Another perfect woman breezed past Rosemary. “You’re glowing!” Janet said over her shoulder as she crossed the room to add her silver-wrapped box to the mountain of gifts.
Rosemary smiled at Janet’s back and rested one hand on her bulging midsection. In the event of the Zombie Apocalypse, Rosemary thought, we can use the gift boxes as a barricade. She never used to think about zombies. That was Neal’s fault; he had a basement full of canned food, bottled water, and weapons. I know zombies aren’t real, he’d say, but what if they are? Carrying his child was affecting her mind. Rosemary smiled. She wished Neal were here now, even though she knew he hated this kind of thing.
Janet set her gift high on the pile and swept back to Rosemary. Janet was a one-woman floor show; every action was dripping with drama. She half squatted, half bent by Rosemary’s chair, knees together; she managed to make the awkward pose look elegant. Janet leaned in and gave her very pregnant friend a hug. Rosemary hugged her back, and both women did air kisses at each other’s cheeks. She kept it to herself, but Rosemary still found the air-kissing pretty ridiculous.
“You’re so beautiful, honey,” Janet said.
“I’m so fat,” Rosemary shot back, laughing. “But, thank you. It’s good to see you. How’s Rob?”
Janet made a face.
“I’m sure I wouldn’t know,” she said. Her voice was arctic.
They split up, Rosemary thought, again. Rosemary didn’t want to get roped into another lengthy discussion of Rob’s many faults, so she let it drop. Besides, everyone was here now. It was time to get the party started.
“Thanks, you guys,” Rosemary said, “for coming. Someone brought a forklift and semi to haul the gifts, right?” Her friends laughed. “And maybe another one for this!” Rosemary grabbed two handfuls of her belly. More laughter.
“Rosemary,” Gina raised her hand like a fourth-grader. “Is it a boy or a girl? Do you know?” The other women speculated in quick whispers.
Rosemary smiled. “I do know,” she said, pausing to draw out the suspense. “It’s a girl!” Some of them actually shrieked. Rosemary was covered in congratulations and hugs and quick kisses, and her nose was assaulted with nine different kinds of perfume. She had grown to love most of these women, but sometimes she still felt like an alien among them. Getting used to Neal’s family had been hard enough, but her new friends were a real challenge.
Rosemary had grown up near the bottom end of middle class. Her parents still rented an apartment; they probably could have managed a modest house by the time they retired, but didn’t seem to want the hassle. Neal grew up in a house the size of her parents’ whole building.
They probably would have never crossed paths if not for Neal’s love of theatre and Rosemary’s passion for acting. Neal saw her on stage and fell for her hard. Rosemary took some convincing, but Neal was so sweet and kind and thoughtful; he was also persistent and rich, neither of which hurt. Finally, he wore Rosemary down and she agreed to go out with him—just to shut him up, she’d told herself. Turned out that Neal was a lot of fun: he made Rosemary laugh and he made her feel beautiful, and that first date led to more. When Neal proposed nine months after they met, Rosemary was happy to accept. Now, she was about to have his baby, and she was surrounded by his friends.
Rosemary’s two closest friends from before her current life were both out of town, they said, sending their regrets. Rosemary wondered if they were making excuses because they felt uncomfortable with this crowd. Hell, Rosemary thought, I wouldn’t blame them. I know just how they feel. Still, she missed Tabby and Helena and wished they were there.
Gina brought Rosemary a small plate of goodies from the snack table, some raw carrots and cucumbers and a piece of chocolate. The candy was both bitter and sweet with a hint of orange; it was like nothing Rosemary had tasted, and she was on the fence about whether she liked it. Frankly, she’d rather have a Snickers.
For the next half hour or so, they played baby shower games, most of which Rosemary found cute, if asinine. The only one she enjoyed was the Tinkle in the Pot game, where a woman had to hold a quarter between her knees and cross five feet of floor to drop it in a mason jar. To be a good sport, Rosemary did it too; she made it to the jar, but completely missed the drop. The fact that Rosemary couldn’t even see her knees might have been part of the problem. That was pretty hilarious; Rosemary fell into giggling fits. She laughed so hard, for so long, she wondered if she would ever stop. Gasping for breath, Rosemary regained control; her cheeks were sore and she had a mild stitch in her side. Only one woman made it in, Beverly, and she nearly split her dress throwing her arms up in a V for victory.
Rosemary excused herself to go pee. Her bladder felt only slightly bigger than a quarter these days, and the laughing had made it worse. When she stood up, Rosemary felt light-headed. She held the back of her chair for a moment until it cleared. Gina gave Rosemary a look that seemed like calculated concern. Rosemary wondered what the other woman was thinking, but had more pressing matters to attend to. She had a pleasant buzzing in her brain that made the discomfort of her bladder fade. Still, she knew she’d better go soon or she’d have an embarrassing accident. After, she washed her hands and looked at her reflection for a moment. She really did kind of glow, though that may have been the fluorescent lights. She had a big goofy smile on her lips and wasn’t sure why.
