The Reset

It would be much, much later, after weeks in the hospital for Henry, first on the surgical ward for his shattered ruptured testicle and then as a psychiatric inpatient, and months in therapy for both of them—together and separately—that they would be able to talk about it.

It would be much, much later, after weeks in the hospital for Henry, first on the surgical ward for his shattered ruptured testicle and then as a psychiatric inpatient, and months in therapy for both of them—together and separately—that they would be able to talk about it. Even after the child protective agency signed off on the case and Lilith was returned home, Henry’s shame still burned.

Henry wanted to make love to his wife, but she wouldn’t let him because she was 12 weeks pregnant with their first child. “I’m nauseous,” Eleanor would say. Or, “It’s not good for the Baby.” Whenever Eleanor said “baby” Henry heard it capitalized. At first, Henry was amused—he might be an accountant, but he knew that sex during pregnancy never hurt the fetus. Even the hippie midwife in the prenatal classes held in the yoga studio said that a woman’s orgasm could bring on labour late in pregnancy, but Eleanor was only beginning to show. 

Henry loved sex. Those long, rainy Sunday afternoons, when they lazed in bed all day, getting out only to raid the fridge. Eleanor’s small breasts cuddled against his chest like kittens, his tongue circling a stiffened areola until she begged him to stop. And Eleanor loved sex back then, too. When they were first married, their average had been 2.1 times a night, but that soon fell off to a steady and satisfying 4.8 times a week. Henry kept a tally: he liked numbers almost as much as he liked having sex. 

Henry didn’t resent the baby: he fell in love with it on that July evening the moment his brain grasped what the blue plus sign on the wet cardboard stick Eleanor waved in front of his nose signified. 

 Henry kept a tally: he liked numbers almost as much as he liked having sex. 

Even before the tiny mound shadowed her concave belly, Eleanor took to wearing shapeless dresses that tented over her body in a bulbous shape and obliterated all of Henry’s favourite landmarks: her tight ass, her legs that added up to a total of 2.14 metres. Yes, he had measured them one night after they had sex, Eleanor giggling as the tape tickled her ankle. When the cold weather arrived, she began to tie flowery kerchiefs on her head. On Eleanor’s previous iteration, the scarves would have appeared elegant and sophisticated, but now, all Henry could think about was a Russian peasant, bundled up fat and legless in long sagging skirts. For all he knew, her feet had ballooned up, calves swelled into ham hocks, with fat ankles on which Eleanor glided, footless. Her cheeks, the cheeks she had to rouge when they dated, shone a vibrant cerise as if about to burst with capillaries. Henry knew there were more than ten billion capillaries in the body—he had googled that because he especially loved numbers that described the body—and they all seemed to have converged on his wife’s cheeks.

“They have elegant pregnancy clothes, you know,” he said once and Eleanor puffed up.

“It’s my body,” she said. “I’ll put what I want on it.”

“Doesn’t matter,” he wrapped his arms around her thickened waist. “I’ll take them off anyway.” 

Eleanor wriggled out of his hug. “I missed the omega supplement yesterday,” she said. “Do you think the Baby will be okay?” 

Henry nuzzled her neck. “The baby will love the endorphins.”

She pushed him away. “Really, Henry. We—” and Henry knew she meant her and the baby, “—need rest.”

While Eleanor fussed about the baby’s development, Henry began to worry about complications of pregnancy for Eleanor: eclampsia, postpartum hemorrhage, postpartum depression and psychosis—he had googled them and jotted down their incidences to the last digit. He didn’t want to lose Eleanor.

“And it’s all happening to the mother’s body,” Eleanor concluded when Henry listed them, so he told her about “couvade,” a complication he had found in an obscure French medical journal. It happened where a man experienced both the physical and mental complications of pregnancy, from morning sickness all the way to postpartum psychosis.

“Those French men,” Eleanor said. “Always outdoing their wives. At least I don’t have to worry about such craziness with good solid you.” 

By the second trimester, Henry’s sexual frustration took a back seat to an accounting error that buried his office in the debris of its explosion. Three senior accountants and four assistants were busy untangling the mess Henry’s mistake had knotted with the firm’s largest client. He had no idea how it had happened: numbers had sung to him since before he knew what they were and he always followed their music. He had no recollection of filing the offending form, but now Canada Revenue Agency had seized the account and the client’s assets.

