"The Fifth Quimester"
by David M. Fitzpatrick
One day, out of the blue, my eleven
year-old daughter looked up from her crossword puzzle and said, “Mom, does
a boy have to put his thing inside you for you to get pregnant?”
It caught me off guard, but it wasn’t a
question any parent shouldn’t expect. I was doing the dishes at the time
and almost dropped the glass I was scrubbing, more out of nervousness than
surprise. I held my composure and let her know that yes, that was the
case. Although I enjoyed intimacy with my husband, I had always suffered a
psychological block about the act of intercourse, which made me terribly
nervous even after twenty-four years of marriage; so I suppose that’s why
I was unsure how to proceed.
So I launched into a humorously
stammering account of the requirements for pregnancy to occur, trying to
sound strong and sure and not pass on any of my hang-ups to her. She
listened, head tilted, ballpoint pen dancing back and forth lazily in her
hand, as I struggled through embarrassing words like penis and vagina and ejaculation and semen, until I was sure she had gotten the idea.
She went back to her crossword puzzle and
I to my dish duty. We proceeded in silence for a few hour-long minutes,
until thoughts started orbiting about the center of my mind like whizzing
planetoids about a collapsing star. I turned back to her and said, “Penny…
what made you ask me that?”
She looked briefly up over the rims of
her glasses and gave one of those pre-teenager half-shrugs. “Cuz I didn’t
know.” Back to the puzzle she went.
It was my duty as a mother, I supposed,
to pursue the matter, so I pressed onward. “Of course, honey, but… what
sparked the idea?”
She looked back at me, silent, curious,
blue eyes studying me. I felt suddenly like a mouse in a cage. She didn’t
seem about to answer me, so I said, “I mean… are you interested in a boy?”
My heart stopped in anticipation, and so
did my breathing, and it seemed a dynasty before she finally took a quick
breath and said, “No, mom. I was just wondering how girls get pregnant.
Mary Ann Beasley said it’s when a boy French kisses you.”
The relief was like a two-ton iron hat
suddenly antigravitating off my head. I drew in some much needed air and
smiled. “Oh, no, Mary Ann Beasley is very wrong. There’s much more to it
“It sounds gross,” she said, and once
again the puzzle was her reality.
Relieved, I returned to the dishes; but,
somehow, I still felt like a mouse in a cage.
She came home from school Thursday
evening with a sealed envelope containing a note in the neat handwriting
of her teacher:
Dear Mrs. Callahan,
Although I am sure it has to do with
her recent lack of sleep, and will pass, I thought you should know
that Penny has been asking a lot of sexuality-oriented questions.
I’m sure there’s nothing to be concerned about, but perhaps we could
discuss this sometime soon.
I called her right away. Penny had failed
her first test in two years the day before and had been caught falling
asleep at least once a day all week long. I assured her my daughter went
to bed at nine every night and slept soundly until seven the next morning,
which seemed like enough. Nothing strange had reared its head from my
It’s amazing how we take our own
perspective as the whole truth, and never consider the possibility that
there’s any sort of illusion going on through which we can’t see.
The first question had come Tuesday during Science. The class had been
discussing how plants reproduce when Penny had raised her hand and said,
“People don’t reproduce by French kissing,” and then launched into the
detailed explanation of intercourse as I had explained it to her.
Mrs. Barnes had been surprised; to fend
off any upset parents, she halted Penny’s lecture. But that was just the
start. Later, Penny had come to her privately and asked whether or not
vaginal penetration was painful. Mrs. Barnes had been uneasy, but having
known me quite well since my son Sam had been her student years before,
gave her a truthful answer.
It didn’t stop there. On Wednesday she
asked the teacher how long a baby had to grow inside you, followed by the
question of how the baby got out. Questions about pain followed that
answer. Mrs. Barnes continued uneasily, thinking she would call me if any
more questions came up, and certainly make a note to catch me after church
On Thursday morning she wanted to know
how a man’s penis was shaped, whether it was as long as a twelve-inch
ruler, whether it was supposed to have bumps and nubs covering it, and if
purple was a normal color. That was when Mrs. Barnes had drawn the line
with the questions.
