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By Any Other Name

“What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” – William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

By Gillian CorsiattoPublished 8 months ago Updated 8 months ago 9 min read
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By Any Other Name
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The baby was to be named Carl if it was a boy, or Dinah if it was a girl. The baby, currently in gestation, was to be born to parents Cyrus, the father, and Mildred, the mother. The couple had been recently married. Their wedding was as any 1920s wedding was, simple yet elegant, with bouquets of roses and peonies, and a jazz trio to bring life to the dance floor. A product of their times, Cyrus and Mildred married young and had plans never to separate for longer than a week at a time. They were to grow old together and be by each other’s side day in and day out, in sickness and in health.

Mildred took her pregnancy seriously. Little Carl, or Dinah, safely nestled in the womb of their devoted mother knew nothing aside from protection, love, and safety. Mildred would see to it that after birth, these prospects wouldn’t change. The little child was to be cared for like a precious red ruby by both mother and father. Feeling fatigued and slightly nauseous, the expectant mother sat herself comfortably in the armchair that once belonged to her late father and read the newspaper.

“There was an earthquake,” Mildred told Cyrus, her voice deepening slightly in concern.

“Yeah? Where?” he asked.

“Australia,” she replied. She pinched her chin and rubbed her fingers on her lips.

“Mmm,” said Cyrus, disinterested.

The pair lived in Eastern Canada and knew nothing of Australia other than what was put in the newspapers. Mildred imagined Australia to be a fantastical land where kangaroos and humans lived in perfect harmony. She imagined kangaroos to be the size of wolverines or beavers. She imagined that they were friendly and would eat right from your hand.

She continued to read. The earthquake had occurred over two months ago but the Canadian newspapers were only starting to report on it now. The disinterest displayed by Cyrus was contagious and Mildred flipped the page.

“Do you know what an axolotl is?” she asked Cyrus, her question prompted by the new article she was reading.

“A what?” he responded to her question with another question.

“Ax-o-lot-uhl. I don’t know if I’m saying it right.”

“What is it?”

“It’s an amphibian. A salamander, it says.”

“Mmm.”

Now this was an article that was intriguing. Mildred had not ever heard of an axolotl. Yet, there was a traveling exotic pet breeder in town and he had axolotls on hand to sell. The article stated that they were easy pets to care for. They lived 100% aquatically and preferred cold water. You could feed them earthworms from your yard or little scraps of beef or pork from your dinner. The expectant mother thought that perhaps she could adopt one of these pink coloured salamanders and hone in on her mothering skills before little Carl or Dinah came into the world.

“I’m going to get one,” informed Mildred.

“Hmm?” replied Cyrus.

“An axolotl,” she said.

“Okay,” he said.

On the weekend when Cyrus was hard at work preparing for the coming winter by clearing out dead leaves on the lawn and stocking up on fire wood, Mildred wrapped herself up in her burgundy down jacket and silvery-white satin scarf and headed out. The exotic pet breeder had set up shop temporarily in a hotel room. He had one king sized bed to himself but other than that, all nooks and crannies of the room were taken up by various cages and fish tanks. It smelled like a zoo and with as loud as the parrots were screeching, it sounded like one too. Mildred’s senses of hearing and smell were bombarded before she even entered the room. Grateful for her scarf, she hid her nose in the satin and knocked on the door. The pet breeder, a dark skinned man with a scraggly beard and mustache and eyes that bulged out of his head like that of insect’s opened the door and greeted her with a smile full of missing teeth.

“Here to see the animals, then?” he said while motioning for her to step inside the smelly, loud room.

“An axolotl, actually,” she said, certain in her choice.

“Yes, yes, why, I’ve still got three left! Come take a look at them and take your pick.”

Mildred peered into each of the three tanks one by one. The axolotls were donned with curious smiles and beady black eyes. Their feathery gills reminded her of dragons, and their swishing tails lagged behind their bodies as if it was entirely separate from the pink creatures before her. She nodded slowly with wrinkled nose, her face reflecting the childlike curiosity given to her by the axolotls.

“This one’s a girl,” said the pet breeder pointing at the first tank, “and these two over here are boys.”

Intrigued by the critter in the middle tank and how its pink colour was much fuller and more defined than the other two, Mildred stepped back to ask for more information.

“How long do they live?” she asked.

“Four years,” he said.

“Will he always stay this pink?” she asked.

“As long as he’s happy and healthy,” he said.

“How much?” she asked.

“$10,” he replied.

Mildred bent down and peered into the beady eyes of her new companion. “Sold,” she said.

After several hours of working outside in the brisk autumn air, Cyrus walked into the house, sniffed and coughed, and rubbed his dirty boots on the mat before slipping his feet out of each one at a time. The axolotl sat contently in its tank that was currently overtaking much of the dining table.

“What is this?” Cyrus asked, pointing at the creature.

“The axolotl that I told you I was getting,” said Mildred, smiling at the little amphibian that smiled back at her.

“Oh, I suppose it is,” said Cyrus. He pulled out a chair and sat down at the table to further inspect the alien creature that sat before him. He let out a small chuckle and scratched at the wall on the tank while clicking his tongue.

