Illustration by Emily Zhang

This piece received second place in the fiction category of the 2024 Wallace Prize.

Dr. David Rosen had lived in Lubbock long enough to know how to survive. He knew when to introduce himself as Dave Rose (almost always) and when to introduce himself as David Rosen (almost never). He knew to drive over to the nearest wet county to buy a bottle of red wine for the Sabbath. It didn’t matter much. They all knew he was a Jew, anyway. In some ways, it protected his career as only one of three obstetricians in all of Lubbock County. The men weren’t worried about him chatting up their wives while he saw them naked, sliced them open, sat between their legs. He was an undesirable, an outcast, and therefore not a threat. 

He had other secrets. When he wanted to read about the latest European fashions, he knew to hide McCall’s Magazine within his copy of The Saturday Evening Post or Life Magazine, as he did now in line at the deli. 

Behind him waited a pregnant woman and her young son. He peered over at the woman’s magazine. Pierre Balmain’s spring collection, available now, displays the artist’s–– David had read the same article moments before. He folded his sandwiched magazines closed. The boy behind David wore a cowboy hat and clutched a stuffed horse under his chubby arm. The clothespin of his diaper was visible above his toy holster. The horse dropped to the ground with a lifeless thump. The boy began to cry. He turned to wipe his face on his mother’s skirt, but she whisked the hem away. 

“Don’t you muss my clothes, now,” she said, not looking up from her magazine. 

“What happened, cowboy?” David said. 

“Sport got hurt,” the boy sobbed. A snot bubble inflated above his lip. 

“Well son, I have treated many cases like Sport’s before. Let me take his pulse.” David dropped to one knee and the boy held Sport toward him with a shaking arm. David tipped his right ear to the horse’s side and nodded his head in pace with an imagined heartbeat. “Just what I thought. What I hear is nothing but pure equine diastolic and systolic homeostasis.”

The boy stared in fascination. The woman looked up from her magazine. 

“In other words, Sport is fit for the Kentucky Derby.” 

The boy wiped his nose on the back of his hand and hugged the horse to his chest. David offered him a square of peach-colored taffy from his coat pocket. The boy accepted it with a slobbery smile. The woman made a show of cleaning the boy’s face with a handkerchief and beamed. “My word, you must have a little one!” she said. 

“Not yet, ma’am,” he said. 

“I’ll pray for you to have a child,” she declared. 

“I’ll pray for a wife first,” he responded good-naturedly, sending both the woman and the cashier into peals of charmed laughter. 

“Well Timmy, say thank you to the nice gentleman,” the woman fluttered. 

“Thanks, mister,” Timmy mumbled to the floor. 

David leaned down to shake the boy’s hand, but with this movement, McCall’s slipped out of Life and landed on the floor, pages splayed suggestively. 

The cashier looked away quickly and the woman’s eyebrows shot up her face. David grabbed it quickly. 

“For my wife,” he said too quickly, then, “I mean, it’s not mine––” 

“You’re sick,” spat the woman. She dragged Timmy out of the store by his armpit. He wailed. Through the glass door, David and the cashier watched the woman stick her fingers into Timmy’s crying mouth. She pulled out the piece of taffy and flung it away as if it were a poisonous insect. It stuck to the sidewalk like shame. 

David took his sandwich and placed two quarters on the counter so softly they didn’t make a sound. He didn’t turn around when the cashier shouted after him that he needn’t return. He kept walking to the hospital, where he’d save the lives of other women who feared and hated him. ***

“You must have a little one!” 

The woman’s words burrowed into David’s mind. He agreed with her: he must. He had always thought so since he held his baby sister. But in this, he felt unusual. 

It seemed to David that the wives were the ones who wanted the babies. The men were the ones who sighed and obliged, rolling and grunting on top of their wives until the wives were made women (the men were already men). The women took up the babies and made the house into a nest. The men took up golf and shooting and automobiles and football to keep them out of the nest until cocktail hour. 

