Today, we are pleased to publish “The Uncanny Valley” by Matthew Pitt. In this story, a pastor attends a Lamaze class with his wife. He can’t stop wondering about the man who comes to class with one woman one week, and a different one the next. Pitt’s incisive prose blurs the line between the strange and the familiar, making us question our own reality.
Les can’t steer his stare away. Oh, he tries; tries his best to watch only Maura, and to imagine the bulge beneath his bride’s camisole as a fragile shivering form, but the ring piercing through another mother-to-be’s bellybutton keeps diverting him.
Focus. As if each breath is crystallizing on a cold night. Don’t clench. In for six, out for eight. In for a dime, thinks Les, in for a dollar. He feels like a Catholic in this Lamaze class, its litany recited to the word. The chants reassure Maura. But they feel less like training than rehash for Les, who’s going to be mobile in the hospital, recording her labor at any rate of breath he’d like. The lead counselor brushes Maura’s shoulder, says, “Now small breaths. Puff puff push. Puff puff push.” In the midst of a puff, the other woman’s ring—more squiggle or worm—sways as she stretches, as if the jewelry is an old wives’ gender predictor. “Next we will try small breaths, Lolo?” asks the woman’s Lamaze partner, winking her way. But wait. Didn’t this guy call his partner Kath during the last class? Kate? Beth? Definitely one syllable; definitely not Lolo. Navel jewelry makes Les squirm—the thought of pointy fangs pricking organs, making everything spill out—he would have noticed that squiggle of jewel and metal last Saturday.
The winker has brought in a different woman from the week before.
“Puff puff push,” implores the assistant counselor. “That’s you too, dad.”
Les looks down. What’s he doing? His gaze shouldn’t be flipping to a strange woman on all fours. Whose hair color pretty much looks the same, come to think of it, as last time. Shade off at most. Lights dim for the first of many birthing videos paired with springy string music and beatific smiles. Practice that smile, Les tells himself. Focus on the point of Maura’s body where your boy’s crown will emerge. That’s where she needs your head.