Popcorn Ceiling

They lie with their heads to the ceiling. The white light of a TV flashed on their faces, made their teeth look white and their skin look shiny.

“Three – two girls one boy,” he said.

She let him.

“I want to have girls. They’re better. But we can have one boy, for you,” he hummed. Did he know how deeply she was listening? No, of course not.

She liked his voice. An R sounded open in the middle of a word. Sometimes an emphasis found its home all the way in the back of a word with too many syllables – like three. She often wanted to change her name to make it sound like the way he said it. But how would she do that?

The ceiling was popcorn, white and puffy.

“What will you name your daughter?” he asked her. She let him think she didn’t hear, so she could let the seconds pass. He asked her again, “What will her name be?”

She thought. The light of the TV flashed on her face as she tried to recall a list she had memorized by heart since the eighth grade. There were two columns…there were names that were highlighted, others crossed out…but what were they again? In the four seconds that it took her to recall, she felt as if a part of her were missing. Then when the names came back to her, she felt like herself again.

Still though, she hesitated – not for long, but she wondered urgently what would happen if she spoke a name aloud. She had never done that before. Never shared that with anyone. In a way, this child was already born, she already loved it, it was already hers.

If she spoke a name to him now, would the child be his, somehow, too? Years from now, would he be long gone, and would the girl be his, even though it was made with another man? Her mind, which was prone to wringing itself up in guilt, apologized profusely to her imagined future husband and promised it meant nothing, although it could easily have meant everything. And a range of emotions charged through her as she ate up the second since his question had been posed.

She settled. It was fine. It was harmless. It was sweet. It was as sweet as the honey in his voice. There, there. Remember that honey, don’t you love that honey?

“Rosie,” she said. Only a few seconds had passed. She smiled because it felt awkward to say the name for the first time. It didn’t feel right. Strange, after all of those years of memorization, the name became a spoken stranger.

“Rosie…” he hummed again. He smiled too and readjusted his head. The puffy ceiling shifted with him. “Naaah…” he seemed to say, although she wasn’t sure if he really said it or if she heard him say it in his locked up head.

“Or…” she said again after a while, this time with more feeling, “I like the name Espa,” she said. And this time she smiled because when she said it, it felt like a tickle in her throat. She said it clumsily, but it felt like laughter. This one was a friend.

“Espa?” he echoed the name again. He was quiet, but this time he wasn’t disagreeing in his mind. She heard a lock snap open. There were so many of those, and one had just opened. Light shifted, black, white, blue, again and again. “Isn’t there a girl named Espa?” he asked, after a while.

She smiled and nodded. It was unrelated. She just liked the name.

“You know her? She’s really nice…I like her,” she was humming too, now. Did her voice sound like honey? It was an auspicious coincidence that she liked the girl, since she had been struck in love with the name ever since she heard it.

It was even more auspicious that he liked that name too.

He began to play with it, and the name danced around in the air like the light of the TV. “Espa, get out of here!” He smiled, pretending to frown. It was funny – his face and their imagination – so they played and they laughed. Again, she wanted to write her name the way he said it. But how would she do that?

The white TV light flickered like a heartbeat on his face. He liked that name. They lie with their heads to the ceiling.


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