“I told her that she needed to keep
questions about sexuality out of school, and that you were the person she
should talk to about those things,” she told me. “I’ve known you a while,
as well as her, and it didn’t seem like anything sinister – it was really
just curiosity. I remember when I was a little girl, I wondered about what
penises looked like, and since she was asking so many pain-related
questions, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for her to have imaginings about
the penis being some frightening thing. But I thought you should know.”
Of course I should know, but by then I
was scared. Cynthia was probably right; it was nothing more than curiosity
and nerves. But at eleven? Was my little girl considering doing something
with a boyfriend I didn’t know about?
Or worse – her description of length and
appearance of a penis conjured up images in my mind of some trench
coat-clad pedophile in an alleyway showing her some monstrous, diseased
organ. The image terrified me beyond all reason. It was something buried
inside me, on a level of pure instinct. It was clearly time for another
I found her upstairs in her room,
sprawled on her bed doing her math homework and swaying her upraised feet
about to the beat of some horrible bubble gum music. She looked up as I
entered her room. “Hi, mom.”
“Hi, honey,” I said, seating myself next
to her. “Penny… Mrs. Barnes is concerned about some of the questions
you’ve been asking in school.”
“She told me I should ask you those
questions,” she said innocently. “There’s lots I don’t know, mom.”
“Well, of course there is,” I said,
relieved a bit to hear her say that. “And you can always ask me or your
father anything about sexuality and we’ll answer you.”
She nodded and went back to her math
homework, multiplying fractions. I sat, uneasy, feeling the conversation
had been way too abrupt. There was a question I had to ask. I didn’t want
to hurt her feelings, scare her, or make her think I didn’t trust her; but
in the end, I’m a mother and a mother has to look out for her children. If
she was offended or hurt or anything like that, she’d get over it.
“Penny,” I said, forcing stoicism from
deep within and sounding as perfectly maternal as possible, “are you
planning to have sex with a boy?”
She looked up from her math and said,
“No, mom. But did you know that when humans are pregnant, it’s for about
nine months? They break the months up into three-month periods called
“I knew that,” I said, not knowing what
else to say.
“That’s a good fraction problem,” she
said, and then it was back to her fractions. I was left once again feeling
like something else was watching me – something outside of the illusion,
There were no further school incidents,
and she didn’t ask me anything else. It was I who began asking questions
ten months later when I accidentally walked in on her after she had just
gotten out of the shower. She had just turned twelve and I knew
menstruation was just around the corner, but bloating and water retention
be damned, her lower abdomen was puffed out like she’d swallowed a
football. My heart became slow and heavy, as if pumping cold molasses, as
the inevitable thought blasted through my mind. I stood there, frozen, and
she covered herself up in embarrassment. “Mom, you could knock first, you
I stammered through an apology, but once
again, some things had to be asked. “Penny… oh my God, honey… are you…” I
couldn’t even get the words out, but the fact that my eyes hadn’t left her
midsection, still obvious even though covered by the blue terrycloth of
her bath towel, left little to guess. She looked down at herself, as if
just noticing the shape, and smiled up at me.
“Geez, mom, chill out. You freak out over everything. What did you think, I was pregnant or something?”
Of course I had thought that! She began
to laugh then, tittering like the little girl I knew she was, giggling and
covering her mouth with one hand, trying to hang on to the towel with the
other. “It’s just a little extra weight, mom,” she said, adjusting the
towel. “I think I’m gonna start my period soon.”
I knew there was no way she was that
bloated, certainly not for her first time. Something was wrong with her. A
tumor, perhaps? A hernia? Any number of medical problems flashed through
my mind and I gripped the doorknob, trying to keep my balance. I tried to
reason with myself and keep the big question out of my mind, but how could
I have ignored it?
As if she were reading my mind, her
girlish grin vanished and she said solemnly, “Mom, chill out. I am not
having sex. I’m just a little sore. Deanna Jenson looked worse than me two
weeks ago, but she got her first and she deflated like a balloon. Do you
know where the hair spray is?”
