Rebecca was more than a little bewildered. The doctor had just informed her that she was pregnant. “That’s impossible; I’m seventy-five years old. I haven’t had sex in years­.”

The doctor raised a hand and made a whuffing noise through pursed lips as if dismissing such trifles. “We’ve only just begun to fathom the body’s mysteries. Given what we’re learning from stem cell research, anything seems possible. You haven’t had a hysterectomy, have you?”

“Well…no… but given menopause and all.”

Doctor Schiff was typing notes into his laptop. “How long since your last period?”

“Years and years. I really don’t remember.”

He opened his hands suppliantly as if to say, You see!

Recently, in the paper, she had read about a woman in Siberia who carried a mummified embryo in her womb for forty years without knowing it was there. Possibly hers was that sort of stone pregnancy, a legacy from decades ago. Although, looking up from his stethoscope, Doctor Schiff assured her that, from all indications, her baby was healthy. “Strong heartbeat. Quite a kicke­r!­” He placed her hand on her exposed belly under his, and she felt the sudden violent jolting—not in her fingers but her spine, as if her hand reflected pulsing kinesthetic vibrations back throu­gh the abdomen. Staring at the taut white dune of her belly, she was overcome with wonder and disgust; her bellybutton had popped out and looked like a foolish little pig’s tail.  

“I’m surprised you haven’t noticed the kicking,” he said.

“I thought it was gas. It’s not at all natural, Doctor, at my age.”

“Altogether natural. Somewhat unusual. It will make for a good write up in The New England Journal of Medicine.” He winked and gave a sly, proprietary pat to her distended belly, as if claiming territory­. “Have there been any significant changes in your life recently, Rebecca?”

“Changes? My daughter Peggy was diagnosed with cancer, if that’s what you mean. And po­or Freddy, my son, you know, lost his job with the state.”

“Recent deaths?  Anyone who was particularly reluctant to leave for example?”

She stared at him in alarm. “Why, no. Whatever are you getting at, Doctor?”

“There are some who believe…well, in reincarnation—” he trailed off. “We can’t pretend to understand everything. How long ago did your husband pass, Rebecca?”

“He didn’t pass. We divorced eight years ago.”

He nodded. “Have you had any particularly vivid dreams of old lovers or passionate days at the beach for example­?”

“Nonsense!  How am I expected to raise a child at my age? A crying baby waking me up all night. I couldn’t bear it.”

“Oh, come now!  People your age don’t sleep much anyway. And just think of the tax breaks a dependent would provide.”

“Childbirth…my goodness!” She shivered at the prospect. “I doubt I’d survive it.”

“Any change in diet or reading habits?”

“I really don’t see, Doctor—”

“Seen any disturbing movies lately?  People your age should try to avoid agitations. Any juicy nightmares?  Devils dressed in pantyhose or incubi disguising themselves as female impersona­tors to gain your confidence, for example?”

Then it struck her. “Why, I’ve taken the Lord into my heart. That’s it. I should have realized.”  She couldn’t help but smile at the idea, grandiose and providential though it was (some would say “blasphemous”), improbable, but God works in mysterious ways. “I suppose I’ve been chosen. What other explanation?”

“Don’t you think you are being a tidbit ambitious, Rebecca?  Immaculate conception, you’re saying?”  Doctor Schiff frowned, then grinned dismissively. “Haven’t we already seen that act?”

“Well, I’m not suggesting…I would never. No doubt the Lord is testing my faith. Besides, considering my age and all, it’s more likely the opposing team—”

This seemed to puzzle him. “It’s a child, not a church, Rebecca. No need to rush into miracles or evil spells. Everything has a scientific explanation, even if we don’t see it at first. Where are you going?”

She had gotten up from the examining table and had begun dressing, surprisingly nimble for a woman her age at her stage of pregnancy, ignoring his insistence that they discuss a prenatal care program. Men always insisted on controlling things, especially when it came to women’s lives and bodies. She supposed they couldn’t help themselves. Doctors particularly. Though her husband Ralph, an alpha control freak, had sold insurance.

