Any Other Name

by Anne Stringer

“It’s bumper to bumper on the ten, and the eastbound four-oh-five is a mess thanks to a fender-bender in the number one and two lanes. Looks like this will take a while to clean up. Commuters are advised to take an alternate route this morning. Meanwhile, on the –”

“That’s just great.” Betsy stopped listening as she searched for an opening to make a lane change. She glanced at the car’s radio dial. “As if the 405 isn’t bad enough all by itself.”

The baby kicked, a sensation that never failed to bring a smile, and worked even now. She placed a hand over her swollen abdomen. Eight weeks to go. That was the reason for this little outing. She was on her way to the doctor’s office, where one more ultrasound would, she was sure, tell her the gender of the baby she carried.

She hadn’t told her husband she was doing this. He was of the opinion that they should find out when the baby was born, like the Good Lord intended. She rolled her eyes. The man was an idiot. The longer they were married, the dumber he got.

Take his reaction when she told him she wanted to name the baby Casey. He got this puzzled look on his face and said, “Casey? Like ‘Casey at the Bat’? ‘No joy in Mudville’, that Casey?”

Idiot. She liked the name, she’d explained. Lots of little girls were named Casey. She’d sighed, impatiently. What would he like to name a baby girl?

“Something pretty, feminine. Like Rosemary, or Maryann.”

Maryann, honestly! What century was he living in?

There was a slim opening in front of a Jaguar, and she took it. You could always cut in front of those expensive luxury cars. They’d back off quick. Didn’t want to risk the tiniest scratch. It was funny, if you thought about it. They thought they were so tough, hotshots showing off their wealth, but they’d back down from a little Ford Focus. She could see the driver glaring at her in her rearview mirror, and it almost made her laugh.

He’d probably let her name the baby Casey, though. And he obviously had money. She should have married a guy who drove a Jag.

“What if it’s a boy?” he’d asked.

“Osman,” she’d replied. He didn’t say anything after that.

One more lane to cross, then she could exit before she got stuck in the clot up ahead. She’d have to maneuver side streets, but she’d worry about that once she was out of this mess. She flipped on the turn signal and nosed over, but a Honda zipped by and cut her off. She couldn’t believe the arrogance of Honda drivers, in their stupid little cars, acting like they owned the road.

There was a gap in the flow of vehicles after the Honda, and she slid smoothly into it. Just in time for the exit. She congratulated herself. Let all these morons get stuck. She jumped the little car into the exit lane.

She didn’t even see the Dodge Ram 3500 Mega Cab that sped, illegally, up the shoulder. It slammed into the rear quarter panel of her little car, crumpling it like foil before reducing the rest to an unrecognizable twisted wreck.


She was lying curled on her side. There was something in her nose, something that smelled of plastic and antiseptics and blew a stream of air. It irritated her and she wanted it gone, but she couldn’t get her hands to work. The right one was fastened down somehow and she couldn’t move it at all. The left was free, but she couldn’t manage anything beyond lifting it feebly and waving it around.

The white noise of hissing air surrounded her, but beyond that, she could make out rhythmic beeps and dings. A hospital, then. She remembered the accident, the terrible jolt, screeching metal, shattering glass, the flash of pain that raked her entire body. After that, nothing until now. She supposed that was a good thing.

Her head wouldn’t even lift or turn. She had never felt so weak, and hoped it didn’t mean she was paralyzed. Feeling the sting of an I.V. in her hand, finding she could wiggle her toes, those were good signs, she thought.

She finally managed to open her eyes, but it was difficult to make them focus in the dim light. Funny, that. She always thought they used glaring lights in the hospital.

Something entered her limited field of vision and she strained to see. Hands, but they were impossibly huge, and she screamed in startled terror.

“Shh,” she heard. A stranger’s voice, female. “It’s okay.”

“Is she all right?” That was her husband’s voice. Thank God. She relaxed.

“She knows your voice,” the woman said.

“Yeah, well, I used to talk to her sometimes. Before … you know.” He sounded embarrassed.

What the hell was that supposed to mean?

“Would you like to hold her?”

“Oh, no, that’s okay. I wouldn’t want to hurt her,” he replied, quickly.

“She’s stronger than she looks. I’ll help you, all right?”

“Well, okay.” Obviously reluctant. What was the matter with him? He never worried about hurting her before.

The huge hands shifted her, then slid under her and lifted her right off the bed. Her arms flung out and she cried out in sudden fear of falling. Then she was nestled into very big, very strong arms. Wide-eyed, she looked up into her husband’s face.

“Talk to her,” the woman’s voice urged, gently.

“What should I say?”

“It doesn’t matter. Preemies aren’t usually awake very much. She should just hear your voice.”

“Hi, Betsy,” he said. His gaze, uncertain, fearful, met hers. “Your mama wanted to name you Casey. Weird, huh? But she’s not here now, so I guess it’s okay if I call you Betsy. I don’t think she’d mind anymore. It’s just you and me now, kiddo.”

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” the woman’s voice said quietly.

She wanted to tell him she was Betsy, she was his wife, he was an idiot, but all she could do was cry.


Author Bio: Anne Stringer lives with her husband and two children in northern Michigan. She’s a neonatal nurse, which is how she knows about preemies. With a co-author, she’s written two novels she’s trying to get published, and she’s a writer and reader for the Variant Frequencies podcast.


For broken links or other errors, contact Asher Black via his website.