“If you weren’t my buddy, you’d be out on the street,” his partner had said. Their friendship went back to orientation in first year undergrad, but Henry did bring in several high-profile clients himself.

What Henry needed was a reset. That’s what he and Eleanor used to call sex—Control-Alt-Delete. Endorphins flushing frayed synapses, a calming surge of oxytocin. Bliss. Pressing the RESET button. But that night, Eleanor again slapped the hand he slipped between her thighs, and again, he had to jerk off in the bathroom, feeling like an intruder in his own house. Better than sperm poisoning, he comforted himself when he wiped the come off his hands—three-to-four millilitres of ejaculate, a hundred million spermatozoa per millilitre—but rejection lingered in his limbic system, his reptilian brain coiled like a viper ready to strike. 

And now there was something wrong with the baby. 

“There is a cyst in her abdomen,” Eleanor sobbed on the phone. 

Henry hadn’t gone to the ultrasound because of an emergency board meeting called to examine his messes. Awash in spreadsheets, piles of receipts, and stacks of depositions he asked, “What abdomen?” 

“The Baby’s abdomen.” Henry had a vision of Eleanor and the baby, each with a cavity in their bellies: the fetus filling Eleanor’s uterus and—wait, what? 

“Her?” he asked. Joy flooded his veins—he had always wanted a little girl. “But I thought you wanted to wait … ”

“They told me because of the cyst.”

The prenatal specialist explained the next day. “If the fetus is a female, the differential is broader.” 

Henry finally felt on sure footing. “Is there an integral as well?” he asked. Calculus equations had always been his forte.

“Differential diagnosis,” the doctor said, frowning. “The list of possible things this could be.” 

Ah. No math after all—Henry sighed.

“In a girl, it could be an ovarian or uterine cyst,” the doctor continued. “Or it could also be a blocked bladder or a duplicated intestine.” Henry’s mind already flailed about for odds and percentages to latch on. “Whichever it is, it should be fixable with surgery.” 

Eleanor gasped. “Surgery?” Henry squeezed her hand and she didn’t pull away. 

When the specialist said, “We need an MRI of the baby,” the gravity of the situation finally pummelled Henry right in the chest. 

For the two days they waited for the MRI to be scheduled, Henry really wished he could fuck his wife, but Eleanor only cried herself to sleep. On the second night, Henry realized that she—cheeks pink from crying, her wet eyelashes casting long shadows—began to resemble a doll with a painted-on face.

The MRI was difficult to interpret, the specialist said. There was another mass inside the cystic structure. The cyst had become a cystic structure now. A thing inside the thing that was inside his baby that was inside Eleanor’s uterus. And the uterus was inside Eleanor. Henry’s head began to spin.   

“We had to do a second ultrasound,” the doctor said. “The baby moved, which is normal, but … ” she hesitated, “ … something’s moving inside the cyst as well.” 

She ushered them to a darkened room where the walls glowed blue and orange with computer screens. Henry’s scalp prickled—he could not recognize the shapes on the screens as anything human. In front of a two-foot-tall vertical screen, the doctor pointed to grey-tinted shadows. “This is the baby’s belly. Here,” her finger tapped a black oval in the middle of a larger grey one, “is the cyst.” She punched several keys on the keyboard and the picture sprang to life. “This is what I was talking about,” she said, pointing again.

Henry saw a tiny blob inside the black space, curled up like a caterpillar poked by a stick, bobbing in the darkness. And inside it … The room went blurry like the images on the computer screens. Henry came to lying flat on the floor, a wet green surgical towel cooling his forehead. 

“Not the first time we had a father slide down the wall in here,” the doctor said. “Last time it was for triplets.”

Henry searched for Eleanor. She was leaning sideways from her chair as if to reach for him, but in her face, ghostly blue in the computer lights, her eyes flicked to follow every recorded movement of the baby. Henry couldn’t make himself watch it again—he knew what he had seen.

A flutter inside the blob, there but for a moment. A second heartbeat. In the belly of his daughter. 


Numbers offered no comfort. At work, integers fought with integrals, compound interest rates confused simple interest returns. Errors nested in his calculations: mistakes inside mistakes, growing exponentially in complexity and repercussions. He just might be responsible for the financial collapse of his accounting firm. Just as responsible as he was for the thing inside Eleanor’s belly. 

