IF YOU DIDN’T KNOW Andrea you might think she was just getting love handles, the way a man does when he gets fat. Growing out sideways in your first trimester, according to some old wives’ tale, is supposed to be a sign that you’re carrying one sex or the other. Neither of us could remember which one though.
“Can I listen?” I asked her, putting my ear above her navel, and she pushed it down a few inches. I closed my eyes and heard nothing but the ocean crashing in at us, which obliterated any sound our baby might have made. We were alone on a sandbar fifty yards from shore, and if the tide held we’d stay right there until I had to drive her to the airport.
“It doesn’t kick yet,” Andrea said. In German you call a baby it— das Kind, gender neutral. This is an official part of the language, unlike in English where we call a baby it only until we know better.
“I hear it. It says ‘Daddy, daddy!’” “American baby? I think it’s lower.” She slid up on the blanket to get my ear down by her bikini line, and I watched a few grains of sand fall into her navel. Maybe they’d still be there when her plane landed back in Munich. Maybe one of them would work its way inside her, and grow in our baby’s hand like a pearl. The wind swooped low and plucked Andrea’s straw hat off her face, and I jumped up to fetch it from the water. When I handed it back I kissed her the way a man ought to kiss his wife, though Andrea showed no sign whatsoever of wanting to be my wife.
“I’ll miss you.” She snugged the hat to her head. “I had a great time.” “I’ll miss you too. And your little friend.” I mock-pinched her belly and she checked her watch.
“We turn over, no?” Andrea was as punktlich and ordentlich as any stereotypical German you can imagine. Every fifteen minutes exactly we had to flip over, or roll on our sides like rotisserie chickens, to keep from getting too sunburned in any one spot—even though it was only March, and she’d barely see the sun again for months once she got home. She squeezed out sunscreen and rubbed it on my too-pale back. I felt like we were an old married couple, twenty years from now with our kid in college.
“Soon we go to the airport,” she said, her hair flopping sideways as she lay on her side. Ten weeks in Florida had made her blond almost to the roots.
“I hope it’s a safe flight.” “You know this flight. It’s a safe flight.” After that I didn’t feel like we were an old married couple anymore. I felt like we were strangers who could barely communicate, who had no business reproducing. In an hour I’d be driving her to the airport and wondering who the hell she really was. Holding her bags while she got her boarding pass, walking her solemnly to the security line. Giving her one last kiss before she put her purse and shoes through the X-ray machine and disappeared until the “someday” we promised to see each other again. She wanted to be pregnant awhile, maybe even have the baby, before she figured out what to do about us.
“We see what happens,” she always told me whenever I brought up the future. Which at least was consistent, since we’d never once planned anything. She’d been best friends with Bianca, the German girl I was dating last year, and on Christmas Eve in Munich she told me it was obvious to all their friends that Bianca and I didn’t really love each other. Two days later Bianca dumped me on the way to the airport. Four days after that Andrea called to say she’d been laid off and had time to travel, and had always wanted to see America. Could she start her vacation in Tampa? See the ocean? By Martin Luther King Day, she was sleeping in my bed. By Valentine’s Day, she was pregnant.
And through all this, nothing surprised her. Andrea never freaked out, never asked herself questions like “What do I really want?” or “Where’s my life going?” American questions, she called them. I wanted to surprise her just once, do something that would really drop her jaw. The closest I got was when I asked her to marry me and stay in Tampa, but that got me only wide eyes, a kiss on the cheek, and a sweet laugh. I didn’t ask again, though I thought about it hard as we broiled on the sandbar, an hour before she said goodbye.
“I’m getting fat,” I told her the next time we turned over.
“It isn’t good having no fat.” Andrea knew this definitively because she was a nutritional nurse. She spoke about food the way a Prussian general might speak about his troops—efficiency, maximization of benefits, prevention of loss. She had a poor professional opinion of my favorite restaurants, and found me new ones. “Too-skinny people can’t fight diseases.” “Thank you, Doktor Andrea.” “I would be a very good doctor,” she declared, settling down on her beelly.
“Isn’t that bad for the baby? Laying like that?” “You worry too much about the baby. I like some here, please.” She patted herself on theeeee small of the back, so I knelt beside her and rubbed the sunscreen on, sliding my hand under her waistband and tickling her tailbone. That’s how things started the night I got her pregnant, and I wanted to do it all over again—knowing it this time, planning it.
“Danny, we’re in public.” Andrea tried to swat my hand away.
“What public? We’re fifty yards from anybody.” She clucked her tongue three times and pointed to the other end of the sandbar, where a mother and daughter emerged from the water. The mom had on a blue one-piece racing suit, with thighs as big as a bike racer’s bulging out of it. Her daughter was a preschool blur of pink and ponytails. They looked at us briefly, not waving, then kept walking. Probably locals, who knew just how far out you can walk if the tide’s right.
“Maybe I am like her one day,” Andrea said.
“Don’t let your legs get so big. Please.” “I mean maybe I have a daughter like her one day.” She turned over on her back even though our fifteen minutes hadn’t elapsed. “I wish I could be in Germany now, then I have sun on my breast.” “It’s breasts in English, two of them.” “Danke.” She smacked me a kiss.
“Bitte.” I blew one back. “But in Germany you won’t have sun until July.” “Ha!” Andrea playfully snarled up her nose at me. I rolled over too, and watched the super-athlete mom walk through the water with her daughter. There was no husband in sight—maybe that’s what Andrea meant when she said she’d be like that woman someday. After all, I might not be there the first time she took our baby to the beach, and I could hear them talking in German about why daddy lived so far away. I listened hard to their imaginary conversation, hoping to learn something, but the German got too fast for me. Our baby was a girl at first, like the kid in the water, then a boy. It kept flipping, never settled.
“I’m doing it.” Andrea slipped off her bikini top. “It’s only one hour. They can arrest me into jail.” This time I didn’t correct her English. I resisted the temptation to give myself one last look at her topless torso by pretending I was on a German beach where nobody bothered noticing such things, then by digging my hand underneath me to poke around ...