Jared had to look at the invitation three times before he understood what it said. Even then, he wasn't quite sure he believed it. He brought it to his wife Deborah and asked what she thought.
"What the hell is a 'Pregnancy Termination party'?" he asked her.
"Oh, did we get Sherry's invite today?" Deborah responded, reaching out in anticipation.
"Is this like an abortion shower or something?"
"Sounds a little crude when you put it that way," she said. "It's just a way of celebrating the reversal of an accident. Not everyone wants a kid, you know."
"You aren't seriously planning on attending this, are you?"
"Of course. She's my friend."
"What do you bring for a gift? A bent coat hanger?"
Deborah gave an icy stare. "She's not a barbarian. It's not like this is some back alley procedure. This is a growing trend. If people can celebrate being pregnant, why can't they celebrate not being pregnant?"
"So do you bring a gift?" Jared asked.
"Of course. It is a party. She's registered at Bed, Bath and Beyond."
Jared glanced at the invitation again. "Do they have a specific registry for this kind of thing?"
"Don't be so dense. You can register for anything. Besides, you're being rude. She just wants to celebrate with her friends."
He looked up from the postcard. "Do I have to go?"
"Your name's on the invitation, isn't it?"
"So is this a couple's shower?"
"Well, they're both not having a baby, right?"
Jared shook his head and tossed the invitation on the table. "I'm opposed to the whole idea."
"It's her body," Deborah defended her friend.
"That's not what I mean." Jared threw his hands up. "You know I'm a fairly open-minded guy. But we're talking about celebrating nothing. We're not having a baby either right now, and you don't see us having a party for it. This is just a cheap ploy for gifts."
"But we didn't have to go through anything to not have the baby we're not having. They went through a lot. We can at least show our support. I think we should get the crystal set." Deborah pulled up the couple's registry on her iPhone and waved it in Jared's face. He stepped back to see the tiny screen.
"$75! You've got to be kidding."
Deborah pulled back the phone and glanced at the small picture. "Do you think that's too cheap? You know that's per piece, right. Should we get something else as well?"
"Too cheap! I would think a $10 paper towel holder would be sufficient." He grabbed the phone from her hand and scrolled through the registry. "This is insane. Everything on here is over $50. And what do they need all this junk for? Place settings for 12? It's not like they're adding anyone to the family."
She grabbed the phone back. "I'm ordering the crystal. I'm supporting my friend. And you're going to the party and you're going to put on a good face and be nice to everybody."
"Whatever," he said before retreating to his home office to check his email and research pregnancy termination parties. After a few minutes, he gave up his search and opted for some lesbian porn. If these pregnancy termination parties really were popular, they were secretly popular. Not like lesbian porn. That was widely popular, which pleased Jared immensely.
The party wasn't mentioned again until Deborah came downstairs one Saturday with a dress on.
"Where are you going in that?" Jared asked.
"What do you mean? We've got Sherry's party to go to today. It starts in an hour. Why the hell're you wearing that stupid cut-off t-shirt?"
Jared thought Deborah looked sexy in the dress, although he hadn't noticed this until she'd started nagging him. He didn't bother to tell her though. Deborah didn't seem to like it much when he told her she was sexy. Instead, he turned off the TV and went upstairs to put on what Deborah would consider "proper public attire."
"Is this okay?" he asked when he came down a few minutes later, wearing the nice jeans and orange polo she had picked out for him about a week ago, saying as she handed it to him, "This would look great at a party." He figured that was some sort of hint.
"No. That's not okay," Deborah said before she even looked at Jared. "You look like a bum. We're going to a special occasion, not a frat party."
Jared looked down and shrugged. He thought he looked pretty good, even if he had been skeptical of the outfit when she had first presented it to him. "Okay. I'll change. What do you want me to wear?"
"You're not a child," Deborah said. "You can pick out your own outfit. Just pick out something that isn't embarrassing."
Jared went back upstairs, his mind already made up what he would wear. He'd wear the same khakis and blue striped shirt he always wear when they went anywhere. The good thing was they so seldom went anywhere that it was likely no one had seen him in the outfit, or at least no one would remember seeing him with it on.
When he came back down a few minutes later, Deborah said, still not looking, "Do you have to wear that again? You wore that last time we saw Sherry?"
Jared put up a fight this time. "I haven't seen Sherry since before she got pregnant. There's no way in hell she would remember what I was wearing. And if she did, then she's superficial and I don't care what she thinks anyway."
