I make a deal with God.
He stands on my verandah and asks after my husband.
We’re not married, I say.
God was passing by, admiring the horses, when he saw the man in the field. A handsome man, says God, but much more than plain handsome—strong too. His hands are as thick as two decks of cards shuffled together. The horses are well trained.
I twist a bit of hair that has fallen in my face. I am 20 weeks pregnant. My lover is mild. Every night before we go to sleep, he gets down on both knees. He holds his hands together and they do not shake.
God, those are my horses and that is my lover. We made a baby together and that baby is 20 weeks old, I say.
That pinto is a good horse, even-tempered, he says, but the man is better. I’ll take him.
I think God must be lonely. His face is not what I expected. His eyes are kind but they shine with early tears. I have so much.
What about the baby? I ask.
You won’t keep your end of the deal, God says. You’ll want the baby.
But I need the man, I say.
A baby could be nice, he says.
Lucky you’re patient, God.
Until then, he says. He eyes my belly.
On his way down the driveway he stops to admire the horses again. He runs a thin, silver hand along the ute parked at the gate.
I lock the door, but I am unsettled. I want my lover safe. We can make another baby. When that baby is born it will bounce on my lover’s knee, practising. One day the baby will be big enough to ride the horse in the field. That pinto doesn’t spook easily.
See, I’m patient too. I’ll wait for God.
My lover pats down the horses and feeds them each a log of black licorice. God was generous when he made this man. He comes inside and lights a fire and I go to draw the blinds. Out of the corner of my eye I catch God mounting the pinto. He rides it in large loops through the field. Our house radiates with warmth but God does not knock to come in.
Before he says his prayers, my lover pats my stomach with wide, flat strokes. When the baby is born, he says, we will be happy.
I thought we were happy, I say.
I am, he says, but I can’t wait.
For what? I say.
For God’s little miracle.
Don’t joke, I say.
I thought you didn’t believe in God, he says.
I remember the deal, whispered in hushed tones so as not to disturb the man in the paddock. I remember God circling our house, riding that majestic horse, its black and white spots flashing in the wheaten sky.
Oh God. I made a mistake. Can we make another deal?
I told you, God says, I knew you couldn’t keep your end of the bargain. I knew you didn’t like deals.
God is smug. He didn’t come to check on me. He came to check on his baby. He asks me for a cup of tea—white with two sugars.
My lover wants the baby, I say. I’ll lose him without it. Then you’ll have it all, God. Is that what you want? What about the dog?
Do you think the dog compares to the baby?
What will you do with my baby anyway, God? They’re a lot of work.
I’d take good care of a baby, God says.
God, you know that’s not what I meant. What about my mother? She is old but she is fit, I say. She is mostly good company. She has a red-hot wit and a knack for making dessert.
You don’t even like your mother, he says.
Listen to yourself. She’s my mother. I’d be devastated without her. You two will have the best time. She won a competition once for her pav.
The baby kicks, but I do not put hand to stomach.
The baby will be a lot of work, but my mother is easy, I say.
I don’t know if she seems easy, God says. I think she might be more difficult than the baby. I will try her out. If I don’t like her, then we’ll talk again.
At her funeral, I am fat with child. My brother reads a clever speech about her. She was a fantastic mother, he says, and an even better grandmother. She was very good with shortcrust, he says.
My face is red and wet. By all accounts, I am sad. After the service, mourners gather round me, drinking cups of lukewarm tea—white, no sugar. They talk about my mother’s perfect health.
She had a soft spot though, I say, for meringue.
I waddle through the grieving, hand in hand with my lover. I leave my other on my large belly. I glow. I’ve made a good deal. I think about God. I hope they’re okay.
In the viewing room, I take my mother’s stone hands in mine. Mama, you are cold, I say.
You’ll never meet my baby.
I remember my mother standing in the kitchen, her face pink from the heat of the oven. I could have been a pastry chef, she said. Her hands were cold even then.
I bathe in relief. No takebacks, God. She is ready for the ground.
God calls me on the phone.
Goddamn it, I say. How did you even get my number?
I looked it up on the internet.
You know how to use the internet?
Your mother taught me.
The baby is restless. I feel her inside me turning. She does not like to hear from God, but I’ve got him on the phone and he’s wanting.
You probably know why I’m calling.
I know, God. How is my mother?
She’s a lot of work actually. I need something to entertain her.
What about the dog, I say.
