[Issue 10 / August 2014]

“Isn’t she beautiful?” said Hilary, looking in the backseat at his newborn daughter. Hilary and his wife, Elliot, came from a week-long stay at the hospital. This was their first child together, and Hilary was actively involved with attending doctor’s appointments and Lamaze classes and helping decorate the baby’s room. Elliot wasn’t carrying her baby, but their baby. Their daughter was just as much Elliot’s as Hilary’s.

“She is,” said Elliot. She reached and rubbed the soft, pale-brown skin on their daughter’s fingers. The baby had her father’s color and thin lips, but her mother’s eyes, nose, ears, and thick eyebrows. “She’s perfect.”

Hilary drove when the light turned green. They were almost home, where Elliot’s siblings awaited. Minutes later Hilary pulled into the driveway to their quaint, one-story home. It was dark and windy outside, and blowing in the wind was a pink banner and balloons, which hung over the garage.

“My sister knows I don’t like pink, at least not for my little girl.”

“I hope the baby’s room isn’t rearranged or redecorated,” said Hilary, combing through his back-length, curly locks. “We have it blue for a reason.”

Elliot wrapped the baby in her blue blanket, then got her out of the car and carried the diaper bag while Hilary got their luggage. When Hilary opened the front door, the Nicholsons were greeted enthusiastically by Elliot’s brother and sister, Courtney and Emerson.

“Congratulations!” shouted Courtney and Emerson in different pitches while standing in the living room. They rushed to see the new addition to the family.

“Thank you,” said Elliot, standing in the foyer. She and Hilary hugged and kissed her siblings.

“The delivery went well.”

“How many pounds is she?” asked Emerson, gently raking the tuft of black hair on her niece’s head. “This is clearly Elliot’s girl.”

“Six pounds, seventeen ounces, and twenty-one inches,” said Hilary, chuckling. “Elliot can’t take credit for her hair.” Hilary was referring to Elliot’s short-cropped hair.

“That’s no baby, that’s a fish!” said Courtney.

Everyone burst into laughter and the baby yawned.

“Time to see your room,” said Elliot.

The Nicholsons’ living room was decorated a deep-burgundy color. It consisted of two plush couches, an armchair, and a hardwood table in the center. However, Hilary noticed something off about the living room: the vase and his Good Housekeeping magazines were out of place. He jumped ahead of everyone and placed the vase in the upper left-hand corner and the magazines in the center. They were the other way around.

“I can’t stand for things to be out of place,” said Hilary. “That’s a lot better.”

“Sorry, Hilary. I was cleaning and forgot to put them back correctly,” said Courtney, more like a question than an apology.

Emerson took the luggage to the master bedroom while Courtney followed Hilary and Elliot to check out the baby’s room. Elliot flipped on the switch, and she and Hilary were appalled. Their daughter’s blue room had splashes of pink in it. Her changing table cover was pink, her crib blanket was pink, and her stuffed animals were pink.

“Why is her room pink?” said Elliot. “Even the banner and balloons outside are pink.”

Emerson walked in the room and said, “I changed what I could. Pink is more appropriate. She is a girl.”

“Pink is for boys, blue is for girls,” said Hilary. “Blue is a delicate girls’ color, and pink is a strong boys’ color.”

Courtney massaged his temples and Emerson palmed her face.

“We spent hours painting the room blue, buying blue clothes and shoes and blankets. It’s clear blue is her color,” said Elliot.

Emerson looked at the baby in her carrier. She had on a blue onesie and socks. The baby curled her upper lip as if she was agreeing with her parents in her sleep.

“Trash the banner and balloons, Courtney,” whispered Emerson. Courtney darted outside to get rid of the banner and balloons.

“Will you watch the baby while Hilary and I change?” asked Elliot.

“Yeah, sure.”

Elliot rejoined her siblings in the living room. She had on a tank top, cut-off sweatpants, and men’s argyle socks.

“Thanks, sis,” said Elliot, picking up the baby from Emerson’s hold. She sat on the couch across from her sister.

“Are you hungry or thirsty?” asked Courtney, sitting in her armchair.