"Does that mean I'm superficial and you don't care what I think?"
"Of course not. It's your job to make sure I look okay. You need to notice what I'm wearing. But Sherry doesn't have any business criticizing my wardrobe. Especially not in her condition."
"And just what is that supposed to mean?" The hands were suddenly on the hips, and Jared felt sweat droplets slide down from his armpits.
"I'll go change," he said, one more outfit on his mind.
When he returned a few minutes later in the same khakis and the orange polo he'd tried before, Deborah told him it was time to go. She didn't bother to say anything about how he looked, and he wasn't sure if she noticed that all he'd done was mixed the two outfits. He wondered if he could've come down in a clown suit with a giant dildo growing out of his forehead. Maybe she had a two nag limit on clothing choices. Whatever the case, Jared was just glad they were getting on their way, although he was still pissed off about the whole thing. But that was okay with him because he had a plan. Hiding his devious smile, he hopped into the car and headed for Sherry's party with his silent wife seated next to him, a stack of perfectly wrapped presents in her lap.
"How many presents did you get her?" he asked after they'd traveled a few miles.
"You mean 'we,'" she replied.
"Okay, fine. How many presents did we get her?"
"They aren't just for her, you know. They're for her husband too."
"Of course they are. I forgot they both weren't having this baby."
He waited for her to tell him what gifts they were bringing. After three blocks of silence, he spoke again.
"So I'm still unsure of this whole thing. Do they actually perform the abortion there?"
"No. Don't be an ignorant ass. Of course they don't. They aren't barbarians. This isn't some sort of animalistic ritual sacrifice to some crop gods. Sherry went to the doctor yesterday. It should be taken care of."
"How do you know? Have you ever been to one of these before?" He glanced at her, but she didn't return his glance.
"No. I've never been to one. I'm just sure they don't do it at the party. That's a private thing, after all. Have you ever been to a baby shower where the baby is birthed?"
Jared shook his head. "I don't get why we're celebrating. I'm not opposed to a woman's right to choose, but I don't see why anyone would go around announcing this choice."
"It wasn't just her choice, you know," Deborah said while shifting the gifts in her lap. "They both made the decision. Sherry said it was more Adam's decision than hers. Some married couples actually make decisions together, you know."
Jared glanced at her quickly, but her eyes were still glued to the road, ready to correct his slightest driving error. "Of course. I know that. I also hear that some wives don't nag their husbands about every little thing."
"Yeah. I've heard that too. And I've also heard the one about the husband who wasn't a complete dumbass."
The snarky back-and-forth was making Jared a little horny, but he knew it wouldn't be right to proposition his wife for sex on the way to a party that celebrated the lack of procreation. Maybe the feeling would still be there when they got home that night. Or maybe he could just jerk off in the bathroom at Sherry's party. He snickered at the idea of getting semen on the toilet seat and Sherry getting pregnant as a result. Even though it was just one of those silly urban legends, he couldn't help but laugh out loud at the thought.
"What the hell're you laughing at?" Deborah asked when Jared's snickering sent a stream of spit flying to the windshield.
"Nothing," Jared said. "Just thinking about some joke I heard at work."
"Well, keep it to yourself. I don't want you ruining the party with any stupid joke."
Jared laughed for a few more seconds, then the couple drove the rest of the way to the party in near silence. An occasional snort escaped Deborah's lips, usually followed by some type of chortle out of Jared's nose.
"Okay, we're here," Deborah said, announcing the obvious when Jared parked the car and turned off the engine. "Now remember to be nice. They've been through a lot."
"I thought they were celebrating."
"Well, yeah, but it's not like they won something."
"But I thought—"
"Never mind what you thought. Let's just get inside and get this party started." Her voice rose in excitement.
Jared tilted his head and stared at her in bewilderment, half expecting her to rip off her bra and twirl it around overhead. "Is this supposed to be fun or something?" he asked as they walked up to the porch.
"Of course it is," Deborah said. "It's a party. There's going to be presents and games and—"
"Are we going to play pin the dead fetus in the womb?" Jared asked.
Deborah punched him on the shoulder, the pile of presents slipping out of her hands and spilling onto the sidewalk.
"Look what you did," Jared said before Deborah could blame him. "The wrapping paper is wrinkled now. And look at that bow in disarray. We can't present these presents."
Jared laughed especially hard at his last line.
Deborah punched him again and told him to pick them up. "You better not embarrass me," she said, accompanying her words with her best death stare.