She drove straight to the church on Bethel Road, walked into Pastor Jacob’s office, past Sister Gloria, who stood up from her desk, alarmed, scattering church bulletins on the floor, insisting, “You can’t go in there; the pastor is in a confidential meeting.”

“Nonsense.”  Rebecca interrupted Pastor Jacob counseling a group of church elders—graying, long-faced fellows who’d recently admitted en masse to cheating on their wives, whether as a group or individually was yet to be determined and likely the subject of their confab. Possibly they sought the Pastor’s counsel before delivering a group testimonial to the congregation. Rebecca had heard portions of their individual confessions at Wednesday night fellowships­­. All looked up at her now as she barged in unannounced—startled, walleyed, mouths gaping open like bass hooked and pulled dripping from the water. Caught. Rebec­ca bump­ed an accusatory finger around the room from one to the next, struck at that instant by another revelation.

“You’ve got me pregnant,” she cried, “all of you. You might just as well admit it.”

The men clapped hands to chests and mumbled denial, but their faces burned with shame.

“You… pregnant?”  Pastor Jacob stuttered. “All of them?  How can that be?”

“I’m an old woman, post-menopausal to boot. How could I possibly get pregnant unless it was the Lord or the lot of them? No single man could accomplish such a wonder.” Looking from one to another of the men’s alarmed faces. “No doubt you’ll claim you were inspired by the Lord. The doctor as much as said it’s a spiritually-in­spired pregnancy.”

“Spiritually inspired?”  Pastor Jacob was aghast. “You’re saying immaculate conception?”

“What other possible explanation?  I believe it may have been your sermon last week on the sheaves and the tares, Pastor. I hadn’t a sign of it before Monday. Now look!”  She pulled her shift up over her swollen abdomen, bellybut­ton sprung out like a toadstool. The men exclaimed in collective alarm and averted their eyes.

“But I don’t see—” began Mr. Bierbauer, a florid man whose wife had stopped sleeping with him because she said that, nude, he looked like a plump red sausage about to burst. He’d confessed at fellowship that he­ had sought comfort elsewhere out of desperation.          

The Pastor ran a finger down items in the concordance of a huge leather-bound Bible, no doubt looking for sheaf and tare references, mumbling, “Nothing about spiritual pregnancies. But the Lord works in mysterious ways beyond our understanding.”

“That’s what Doctor Schiff said about science. It has reached the point you don’t know which is less sure of itself, science or religion, or even common sense. You can’t even trust old age anymore.”

“It’s the schools,” Gloria Swanson said, having come in behind Rebecca. “They used to teach right from wrong. Now it’s all gay marriage, LGBTQ to Z, Internet sex, and other abominations.”

The men growled assent and exchanged nods, taking comfort in a common enemy.

But Brother Taylor held up a hand. “Let’s not leap to conclusions. God’s mysteries are altogether mysterious­.”

At that, Rebecca’s baby kicked violently, rolling side to side like a log in a heavy surf and slamming against walls of her uterus so she nearly lost her balance. She formed a protective arc of linked fingers under her abdomen and hobbled across the room toward the desk. None of the men stood to offer a chair, but Sister Gloria gripp­ed her elbow and guided her to sit on a corner of the desk.

“Why does all the mystery always come at our expense?” Rebecca asked her, indicating herself, Sister Gloria and, vague­ly, the baby. “That’s what I’d ask the Lord if ever I met him face to face. What has he got against women? Maybe it’s because he didn’t have a mother.”

They were appalled, including Sister Gloria, scandalized by such irreverence. “How dare you question God’s will!” Bierbauer demanded. The pastor looked pained. “I’m disappointed in you, Sister Rebecca. I thought you had been saved by God’s grace.”

“It’s the devil speaking through her,” Brother Grimm decided.

“There must be a reason,” Rebecca persisted. “You’ve said so yourself, Pastor: ‘The Lord counts every hair on our heads.’ He always has his reasons.”

“It’s not your place to ask,” snapped Sister Gloria. “It’s beyond our understanding.”

At that moment, Brother Benson, a short, timid man with a dark mole dead center of his forehead like a Hindu caste mark, raised his hand like a schoolboy for permission to speak.

“What’s the trouble, John?” demanded Bierbauer.