“I’ll take water. Hilary and I had something to eat on the way home,” said Elliot.

“Elliot’s been craving a beer her entire pregnancy. I caved in when we left the hospital,” said Hilary, coming down the hall. He wore similar attire as Elliot, except his sweatpants weren’t cut off. He was closer to the kitchen and got them water.

“You guys could’ve said something before I slaved over a hot stove,” growled Emerson.

“With the little one draining me of my liquids, I’ll need that food to keep me going,” said Elliot. She gulped down half the bottle and placed it on the floor.

“And sleep won’t be an option,” said Hilary, laughing.

“We’re here to help,” said Courtney. “This is the honeymoon phase. She’ll sleep all day now, but not later. When she’s awake half the night, you’ll both wish she was still a newborn.”

“In that case, Uncle Courtney will be on speed dial!” said Hilary, pointing at Courtney.

“What’s her name?” asked Emerson.

“Leonardo Aurelius Nicholson. Leo for short,” said Elliot.

“Isn’t that a boy’s name?” said Emerson. “She’s a girl.”

“Leonardo suited her,” said Hilary. “Most names are masculine derived and became unisex when girls were given masculine names. I don’t see what the big deal is.”

“’Cause you’re a man named Hilary, that’s why,” said Courtney in a snarky tone.

“Damned proud of it,” said Hilary. “You don’t get to decide what Elliot and I name our

child.”

“By that definition, Courtney, my name shouldn’t be Elliot. Emerson’s name shouldn’t be Emerson. Everyone in this house has a masculine name. How do you define masculine versus feminine when they overlap? Or are you talking about what’s ‘accepted’ as a feminine?” said Elliot. “Being named Elliot didn’t stop me from graduating in the top five percent at Brown. If anything, it got me remembered. I stood out.”

Elliot and Hilary were stumped for two days after Leonardo was born on what to name her. Names like Michaela and Madison didn’t appeal to them. Rather they looked to their adversity and success with the names they were given. If Elliot and Hilary could become professors at Brown University, their daughter Leonardo could amount to more. Also, according to a recent academic journal they had read, women with masculine or masculine-sounding names earned more money, especially in industries dominated by men.

“If your name was Ella, you would’ve still been outgoing and personable,” said Emerson. “Your drive and determination made you successful, not your name.”

“Sometimes what you’re named determines how far you go,” said Hilary. “If we named her after a bottle of liquor or a car, what employer would take her seriously? We want to give her a fighting chance.”

“Even if she ended up flipping burgers, would it be her name or her ambition that got her there?” said Courtney. Leonardo, sensing the commotion, got cranky and cried.

“Get me a towel, Hilary. She’s hungry.” Hilary went back to Leo’s room and brought Elliot a towel. She turned her body to the side, placed the baby to her breast, and covered the left side of her body with the towel. The conversation resumed.

“You guys could’ve spared the girl, though,” said Emerson. “Reagan and Cameron may be ambiguous, but they’re flexible. She’s going to catch hell being Leonardo.”

“I’ve caught hell being Hilary and not Harold. Fights and taunts alike, but I didn’t blame my parents for it. I toughened up and dealt with it,” said Hilary.

Hilary knew his in-laws thought if he knew being ridiculed firsthand, why subject another generation to it? Emerson and Courtney had given their children gender-neutral names to lessen the confusion on the sex of their children and any conflicts they may have. It was a direct response from the names they were given, which they didn’t embrace. Their outlooks didn’t change the minds of their sister and brother-in-law on the name they had given their daughter. They said nothing further.

Courtney and Emerson eyed the first-time parents. Hilary used the towel Elliot had and burped Leonardo. Elliot smiled and kissed Leonardo’s cheeks. The baby cooed as a response. Their niece was the perfect blend of her parents and completed their family.

*

Arika Elizenberry is a native of Las Vegas, Nevada. Her work has appeared in the Silver Compass and Neon Dreams. Some of her favorite writers include James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, and Octavia Butler. She holds an A.A. in Creative Writing and is currently working on her B.A. in English.

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