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Stress Test Ch. 9

Stegosaurus X

By Alan GoldPublished 2 years ago Updated 2 years ago 9 min read
Image by Manfred Richter from

Sandy and Saury made regular appearances on the pet shop circuit. They were never in much of a hurry to get home, so they stopped a couple times a week after Kid'n'Kaboodle, plus most Saturday mornings. Sandy liked the birds and fish, Saury the turtles, rodents and lizards.

"How are you?" asked Osgood, the burly, green parrot with a beak that looked like it had been carved from a cake of soap.

"Okay, I guess." Saury shrugged. "How are you?"

"How are you?" The bird cocked its head and rolled its orange eyes.

"I'm okay. How are you?"

"How are you?"

They laughed together while the bird echoed itself after they turned away.

Sandy lifted Saury so he could watch, with eyes bigger than sea shells, as the fish fell into formation. They looked bright as one of Miss Busse's blouses, one shimmering color to a tank, swimming free of boredom, hour to hour, end to end.

The sweet boy who had been a tiny baby just a day or a week ago, felt so heavy, propped against Sandy's hip, with his legs dangling along hers. But she could hold him there forever without growing tired. She finally understood that the female pelvis was designed not to make shopping for jeans tough, but to ease the burden of carrying a child.

Sandy thought the day's frantic sequence of crises should have drained her. Instead, exhilaration flooded her. She drew strength and energy from the simple act of holding her son. It was one of the special things about motherhood that her own mother had neglected to tell her. She never would have dreamed that a five-year-old could be her best friend.

Saury fell in love with a baby beagle. "Will he grow up to be like my cousin Johnny's dog?" he asked.

The pup looked so pitiful and awkward that Sandy wondered what inspired Mother Nature to create such vulnerable things. If not for pet shops, how could a creature like that hope to survive?

She thought about Stephen X, who believed the only difference between a puppy and a baby was that one came with a tax break. Either way, you paid too much, brought the thing home, found someone to take care of it.

"You're fat," Stephen X had said one evening, dropping his briefcase on the dining room table.

She'd laced her hands beneath her swollen tummy and turned to give him a side view. "I'm pregnant," she said, still in wonder.

"You're disgusting," he said. She saw his face transformed into the awful, black-eyed mask that meant the devil had come to collect another debt. "You look ridiculous."

She felt relief when Stephen X practically disappeared for the last half of her pregnancy. If nothing else, that gave her a few months in which she didn't have to go along with him to see the latest monster movie, or squirm through the video of some classic at home.

Sandy used to think it odd that Stephen X, whose imagination fell off the bottom end of the scale, could be so enthralled by movies about the most fantastic bone-crushing, disemboweling creatures Hollywood could muster. She finally realized that the utter predictability of the plots appealed to him. No matter if the title role went to a cunning, alien race or a primordial destructive force, Sandy could tell the fate of each human member of the cast from the character's first appearance. There was never any room for chance.

On Sandy's last birthday before they married, Stephen X gave her a tape of Plague of the Time Warp, an obscure film about hundred-foot tall dinosaurs that crawl out of the past and head for Los Angeles. One creature looked like an overfed salamander with slabs of papier mache lashed to its back.

"What is that supposed to be?" Sandy asked, trying to take her mind off the hurt.

"It's a stegosaurus," Stephen X said through a mouthful of popcorn.

"It looks ridiculous."

"You wouldn't say that if you saw a real one."

"What? A real lizard that's been dressed up by third-graders? What are we watching this for?"

"I paid seventy-five bucks for this." Stephen X knocked the popcorn bowl from his lap. "You can't just get this at the video store. I had to special-order it for your birthday."

He slammed the door as he stormed out, but he was back the next day with roses and a story about how much stress he'd been under at work.

Sandy figured it was easier to put up with the movies than to make a big deal about them. But not having to watch them turned out to be one of the nicest parts of her pregnancy. Stephen X always seemed to be working late, grabbing a bite at the office, flying to Pittsburgh for a few days. Looking back on it, she realized he'd been messing around.

In any case, she remembered those precious, solitary months as the happiest of her life. She allowed herself the fantasy of being a single mother-to-be. Strangers spoke to her as if she were someone worth knowing. They shared intimate details of their own lives. After a time, she even accepted the way they fussed over her, holding doors, waving her to the front of grocery lines.

Never reckless, but never especially cautious, Sandy watched her diet, avoided disease. It never crossed her mind that she took better care of this restless thing inside her than she'd ever done for herself.

A baby girl would have been nice, but she somehow felt more secure with this emerging boy. He would mean fewer heartaches in the long run. How would she ever be able to explain the world to a daughter? With a son, her biggest problem would be picking a name. There were no men in the child's family whose name you would want to borrow, except maybe Roscoe. But "Roscoe" sounded so dated; it had probably been dated even before Roscoe was born.