Oh, God! That last time Eleanor let him … Did one of the millions of sperms he loosened into the pregnant Eleanor swim into the baby? Henry’s stomach churned and yellow liquid bloomed against the white spreadsheets on his desk, the acid stench of vomit filling his office. 

He clutched his head with his shaking hands. 

What if he had fathered the baby of his baby? 

As Eleanor’s belly grew bigger and bigger and the ultrasounds showed that his daughter was thriving, and as he grew more and more certain about what he had seen, Henry never breathed a word about the incest in utero. 

What if he had fathered the baby of his baby?

Eleanor needed a C-section. Not because of the cyst, but because after 17 hours of labour the baby’s heart began to slow down with each contraction. Fetal distress, the obstetrician called it, and the world sped up and soon Henry was trotting alongside the stretcher as the nurses wheeled Eleanor down the hospital hallway. As minuscule as the risk of mother’s death from C-section was—seven in a hundred thousand—numbers had lost their magic and left Henry reeling with fear. 

In the operating room, sequestered with the anaesthetist behind the green drapes next to Eleanor’s head, Henry imagined Eleanor sawn in half, cracked open on the hinge of her spine, concentric circles of pale skin, purple muscle, and white fat like rings on a tree. Or like the Russian nesting dolls his mother collected: five or seven inside a big mother-doll. Pink repetitions of Eleanor. Henry fought down a gag. 

The anaesthetist tapped his wrist. “You’re blocking the IV.”

Startled, Henry yanked the offending hand off Eleanor’s arm.

“Suction,” Henry heard. Followed by a sound like the slurping up of the last bits of soda from the bottom of a can. A tube, snaking beneath the green drape into a squat plastic bottle on the floor flashed pink and a fecund, rich smell filled the sterile air of the operating room. 

After the three-and-a-half minutes that seemed like an eternity even though Henry counted every passing second on the wall clock, the obstetrician pulled the baby out and the room held its breath. Henry kept on counting. Then: a splutter and a scream. “Atta girl,” a nurse said, and Henry slumped with relief. When the pediatrician assessed her, the baby’s Apgars were nine and ten—no asphyxia; her weight, length, and head size all lined on the 50th percentile for her gestation. Lilith’s numbers were perfect. 

Eleanor was fine, too, after they stitched her up. Later that week, already at home, Henry traced the incision that ran from Eleanor’s belly button down to the pubis and counted 24 staples winking silver at regular intervals. He hugged Eleanor. “Ouch,” she said, but she allowed him to lay his head on her deflated, scarred belly.  

But the baby, oh the baby, she had not a mark on her—pink like a freshly boiled shrimp, she lay solid and warm in his palms, redolent with that baby smell he couldn’t get enough of. Her navel—a black-brown wrinkled worm—fell off soon enough, leaving a dark pink star in the middle of her perfect round belly. 

Henry alone knew what that belly concealed. 

Eleanor became a milking machine. She expounded about let-down—the milk release reflex and not a reference to Henry’s sexual feelings—and the best folk remedies for cracked nipples.

One bright, sunny morning, Henry yelped when he glimpsed the bloodied maw of his daughter as she spluttered on Eleanor’s breast. As a child, Henry had watched Dracula with the incomparable Gary Oldman as the vampire licking blood off the straight razor’s blade, and for weeks afterward, he lay in bed all night solving algebra equations in his head to keep the images from popping up in his brain. 

Eleanor cooed. “It’s me.” She broke Lilith’s suck with her pinky and the left nipple, Henry’s favourite because of its black-brown beauty spot the size of a grain of rice, sprung free, seeping blood. He gagged down a bitter flash at the back of his throat. 

“Cracked nipple,” Eleanor said. 

“She hurt you,” Henry said, his voice shaky.

“She couldn’t hurt a fly, silly.” 

And that’s how Henry felt—silly. And superfluous. 

Six weeks later, Lilith’s belly grew to the size of a Texas grapefruit. 

“I’ve seen many cases of fetus-in-fetu, but this ... ” the pediatrician said, after he reviewed yet another set of ultrasound images. He glanced at Lilith. 

“Fetus in what?” Eleanor asked.

“Fetus inside a fetus. It’s the most severe case of Siamese twinning.” He raised his voice at a glance from Eleanor. “Identical twins that don’t separate properly. Usually, the stunted fetus is attached outside the chest or to an organ in the abdominal cavity, but in Lilith, it's inside her uterus.”

That last word hit Henry right between the eyes. 