“I’m not sure what to name him,” said Mildred.

“Ah, he’s a boy, is he?” Cyrus replied.

“Yup. A little boy. He’ll live for about four years and he’ll stay that pink as long as he’s happy and healthy.”

Cyrus, intrigued and content with the new household companion, offered up a few name suggestions on a whim. Mildred vetoed each one, much like she did when the pair had been discussing names for their unborn child.

Her idea was to continue reading the newspaper until the perfect name leapt off the page. The last article she read was that of the exotic pet breeder’s advertisement and the newspaper had been largely forgotten until now. In fact, she couldn’t even quite remember where she had left it and fumbled around in the living room for a few moments before finding it under Cyrus’s coffee cup, being used as a makeshift coaster. She flipped through it mindlessly, not taking the time to read anything thoroughly, when she paused at the article about the earthquake in Australia.

The Northern Territory was hit the hardest, particularly in the central desert. Though the number of human casualties is fairly low given the intensity of the natural disaster, local wildlife has been greatly affected and many of the earthquake survivors have been tasked with joining a volunteer cleanup crew to remove and dispose of animal carcasses.

The thought of walking through a wasteland full of dead kangaroos made Mildred shiver and look away from the paper. However, it had also sparked an idea.

“Let’s name him Aussie,” she called to Cyrus who was still in the kitchen with the new pet.

“Mmm, okay, sure,” said Cyrus as he peered into the tank just to ensure that the new name suited the smiling pink animal.

In fact, Aussie did suit the critter perfectly. After a few days of getting adjusted to his new home and new life, Aussie’s name fit on him so perfectly that neither Mildred nor Cyrus could imagine him with any other name. He was Aussie. It was the name that was meant to be bestowed upon him as soon as he came into the world, and the name would leave with him when he died.

A week or so into feeding Aussie and laughing at his playful antics in the water, a worry came into Mildred’s mind. What if when the baby was born, it didn’t look like a Carl or Dinah? Should they have other names prepared just in case? What if the baby was born a little boy, and it was evident from the get-go that he was not destined to be “a Carl?” What if a little girl came out and her face reflected all things in the world that could only be considered the very opposite of “Dinah?” Aussie’s name fit so perfectly. It was unmistaken without question. She imagined, only for a moment, that his name was Sam instead, and the thought felt like an electric shock in her mind. What if that same thing happened with little Carl or little Dinah? She hadn’t even seen the baby yet, how was she supposed to already assign it a name?

Cyrus looked like a Cyrus, but did she even look like a Mildred?

Mildred left the table on which Aussie had taken home and she stepped in front of a hanging wall mirror to examine herself. She wanted to be sure that she was, in fact, a Mildred.

Only, when she looked in the mirror, her body rejected the name ‘Mildred’ like it was an infectious bacteria.

Donna, said her brain.

No, Liza, it said next.

No! Rose! it shouted.

The electric shock feeling struck her over and over again and she doubled over in discomfort when she noticed something on the floor. At first, she was confused about what she was seeing. Then, however, she felt it. She became aware that her skirt was clinging tightly to her thighs, soaked and dripping. On the floor was a puddle of water. It was the baby. It would be here soon. She called desperately to Cyrus, who became frantic at the scene.

“The baby!” he stuttered in disbelief.

“I need a hospital!” cried Mildred, panicked and shaky.

The baby was born nearly half a day later. A little girl, Mildred cradled her softly in her arms, sore and exhausted from labour.

“Dinah is here,” whispered Cyrus as he stroked the soft sleeping face of his newborn daughter.

An electric shock sensation came over Mildred so hard that she jolted and woke the baby, who immediately began to wail.

“Shh, Dinah, it’s okay,” soothed Cyrus. Another electric shock passed through Mildred’s body.

She looked down at her crying baby. “Dinah” had her fists clenched tightly and her mouth was open so wide that her little uvula could be seen wiggling each time “Dinah” took in another breath to resume her cries. Her tiny body shook and convulsed and suddenly, Mildred could understand exactly what it would be like to be in an earthquake.

As the baby continued to wail, her cries piercing and causing the new mother physical discomfort in her ears, Mildred stared into the baby’s face, trying to mentally instruct her to open her eyes and look at her mother.

Distressed and overwhelmed, the new mother handed the crying baby off to her father. Mildred didn’t want Cyrus to notice her turning her face away to hide the tears that slipped down her own face. As she wiped away a tear in an attempt to console herself, Mildred saw the smiling face of curious Aussie in her mind, and she wondered how she would ever be able to love her new baby as much as she loved that little pink creature in the fish tank on the dining table.

Suddenly, the name Dinah didn’t bother her so much anymore, as the realization hit her that it wasn’t necessarily the name that she was uncomfortable with.

Short Story
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About the Creator

Gillian Corsiatto

Author of Duck Light and avid musical theatre lover. Love writing spooky stuff and funny stuff 😈🥸

My website is www.gilliancorsiatto.ca

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  • Alex H Mittelman 8 months ago

    Well written! Cool word for amohibion!

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