In his free time, David thought about the fathers of literature. King Lear misunderstood his children. Mr. Bennett neglected his. Agamemnon traded Iphigenia for good fortune. Pap Finn tried to kill Huck. 

Meanwhile, Clytemnestra killed Agamemnon to avenge her daughter. Marcel’s mother kissed him goodnight without fail. Marmee still found time to feed the paupers after feeding Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. 

Less virtuous women appeared in literature, of course. There was Emma Bovary. And Anna Karenina. But Emma and Anna never beat their children, molested them, or demeaned them. They simply refused to let their offspring disturb their quest for pleasure. In this sense, they were bad mothers, or relatively good fathers. 

The problem seemed rooted in older books, David thought, in his own and in that of his neighbors. 

Abraham held Isaac’s bound body over the flames, hearing a voice in his mind drone out the terror of the boy. 

God let them strip Jesus naked, let the thorns bite his scalp, let them drive nails through the palms of his son.

It could have been a fable, but David once saw his neighbor, Mr. Cullins, watch the neighborhood boys make fun of young Cathy Rae Cullins when a spot of menstrual blood bloomed onto her skirt and Mr. Cullins did nothing to stop them. The way David saw it, the events were connected. 

So he dreamed. He would be the protagonist of a yet unwritten book in which the father was willing to insult a god or commit treason or climb the cross himself to keep his baby alive. 


David made it through the day. He delivered one baby and prescribed penicillin to one woman who tore. 

He drove home from the hospital. He parked in the gravel driveway of the yellow ranch house he was paying off. He sighed every time he saw it. He never thought he’d buy a house here, here where he could see Park Avenue Baptist Church from the kitchen and First Baptist Church from the bedroom. “The things we do,” he muttered. He had nailed the mezuzah on the inside of the door frame, rather than the outside. It didn’t matter. Some neighborhood boys put a block of bacon in his mailbox last week. They were probably the same ones who tormented Cathy Rae. Maybe they were the sons of the boys who socked him on the playground in junior high. Cruelty was hereditary. 

He entered and paid Mrs. Jenkins, the maid. He ate a plate of roast beef that she left in the oven for him. She always overcooked it, but he never told her. On some mornings when he picked her up from the bus stop, she sported a fading bruise on one eye or the other. He noticed things like this. He wouldn’t add to her troubles. 

Now he lay on his back. Richie’s head lay on his chest. A cylinder of hot ash fell on David’s bare stomach. He fought the urge to flinch while the ash curled into a gray feather and left a tiny welt. He didn’t want to disturb Richie. 

This Richie was Kenny’s boy Richie. His name wasn’t Richie Matthew, singular, but Richie Matthews, plural. 

“Like there are two of you,” David would say, a smile lifting his face.

“No sir, my daddy would’n’a made the same mistake twice,” Richie would laugh bitterly. 

“If there were two of you, I’d go out and find you both,” David would respond. 

But David knew what Richie meant. Kenny Matthews had been the mayor of Lubbock for nineteen years. He owned four stores downtown. He was on the board of the bank. “I led this town straight through the war and back,” Kenny Matthews would say as if the dusty drugstores of the Panhandle were the beaches of Normandy. 

Kenny would have considered his son a mistake if he knew what Richie did. He wouldn’t have set up Richie with the job at the bank. He wouldn’t have bought Richie the Buick Skylark that the whole town envied. He wouldn’t announce to the world that Richie was his. 

Richie was praying. He always prayed, afterward. 

David watched Richie. His face in prayer did not look so different from his face in pleasure. This was the type of observation that would offend Richie, that would remind Richie that he was, in his own head, damned. 

“Amen,” Richie muttered and lit a cigarette of his own. 

The two men exhaled in hazy silence. 

David tilted his head from one side to the other. He waited for Richie to speak. After his prayers, usually, Richie would talk his ear off about his day at the office. 

But today, Richie was quiet. He studied his cigarette intently between draws. How small it looked in his hands, ribboned with veins and muscle. Richie was proud that his physique now looked the same as it did the day the town carried him out of the stadium on their shoulders. It was his last game of the senior season. Team Captain of Texas Tech Football was closer to a royal title in Lubbock than Mayor. With a touchdown, he shared his father’s crown. 