“Lilith’s—pregnant?” Eleanor’s whisper startled Henry. She knew. 

“I’m not suggesting that.” The doctor stiffened, shocked. “That’s biologically impossible. This is a twin not some ... ” he trailed off. 

His hands in the pockets of his pants, Henry clawed at his thighs to keep himself from screaming. Eleanor rocked Lilith, sobbing quietly. 

“I’ll refer Lilith to a pediatric surgeon,” the doctor said. “When they remove the tissues, a genetic analysis will prove that it is just a stunted twin.” 

But Henry had seen the heartbeat—a baby inside his baby. And there was going to be another baby inside that baby, and then another, and then another—a crazy matryoshka of abominations. Five of them. Or seven—they always came in odd numbers.

And then everybody would know the truth. 

And there was going to be another baby inside that baby, and then another, and then another—a crazy matryoshka of abominations.

He needed to do something, so that everything would return to normal. A reset.

The next day, back in his office, Henry stared at his computer screen and rubbed his itchy eyes. He had tossed in bed all night, lying still only when Lilith cried and Eleanor woke to nurse her. When dawn rose behind the curtains, he crawled out of bed. He couldn’t remember how he made it to the office.

He had no idea what kind of abomination Lilith was, but he knew how to kill a vampire. 

By mid-afternoon, he calculated the necessary parameters: width, length, and thickness. Of the stake. He estimated his chances of success at 97.6 percent. He had calculated the numbers on the office computer, reviewed them over and over again in his head as the train rumbled him home.

“Are you all right?” Eleanor asked at dinner. “You’re so flushed.” 

Lilith was dozing in the carrier on the floor and, for a moment, Eleanor was unencumbered enough to notice her husband. She placed her hand on his forehead—it felt fresh and calming against his skin. “They are working you too hard at that office,” she said. She bent forward and kissed his cheek.

Henry melted—he had forgotten the softness of her lips. He hugged her around her waist and pressed his head against her swollen breasts until Lilith’s cries reverberated through the kitchen and his hands fell onto his thighs like two logs. 

That evening, after Eleanor settled Lilith and collapsed in their bed, Henry crept out. He avoided the creaky third step as he slunk down the stairs to the kitchen. He rummaged through the cutlery drawer for the thickest knife, sharpened it on the whetting stone. In the darkness of the midnight garden, he leaned a ladder against the old oak tree that towered over their gables. Ash was the wood of choice against vampires, but after the emerald ash beetle infestation last summer, all the ash trees in their garden had been razed. Oak would have to do. He had looked up the tensile strength of ash wood and knew that oak’s was identical. 

Snow showered his head as he shook branch after branch sizing their diameters. When he found the right one, he snapped it off and climbed down. “A stake through the heart, a stake through the heart,” he mumbled as he debarked the bough and whittled it.

He tested the stake’s point with his thumb. It was ready.

The nursery door sighed open and Henry stopped in his tracks.

Lilith was sucking peacefully at Eleanor’s breast, her fuzzy head swaying slowly with the rocker. A dimmed light from the lamp standing behind the chair bathed them in a golden glow and a shadow headed with Eleanor’s top bun poked towards Henry’s feet with each sway. 

Eleanor gazed up at him. “Can’t sleep?”


“Henry? Henry!” Eleanor rose, lifting Lilith off her breast, the nipple puckered and glistening with milk, the chair rocking behind her listlessly. She lay the baby in the crib and spun to face Henry in time to deflect the arcing stake with her forearm. “What are you doing?” 

Henry never expected such fury and strength. Eleanor grabbed his arm as it arced the stake through the air and pulled him away from the crib, the stake drawing a bloody gash across her cheek. Holding onto him, she threw herself to the floor and clutched in her grip, he fell down with her. His head thunked against the corner of the oak hope chest at the foot of the crib. Eleanor jumped to standing and aimed a ferocious kick between his legs. Through the tears of pain, curled into a fetal position, Henry watched her grab Lilith and run out of the nursery, her steps thundering down the stairs, and the glass of the front door rattling as she yanked it open. 

When the police arrived, Henry cowered in the farthest corner, hiding behind the crib, his head tangled in its flowery pleated skirt. He had tried to get as far away as possible from the sharpened wooden thing that lay in the middle of the carpet and which radiated such evil. He couldn’t bear to look at it, but when the police led him away, his mind was still churning with plans for a reset.