The Subway Bride by Meg Stivison
Yeah, I am Subway Bride! How did you know? I didn’t think anyone down here would read the New York papers! We practically eloped, you know, I’m thirty-four and Charles is going to be forty, and once we knew we going to be married, there was no reason to wait. We called a few friends the night before, and got married at City Hall. It almost didn’t happen, on account of Charles having a baptismal record and not a birth certificate, but it got sorted out eventually. It was just Charles, me, my friends Jake and Katie, and Charles’ friend Thompson, and even the city clerk stopped looking sour and bored, and got excited for us!
We all went for a few low-key drinks afterwards, but when other people heard that we’d just gotten married — how could they not, with Charles and me calling each other Husband and Wife and laughing uproariously — some folks bought us rounds of drinks and some others drank toasts with us, and that’s why we thought it would be a good idea to do that ridiculous returning-sailor kiss on the subway back home.
So then we were married, and about five minutes later, Charles brought me down here, where I met his family, and first, let me tell you about my husband. Charles is a smart guy, and really well-read and well-spoken. He’s funny too, with a quietly understated humor. And he’s artistic, even though he downplays it with Southern modesty. He’s romantic, too. And really handsome — oh, right, you saw the Subway Bride photo.
He says he’s from Liberty City, North Carolina, but actually we drove straight through town — honestly, can you call a couple shops and a traffic light a town? — and out the other side, to a trashy trailer park and then to a trashier, dirtier trailer park, and then we pulled up at the unkempt side. I got mud all over my practical ballet flats and skinny jeans just picking my way through the overgrown lawn from the truck to the trailer. His mom opened the door in a housedress and slippers and the whole time we were there, everyone’s chainsmoking and flicking ash on things.
My new in-laws are friendly enough, but of course, I feel like they’re all watching me and sizing me up, which is exacerbated when some of Charles’ extended relations just happen to stop by. His brother Bobby, and his aunt, whose real name is Patsy Jo Ann, — I am not making this up — both live in the same park.
Someone asks me what I do for a living, and I tell them I’m a Brand Image Visionary, and then there’s a silence, so I explain that I’m a consultant for tech startups who have solid business plans, working tech and good usability, but disappointing sales, and then I come up with a new name and new branding for them. I’ve been very successful at it, actually, I think it’s because I screen my clients carefully. I’m good at what I do, but a new name can’t save everyone.
There is a long pause after that one. Finally Charles’ father asks if I’m a professional namer.
“There’s a bit more too it than that,” Charles says, which is good because making up names does sound like a stupid hipster career. “She’s the best.”
Charles’ mother, Agnes, says through a haze of grey smoke, that some of them new companies up Raleigh way are going to need names, too. I miss New York a lot right then.
I slip out just after dinner, and go around the corner of the trailer, to call Jake, my best friend in Brooklyn.
“How’s the south? Thumped any bibles today?” Jake likes Charles, he was one of five guests at my wedding, he actually witnessed my marriage license, but he’s gets twitchy when he gets too far from Manhattan. I was that way, too, before I met Charles.
I tell Jake about Charles’ parents, Aging Elvis and Mama Boo Boo, and how they literally live in a trailer with weeds and broken-down cars in front, and that my sweet and well-spoken Charles is clearly a changeling baby.
It feels good to get it out, and to have a laugh at the strangeness I’ve wandered into, but as I’m telling Jake that I think Charles is a changeling baby, my new mother-in-law comes around the corner and I think she might have overheard. I tell Jake to give my love to the rest of the shtetl, and hang up.
Mama Boo Boo — I have got to stop calling her that, it’s going to stick — Agnes has been really kind to me, so I feel terribly guilty if she did hear me say that Charles is so amazing he can’t possibly be her child. Right after I got there, she dug the family Bible out — did I mention this trailer was just crowded to the roof with piles of junk? — and drew a horizontal line from Charles’ name on the family tree, and carefully wrote my name in. It felt so ancient, so medieval, but Charles seemed so comfortable with the whole thing and I tried to be too. It seemed just as binding as our papers at City Hall. Actually more so.
And then next time I saw Charles’ family, we were telling them about the baby! I thought it would take me much longer to get pregnant than it did. Charles and I were both so delighted, we’d wanted to start a family, and I’m already thirty-four, so it had better be sooner, rather than later, you know? With all the risk factors over thirty-five. But this is already my second trimester, and I haven’t had even a minute of morning sickness.
Mama Boo Boo was almost as excited as I was, she even dug out Charles’ baby book for me.
Later, in our apartment, taking my required rest for aging mothers-to-be, I flipped through the baby book. It was pretty beat up, but Mama Boo Boo had carefully affixed his newborn photo, and written Charles Michael Stone, First Son of William Ray Stone and Agnes Cleary Stone, 8 pounds 7 ounces. He was born at home, with his mother’s sister — Patsy Jo Ann — and his father’s mother and someone called Aunt Maybelle attending. Then Agnes had written in all his measurements, and cute milestones like when he smiled first. His first giggle. The first song she sang for him. She snipped a few strands of baby hair, too. I think she wrote down everything he did for the first week of his tiny baby life.
The rest of the baby book was filled in in blue ballpoint, start to finish. I had a strange feeling it had been completed in one sitting. In the newborn picture, the baby looks like a miniature, brown-eyed Old Elvis. Charles has blue eyes. I know sometimes a baby is born with blue eyes and they darken later, but I’d never heard of the opposite happening. It isn’t natural.
Now I understood why Charles was just a little bit smarter, quicker, and more handsome than any other man I’d ever met. He’s going to stay amazing, too. This isn’t some infatuation that’ll wear off, or some stupid whirlwind romance, my husband really is just a little bit better than other people. And he’s my husband! Mine! Soon I’ll have a baby that’s half Charles and half me. All mothers think their baby is special, but this one really will be.
No one’s going to take this baby, I won’t let them. A Manhattan hospital might protect me. An open pair of scissors in the delivery room might work, I think that’s why Agnes left them over here. But I’m not taking chances on might. When you read about it, it sounds at first like Christianity or holy water or something protects little babies from changing, but I know that a baptism is really just a naming ceremony. And I already have the right name in mind.