“Perhaps the Lord impregnated Sister Rebecca as a sign and a lesson to us,” Benson said in a piping, high-pitched voice. Others leaned forward over their knees, regarding him dubiously.

“What lesson exactly?” Bierbauer asked.

“Against fornication, adultery, and the rest. No one present remembers the dirty deed. I don’t myself. But that don’t make the slightest difference in God’s eyes. We are guilty, every one of us, all the same, remember or not. Scripture is clear on that. Yessir!  We’re every which one of us born guilty and stay guilty despite ourself. Me, I haven’t filled my Viagra prescription in six months. Don’t matter. If Sister Rebecca can get pregnant without making eggs, then I sure can get her pregnant without the means to fertilize ‘em, by golly!  Sister Rebec­ca has been blessed with anonymous conception. Praise the Lord­!”

“Praise the Lord,” other men chorused, strangely moved by his confes­sion and elo­quence.  Broth­er Benson was a quiet man; no one knew he was capable of such profundity. Even Rebecca was moved.   

“Why, I believe John is right,” she said. “It’s meant as a lesson. That’s just what it is.”

But Pastor Jacob was bewildered. “‘Anonymous,’ John?  What does it mean?  You’re saying no man in particular?  No single one of you can claim fatherhood?  By any man, you’re saying?  Every man?”  He began thumbing through the concordance again, flipping through pages; his finger stopped abruptly and he looked up with an awestruck expression and pointed at heaven. “It says right here: John 4 verse 7, ‘Every one of them may take a little.’”  His eyes coming up to Rebecca in awed amazement. “So, it’s true, as you say: every one of them combined. They all took a little. They’re all the baby’s father. No one ever heard of such a thing before in history. We’ve fulfilled scripture right here at Bethel Tabernacle Church, praise God.”

“Praise God,” they chorused.

“Y’r saying we all done this to her, pastor?” Osborne Shelf asked.      

Pastor Jacob was still shaking his head. “I believe you are inspired, Brother Benson, I believe you are a prophet, I believe you have solved the mystery of the sheep and the hares…is it?  The mystery of human life on earth. Anonymous conception!”

“I thought that was solved already in the Garden of Eden,” Brother Taylor said.

At that instant, Rebecca’s baby kicked her remorselessly in the spine, causing her to leap to her feet from her perch on the desk. She ­realized that she had as much as admitted her part in this so-called “lesson,” willingly or not, and her baby was protesting, wanting no part of this anonymous conception business. Children want to know who their mothers and fathers are. She spit the idea out of her mouth. Broth­er Bens­on, she saw, for all his meekness, was stubbornly proud of his part in the affair—like passive-aggressive types in the grocery line who keep bumping a cart into you and smiling when you give them the stink eye. “Not so fast,” she cried. “You might just as well say I was gang raped.”  She clasp­ed hands protectively over her belly. The men muttered protest and exchanged alarmed glances, realizing that she was accusing them of rape.

“Oh no, dear!  Well, the Holy Ghost…in a spiritual sense, so to speak.”  Sister Gloria simpered. “I wouldn’t call it ‘gang rape.’  More like inspired procreation.” 

“Praise the Lord!”  Brother Benson cried.

Bierbauer stood up and stared avariciously at Sister Rebecca­’s swollen belly. “I’m guilty!  I confess it.”   She thought he did indeed look like a sausage, boiled to near bursting, lusting after a seventy-five-year-old woman’s body, for gracious sake. Osborne Shelf leapt up beside him thrusting an arm in the air, the grinning imbecile. The lot of them—white-haired, balding, Buddha-bellied—stood up, their rheumy, proprietary eyes making claim on her body. Their assertion of communal fatherhood sickened her, absurd though it was.       

The heat of their mutual gaze caused her clothes to melt off and form a multi-colored puddle on the floor, Jacob’s coat liquefied. She stood naked before them, slight as a pubescent girl, alarmingly pregnant. Some of them averted their eyes, but Osborne Shelf thrust a finger at her corkscrew bellybutton and giggled. Yes, there surely was a lesson in this, she thought, but not Brother Benson’s lesson. Not one any of them could accept.   

