset won’t allow me such savagery. If I dare to pick a single grape and push it down my esophagus too fast, I will surely choke and swoon, and my servants will rush to fetch my smelling salts.

And there is another vision, this time from my actual childhood, of the chlorine-washed dining hall at a daycare center in western Russia, where even before the Chernobyl disaster you could find roaches the size of small turtles.

I try to build a tower out of cold potato puree, but it just smudges against the chipped plate. Eventually I give up my architectural ambitions and take up geology. I break a stale meatball with a bent fork and find a rusty bolt inside.

“A treasure!”

The head teacher swats me on the back of my neck with a wet towel and growls.

“Keep eating! You little flea...”

Still not sobered by the initial warning, I jump up from my seat and run after her. “Look, it shines! It’s real gold. I’m rich, I’m rich!”

This centaur of a woman takes me by the ear, drags me back to my seat and shoves my face right into the plate. Mashed potatoes fill my nostrils. I can’t scream. I can’t even breathe. Visions from my past lives flash before my eyes. Swans, grapes, pearls, guillotines... Draw the curtain. No need for applause.

That was then. Another continent, another century.

Now I am a moderately successful, sleep-deprived New England piano instructor in her late forties. My reality falls somewhere between Chernobyl and Versailles, and so do my eating rituals. I devour cold low-sodium green beans straight out of the can, standing in the newly remodeled kitchen of my suburban McLouvre, blissfully barefoot after a day of running around my music studio in high heels, and sadly, no longer pregnant after a tumble down the stairs a week ago.

Alas, the tiny fetus is gone. What’s left is a bruised tailbone, a sore uterus and a half-empty case of non-alcoholic beer. I drink that beer reluctantly and dutifully because nobody else will drink it, and I hate the thought of just throwing it out. Plus, it provides a certain sense of closure.

2. Miracle In a Tube

I’m trying to be philosophical about the whole thing. Marie-Antoinette had miscarriages. So did Josephine, Napoleon’s wife. One that keeps me from getting weepy is the expensive mascara on my ridiculously long eyelashes that frame my eyes so advantageously and make them look like those of a cat. I wonder if that baby was going to have my eyes, my pretty-pretty eyes.

I know, you’ll probably think that it’s silly to make such a big deal over a baby, especially at my age, when I’m already a grandma (yikes, this word gives me chills!). But you see, to me it wasn’t just a baby. It was a trophy, a status symbol that put me an inch closer to Olympus inhabited by my clients.

It is becoming fashionable among those Darien and Greenwich housewives to have premenopausal miracles. So be it! I have reconciled with the fact that I would probably never live in Darien, or drive a Mercedes, or even retire. At least I could show them that my ovaries worked as well as theirs. Hey, it happens in Hollywood all the time! I dare you to look me in the eye and tell me that I am inferior to Madonna or Julianne Moore.

At almost fifty, I was still getting my period six or seven times a year, although the bleeding was not as abundant as in my twenties and thirties. Every once in a while, my breasts would swell, and I would feel the familiar pinch of ovulation in one of my sides. My doctor said there was no reason to despair. With some intense hormonal treatment that would cost me only seven grand a cycle — which is very reasonable, considering that my laser rejuvenation treatments cost almost the same — I had an encouraging fifteen-percent chance of conceiving a baby.

The chances of the baby having Down Syndrome was a negligible forty percent, which is pretty standard. As you can see, the odds were on my side. It was as if God himself, the enlightened, progressive God of nature and science, was telling me to go for it.

Now, Evan’s health was going to be a bit of a problem. Before marrying me, he had spent ten years on a nuclear submarine, where he was exposed to radiation and God knows what else. As result, his spermogram was not stellar. On top of everything, his vas deferens was blocked. So he had to undergo a mildly uncomfortable procedure.

I forget the exact medical term, but it’s similar to reverse vasectomy. The doctor basically had to go into his pipes and really snake them out, to make sure that whatever live sperm he had could pass freely. Yes, we could’ve taken the easy way out and used donor’s sperm, but I did not want to carry the baby of some anonymous college jock. I wanted this baby to have Evan’s genes.

The whole prep work, the three cycles of in-vitro and the two times I had to be rushed to the hospital with uterine bleeding cost us just under fifty thousand. Yes, we had to tap into our retirement funds, but no amount is too much for a dream.

I can’t speak for Evan — he didn’t say much throughout the whole journey — but I don’t want to be one of those people who spend their lives preparing for retirement. To me there will never be “the rest of my life”. To me it will always be the dawn of dawns. Nothing is ever too late. Nothing is ever too expensive. And my reward for perseverance — a juicy male fetus, without any genetic abnormalities, according to the amniotic analysis.

And now I was faced with the unenviable task of telling my husband that the child he had been dreaming about for almost fifty years of his life is gone. After all that hassle, I lost my precious trophy in the most idiotic way imaginable. The doorbell rang, so I scurried downstairs, slipped and landed on my tailbone. It had never happened before in my life! I never, ever land on my tailbone. I have the soul of a cat, so I always land on my fours, even if you throw me from the roof. But this time I guess I didn’t have the time to rotate in midair, so I landed on my rear. The fall resulted in double damage — eighty dollars in lost fees for the cancelled piano lesson and placental rupture.

The student was nice enough to stick around and call the ambulance, but I never saw him again. I suppose he felt responsible for my accident. I called him repeatedly, apologizing for the cancelled lesson, offering to reschedule, but he still has not returned my call, and I doubt that he will in the future. That’s a shame, because he has divine hands, and I could really see him playing Chopin’s waltzes.

Proceed to parts 3-4...

Copyright © 2011 by Marina J. Neary

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