Dori’s options are limited. Fearful that her doctor will decline to oversee an illegitimate birth, or that she’ll be forced into a hermitlike existence until the child is born, Dori confides in her married best friend, Celia Duke. Surprised by Celia’s confidence and support, Dori decides to confront her predicament head-on.
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About the Author
Laura Z. Hobson (1900–1986) was an American novelist and short story writer. The daughter of Jewish immigrants, she is best known for her novels Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), which deals with anti-Semitism in postwar America, and Consenting Adult (1975), about a mother coming to terms with her son’s homosexuality, which was based upon her own experiences with her own son. Hobson died in New York City in 1986.
Read an Excerpt
The Tenth Month
By Laura Z. Hobson
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1970 Laura Z. Hobson
All rights reserved.
The moment was to stand out forever in her memory. There she stood, alone and naked, thinking of nothing except the minutiae of the bath, toweling herself dry, gazing idly about the warm steamy room, then at her image in the long panel of mirror in the closed door.
Her breasts looked fuller. She had gained no weight, but her breasts, always small, looked fuller. Below her navel, there was the faintest globe of fullness too.
She stood motionless, staring. Had the years of longing fused into some betraying lens of illusion? Or could it be at last the moment she had imagined so many thousand times?
She stepped closer to the mirror, looking away for an instant, then suddenly back to her image as if to trap something before it could escape. The same impression, of a most hesitant distension, tentative, a curving outward thrice over.
Oh God let it be true.
She stood, searching the glass. She saw the tight-muscled body of a girl, but she was forty. She saw the lifting spheres of a virgin's breasts but she had been married and divorced. She had never remarried and if this were true—oh let it be true.
She moved a step closer to the mirror but this time she looked only at her face, her eyes, too eager now to be her ordinary brown eyes, at her mouth, compressed now as if to clamp down on any word of pleading, and therefore not her ordinary mouth either. Then swiftly she looked again at her body and suddenly laughed aloud, as a child laughs.
She flung her arms wide and the towel billowed out behind her like a sail caught by a gusty wind.
Don't. It'll probably be all over by morning.
She let the towel drop and went to her telephone. It was late afternoon and Dr. Jesskin would not be there, but his two nurses knew her and when she said, "This is Theodora Gray, could I possibly see the doctor tomorrow morning?" she was given an appointment at nine thirty.
"I'm working you in," Miss Mack said, "so if you could get here a few minutes ahead?"
"Of course I will. And thanks."
She held on to the crossbar of the telephone after she had put it into its cradle, gripping it as if at a lever to propel herself into action. What she wanted to do was lie still, silent, commanding her mind not to leap ahead, yet yielding to her mind's rebellion, and for a while go on regarding this possibility as if it were already fact.
But it was nearly six and she was being called for in half an hour, for dinner and then a concert. She had been looking forward to the evening with eagerness, that special insistent eagerness that came from extended periods of loneliness. Loneliness came only at long intervals, but then it lasted a long interval too, like the changing of the seasons, never sudden, never over in a day or a week. There was a foreboding first, of the advent of another spell, like the lowering of a sky as the barometer drops and the winds gather, and then when the sun went, there was the knowledge that the bleak darkness would remain and remain and remain.
She hid these bad times, with success now, unlike the first year after her divorce when she could not possibly have fooled anybody, but the effort was still depleting and destructive and she always emerged as if from an illness, unsure of herself, except for her work, wary, yet eager for new people, for all people. Friendships that she had let lapse were picked up again, and new friendships welcomed with a readiness she for one knew was excessive.
She had accepted a date for the concert from a man she scarcely knew—had that alacrity seemed excessive? She had met him only the week before, at Celia's, and because it was there, it was easy to get talking about music; she had thought he might be involved professionally with music as Celia and Marshall Duke were, but he turned out to be a lawyer. His name was Matthew Poole; he called himself Matthew, not Matt. She liked the name that way, uncondensed. Her own name uncondensed was pretentious; Dori made it usable.
She still signed her pieces Theodora V. Gray, and though she was not one of the big names in the newspaper world, there was enough value in her by-line to make it foolish to consider changing it. Dori Gray in print would look cozy or cute or chic like Suzy Knickerbocker and her special pieces were not even remotely related to the cute or chic nonsense so many editors parceled off as the special province of their women writers. She had never considered going back to her maiden name ("I'll decide what to do about my name when I marry again") and by the time she began to see that she wasn't one of those women who remarry easily after a divorce, so much equity had been put into the name Gray by her own effort that she felt she had earned her own title to it.
"Haven't I just read something of yours?" Matthew Poole had asked when Celia introduced them. "In a magazine?"
"The Spock piece. I don't often do anything political."