Rosemary dried her hands and returned to the party. She stopped cold after opening the door. Her new friends—all thirteen of them—were naked. Their dresses and undergarments were neatly folded over chairs. Rosemary’s jaw dropped a little; she had no idea what to say or do. For a moment, she stared at the women. Rosemary took in their well-toned bodies, their Brazilian waxes, their perfect breasts. These were the best physiques money could buy. Finally, Rosemary found her voice.
“Um,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve heard of this game.” She smiled to show she could be a good sport. Gina stepped forward and touched Rosemary’s belly. Rosemary flinched. She was thinking, I’m in a room full of crazy people. But the normal, physical reactions—the increased pulse, adrenaline—were oddly absent. Rosemary felt detached from the weirdness in front of her, like she couldn’t bring herself to be more than mildly surprised.
“Oh, honey,” Gina said. “There are so many things you have yet to learn.”
Gina stroked Rosemary’s midsection with both hands. She leaned forward, her breasts resting on Rosemary’s own, her breath on Rosemary’s cheek. Rosemary was a bit stunned; she was in alien territory. She felt outside herself, and she couldn’t seem to make herself react to this properly.
“I’m not,” Rosemary began. “I mean, I don’t, um, like girls really. I’m okay with it; it’s just not for me, you know? No offense.”
Gina leaned back, eyes sparkling. “We’re not lesbians, silly,” she said. “We’re priestesses.”
Rosemary shook the cobwebs out of her head. She took a step back away from Gina and the other naked women and put a hand on her belly protectively.
“Let me guess: priestesses of Satan?” Rosemary asked. She thought she might already know the answer.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Gina answered. “Satan is a ridiculous myth fostered by early Christians to cast a poor light on the image of the pagan god, the Horned One. We are priestesses of Lilith.”
“Oh,” Rosemary said. “I forget who that is.”
“The real first woman,” Gina said. “Created as Adam’s equal. You know, before the chick from his rib showed up. Lilith left both Adam and Eden. She represents independence, feminism, righteousness; Lilith is the fire in every woman’s loins.”
“Right,” Rosemary said. “Sure. I knew that.” She smirked, but sobered when she saw the other women’s expressions.
“You’re skeptical,” Gina said. “Of course you are. I understand. But, my dear, sweet Rosemary, you have no idea. Neal has been groomed his whole life for this. He was chosen for his strong genes and was raised to understand his role. In turn, Neal chose you for your beauty and your passion. You will be mother to the new Lilith, my dear. And, when she grows up, the men of this world will tremble.”
“Neal?” Rosemary asked, trying to wrap her head around this whole thing. “He never said anything. Wait. Why are you naked?”
“Oh,” Gina said. “Yeah. That must seem odd. We just don’t want to get blood on our dresses.” She stepped to the table of food and picked up the carving knife, then wiped it carefully with a linen napkin from the hilt to the end of the blade. Rosemary stepped back, but two other naked women blocked the only door.
“Please,” Rosemary said. “I’ll join your coven or whatever. I’ll worship Lilith. But, please, don’t kill me or hurt my baby.”
This was met with silence. Then, Gina’s eyes widened. She laughed, and kept laughing, so hard she had to put her hands on her knees to stay upright. Rosemary wondered if Gina would accidentally cut her own leg with the knife. Then Rosemary thought that if she did cut herself, she could use the resulting confusion to escape. Finally, she got exasperated.
“Gina,” Rosemary said. “What’s so damn funny?” Gina got control of herself; she had the hiccups. It made Rosemary smile to see this naked woman holding a carving knife and hiccupping every few seconds. Rosemary idly wondered if maybe she was losing her mind.
“It’s for the umbilical cord, silly,” Gina said. “We cut the cord, tie it off and pass the baby around. Each of us will give her our blessing and we hand her back to her mother. You. Babies come out messy, and the most efficient way to clean off is to simply shower. I can’t believe you thought the knife was for you.” Every fourth or fifth word was interrupted by a hic.
“Well,” Rosemary said, hands on her hips. “You have to admit this whole thing is kind of weird. How did you expect me to react?” She felt her face get hot. It was the first normal reaction she’d had to anything in a long time.
“I’m sorry, honey,” Janet said from over by the gift boxes. “We keep forgetting you don’t come from money.” A few of the other women nodded, as if this explained everything.
“All rich people do this sort of thing?” Rosemary was incredulous.