“You boys are in agreement then?” Pastor Jacob asked. “You admit joint fatherhood?”         

Brother Benson and another man nodded, but others appeared to have lost conviction now that she stood naked before them, clearly beyond child-bearing age though unabashedly pregnant. Something perverse in it. They couldn’t look at her, but she knew they projected their secret fantasies on her body—neither old nor young, neither fertile nor infertile—but they would all deny it. They hunkered down in a fever of sweating and hard breathing, staring at their feet, until Brother Taylor leapt up from his chair and looked straight up at heaven, exclaiming in a lusty baritone, “Lord!  I have sinned in thought and deed…Hallelujah!  You’ve brought us witness of a miracle this day.”

“A miracle and a wonder,” Pastor Jacob agreed. “Proof of His eternal love.”

“Hold on now,” Osborne Shelf cautioned. “Shouldn’t we tell our wives before we go public on this deal?”

Pastor Jacob nodded. “Sister Rebecca, would you be so good as to speak first?  Give it that woman’s touch and soften the blow a little?”

“Spare us nothing, Sister, leave out none of the grub­by details,” Bierbauer said. “For we have sinned, thou­gh none of us can recall it. I myself will speak on the fathers’ behalf,” he said solemnly, making the sign of the benediction. “Agreed, boys?”

“Ohhh no, you don’t!  Not so fast.”  Rebecca shrugged off Sister Gloria who was trying to drape a jacket over her shoulders to hide her nakedness. “Look at me!” she shouted. “You, too, John!  Doctor Schiff wants my baby for The New England Journal of Medicine. You want it to wash away your sins like a second baby Jesus. And you—” turning on Sister Gloria, who had no children of her own, with a hostility that alarm­ed her “—you want my baby for yourself. Shame on all of you.”

They grumbled denial, Sister Gloria loudest.

“Whoever she is, wherever my baby comes from, it doesn’t matter,” she continued. “The good Lord put her in my care.”  Fondly stroking her belly. “Mine alone!  I’ll provide her shelter in my womb for as long as she likes and raise her up peaceful. No church and no choice. No war and no hate. She can have my body when I’m finished­ with it if she likes, used up as it may be like a wrinkled old coat.”

The image clearly troubled them. “Harlot,” Bierbauer shouted. “Feminist whore.”

“Perhaps she won’t see any reason to leave. Oops!”  A solid thump against her belly echoed through the room like a resonant thrum on a drum skin. “I think she likes the idea­.”

Rebecca saw that they were alarmed by her nakedness, scandalized and repulsed—such an old woman/­so young. They thought her unnatural and were ashamed they had sinned with her. Sister Gloria showed her out, her face still pinched with anger at Rebecca’s accusation, snapping at her as she squeezed behind the wheel of her tiny car, barely managing it given the increasing size of her belly, for the baby had grown over the past hours and had begun to crowd her organs. “You shouldn’t be driving in your condition. You should have more sense. You need to start thinking about your child.”

Rebecca leapt away from the curb, dodging out into oncoming traffic amidst family mini-vans advertising the children’s elementary school exploits in bumper stickers on the rear windows, her hand firmed on the horn. Although it was only shortly after noon, someone had painted a huge swirling sunset on the western sky in mauve and orange.

But she did not see it, for she was headed east. From now on, she would look toward the sunrise and never glance back over her shoulder. She had a child to raise, shelter, and protect, who would, Rebecca knew, be a great leader one day, a visionary and avatar. Whoever/whatever they were, The Celestial Powers had despaired of the elders and scientists, the preachers and true believers, the politicians and statesmen—who had over the ages mostly been men—likely even the young, and had placed mankind’s future solely in her hands.

Photo by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash

CategoriesShort Fiction
William Luvaas

William Luvaas has published four novels (Little Brown, Putnam, Spuyten Duyvil, Anaphora) and two story collections (U. Okla. Press, Spuyten Duyvil); Ashes Rain Down: A Story Cycle was The Huffington Post’s 2013 Book of the Year and a finalist for the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. William is a Fiction Editor for Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts and live in Los Angeles with his wife Lucinda Luvaas, a visual artist and short filmmaker, and our rambunctious akita.