Two more months passed and I found my
eyes constantly going to my daughter’s middle. She was always a loose
clothing person anyway, but when she sat just right I could see the bulge
of her gut. One night, my husband and I were getting into bed and he
brought the subject up rather succinctly.
“You think that kid is screwing around,
don’t you?” Jack growled in his inimitable male manner.
“Why on earth do you ask that?” I feigned total surprise.
“She looks pregnant. You’re worried she
I launched into a pre-rehearsed spiel
about bloating and water retention and women’s stuff he wouldn’t
understand and that I’d had plenty of talks with her and everything was
all right. It was very unlike him not to lose his mind in a stressful
situation, so since he didn’t, it was obvious he’d bought it all. I wasn’t
sure I did.
Month thirteen came and went without so
much as a hint of womanhood and Penny had gotten bigger. Not much, not
noticeable to anyone else, but I had been watching that middle like a
hawk. Why I was doing it, I didn’t know. If she said she was celibate, I
was sure she was; but I couldn’t help but keep thinking the worst. Was I
supposed to hold my breath and wait until she crossed the nine-month
finish line and dropped a grandchild on us? Forgetting the social problems
that would entail, the effects on our entire family, our relationships and
everything, would be so traumatic.
Just when I thought it was going to be
all right, she began to grow like a pumpkin right before harvest. The
fourteenth month after her questions had begun saw her belly double in
size. She was solitary, living in her room, not going out with her
friends, and the clothing was looser. The size increase was gradual over
that month, but one day it struck me that she was a whole lot bigger than
she had been a month before. I tried to accidentally walk in on her
several times, but she always locked herself in wherever she disrobed. I
did what I had to do.
I knocked on her bedroom door and waited
until I was granted an audience. She unlocked the door and let me in. She
stood there looking at me, wearing her favorite pair of denim overalls –
very loose-fitting. It didn’t hide her size to my searching eyes.
“Take your overalls off,” I ordered
without so much as a hello.
She sighed, rolling her eyes. I repeated
the order, firmer. She complied, slipping the straps over her shoulders
and dropping the outfit around her feet. She lifted her white shirt to
show me her belly, now twice the bulge as what it had been before. I felt
myself grow nauseous.
“You’re blowing this way out of proportion,” she said.
“Out of proportion?” I couldn’t believe
what I was hearing. This was more than a parent’s worst nightmare – it was
a nightmare within a nightmare. “You are pregnant… and I’m… blowing this
out of proportion?” The room was starting to slowly spin and tilt. I was
gripping her dresser to support myself.
She pulled her shirt back down and bent
over to pull the overalls up, grunting at the strain of bending over with
her belly like that. “I told you I wasn’t pregnant, mom. It’s better than
“Better?” I croaked. “How can you sit
here and lie to me like this? I’ve carried three babies, young lady… I
know pregnant when I see it. You’re pregnant.”
She shrugged indifferently, adjusting her
glasses on the bridge of her nose. “Okay, you can call it that if you
want. But it isn’t the same thing, mom. It’s not being pregnant. It’s just
a science experiment.”
“Just a science experiment?”
It wasn’t the reaction I had expected
from her father; I had figured he’d lose his mind. He was known for his
quick temper, but I could understand his different reaction on this one.
The situation commanded different methods of parenting than either of us
were used to; not to mention the raw shock factor alone was enough to make
us both blank with emotion.
Jack was strangely calm, for him, as he
stood, arms folded, in her bedroom. She sat on her bed, inquisitively
watching him. She was disrobed again, down to her yanked-up shirt, belly
hanging out over her little-girl pink flowered panties.
“This is extreme, Penny,” he said quietly
and in control. I had a feeling he was experiencing a mix of wanting to
wring her neck coupled with sadness for his little girl. I could
empathize. “Perhaps you could explain to your mother what possessed you to
“I didn’t have sex with a boy,” she said
for the fifth time that conversation.
“Then tell your mother what your
explanation is. Was it a man?”
“It wasn’t a human, it was an alien,” she
said simply, as if that were the easiest, most believable explanation. The
notion sent a wracking shudder up my spine. Nightmares from the darkest
sleeps of my life briefly screamed at me, then vanished. My anger took
“God damn you, cut that out!” I yelled.