Primitive people had the right idea. Wait for the child. See what it was like. Pick a name to fit.

Late one morning, Sandy took a bagel, an apple and a slab of peanut brittle to the park for lunch. She'd just finished the candy and was about to start on the apple when an old, old woman sat next to her on the bench.

"Won't be much longer now," the woman said.

"Just three more weeks," Sandy said, not feeling any shyness with this stranger.

"It's like waiting for Christmas and a trip to the dentist all in one," the woman said through ill-fitting dentures. "So wonderful, but so much pain."

"There's no pain," said Sandy, surprised and puzzled.

"It's your first, then." The woman eyed her knowingly. "It's all right. I had three of them myself. That's what God meant for us."

Sandy's breath faltered. The trust she'd placed in this stranger had been betrayed. After the woman left, Sandy shredded her bagel and tossed the crumbs to the pigeons.

She had never been able to depend on her body's cycles, but she went into labor on the day—probably at the precise moment—the doctor had predicted. She put in a call to Stephen X at the office.

"He's in a meeting, Mrs. Skinner," Lucille said.

"But I'm having a baby," said Sandy, startled by the urgency in her voice despite the depth of her breathing.

"It's a very important meeting." Lucille seemed not to understand Sandy. Or maybe she understood Stephen X very well. After a pause, she said, "You mean it's Mr. Skinner's baby?"

"Of course it's---"

"I'm sorry. I guess I can send him a message."

Linda and Roscoe drove Sandy to the hospital in their big, blue Cutlass Supreme. Roscoe even ran a couple of red lights, although Sandy kept telling him there was plenty of time. They stayed with her and everything happened more quickly than she expected.

Another male—weak, but relentless—left her exhausted, bleeding, and relieved that it was over, but not the way Stephen X always did. Stephen X was the farthest thing from her mind as she cradled this wondrous, new creature. She felt happy beyond all comprehension, as if the very molecules of her skin had mingled with the air. She hummed and brushed her lips against his soft, flushed skin.

"So, I have a son," Stephen X said when he finally arrived, late that evening.

"Where were you?" Sandy's ordeal had made her forget certain basic rules of their relationship.

"I couldn't get away." The man sniffed and let his gaze wander the corners of the room. "It would have looked bad."

"We wouldn't want that."

Stephen X's eyes locked onto hers. "Who have you been talking to?"

"Nobody. That's the point."

"I'm not going to let you take advantage---"

A nurse knocked, poked her head in the door, and looked bewildered by what she found. "Skinners? Some paperwork," she said. "We need a name, just a few details . . ."

"My wife needs some rest," Stephen X said, taking the nurse's clipboard and leading her back into the hall. "I came to handle these things."

Chance had no place in Stephen X's world. In all matters, he would not rest until the tiniest detail had been resolved, clarified, executed. Yet he'd shown no interest in naming his son, beyond the fact that he wouldn't stand for "Roscoe."

"It's been ‘Roscoe says,' and ‘Roscoe does' all my life. I'm not going to listen to any more of that," he'd announced one morning in mid-term. Then he added, without any enthusiasm, "Maybe Stephen X Jr."

"A boy should at least have his own name," Sandy said. "I feel very strongly about that."

"Fine." Stephen X went back to his newspaper. "Then why do you keep bothering me about it?"

The question of a name was still up in the air when Sandy went into the hospital. Now she looked at the flowers that Linda and Roscoe had left by the window and decided "Roscoe" had a nice ring to it. It was a name people would never forget.

She'd dozed off by the time Stephen X came back.

"You think you're pretty smart, don't you?"

"What?" The lights were brighter in the hall than the room and it took her eyes a moment to focus on his silhouette.

"You and your girlfriends got it all figured out, don't you?" She knew something was wrong by the way Stephen X bounced around on the balls of his feet. "We'll see how smart you are."

Another nurse carried the baby in. She looked around and turned the lights up. "Mrs. Skinner? We've got a visitor for you," she said in a voice that rose and fell like music. "Little Ste . . ." She frowned and turned the baby's wrist band to get a better look at it. "Ste . . . Stego . . ."

The father practically rose off the hard floor. "See, Sandy?" he said. "Your little Stegosaurus X is here. Just like his daddy."


Go back to Chapter 1 of Stress Test.

Read the next chapter.


Complete novel is available on


About the Creator

Alan Gold

Alan Gold lives in Texas. His novels, Stress Test, The Dragon Cycles and The White Buffalo, are available, like everything else in the world, on amazon.

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