Why We Never Talk About Sugar

By Aubrey Hirsch       

The first story came out of Paris. A bloated brunette appeared in the paper under the headline: Woman Pregnant with Unidentified Object. I read it with my sister, whose own empty uterus kept her balled up on the sofa. Six months later, the headline read: Woman Gives Birth to Diamond Watch. By then, the strange pregnancies were everywhere.

While the details remained mysterious, scientists and poets agreed that reproduction had become divorced from sex, and now required only love. In the best cases, the things were small: a handful of fabric-covered buttons, a pair of jade earrings. But sometimes there was danger. A zookeeper in Montreal nearly died giving birth to a pair of Bengal tigers.

“Aren’t they beautiful?” my sister said, watching the cubs on the evening news.

“I don’t know,” I said. “We have to be careful now.”

I averted my eyes, focusing on a brass lamp I had never liked. We were all learning to be careful. New courses on “Safe Love” were added to the high school curriculum when a rash of teen pregnancies swelled little girls up with bean bag toys and pop CDs. “Not looking for love?” advertisers asked. “Buy this fair-to-middling book.” “Listen to our special mix of mediocre music.”

We kept our heads down. We quieted our feelings. We pulled back our wandering hands, put down forks.

Except my sister. One morning I walked in on her staring at a picture of her ex-husband, Alex, whispering, “I love you.”

“Stop!” I yelled. “What are you doing?”

“Didn’t I love Alex as much as those women love touch-screen cell phones?” She gestured to the birth announcements in the open paper.

I left. I wanted to help, but it was too risky to talk about love.

Doctors stopped looking for solutions. We learned not to love. Our flat bellies became a sign of our self-control. There were abortions, lots of them. At first, they were mostly for big things: palm trees, piles of fresh laundry, rocking chairs. But more and more women decided that the discomfort of pregnancy wasn’t worth it for a piece of fried chicken. There were still a few girls with strange shapes in their bellies and shame on their faces.

Finally, after five years, the number of object births dwindled almost to nothing.

My sister was one of the last. She became pregnant with a set of antique sugar spoons, like the ones our grandmother had. They jangled inside of her, poking her when she moved. Only when she lay on her right side did they nest quietly inside one another.

I waited in the hospital as she gave birth. They were small spoons; there wasn’t much pain. She showed them to me after the doctor rinsed them off—eight in all. Their scalloped edges gleamed in the flat hospital light.

Now she keeps them in a box in the attic. I polish them once a year so she doesn’t have to.

Aubrey Hirsch holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh. Her work has appeared most recently in the Minnetonka Review, Annalemma and the Summerset Review. She was also honored as a finalist in Glimmer Train’s Spring Fiction Open. She currently teaches creative writing at Chatham University and at Pittsburgh’s High School for the Creative and Performing Arts.