Out in the sun porch, every surface is draped and dripping pink: ribbons and wrapping paper and punch and cupcakes. A strawberry milkshake could have exploded in there and no one would have known the difference. The shower’s been going on for two hours and we’ve all adjusted, but poor Rich, the father-to-be, stops in the doorway, pink blind.
“Hi, honey!” his wife calls, waving so he can find her. “We’re only halfway through the presents. Pull up a seat.”
We’re packed in, both moms and all four grandmas and Lindy’s grad-school cohort and friends from high school and everybody she’s ever worked with and me, the friend from college. She only wanted one shower, so we’re here in force, including three cousins all well along themselves, displacing extra sofa space. I quit counting pink onesies at the ninth one, when the baby already had three pink teddy bears and a pink mobile to go above the crib. Like most of the women who aren’t pregnant themselves, I’m nursing a strawberry daiquiri that’s allowing the presents to pass in a nice pink blur.
“You’re scaring me,” Rich says. “If I stay in here, the baby won’t ever have a brother.”
“Then you have to stay!” yells Raynelle. She’s the one giving the shower, and the only name I remember. “There are enough damn men in the world. Time for the women to run things. Down with the patriarchy!”
“We’re cutting you off, Raynelle,” I say, and the others smile at me, polite. The friend from college doesn’t get to cut anybody off.
Rich shrugs and makes a place for himself on the floor between heaps of wrapping paper. “I’ve never been to one of these.” He’s wearing jeans and a dark t-shirt, and my eyes keep coming back to him just for relief.
Lindy’s already ripping into the next present. The first few she opened delicately, but they took forever and her mother went to the kitchen and came back with a pair of scissors. About half an hour in, she gave up on the scissors, too, and just started ripping. Any minute she’ll be using her teeth.
“Pepper and salt!” yells one of the cousins, responding to the shower game whose rules were explained earlier, when I wasn’t listening. The loser has to sing a song. The current loser, one of the grad-school cohort, happily belts out “Let It Go,” getting a lot of sing-along on the second chorus.
Lindy hasn’t gotten to my present yet: a baby sling. I hope that the drinkers will be far enough in the bag not to notice that Lindy’s college friend got her a hippie-dippy present, probably not safe to use. I remember, though Lindy may not, when we were nineteen and worked together at a food co-op, pouring 50-pound bags of brown rice into open bins so the customers could help themselves. Once a man came in during our shift—not a member of the co-op, no one we recognized. “Guess you two are going to change the world, huh?”
“Guess we are,” said Lindy.
“One brown rice cake at a time?”
“Think globally, act locally,” she said.
“What if I don’t want your changes?”
“Then you’re in the wrong store,” she said, and we were laughing so hard we barely noticed him leave, though our supervisor lectured us later. I bought the baby sling as a gesture to the girls we were then, and to changing the world, and to her new baby, but now she’s an advisor to companies with third-world investments and I make hemp shirts and dresses, and could use another daiquiri.
Lindy is not a glowy mom-to-be. Her lank hair drags across her forehead, and through the skirt of her jersey dress I can see the baby throwing punches. At this moment, Rich is a lot prettier than Lindy, nodding at the stack of pink receiving blankets and agreeing that these are going to be really useful. Rich and Lindy met after grad school, and during their first date Lindy put on Facebook that she had just met the man she was going to marry. I hoped she was being ironic.
“Oh, I hoped someone would get me this!” she says, holding up a baby-care set with a bulb syringe and snubby scissors.
“Nice,” says Rich. Trying to be companionable, I reach for the present as if I had an opinion about scissors. He shrugs at me and smiles. I smile back. Nothing wrong with a smile.
“Pepper and salt!” scream the cousins, crammed on that couch like the see-no-evil monkeys. They’re pointing at me and laughing.
“Wait. What? Why do I have to sing?”
“It’s pepper! Gotta sing! Sing!” Even Rich, who can’t know the rules any better than I do, is chanting along. Teasing, he bats my arm. Lindy has paused, the next present—mine—half-unwrapped on her lap.
Her face is tired and hot, and I’ll bet her feet want to explode out of their dainty shoes whose little straps are digging into her flesh. When we were 19, she wore Birkenstocks every day, and put her hair in braids. We signaled the end of our shift at the co-op by playing “Revolution” at top volume, so I launch in now.
Nobody sings with me. Most of the women look annoyed, and Rich smirks a little when I get to the part about everything being all right, which would make a decent lullaby. After two choruses, I can quit singing.
“There you go,” Rich says.
“We’re going to be here all afternoon,” says one of the cousins.
“What is—oh!” Lindy says, holding up the sling, a little patch of unbleached muslin.
“Is that safe?” says one of the cousins.
“Mothers use them all over the world,” I say. Every woman in the room is thinking that she lives in the United States so that she doesn’t have to carry her baby in a cloth sling. I would understand that if I’d ever had a baby, had ever been pregnant, could comprehend the rules for a game at a baby shower where the father-to-be has become the honored guest. I glance at him, but he’s staring at the sling as if I’d given his wife a dust rag.
“I didn’t know people still made these,” Lindy says, gently shaking it out.
“All over the world,” I say.
“You’re pepper,” Rich says to her, and Lindy snaps, “No I’m not. She’s still pepper.”
She’s holding up the sling, surveying it. Rich’s eyes slide over to mine and I smile at him again, but his eyes are assessing, trying, like me, to figure out why I’m here. It’s our shared moment, and I try not to let my shame show on my face.
Lindy stands up, puts the sling on, and nestles a few onesies inside, along with a blanket that hangs halfway out, like a tongue. “It’s not bad. It’s actually comfortable.” She smiles at me, then at the room. “We were friends,” she says.