“Well, have you given it some thought?” David asked at last. 

“Sure,” said Richie.


“Dallas is far.” 

“And? You like driving.” 

“Not for five hours.” 

“Look, I have to go down to Dallas for the conference anyhow. No one would know us there. Don’t you want to eat with me in a restaurant, Richie? Don’t you want to see what my face looks like in the daytime?” 

“You know I do,” Richie responded, quietly. 


Richie walked to David’s house at 5 am, before the light came. (People would have seen the Skylark in David’s driveway.) 

Dallas announced itself when the lone ranch houses began to huddle into neighborhoods. The city center rose up in brick buildings painted white and yellow and pink. Richie insisted on staying in the car while David sat through an hour-long presentation from the other physicians. 

“I phoned for a lunch reservation at the Adolphus Hotel,” David said excitedly. He pulled the car up to a line of valets wearing gloves. A valet stepped forward and opened the door for David, then Richie. Richie stared openly. 

Cuidelo bien, señor,” David instructed the man, handing him a nickel. 

A su servicio,” he responded, taking the keys. 

After the man drove off, Richie turned to David and asked under his breath, “Did you tell him we’re brothers?” 

“No Richie, I told him to take care of the car.” 

“Well I couldn’t understand,” Richie retorted. 

“Well now brother, let’s go on in,” David said soothingly. He put a hand on Richie’s shoulder and tried not to notice when Richie shivered like a horse shaking off a fly.

The two men walked through the oak doors. When they stepped inside, Richie drew in a breath. The ground had a thick red carpet and a glass chandelier sent light shifting across the paneled walls. “David, you shoulda told me. I’m not dressed right for this thing.” 

“It’s fine, Richie, we’re just having lunch.” 

The maitre d’ greeted them. 

“Please wait while we prepare the table, gentleman,” he said. 

“We wouldn’t have to wait at home,” Richie grumbled. 

“Stop grumbling,” David chided. 

The maitre d’ returned and led them to their seats. He handed them leather-bound menus. “Can I offer either of you a cocktail to start with?” he asked. 

“No,” said Richie, louder than necessary. 

A waiter materialized to take their order. 

“I’ll have the sole meunière, but may I have the beurre blanc on the side?” David asked. “An excellent choice, sir,” responded the waiter. “And you?” 

“I, uh, the tuna… car…paccio,” said Richie, uncertainly. 

“He’s an adventurous eater,” David told the waiter mischievously, and Richie kicked him under the cover of the white tablecloth. 

After the waiter returned with their plates, Richie’s eyes widened. The tuna carpaccio was a tower of fleshy, dull pink bricks. 

“I didn’t order this,” Richie protested. 

“This is indeed the tuna carpaccio, sir,” the waiter responded. 

“Where is the tuna? What’s this pink stuff?” 

“The tuna is the pink stuff, sir. As you know, it is our signature preparation of raw fish.” Richie’s face colored darker than the tuna meat. 

“Can I offer you a different dish to replace it?” offered the waiter.

“Naw, I’m fine,” Richie said. 

“Oh Richie, have something else!” said David. 

“I said, it’s fine!” responded Richie, lighting a cigarette. 

“Sir, may I offer you a cigar in lieu of––” 

“Just go away,” responded Richie. 

David tried to catch his eye, but the smoke obscured him. 


David and Richie spent the five hours back to Lubbock in silence. 

Richie turned on the radio somewhere near Weatherford. He fiddled with the stations until Elvis Presley’s voice filled the car. 

“I’m sorry,” said Richie. 

“I’m sorry, too.” 

“I know you love this song,” said Richie. 

“I know you love me,” said David, a smile pushing up his face. 

“That’s right,” said Richie. He looked out the window. The prairie spread before them. 


David was smiling in the post office, which was little more than a dark, cluttered room. He was mailing a letter to his baby sister––well, a baby no longer. She was a Radcliffe girl now. David always looked forward to dropping off his letters and copies of annotated novels. It wouldn’t stop him that Mr. Edward, the postman, was always in a dour mood. 