"That's the one." Suddenly he added, "'Dr. Spock Brings Us Up Short.'"
"You remembered the title."
"Half my cases right now are conscientious objectors."
She always felt drawn to, and safer with, people who were what was so scornfully called "liberal" these days by the extreme left. She was used to the scorn of the extreme right, but this new scorn was harsher. She had never been very good at talking politics; she got furious at the camouflaged racists who were such devotees of law and order, and at the black-power toughs who talked so glibly about shooting whitey, and at the doctrinaire Communists who went livid over free speech in New York or Washington but remained sublimely untroubled by jailing or shooting of dissenters in Havana or Moscow or Peking.
Matthew Poole had shown himself more controlled when they had talked of these things. It was odd that she could remember this part of their talk that day at Celia's but not how they had got around to the concert. She was glad he was a lawyer and not a writer or editor or newspaperman. She always liked meeting people not connected, however tangentially, with deadlines and early editions and newsbreaks. The Press—capital T, capital P—was an ingrown world where you were too close too often to the same people, covering the same stories, eating in the same restaurants near the paper, falling in love with the same men in a kind of inky incestuous turn and turn-about. She had from the first made it a point never to get involved with any of them; not once until last year, during the endless newspaper strike that had finally killed off her paper and made her for months, as Dick had said, "a press orphan"—
For the first time since the mirror she thought of Dick. Dick Towson. If this were true, what would Dick do? How would he take it, what would he say, what would he feel? They had been drifting apart, without rebuke and without misery, amiable toward each other as they had been before he left on his assignment in Vietnam, and though she had felt the same apprehension anybody would feel about his going into the danger of battle-reporting, she had almost welcomed the trip, as he probably also had, as a most tactful Finis to their dwindling affair.
"By Dick Towson." It was a by-line known in dozens of newspapers the country over, the by-line of a first-rate reporter with a brisk, vivid style. If it was by Dick Towson, it would never be dull.
She glanced toward the open door of the bathroom, the blank mirror now reflecting only the edge of the tub and a strip of flowered wallpaper above it.
Unexpectedly she laughed again. If it were true, it would be "by Dick Towson."
On her dresser a small clock chinked six times and she jumped up, reaching for her underthings. As she drew her thin girdle up over her knees she suddenly stopped and, hobbled as she was, crossed the room to her low dresser. The beveled glass cut her off at mid-thigh, but above, embedded within the jut of her hipbones, was again that tentative orbing.
The concert turned into background music for her thinking, which meant that as a concert it was a failure. Usually she listened to music as she read a book, note for note, as it was word for word on a page, skipping nothing, her mind never wandering. But tonight there was no stillness in her for listening, nothing passive and receiving, though it was good to be there and good to be there with Matthew Poole.
At dinner he had talked of himself and his family for the first time, of his two teen-age children, Hildy and Johnny, whom he spoke of with a pleased satisfaction as if they were good children to have, and of his wife Joan, elliptically and briefly as if there were some disaster there that had best go untold. And then he had turned the talk to her, putting the inevitable questions, not trying to sound casual as he did so, not trying to disguise them as small talk.
"I know you're divorced," he had said. "But I didn't want to ask around about whether you're tied up emotionally as of now, or reasonably uninvolved."
She was glad he hadn't tried to make it sound offhand. This sort of question never was. But what a time for it! What a time for her to get interested in somebody new. Sitting here, watching the baton, focusing on it as if its tip were the one solid point in a light swarm of fever and unreality, she half wished he hadn't been at Celia's last week. What a time! Tomorrow morning would be only the first step, a quick examination and then waiting for the lab reports. But she would be saying the words aloud to Dr. Jesskin, not just hearing them in her own mind, but really saying them out into the air: I think I am pregnant.
"Reasonably uninvolved," she had answered Matthew at the table, and had gone on to say too much about herself, about how she seemed to go through awfully long stretches of uninvolved, like some vexing stubborn anemia, how irritated she was at times to be making so little use of her so-called freedom, how she sometimes swore she was going to turn promiscuous and have affair after affair after affair.
She could still hear his amused "but." Now she glanced at him quickly and then back to the orchestra. He was absorbed in his listening, eyelids half lowered though not music-lover shut, his whole look one of repose and pleasure. She understood that; but tonight, for her, was something new. She tried again to listen as she always listened but the phrase "I think I am pregnant" went on repeating itself, a soft pedal-point against which the flow of sound went streaming by, rhythmic, mobile and somehow kind.
