Maternity Leave

Maternity Leave

Maternity Leave 1920 1281 Laurie Babcock

E  veryone in the office agrees, Emily is glowing.

She gushes and says it’s probably just the light from her Himalayan salt lamp. We swear to her, no, the glow is coming from within. She thanks us all, really, thanks. We’re all wearing blue shirts today because she’s having a boy. Bertie suggests we take an awkward family photo for fun. Emily sits in one of the uncomfortable chairs in the lobby, holding her baby bump regally, while we all stand stiffly behind her, one hand perched on the shoulder of the person in front of us. We all laugh collegially when Bertie emails the photo to everyone after lunch.

Emily has an app on her phone that shows the size of baby in each week of pregnancy. She diligently prints out a copy and posts it on her office door for everyone to enjoy.

BABY IS THE SIZE OF a chihuahua.

There’s some disagreement on the average size of a chihuahua. An online search tells us it’s between two and six pounds. Emily jokes about the size of her ankles and we tell her, they’re perfect. She asks if we think her ankles always looked this big and we tell her, no, not at all. She laughs and says she was just kidding. We laugh, too. She excuses herself to go to the bathroom for the eleventh time this morning.

Everyone in the office agrees, Emily’s chihuahua-sized baby is probably closer to six pounds.

BABY IS THE SIZE OF a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup plus a can of Crisco shortening.

There’s a heated discussion at Dave’s desk as everyone agrees the soup weighs 10.75 ounces and the shortening is six pounds, but no one can find the weight of the cans. Marianne offers to go buy one of each at the grocery store and weigh them at home tonight. Emily tells her not to bother, but Marianne says it’s fine, she’ll donate both to a food pantry when she’s done. Emily grabs Marianne by the upper arm and in a breathy voice, makes her promise she won’t bother. Something in her voice convinces all of us that Marianne should definitely not purchase a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup and a can of Crisco shortening.

Everyone in the office agrees, Emily has been pregnant for a really long time.

BABY IS THE SIZE OF a Wolf Gourmet 4-Slice Toaster from Williams Sonoma.

Bertie suggests Emily’s app is getting a kickback from some weird product placement agreement. Dave looks up the Wolf Gourmet 4-Slice Toaster from Williams Sonoma online and sees it weighs 10.5 pounds. No one thinks Emily’s baby weighs 10.5 pounds.

But everyone in the office agrees, Emily could go out early on maternity leave.

Our director tells her in staff meeting, we’ve got this, go now, we’ll be fine. She doesn’t have enough accrued leave. We offer to donate sick time, but then she’s worried about the workload. We can absorb the workload, it won’t be forever. She doesn’t want to abandon us. We won’t feel abandoned. She doesn’t believe us. She accuses us all of lying, of trying to stress her out, of illegally trying to fire a pregnant woman. We beg her not to believe that. She cries, she apologizes, she blames the hormones. We rally around her, we understand, it’s okay. She tells us she’s been so on edge, even at home. She laughs through her tears and says last night while making dinner, she was so out of it, she almost added ground-up glass to her husband’s meatloaf.

After our meeting, Marianne and Ashley decide to clean out the staff refrigerator. They toss everything except an ancient box of baking soda. Everyone in the office agrees, it was the right decision, and our director buys prepackaged sandwiches and small bags of chips for us. We have a little party in our conference room and Emily pulls out her phone to check the app.

BABY IS THE SIZE OF an adult human head, decapitated at vertebra C7.

An amused Emily asks if anyone knows the weight of a decapitated adult human head. We all agree, we don’t know. Everyone avoids eye contact. Emily asks again, her voice lower in her sneering mouth, if anyone knows the weight of a decapitated adult human head. We assure her, no one knows. Everyone stops breathing.

After lunch, Dave emails everybody except Emily that an adult human head weighs about eleven pounds, but is much heavier if decapitated at vertebra C7, as that includes the entire neck. Carleton reminds him that all university emails are subject to an open records request. No one replies, but we’re all thinking the same thing: we’re not worried about the media requesting Dave’s email, but we are concerned that Emily might.

Everyone in the office agrees, Emily should stop posting updates from the app.

BABY IS THE SIZE OF a statistically average two-year-old toddler.

Emily is in the office very early the next morning, watching us arrive. She looks a bit tired and her hair is uncombed. She’s wearing one earring and no shoes. She waddles a bit while patrolling our office as her ankles are now the same width as her thighs. Everyone closes and locks their doors except Dave, who works at a cubicle. We all phone his desk to check in on him through the morning.

At noon, Emily uses the emergency PA system to announce we are gathering for another awkward family photo. We shuffle forward. No one is wearing blue today and the mood is slightly darker than the first photo. As the timer on her cell phone counts down from ten, Emily tells us an adult human head, decapitated at vertebra C7, weighs seventeen pounds.

Emily emails the photo to everyone, along with a photo of her grim-faced husband holding today’s newspaper in front of his chest. When Emily goes to the bathroom for the eighty-seventh time, I overhear Bertie ask Aaron if he noticed the photo of Emily’s husband was only from the neck up.

We all hear the moaning from the bathroom but no one volunteers to investigate. When the moans turn to screams, everyone agrees we must do something. Dave draws the short straw. We give him some privacy to call his girlfriend and we pretend we don’t hear him tell her that he will always love her. Our director thanks him for his service and Dave enters the bathroom.

We hear Dave murmur and Emily yell. We hear him mumble and her croon. We hear him mutter and then there’s a loud buzzing. We stand silently frozen just outside the bathroom door. When we hear the thud of a grown man being felled like a tree, Marianne calls 911 and Bertie vomits in a trashcan.

Everyone who hasn’t fainted races to the front door but it’s locked. There’s a new update posted on Emily’s office.

BABY IS THE SIZE OF one of those giant Australian spiders, Marianne.

A trembling Marianne rips the sheet off Emily’s office door and tears it into confetti, then collapses. But there’s another sheet under it.

BABY IS THE SIZE OF a wriggling mass of snakes, Aaron.

Blubbering, Aaron grabs the sheet and stuffs it into his mouth as he falls to the floor and rocks in the fetal position.

BABY IS THE SIZE OF the underground wasp nest you fell into when you were seven, Carleton.

Our director delivers a blood-curdling scream as he crumples to the ground next to Aaron and slaps at his own face.

I rip the stack of sheets off Emily’s door. They are laminated and do not tear. I stick them in Emily’s shredder and run each through without looking at the words. I can still hear Emily screaming. I set the shredder on fire. The screams don’t stop. I see Emily’s phone on her desk. As Aaron and Carleton grip each other tightly on the floor outside Emily’s office, I lift her Himalayan salt lamp over my head and slam it down on the phone. Something black oozes out and burns a hole through the desk. Emily’s screams stop.

I’m the only one still standing, so I cautiously return to the bathroom, gripping the remnants of the lamp in one hand. Two EMTs are loading Emily onto a stretcher. They look at me in alarm and I catch my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I can see my braid has come undone, my shirt untucked and my eyebrows burnt off. The last of the salt lamp turns to dust in my clenched fists as I ask if Dave is okay. The EMTs tell me Emily was alone when they arrived. I warily approach the gurney and stare soullessly at mother and son.

Everyone in the office will agree, Emily’s baby looks like an angel.




Header photograph © Ali Motamedi.

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