The Mississippi May Pole
A Short Story by Tim Josephs
Written using the suggestion "Pride"
Originally featured on 10-08-2007
As part of our series "A Funny Thing Happened To Me on the Way to the Fall"

When the water was just right, Ted opened the shower door and stepped inside. As he grabbed the soap and began lathering himself (start at the toes, end at the toes — that seminar he attended in Cincinnati had really changed his life), he thought about the day ahead: He and his wife Betty were going back to the fertility specialist.

They had only been trying to have a baby for a few months, but after all the planning and organizing (even to the point where they would schedule their “baby-making” sessions, as Betty called them), it hadn’t yet happened. Betty thought they should see someone and Ted had agreed although he hadn’t been too thrilled about it. They had both taken tests and now were going back to find out if there was a problem.

Ted had tried to explain to Betty that in his family it often took a while to get pregnant. A firsthand account of this was delivered by his grandfather, Harold. Foolishly, Ted had mentioned their difficulties conceiving to his mother and she had told practically the whole family. At Thanksgiving dinner, after one too many glasses of wine, 89-year-old Harold had loudly declared to Ted and a beet-red Betty (and everyone else within earshot) that it had taken him a long time to get Grandma Estelle pregnant.

“I mean, we tried everything,” he said, his raspy words slurred slightly. “Oysters, pills, tonics, and every position in the book: Diving Donkey, the Mississippi May Pole, I mean everything. And then one day, it happened, she was knocked up.”

Secretly, Ted believed the problem might lie with Betty. Although she took good care of herself — didn’t smoke, exercised regularly — he thought her past might finally have caught up with her.

 

Just as Ted started washing his hair, Betty got up. She slipped on her blue robe and matching fuzzy slippers and headed down to the kitchen. As usual she had set up the coffee pot the night before and only needed to press the orange button to get it started.

As she opened the drawer next to the refrigerator, she thought about what she and Ted were doing that day. She unwrapped the package of raisin bread and popped a couple slices into the toaster. She knew Ted’s pride had been hurt a little when she suggested the fertility doctor but she just wanted to find out what was wrong.

He probably thinks it’s my fault, Betty thought, pouring two glasses of orange juice. He hadn’t said anything but she could see the disappointment in his eyes every time the pregnancy test came up negative.

Although she would never admit it, she felt he might be to blame. Sure, he took pretty good care of himself — didn’t smoke anymore, ate well — but she still thought he could be the problem.

 

As Ted replaced the bottle of shampoo on the shelf, he thought about when he and Betty had first met. It had happened about eight years earlier between locker rooms in the narrow hallways of the Valley Memorial Arena. Then, under the name of Battlin’ Betty, she had wrestled for FLOW, the Fabulous Ladies of Wrestling. She was one of the “good girls” and would come out in a school girl outfit: a little plaid skirt, long white stockings, ribbons in her blonde hair and Ted was instantly attracted.

They started dating and he began going to all her events and although the matches were staged and choreographed, Betty would often leave the arena with black and blue marks. Ted couldn’t help but wince as she got knocked around the ring.

He was in the stands the night of her final match, when she had decided to retire. It was a rematch against Sally Savage, one of the “bad girls.”

It was all set up for Betty to lose so Sally could claim the title. After a few minutes of fake clotheslines and body slams, Sally knocked Betty down. She then grabbed her by the hair and pulled her to her feet. As most of the crowd booed and yelled, Sally sneered and egged them on.

A few of her fans started chanting “Uterus! Uterus!” Sally’s famous move was the Uterus Chop-Suterus, where she would simulate karate chopping her opponent roughly where the uterus was located.

Just as Sally swung her thick hand at Betty’s stomach, Betty lost her balance and fell towards her. Sally didn’t have time to pull her hand back and Betty fell right into the blow. The crowd roared as she fell to the canvas, nothing fake about the pain on her face.

Betty was taken to a hospital as a precaution and the doctor had told her she would be fine and shouldn’t suffer any long-term effects. Even so, Ted wasn’t sure.

Betty walked to the front door to retrieve the newspaper and thought again about Ted’s athletic career. For five years he had played in the Mid-Atlantic Amateur Hockey League. He loved it and until an injury had forced him to retire, was the league’s premiere goalie. He stopped nearly every shot that came his way and was nicknamed “Balls of Steel” because it seemed like every puck would head straight for his crotch.

He would wear out cups quickly and in fact the last one he wore was framed and hanging in his office. Betty was there that night for the final game of the championship series. Ted stopped a penalty shot and won the game for his team. Only afterwards did he realize that the puck had dented his cup. And it was that small dent on the right side that Betty feared was the reason she couldn’t get pregnant.

When she heard the bathroom door open, Betty went back upstairs. She saw Ted getting dressed in the bedroom and was about to say something but decided not to. She quickly walked past the room and into the bathroom.

Twenty minutes later they were in the car on the way to the doctor’s office. Besides a few comments on the weather, neither said very much.

 

Ted tapped his right foot against the side of the desk as they waited in the doctor’s small office. He tried distracting himself by attempting to read the tiny writing on the various diplomas hung around the room but couldn’t stop thinking about Betty’s wrestling career. The image of her getting hit in the stomach kept going through his mind.

He’s why were here, Betty thought, staring at Ted out of the corner of her eye. Him and his balls of steel. He couldn’t once use his glove to catch the stupid puck?

Suddenly the door opened and Dr. Miller entered.

“Hi, sorry to keep you waiting.” He placed the manila folder he was holding on the desk and sat down. “How are you doing today?”

“Fine,” Betty said.

“A little nervous,” Ted said.

“Don’t be nervous,” Dr. Miller said, opening the folder.

“So everything’s okay?” Betty asked eagerly.

“Well, not entirely. It just looks like-”

“So there is a problem?” Ted asked, inching forward on his chair.

“Well, yes, but-“

“I knew it!” Betty exclaimed. “It’s Ted, isn’t it?”

“What?” Ted said, spinning around to look at her. “Why do you think it’s me?”

“It’s from him playing hockey, right, doctor? The dented cup? You know, he still has that disgusting thing hanging up in our house!”

The doctor looked a little confused. “Dented cup? No, that’s not-“

“So it’s her fault then?” Ted asked shaking his head. “From the wrestling, right? The whole uterus chopping thing? I knew it.”

“Uterus what?”

They began arguing. Dr. Miller stared at them.

“It’s both of you,” he said loudly. They stopped and looked at him. “Not physically; you’re both young and healthy. But I think it’s pretty obvious what the problem is: you’re thinking way too much about this. Not a lot of people seem to know this but stress can be a huge deterrent to getting pregnant.”

Ted and Betty glanced at each other.

“You’re going to have to relax. Don’t schedule times to try, don’t worry about ovulation, just relax. It’s not supposed to be work, you know. Here, this might help.”

He opened a drawer and pulled out a small book and handed it to Betty. She took it and slipped it into her purse.

“And don’t worry, a lot of couples go through this. Trust me, it’s going to happen, but you have to learn to relax.”

The doctor stood and showed them to the door.

“And let me know what you end up naming the baby,” he said with a smile.

Ted and Betty didn’t say anything as they left the building. When he reached for her hand, she moved it away at first but then let him take it.

Stopping in the middle of the parking lot, they looked at each other. They both started to say something but then stopped and smiled. After a moment they leaned forward and kissed gently.

“Hey, what did the doctor give you?” Ted asked.

Betty pulled out the book from her purse and read the title.

The Mississippi May Pole and Other Fun Positions to Help You Conceive.”

They giggled as they walked back to the car.

Read More By Tim Josephs

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