She was trapped in a state of liminality: there was before she was trapped in this house, and there was this house. She couldn’t imagine an after. She knew, truly, she only had herself to blame for being there but god, what had led to this point?
Actually, the answer to that question was also one she knew exactly – two days ago, she was walking when she noticed a girl go past, already showing heavily but still dressed in what was, by all accounts, a cute outfit. Inexplicably, Zofia felt a mostly dead instinct stir in herself and though she worried how her girlfriend might take this sudden announcement, she nevertheless turned to Mattie and told her, “I could do it, you know.”
“Do what?” Her companion’s attention mostly diverted by her mobile, Zo was not surprised to hear that she sounded distracted and hadn’t spotted the nicely dressed pregnant woman at all.
“I could be pregnant, like, if I could at least maintain a sense of style,” she started, her defenses rising when Mattie looked up from her screen to stare as though she had gained three extra heads. “I mean, I don’t want to, but I could, that’s the point. I could. And it probably wouldn’t be so bad, like if I had a girl – I could teach her feminist theory, raise her right – ”
“That’s what kids love, feminist theory.”
“I’m just saying, if I raised a kid, there’d be one less shithead in the world. That’s all.”
“I think you’d lose your shit within five minutes of being in a room with a kid.”
Zo didn’t have to reflect on Mattie’s statement for more than a second to realize she was right, and yet her pride was too strong to concede that just yet. “I could – probably – you know, handle more than five minutes. Like ten. I could handle ten minutes.”
She could feel her girlfriend watching her without looking, imagining the amused set of her mouth, her eyebrows raised in challenge. “You willing to put your money where your mouth is?”
“I don’t know, Matts, is this going to lead to kidnapping?”
She was relieved to hear kidnapping was not on the table; however, she was less relieved as Mattie smugly told her that her sister’s usual babysitter had caught the flu, conveniently leaving a temporary vacancy in the care of her niece, Vicki, aged five. Normally, Zo would have shrugged it off with a “life sucks, doesn’t it?” but now that she was backed into that corner, she had to prove her wrong. Besides –
“Whatever, I’ll just put her in front of the TV with a grilled cheese, it’ll be so chill.”
And that was how she came to be here, two days later and fully out of her depth when it came to her tea party improvisational skills. She had faced down the challenges of moving to a new country, to presenting her projects in school, but when Vicki Richardson went, “More tea, Ms. Lion?” Zofia blinked twice, looked at the stuffed animal in question and went, “Uh, yeah, sure.”
That had, essentially, been her approach to all of Vicki’s requests. When she noticed that Zo had a phone – take a picture of me!, Yeah, sure. When she asked to paint Zo’s nails, which were now a speckled approximation of a Barbie doll pink, more on her skin than her nails herself: Yeah, sure.
But she could see in Vicki’s scrunched up, irritated expression that her half-hearted acquiescence was not quite the answer she was looking for.
“I didn’t ask you, Zoey,” she yelled, “I asked Miss Lion!”
She cast a helpless look at the lion stuffed animal, as if it would suddenly answer and take her off the hook before this kid burst a fucking vein, then sighed when it only let her down.
“Right – sorry – my bad – ” Her hand came up to the stuffed animal’s back, tilting it forward toward the table and the girl. “Yeah, sure,” she answered in a slightly different accent, one she hoped passed for leonine.
“Nevermind,” Vicki huffed, shoving the fake china aside as she stood, “this is stupid.”
It is, Zo wanted to agree, but instead she slipped her phone out under the table like a kid in class, sending a text to Mattie reading: you win, I made her mad.