Jared didn't die. "Too late," he said, pointing to the front door where Sherry and her husband were standing, ready to open the door and invite their guests inside. Or ready to collect their loot, Jared thought as he bent down to pick up the gifts and help his wife save face.
“Congratulations!” Jared shouted with his arms full of the gifts. “I couldn’t be happier for you!”
Deborah shot him a look. He apparently was over the top.
“Yes,” Deborah said. “We are indeed happy for you.”
Jared handed the happy un-expectant couple the gifts and waited for their "thank yous" to be delivered. They took the gifts like piranhas with greedy hands but said nothing.
With mangled gifts in hand, Sherry and her husband welcomed the couple inside.
"You're the first ones here," Sherry declared in an honorific tone. "You can have a seat in the hearth room until everyone else arrives. There's drinks waiting for you. Please use a coaster."
Deborah smiled and led her husband into the hearth room.
"What the hell's a hearth room?" Jared asked when they sat down, looking around to see why it was so special. He didn't have a hearth room in his house, and he wondered why his room wasn't good enough for such a title.
"It's a room with a nice fireplace. Look how beautiful their fireplace is." She walked over to the fireplace and rubbed her hand along the bricks. Jared knew she didn't know what she was talking about, but he didn't bother to tell her what he knew.
"Oh, and don't be a jerk," she added after her inspection of the bricks seemed complete and satisfactory.
"What are you talking about?"
"Your tone out there was obnoxious. You don't have to mock them."
"I wasn't mocking anyone. I was just treating them like I would anyone else celebrating a momentous occasion." He looked around again. "Where the hell are those drinks they were talking about?"
"Over there," Deborah said, pointing to a big cooler.
Jared rose from the couch and glanced in the cooler. Nothing but light beer. "I'd rather drink piss," he muttered and flopped back on the couch.
"No one's stopping you," she responded.
"You'd probably say I was embarrassing you."
"It would be embarrassing if my husband starting drinking piss in front of everyone at a party," she said, staring at the doorway.
"Well, this is one hell of a party. I wouldn't want to embarrass you at such a fine event."
Before she could respond, Tony and Drake walked in giggling with their hands clasped tightly. They both wore plaid shirts and tight colored pants. Jared cringed at their flamboyance. He didn't care that they were gay, but they could at least wear normal pants.
"Deborah, Jared, wonderful to see you!" Drake shouted as he released Tony's hand and scuttled over to Deborah. He planted a kiss on each cheek and then turned and pretended to do the same to Jared.
"It's wonderful to see you too," Deborah said. Jared rolled his eyes at her false enthusiasm. He knew she didn't think much of them. He was convinced she actually hated gay people. She at least was against gay marriage, a topic that didn't bother Jared. As long as it didn't affect his ability to do anything, it didn't matter to him.
"So, aren't you just so happy for Sherry?" Tony said to Jared, plopping down on the couch a little too close for Jared's comfort.
Although Jared didn’t want to, he made small talk with Tony for a few minutes while the other guests filed into the room, carrying various gift bags and bottles of liquor. The room buzzed with happiness as everyone gushed over how great Sherry looked.
"Yeah, she looks great," Jared said, even though he didn't think she looked any better now than she ever had. He didn't know how far along she'd made it into the pregnancy, but surely not enough to gain any weight. Hell, he knew of women who lost weight during the first trimester. If anything, Sherry should look better now than she ever had before.
Just when Jared didn't think he could take all the nonsense anymore, someone announced it was time for the gifts. Apparently they were on a tight schedule. They had to make sure the gifts were all opened and the cake and alcohol was all consumed before some big finale.
"What's this finale?" Jared whispered to his wife, but she turned away from him with a terse "Shhh." Jared figured she was still mad about the supposed scene he'd caused upon entry. He was sure he'd hear nothing but nagging about that for the next month.
As much as Jared didn't want to be there, he was curious about what kind of gifts everyone had brought. And of course he wanted to know what the hell the big finale was all about.
The first few gifts were pretty boring. A gift card for a massage. A pair of comfy slippers. A gym membership. Jared had no idea what to expect at such event, but he figured the gifts would at least be fun. Soon enough, they were.
Everyone watched in suspense as Sherry opened a long box and pulled out a silver studded dildo. Jared's eyes popped at the sight of the massive phallus. It must've been over a foot long with the girth of a beer can.
"What the hell's she supposed to do with that?" Jared whispered to some woman's husband sitting next to him on the couch. The husband shrugged and glanced at his wife. She shook her head and the man said nothing in response to Jared. The man didn't even look at him again.
