"I didn't get my period," she said. Why had she just blurted it out like that?
He looked at her carefully for a moment, as if willing himself to recognize her. "How late?"
"Too late. Thirteen days. You know I'm always on time."
On one wall of their home, Frida kept track of her cycle. She wrote with a chalky stone, sharpened to a point with the paring knife. She'd learned the system from Sandy Miller, who said she'd served as her own midwife for her two children. Frida liked the tallies and the circles, the order of it, how the body adhered to some invisible system. She sometimes called herself a hippie, told Cal she had an intimate relationship with the moon, but they both knew she took the record very seriously.
"Pregnant?" he said. He could barely get the word out.
"Maybe." She paused. "Or there's something wrong with me."
After they'd met the Millers, she and Cal had thought perhaps having children would be all right. Jane and Garrett breathed easily in this world and didn't want for anything, had no idea there was anything more to want. Maybe it was Frida and Cal's destiny to be parents. They even joked with Bo and Sandy about their families joining, as creepy as that sounded. Their children would mark the beginning of a new and better species, start the world over.
But Frida kept getting her period. And they made love all the time. Sometimes their lust was unquenchable, and sometimes they were just bored. Sex was the only fun, the only way to waste time. It replaced the Internet, reading, going out to dinner, shopping. The universe had righted itself, maybe. Still, no children. Now that the Millers were no longer around, Frida had begun to think it was for the best.
"So that's what's been bothering you," Cal said now.
She nodded. "Maybe it's just a nutrient I'm missing."
"Meat," he said, and nodded to his half-dug hole.
"I feel okay. I'm fine."
"You think August has a test?" he asked.
She laughed. "I doubt it. Eventually, I'll know one way or the other." She brought her hands to her stomach; it was still flat. "But maybe he knows a witch doctor. He could bring her over here."
This was a thing Frida liked to do: try and figure out where August traveled, and with whom else he traded. On his first visit he said he lived "around the way" and gave them a look that meant he didn't welcome personal questions. Short of following him, which they had promised never to do, there was no way of knowing where he went in the month they didn't see him. He refused to provide any clues. He had once told Frida, "I'm warning you, don't be nosy. I don't serve the curious."
"When he comes," she said, "make yourself scarce. Go forage or something."
Cal thought about it for a moment. "He does like you better."
"And if I tell him our situation "
"He'll at least give you a deal on the garlic."
They fell silent. Somewhere, far away, but not so far off, a bird began to call.
"What if you aren't sick?" he asked. "What if you're"
"I can't even imagine it "
She suddenly thought of her parents. Hilda and Dada, they called them. As if on cue, she thought of Micah, too. Dead five years.
"Hey," Cal said. "Don't go there."
She smiled, and he helped her to her feet. She took note of how careful he was being, how tightly he held her hand. Already, she realized, he thought of her differently.
Frida had imagined a child inside of her so many times, it was a wonder she had never given birth to one. She had felt her hips expanding, conjured morning sickness and swollen breasts, and sent love to an imagined fetus: fingerless and translucent, its heart glowing in its chest, tiny but there. Frida knew better and, in fact, often wished away the baby she had imagined. And maybe the wishing worked, because she never was actually pregnant.
Excerpted from California by Edan Lepucki. Copyright © 2014 by Edan Lepucki. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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