The elderly woman in front of David was not paying attention. She didn’t realize that she was at the front of the line. Mr. Edward coughed aggressively. The woman spun around and sent a stack of envelopes cartwheeling to the floor.

“Not to worry, ma’am,” David said. He knelt to the floor and began scraping up handfuls of envelopes. 

“What’re you doin’ that for, Rosen?” snapped Mr. Edwards. “Everyone knows Jews can’t go to heaven anyhow.” 


Back in Ben Jackson’s Motel, David leaned on his back and looked at the ceiling fan he saw twice a week. The ceiling was covered by a floral printed fabric, which had been chewed threadbare by hungry moths. The fan was creaky and plastic. It might have been his favorite view in the world. Richie sat stiffly against the pillows. 

“Want another smoke?” David offered. 

Richie shook his head, then nodded. 

He clamped a cigarette between his teeth and sat back against the headboard once more. He chewed on it, unlit. 

“You’re worrying me, Richie,” David said to the fan. Then, “It’s fine that you didn’t like the lunch. It’s fine. We won’t do it again. We can just stay here. We can figure––” 

“David, I’m engaged.” 

David blinked. 

“But how?” 

“Same way as everyone else.” 

“But… how?” 

“How?” he mocked. “Don’t play stupid, David. By asking her.” 

David felt tears spring to his eyes. The ceiling fan was underwater. Or he was. Richie’s face softened. 

“I proposed. To Georgia Lou Dickinson. She’s a real good girl. She golfs at the club.” “I see.”

“Her momma and mine are friends.” 

“And you like her?” 


“Enough to marry her?” 


“You’re spitting in my face, Richie.” 

“This ain’t about you, David. Our time’s run out, that’s all. We’re barely living. We only see each other twice a week. We sneak over to the Black side of town. We pay Ben Jackson, more than his rooms cost, to keep his mouth shut, and he asks for fifty cents more every week. We can’t do this forever.” 

“Maybe we could. If we’ve kept it from your all-seeing daddy, I don’t see why we couldn’t keep it from your wife.” 

“Don’t be stupid, David. That would never work here.” 

“So let’s leave! Let’s leave, men can live together in other places, we could go to Europe.” “I know you hate it here, David. But I don’t know where else would be as… comfortable for me. This is my town. These are my people.” 

“But they hate us,” said David. 

“No, Dave,” Richie said, rolling onto his side. “They hate you.” 


David forked another clump of mashed potatoes into his mouth. They stuck to his palate. They had no taste. Mrs. Jenkins was a poor cook, but David was worse. He had given her the week off during the lead-up to Richie’s wedding. He could barely hold himself together at the hospital, much less at home. He didn’t want her to hear him crying, cursing, throwing a book at a wall in just the next room over. The house was small. One man doesn’t need much space when he has no one else. 

The ceremony would be at First Baptist Church, the one visible from David’s bedroom. He dragged his mattress from the bedframe and slept on the kitchen floor.

“I’ll wake up alone again tomorrow,” David announced to the room, his voice muffled by the potatoes, and no one corrected him. 

He sighed. Dido killed herself when Aeneas left her. In the stories, the forsaken always kill themselves. David thought about it. He would take his razor blade and press the dull side into his wrist, waiting for the courage to flip it. Then he would remember the glass boxes of babies with half-formed lungs, open guts, jaundiced skin. Until the hospital could hire a proper neonatologist, he was the only person in town who knew how to save them. He’d slap himself and put the razor away. 

Richie was the forsaker. Sometimes the forsakers killed themselves, too. Like Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina. Cheaters. Adulterers. Sinners, as Richie would say. But both women traded practicality for passion. Richie, on the other hand, traded passion for practicality. If the logic held, he would have a happy ending. 