“Yeah,” Gina said. “Pretty much. We bore easily. Okay, Rosemary. Please take off your hic dress so we can get started. I would hate to see it ruined.”
Beverly, a woman Rosemary had only ever spoken to maybe once, unzipped Rosemary from behind. The other women moved up to help, and pretty soon, Rosemary was naked too. She hadn’t been in the sun for months and her skin was very pale. Rosemary’s swollen breasts rested atop her distended belly; the muscles of her arms and legs were encased in fat and tight skin. She felt like an albino harp seal among eels.
“Here,” Gina said. “Eat this.” She held a chocolate truffle up to Rosemary’s nose. It smelled wonderful. Rosemary inched forward about to bite and stopped. She gave Gina the stink-eye.
“What is it?” she asked.
“It will induce labor,” Gina said.
Rosemary nodded. It was what she expected, but she wasn’t prepared for the honest answer. She was due in a week anyway, so it should be okay. What the hell? she thought and took the candy from Gina with her teeth. It was delicious. In the back of her mind, Rosemary understood that she was reacting too calmly to all of this. She wondered if she was in shock.
“How long do we…” Rosemary began, then she felt a loosening inside herself, a shifting. “Oh my god. That was fast.” The women around Rosemary helped her to a squatting position. Someone brought a big plastic tarp from somewhere and slid it under her. She lifted one foot and then the other so the tarp could be spread. Rosemary felt calm, despite the lunacy of the situation, and she wondered if maybe there was something else in that chocolate.
“Did you drug me?” Rosemary asked Gina. The other woman nodded. Again with the honest answer.
“Long time ago,” Gina said. “With that first chocolate.”
Rosemary wanted to be shocked, appalled, but couldn’t muster the indignation. Whatever they gave her let her think clearly, but made it so she didn’t much mind what was going on. Man, Rosemary thought, the street value of this stuff would be epic. Makes you feel at peace with the world. They could call it World Peace. She giggled, the sound seeming girlish to her own ears.
Rosemary felt her baby turn over so its head was down, as if it knew just how this whole thing was supposed to go. She felt her daughter move inside, straining against the too-small space to get out. It hurt like hell, but Rosemary was detached from the pain. Like she was watching a graphic movie of someone else giving birth and feeling empathetic twinges in her own body. A mess of fluid, blood, and placenta splashed out of her onto the plastic sheet. The women closest to Rosemary were splattered with gore. None of them seemed to mind, adding to the surreal quality of the whole thing. The pressure was intense, and real pain hit all at once. Then, it was over.
The tiny life, covered in white, pasty vernix was in Janet’s hands. Beverly attached a small orange clamp on the umbilical cord; it looked like the kind you might get at Home Depot. Gina severed the cord with a neat flick of the blade. Janet passed the baby to Gina, who held her for a moment, supporting her tiny head and then passed her on. The child was breathing, but silent. Finally, it was Rosemary’s turn. She had sat down in her own filth, exhausted, but still somehow okay with everything. She hoped this drug would last until she had a chance to sleep; she didn’t want it to wear off and have the pain and her normal reactions come back all at once.
Rosemary held her baby to her own bare skin. She felt that this was the way nature intended childbirth: naked and raw, and honest. Rosemary helped the girl’s tiny round mouth find the nipple and got her to latch on right away. The mother was filled with pride and love for her daughter. She forgot for the moment the thirteen naked women in the room.
“Welcome to the world, Lilith,” Gina said. The others repeated it like a prayer. It was a bit creepy, actually.
“What if I want to call her something else?” Rosemary asked. There was a challenge in her voice.
“Go ahead,” Gina said. “It doesn’t matter. It won’t change who she is.”
Rosemary looked at her suckling baby for a long moment. She gently stroked the miniature facial features. She has my ears, Rosemary thought. Thank God she didn’t get Neal’s. She smiled and looked up at Gina.
“Lilith is a fine name,” Rosemary said. She looked down again at her baby. The teeny girl cracked open her eyes; they were orange and had vertical pupils, like a cat’s. They were strange, those eyes—inhuman but beautiful. Rosemary knew that this was all crazy, that she was in the middle of something completely fucked up. She knew all that, but as she held her baby, her stunning little bundle of life, she didn’t care.
“Gina,” Rosemary asked without looking up, “will she really change the world?”
Gina and the other priestesses would groom Lilith to be powerful, influential, and charismatic. The tiny baby girl would grow to be a leader of women; if things went according to plan, Lilith would bring about the end of the patriarchy. There would, of course be resistance. There would likely be blood, and a lot of it. However, Gina didn’t want to burden the young mother, so she kept these thoughts to herself.
“Count on it,” Gina said.
“Well,” Rosemary said to her baby, “what mother could ask for more?”
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