“Cut this tabloid shit!”
She shrugged again. “You wanted to know.
I was offered right before I got in trouble with Mrs. Barnes for asking
questions in school. But he didn’t make me do anything. He left the choice
up to me and I needed to know more about it before I agreed.”
“More about it?” I felt near to collapse.
“He didn’t even do it like you said,” she
said to me, almost accusingly, partly bemusedly. “He did it with something
like a long eyedropper. So it didn’t hurt at all. But I would have done it
the other way ‘cuz it would be worth it for the experiment. He said I’d
carry the baby for fifteen months. I’m in my last quimester now.”
“’Quimester?’” I echoed.
“Five three-month periods,” she
explained, almost bored with the questions now. “Most physical growth
takes place in these last three months. A lot of brain development humans
don’t get. That’s why they’re so much smarter than we are. Can I get
I didn’t answer. Jack stared off into nothingness. Penny got dressed. I
wondered about perspective and illusions. My perspective was twisted and
the illusion was shattered. My daughter had been having sex and was
pregnant, and for whatever reason she had made up a bizarre alien story,
all matter-of-factly and, possibly, mentally unbalanced.
I pulled her out of school before anyone
could notice and immediately found the best psychologist in the city who
specialized in adolescent everything. Jack understood that these things
had to be done. Our insurance wouldn’t cover the excessive visits, but we
got her in for three two-hour visits a week. After the opening visit, a
four-hour ordeal for which we wrote a hefty check for his bulk of time,
Dr. Ferris told us that there was no doubt in his mind that Penny believed
she had indeed been impregnated by aliens and that she would likely
deliver after her fifteenth month. He was full of recommendations about
her psychological treatment, including possible psychiatric
hospitalization after the birth of her child; but first and foremost he
insisted we take her to an obstetrician that very day to confirm that she
was, indeed, pregnant, and that everything was all right. Twelve was so
young to be carrying, he said, that any number of things could go wrong
and we had to take all precautions.
I took her to the obstetrician. She
argued quietly on the way over. “You’re only going to scare everybody,”
she warned us. “No doctor is going to understand this.”
The man we saw was the best doctor we
could have chosen. Dr. Dale Gavin had been an obstetrician/gynecologist
and fertility doctor for forty years and had seen it all. Another healthy
check persuaded him to cancel his afternoon appointments and devote his
time to Penny. I briefed him on her story, which he regarded with a
bemused raised brow, and then he announced a barrage of standard tests he
He started with an ultrasound there in
his office. The moment he had a picture on his screen, I could see he was
concerned. His eyes went through a virtual dance of movements – first they
grew wide, then narrowed, then darkened, then widened again, as he studied
the image. Once he looked to Penny, smiling contentedly at him over her
big belly as he held the gel-covered paddle there. He finished, telling
her to get dressed, while he took me into his office. His face was a
creased mask of concern.
“Mrs. Callahan,” he said evenly, not
quite hiding the worry in his eyes, “we need to do an MRI on your
daughter, and right away. This will give us a clear picture of what… is
“What do you mean?” I said, forcing my voice not to crack. “There’s a baby
inside her. Is there any doubt of that?”
“Not really,” he said. “It’s what kind of
baby that I need to find out. All I can tell you right now is… things
I was too frightened then to ask what he
We went with him to the MRI lab. He knew
the head of that department personally, and the two men had a hushed
conversation in a quiet corner. Following this, the department head,
Jonathan Hughes, abruptly sent the whole department staff home for the day
and locked up the MRI unit.
Gavin introduced us and explained that he
had detailed Penny’s case to the man. The test was to be done without any
other staff due to the need to maintain our privacy.
“Your staff doesn’t maintain
confidentiality on a regular basis?” I asked Hughes, perhaps too curtly.
He didn’t have time to answer before
Gavin said, “This could be too much to ask of anyone.”
“It won’t do any good,” Penny spoke up from her chair in the waiting area,
and we all turned to her. “You’ll see it. You’ll be frightened. You’ll
want to get it out. It won’t let you..."
* * * * * *
No, it won't let her indeed... but
Penny's mother hasn't begun to suspect the truth...