For the next dozen or so gifts, the crowd really went wild, laughing and applauding the great gifts poured upon the happy couple. Most of the gifts seemed specifically for Sherry, although there was a mega box of condoms that was arguably just as much for the husband. "Maybe we wouldn't all be here if they'd just thought to wear condoms before," Jared muttered to no one in particular. No one bothered to pay attention, if they heard him at all.
When all the gifts were finally opened, the cake was distributed and the liquor was poured. Everyone ate and drank in a hurry, and a sense of unease began to sweep through the room. Jared figured it was just the result of calorie counting and indigestion.
Before the last bottle could be emptied, the doorbell rang.
"He's here," someone said, followed by a few nervous oooohs.
One of the women rushed to the door while everyone else chugged the last of their drinks. When the woman returned a few moments later, a man wearing a white coat and carrying a black briefcase followed her. The guy almost looked like a doctor, but he looked more like a medical school dropout than an accomplished doctor.
"What's the doctor doing here?" Jared asked his wife, forming his fingers into air quotes on the word "doctor."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"Why is there a doctor here?"
"Are you being serious?"
"Yes. What the hell is going on? Is he going to examine her?"
She stared at him, and he felt dumb for some reason unknown to him, which made him feel even dumber.
"Well, what's the deal?" he asked when she didn't bother answering.
"He's here to do the operation," she hissed. "Now stop embarrassing me. Just shut up and watch."
"Wait a minute. You said they didn't do it here."
"Well, I lied. I knew you would object to the whole thing if I told you."
"You're damn right I would've objected. You mean he's going to do the abortion right here in front of all of us?" Jared squealed. Whereas his previous remarks were wholly ignored by the crowd, everyone stared at him now, many with glares of disgust.
Deborah slapped Jared on the shoulder. "What's the matter with you?" she yelled at him.
Jared stood up. "What's the matter with me? I'm not the one celebrating a live abortion. How can you people intend to watch this?"
The guests chattered their support for Sherry and their hatred for Jared. There were so many flapping voices that Jared couldn't really decipher a word.
Amidst the drama, the doctor popped open his briefcase and took out some menacing tools. "I think this would be better without him here," the doctor said while pointing a long sharp instrument at Jared.
"I don't plan to stay," Jared said as he began heading for the door.
As he walked out, he could hear Deborah's apologies. "I'm so sorry. He's just backwards. He doesn't understand the way the world is today. And he's had a lot of stress at work. He doesn't mean it. He—"
Jared decided he couldn't listen to her rambling justifications any longer. He stopped and began shouting without turning around. "There's nothing wrong with my view of the world. You’re the ones in the wrong." He swung around, an outstretched finger condemning all of the guests in a sweeping gesture. "I don't care what you do in the privacy of the doctor's office, but to invite people to this is barbaric. It's like you're turning this into a human sacrifice."
"I'm not sacrificing anything," Sherry said. "I'm actually liberating myself. I'm doing the opposite of sacrificing."
"Go ahead and think that if you want," Jared said.
"I have the right to think whatever I want. And I have the right to do whatever I want in my own home," Sherry said.
"Somebody get this asshole out of here," the doctor said while observing his collection of tools once more.
"No one needs to force me out. I'm out on my own." He looked at Deborah before he left. She was obviously mortified. "Don't expect to find me at home tonight," he said to her. "I can't be with anyone who involves herself in such a ridiculous event."
Deborah began sobbing in her hands and a group of women comforted her.
"We really must do this," the doctor said. "I have several other parties to get to this afternoon."
Jared spit on the floor and left. He cursed everyone all the way to the car, and continued to let out his hateful strings of profanity on the drive home to pack his things.
Back home, Jared rushed through the house with a suitcase. As he gathered the few possessions he felt were worth keeping, he spotted a used pregnancy test in the trashcan. Pulling it out with shaking hands, he did his best to decipher the markings on the stick. It was negative. He sighed and slid to the floor. He wasn't sure what the hell he'd do if his wife was actually having a baby. Once he was able to stand, he said a little prayer of thanks that there was no baby on the way. He didn't want to have to deal with such an inconvenience, especially not at a time like this.
Nathaniel Tower lives in Minnesota with his wife and two daughters. He writes weird fiction, juggles, and manages the online lit mag Bartleby Snopes. His short story collection Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands is out now through Martian Lit. Find out more about Nathaniel athttp://nathanieltower.com