Alexander. The name stuck in his head like a sliver of popcorn in-between teeth. Caul paced the waiting room like a man possessed, grateful in a way that today he alone seemed to be facing this common ordeal.
His panic had begun the night before, when his wife woke him from a sound sleep, hissing ‘It’s time! It’s time!’ in his ear like a banshee.
“Caul, my water broke! The little lad is coming early, come on!”
Early. Caul collapsed into one of the threadbare chairs which surrounded the room on all sides like silent soldiers. He held his head in his hands. His boy just had to be early.
Cynthia and he had hemmed and hawed about knowing the sex of the baby before it was born. In the end they had taken the plunge and were both delighted at the prospect of raising a little boy.
“Now, Caul,” Cynthia had said to him with unaccountable soberness, the night after they had found out the big news, “about naming the baby.”
Caul lowered his newspaper, teeth tightening around the stem of his pipe. “Plenty of time for that, old girl; don’t you think?”
“I’ll be at nine months before you know it, believe you me.” Cynthia scooted forward in her chair, womb preceding her like a flag bearer. “And I don’t want us to be one of those couples who leave that until the last-minute. I want our boy to have a name the moment he’s born, not a good week after. Just seems cruel.”
“Alright, Cynth. Any names strike your fancy?”
“I was hoping you would pick one, dear.”
“Me?” Caul dropped the paper into his lap, pulling his pipe from between his teeth with a snap. “What, by myself?”
“I’ve been reading,” Cynthia gestured to the piles of books which surrounded her rocking chair; well-meant gifts from friends and relations, every last one about how to raise your first child. Caul hated the books. They gave Cynthia the queerest ideas. Besides, he wasn’t going to let some snake-oil salesman from America tell him how to raise his son. Ridiculous.
“They say,” Cynthia continued, taking up her cross-stitch in one had, “that the bond between a father and son is especially important to a male child’s development.”
“Shan’t we have that already? A strong bond?”
Cynthia stared at him over the top of her half-moon glasses. “A bond is something you have to work at, Caul. Especially with boys; they’re far less emotional and trusting than little girls.”
“And when our boy grows up, well, knowing that it was you, you alone who choose his name, it will make him feel all the closer to you. Don’t you think?”
“Ah, yes, I see,” Caul nodded, not seeing at all.
“Good, then, it’s decided. And I don’t want to know what you choose until after he’s born.”
“But, Cynthia!” He crumpled his paper in his lap, rendering it quite unreadable. “What if I pick a name you loathe?”
“You couldn’t possibly, my love, I know it.”
They sat in silence for several moments, Caul staring morosely at his ruined paper, and Cynthia concentrating on a particularly tricky stitch.
“Except for Alexander.”
“What’s that, old girl?”
“Alexander.” Lips pursed, Cynthia shook her head. “I had a horrid cousin named Alexander. He tormented ceaselessly each and every summer. He died in the war.” Coming back to herself with a shake, she smiled at her husband before returning to her pink roses. “But any name other that will be fine, dear.”
The days passed and Caul had had every intention of choosing a name for his son. On night, he shuddered to think of it now, he had even told Cynthia that he’d settled on one, purely to calm her nerves.
How was he to know the child would be early?
All the way to the hospital, Caul had racked his brain for a name, any name. But the alarm and excitement had left his mind entirely blank of any common male forename. Except for one.
Cynthia would never forgive him.
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