David looked at the invitation again. It was printed on thick paper, pale pink. He knew Richie didn’t choose it, didn’t have anything to do with planning the ritual that would consecrate his normalcy. He felt angriest when he thought of Richie handing the baby off to Georgia when he went to watch a game. Fatherhood would be an afterthought to Richie. A checkbox, a credential. A degree perhaps, a doctorate in being a normal man with a normal life. 

Maybe it would suit him. The muscles of the town’s football hero would soften into the figure of a father. 

Jealousy knotted with David’s loneliness, and he cried for a while. 

Afterward, he shaved his face and put on his suit. He shined his shoes and combed his hair. Then he walked out the door to watch his lover marry a girl who golfed at the club. *** 

David watched from the back of the church. He sat alone. Afterward, he fought his way to the front of the receiving line. Richie clapped the men on the back as they embraced him. Georgia tossed her head this way and that to accept kisses on the cheek. Her veil followed her like a tail. Her dress was like something out of the Dior book last year. He congratulated Georgia on her taste. They made a good couple, David conceded. She had a sunny, freckled face. Her smile was earnest, like Richie’s. Their child would look like her, he felt with certainty. 

And then they were in front of him, arm and arm and smelling of perfume. The felicitous couple stared at him blankly. Georgia broke the silence. 

“Dr. Rose! You delivered my niece!” she exclaimed. She tugged on her husband’s arm. “Richie, this is the man who saved Caroline’s life!” 

“Congratulations, Richie,” said David, extending his hand. 

“Good to meet you, doctor,” said Richie, shaking it limply. 


David left the reception early to go to the hospital. He stood up just as the waiters wheeled out the cake, so no one noticed when he left. They probably wouldn’t have cared anyway. For a second, he thought Richie might have noticed because he held up a napkin to his face as if to hide a pained look. Then Richie moved the napkin to the back of his neck and it became clear that he was simply wiping away sweat. 

David drove to the hospital by himself. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel in rhythm to the radio music. An Elvis song came on. David switched the radio off. He tried to swallow but found his tongue was as heavy as lead. 

The West Texas Hospital was a single, four-story brick building. David had completed his residency in a hospital with four different buildings. Meanwhile, this hospital had the look of a hypertrophied schoolhouse. The red brick edifice was accentuated by white detailing. Steps led up to the front door. Dual flag poles with the Texan and American flags stuck out of the middle of the roof like television antennae. When he accepted the job, he had planned to stay a year, no more. But Richie was tree sap––no, amber, he thought. And David was an ant. 

There were very few cars parked on the block surrounding the hospital. It was Easter weekend. His own staff was on leave. Half of his nurses had been at the wedding that morning, glowering at Georgia through their congratulatory smiles. 

David checked his watch. 8:27 pm. If the invitation was correct, the reception would be over by now. Everyone would be home, drinking their illegal whiskey in the privacy of their kitchens. “Evening, Alice,” he greeted the woman at the front desk. “Evening,” she responded, not looking up from her book. 

He walked to his small office in the maternity ward. The paper calendar on the wall was still pinned to February. He didn’t want to see the word “April” printed at the top, in the same font that it had been on the wedding invitation. Otherwise, his office was tidy. A folding cot leaned against the wall for overnight shifts. A hanging skeleton model shook when he walked or sneezed. He stacked his medical textbooks in two adjacent towers on his desk. He thought they looked like a ribcage. Behind the stacks stood the framed picture of his sister. A heart behind bone: the metaphor was complete. David did things like this to entertain himself, to keep his artistic mind alive. He didn’t tell Richie about it. Richie wouldn’t have found it clever. 

A knock at the door startled him out of his reverie. 

The voice cleared its throat. David looked up. One of the nurses was standing in the doorway. “She’s ready to push, doctor. Mrs. Ryder. In room 41.” 

“Thanks, Stacy.” 

David read Mrs. Ryder’s chart on the walk to room 41. This was her seventh birth in nine years. She had outstanding hospital bills from the last three. Her hospital gown stretched over her belly. A shabby dress lay on the chair next to her. He walked in and introduced himself. She moaned in pain. “Just not another girl,” she panted.