The dog could work, he says, maybe the cat too.
My lover digs a grave for the dog and a grave for the cat in the paddock near a large tree. The vet came round last night and said there was nothing more he could do for either of them. He said they’d both be dead by morning.
My lover suspects the neighbour. He’s poisoned them, he says. They were both in perfect health. I look out to our field. The pinto runs untroubled.
I am accepting. I stoop to pet the dog one last time but my big tummy makes me unsteady. Whoa, I say, careful.
I’ll miss the dog, but I’m counting my blessings. At our last appointment, the doctor said my baby is as big as a pineapple. I’ll name her Eve.
The cat died but the dog just won’t die. As soon as my lover made a hole in the ground, the dog got scared. I don’t want to hear from God. I try to coax that dog to death.
Maybe the dog will make it, my lover says. He likes the dog more than the cat and more than my mother. He doesn’t like the dog as much as the baby. I am parked on the couch, a baby beluga.
Die, dog, die, I think.
My lover sits next to me and strokes my stomach and my big boobs. He wants to be my lover again but I can’t focus. I want that dog gone. Every day I think I’ll get a phone call or an email from God.
Every day that dog lives I am nervous.
Well, the dog died.
My lover cries and buries the dog next to the cat. I cry too. I liked the dog. He was a gentleman. He never jumped on you to say hello when he had muddy paws. He didn’t smell too bad.
God, do you like the dog? I ask, but God’s not talking back today. He must be busy with my mother and the dog and the cat.
I saw a mouse the other day. My lover set a trap. I remembered the cat then, her incandescent body slinking through the paddock.
Jesus Christ, I said, when I saw that mouse.
My lover says maybe we should buy some things for the baby. We go to the baby shop and we buy a crib, a stroller, some nappies and some other things a baby needs. My lover assembles the stroller and rolls it around the living room. I imagine him putting the cat in the stroller. A joke.
There is no cat. There is no cat and there is no dog and there is no grandmother. We are a family of three. It is enough for me.
Still I can’t forget God, his white hair liquid behind him in the winter wind, riding that pinto through the field. Of course he did not need a saddle. That horse is a good horse, strong with an even temper. There’s plenty of space for him to run in heaven. I wonder if we have a gun. My lover packs a bag for the hospital.
It’s almost time, he says.
It’s not that close to the time, I say.
God, are we good? The baby is almost here. I don’t dare look down.
But I can’t stop this baby from being born. It’s all part of God’s plan. My lover and I drive the ute to the hospital and I am sweating from pain and from fear. The doctors give me medicine because I’m green with dread and they think I don’t want to have this baby. My lover holds my hands steady.
I want to have this baby. I want to love this baby. And I want to hear from God.
I talk to him instead. Take the ute, take the house, take the horses if you will, take my job, take my lover’s job, take my favourite tree in the field—the jacaranda we buried the dog beside—take my brother and his wife and their baby too. It’s only young! She still smells good. She can already crawl.
Take me if you must.
My lover looks at me with big black eyes and I know I am not doing well. I am not having this baby in the right way. I don’t know how to stop being afraid because God has the cat and the dog and my mother and he wanted my lover and my baby too. Why would he stop wanting them now? I haven’t.
I can hear myself crying for God.
That’s the thing about him. He doesn’t answer when you call. When he wants something he takes it and when you want something he’s busy. He has to reprimand the cat for bringing in stray mice. He has to feed the dog and the dog is always hungry. He has to entertain my mother and she’s a real pain. I lied a bit when I said she was a good match for God.
The nurse places my daughter in my arms. I stare at her miniature hands folded together in prayer. Now that she is here I can forget about God for good.
In the morning, we walk out of the hospital and into the parking lot. My baby is in my arms, wrapped in an ivory blanket. The sun touches her face for the first time.
In the distance, I see our truck being towed. My lover curses under his breath so not to wake the baby.
She is so beautiful. She is so goddamned beautiful. I hope you like the ute, God. It is a good ute with worn leather seats. The air conditioning is new and the stereo goes loud. My lover and I drove it across this country once. We camped on the Nullarbor Plain and slept every night under the open sky.
I’m sure you know what that feels like.
Paige Clark is a Chinese-American-Australian fiction writer and researcher. She is completing her Masters at the University of Melbourne. Her research addresses the relationship between race, writing craft and pedagogy.
This story was the runner-up of the 2019 Peter Carey Short Story Award.