In the morning she was ten minutes early and the first patient had not yet arrived. "Then I might as well sneak you in ahead," Miss Mack said, as if she understood very well that this was no routine visit, no dutiful checkup. She opened the office door, said to the doctor, "Since Mrs. Reeves is late again," and withdrew instantly. She always remained in the examining room, with an obviousness that had always amused Dori. As if without this starchy and omnipresent chaperon no female patient could feel safe in the presence of Dr. Cornelius Jesskin. He was already preoccupied as she entered his office, reading his own notations in the folder opened and spread before him on his desk. She recognized it without looking at its slightly worn tab that would say Mrs. A. Gray, with the A crossed out and a T written in above it. Its last entries were over two years old; she had even been neglecting the annual Pap test.
The doctor had motioned her to the chair beside him and she waited until he looked up at last from his notes. Then in a rush she said, "Oh, Dr. Jesskin, it seems to me, yesterday I was having a bath and I—I think I may be pregnant. I think my breasts are a little different, and I began to think—I realized I might have skipped a period again. Do you remember when I began to be irregular about my periods? And then—"
"Just a moment," he said. "Suppose you start at the beginning, and tell me." He was looking at her carefully and she thought, He has to stay neutral, and then, making herself speak slowly, sounding almost docile, she began her recital once more.
He fingered the pen in his hand as he listened, not using it to jot down any note of what she said. His face wore no expression except his usual one of concerned interest, an intentness that shut out every other importance in the world except the one importance brought in by his patient. When Dori ended, he said, "I'll have a look at you soon, but tell me again when your skipped period, if you did skip, when it should have started."
He began to write and she gave him dates but again broke off and spoke in a rush. "Don't you remember the first time I skipped? You said it wasn't usual at that age, but that it did happen, and might again."
He searched his notes. "That would have been about when?"
"Two years ago. I was thirty-eight. In the spring, April."
He was nodding now, reading his minute, perfectly legible writing. She had gone to him then only because she was trained to go to doctors when the inexplicable showed itself, and it was inexplicable enough at thirty-eight to have no period for five weeks. "Early menopause," she had joked to herself, but might it not be some symptom of—of what? A tumor, a cyst, the first fearful sign of malignancy. You didn't ignore it; you went to your doctor and faced it fast. That time there had been not even a stir of hope that it might be this; it had been one of the interminable stretches of total doneness.
"Yes," Dr. Jesskin said, looking up from the folder. "You then returned to being regular. 'More or less' is the way you put it. You reported in by phone for four periods, then stopped calling in."
Suddenly tense she said, "You aren't going to tell me this may be just another skipped period?"
"I am not going to tell you anything as yet, Mrs. Gray. After I examine you, we will arrange for laboratory reports. But even before that, I think I should remind you of something you already know—we must remember it now—the possibility of pseudopregnancy. We see it, not very often, but enough to have to consider it. The menstrual break, the swelling of the breasts, even engorgement of the uterus. You know of such cases, do you not?"
Like a thin coating of sleet, his speech constricted and chilled her. "You told me, that other time."
He tapped the old-fashioned buzzer beside the phone and at once Miss Mack appeared.
"Mrs. Reeves is here now," she said.
"I'll see Mrs. Gray first."
Miss Mack ushered Dori into the examining room and indicated the curtained alcove where she was to undress. "He never likes it when patients are late," Miss Mack said fussily, "and this one always is. He wants to teach her a lesson."
That's not why, Dori thought. He also wonders if it could be true. She stripped quickly, not hearing Miss Mack's friendly babble, and then stepped back into the examining room. Again the table, she thought, again the stirrups, again the sheets draped so carefully over your raised knees as if it were immodest to let a gynecologist see your knees or thighs but sobriety itself to open the core of your body to him. The idiocy of the rules. Miss Mack always staying right through, just to be there.
Her heart began to pound. It was a new sensation, disagreeable and heavy. I'm afraid, she thought. Through the closed door she could hear the doctor speaking, on the telephone probably, leisurely, contained, the same Dr. Jesskin he always was. Suddenly she remembered her very first visit to a gynecologist, long before she had heard of Dr. Jesskin. She was afraid then too, but in a different way, the orthodox way. She was twenty-two, then, and she and Tony had just been married. Less than two months later, she missed her period. She was stupefied with unwillingness, with unreadiness. They hadn't even talked of children except as a vague possibility in the future; she was not ready to stop being a girl, to stop being the young bride, the girl reporter on the paper. When she was certain she was pregnant, she told Tony. He was unwilling, too. "We could stop it," he said. Filled with relief, she cried, "Oh, let's, till next year."
And next year had flown, and another and another and by the time she had sought out Dr. Jesskin, a specialist in sterility problems, had told him her history, she had faltered, "So you see I'm not sterile, Doctor, I'm not barren, I mean I wasn't, but this is the sixth year of our marriage and we've begun to be terribly afraid we can't ever have children."
Excerpted from The Tenth Month by Laura Z. Hobson. Copyright © 1970 Laura Z. Hobson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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