It was a fast birth, but a hard one. The baby was hard to turn and her shoulder got stuck on the way out. She was frosted in a wax that left David’s hands white. For a millisecond, she was the youngest human alive. 

“A girl,” David told her, holding the baby out to Mrs. Ryder. 

“Tom wanted a boy,” she wailed, not even reaching up. “Now he’s going to reenlist!” “What will you name her?” he asked, trying to redirect her attention. 

“I don’t know yet,” she said glumly, still loopy from the laughing gas. 

The baby made a choking noise but didn’t cry. Her pink skin took on a bluish tint. She looked Otherworldly. 

David rushed her into the empty triage room, brushing against a metal scale and sending it crashing onto the linoleum floor in his haste. She was losing oxygen. This was common among neonates, routine, boring, almost. 

But David would do it himself. He used a syringe to aspirate her tiny throat. The mucus released and the baby screamed. 

The thought of bringing her back to Mrs. Ryder while she was bemoaning the baby’s gender felt cruel. He looked up and down the hallway. The ward was empty. The pink linoleum floors reflected the fluorescent ceiling lights. He darted into his office, the squalling baby held to his chest. He pulled off his white coat and unbuttoned his shirt. He held her to his bare chest. Her body vibrated with the power of her vocal cords. 

He held his index finger above her mouth. She clamped down on his skin with her slippery gums, suckling on it, instinctually searching for milk. She didn’t care who he was, what he was. She was hungry. She trusted him for her survival. 

Affection surged, unbearable in its strength. Perhaps he could feed her. He could make formula. He could treat her colic, her coughs, her fevers. He could read to her. He could buy her pretty dresses when she was old enough — the nice clothes and schoolbooks that her parents couldn’t afford.

Her sticky eyelids blinked once, twice, then settled closed. He carried her back to the triage room and set her into an empty bassinet. He tucked the thin cotton blanket over her and swaddled it under her back. She had known the world for fifteen minutes. No one taught her how to breathe, but still, the blanket rose and fell. 

“You deserve a name,” David told the bundle. 

He backed out of the room, step by step, and closed the heavy door behind him. He walked up the hall, then down the hall, then back again. The grotesque sticking sounds of his rubber-soled shoes against the floor made him nauseous. He felt old. He would only be older tomorrow. He found Nurse Benson at the nurses’ station, folding a stack of diapers. 

“May I have a moment?” he asked. 

“Mrs. Ryder is feeling well,” she said. “She’s used the bathroom and is eating without trouble.” “Thank you.” 

“And the baby?” 

“That’s the thing, Nurse Benson. I – I tried with the syringe. Then forced respiration. I even gave her oxygen.” 

“Oh no––” 

“Nothing would have helped. Her lungs themselves were underdeveloped. She passed.” “Oh Doctor, I’ll pray for that poor baby.” 

“And so will I. Stacy, could you please talk to her? In a gentle way. A way she can understand.” “Of course..” 

The two stood in silence. She continued, 

“And then I’ll fill out the paperwork and––” 

“I took care of all that,” David assured. “I won’t make your job any harder. Not on Easter.” “You’re too good, Dr. Rosen,” she said. 

Dr. Rosen waited until she had walked out of sight.


Someone else might have asked where the frenzy came from. But he knew what was happening. His adrenal glands had released adrenaline, which diffused into his bloodstream and was transported into his capillaries that were finer than lace. He put on his coat and packed the photo of his sister into his briefcase. He walked into the triage room and lifted her out of her bassinet. She didn’t wake. David took this to be her agreement. She chose him back. And then he walked down the three flights of back stairs and left through the front door. 

“Good night, Alice,” he said, knowing she wouldn’t look up from her book, not for him. And then he was on the road with her, the tiny creature, her body still streaked with the fluids of her birth. She nested in the crook of his left arm. He kept his right hand on the wheel. “I brought you into the world,” he murmured, and it wasn’t even a lie. 

It was a virgin birth. An immaculate conception. David created a daughter without original sin. Sin––that was all those people cared about. They wanted heaven so badly that they made life hell. He was cleaner than all of them.