Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2015  Vol. 14 No. 2
 print preview

Considering the Girl, Hilda Dahlgren

Right away Hilda was approached by the clinic for interest in her ripe, young eggs. “Five thousand a pop,” said the doctor, patting her squarely on the uterus. Hilda regarded the literature. She was the right age, the right temperament. “This is your first time, yes?” the doctor asked. Hilda nodded. Three questions followed regarding fertility and childbearing, to which Hilda answered yes, no, one. Hilda had recently been pregnant, but had no living children. The doctor did not raise his eyebrows at Hilda. He went back to the examination, feeling around inside Hilda’s mouth, moving from left to right and then over her hard and soft palate with two gloved fingers. “You certainly have the cheekbones for it,” he said. “Swedish, yes?”

Hilda nodded. “On my father’s side.”

“Oh, they love Swedes,” said the doctor, making enthusiastic notes in the margins of his pad. Up until Hilda, the pickings had been very slim indeed. “Shall we take a look at the legs?” he asked, kneeling. “You’d be surprised how much height matters.” Hilda, girl of the world, was not surprised. A girl like Hilda has legs for days.

The doctor removed both shoes from Hilda’s feet. When he had given a thorough examination of the ankles, up through the calves and past her knees, he marked sixteen points on a wellness and attractiveness checklist titled what to look for when you look for a mother. A nurse rubbed petroleum jelly onto each of Hilda’s sun-sweet kneecaps. The doctor took her pulse at the neck and wrist.

“This is a very decent thing you are doing,” said the doctor, thinking of the barren women of New Haven. “How lucky they will be, to have a little Hilda Dahlgren growing inside them.”


All the way home Hilda thought about Paul. It was his twentieth birthday and he wasn’t even in the States to receive phone calls. He was stalling in the underripe Finnish countryside. Their life together had been taken off-course. “You’ve had your fun, Hilda, now I’ll have mine,” Paul said before he left. He was referring to Hilda’s weekend trips to New York, from which she always returned a little paler and softer around the stomach.

Her intent with the trips was not to elicit jealousy in the boy Paul Wallace, architect of pleasure and king of her young heart. But it was true, his suspicions; in New York, there were some boys, and some girls, with meaty hands on Hilda’s thighs and about her white neck. Hilda was not a girl very often alone.

“How is it to be so loved?” a shorter, browner-eyed girlfriend of Hilda’s once asked on the train into the city. A cosmetics saleswoman and her husband were eyeing Hilda from across the aisle. The woman was opening her purse and removing lipsticks, tracing them over her mouth and replacing them in her bag, all the while with hungry eyes on Hilda. The man absentmindedly loosened his tie. There was not even a hello exchanged, and yet Hilda knew that some part of her bright face would stay wedged there between them.

“Isn’t this wonderful?” Hilda remarked, beaming.

What is wonderful is Hilda Dahlgren, sighed the world.

But Paul.

“You’ve made a fool of me, Hilda Dahlgren,” Paul said the night he left, and took a seat at the small gray desk away from Hilda. “I haven’t,” she objected, but that was as much as she would say about it. “You’ve been missing for thirty-six hours,” he said. “You must have something to say for yourself.” Hilda rubbed her soft, bare thighs. “I wasn’t missing. I was in the Pierre, where you expected I’d be.”

Hilda had felt she had no choice but to go to the city with Faye and Jess, get some air and meet a few decent boys, not let it get any further than that, maybe just some hands on those legs and maybe one or two kisses, just sweet kisses, nothing serious. She couldn’t see any way around it. She’d ended the pregnancy, the short life it had, and the whole thing, all of it, made her sick to death. What was there left to do but go quickly into the city, disappear, in some small way.

“Tell me something nice,” said Paul. “Tell me something, won’t you?”

Hilda went to Paul and stood beside the desk in the moonlight. What a sight, that girl. Paul could hardly stand it. “I wanted you there,” Hilda said, and touched him on the nape of his smooth neck. “It’s always so cold in the city.”

Hilda stood and Paul sat and they went on silently considering one another until Paul stood and walked out of the room. The night was very warm for March, and freckles bloomed around Hilda’s pink cheeks.

Paul went into the kitchen and came back holding a Finnish flag and bottle of brandy. “Are you even Finnish?” Hilda asked.

“Could be,” said Paul. “I guess I’ll never know. My parent’s got me from a bank, remember?”

There is a story here that is better told by someone else, but it amounts to Paul’s uncertainty of natural origin and his initial meeting of the girl Hilda Dahlgren in a spring-bare yard, when neither was more than eleven years old. It is difficult for a boy to be so uncertain of his history. It makes it nearly impossible to be sure where he belongs. Though his place had always seemed to be with Hilda, that girl of girls.

“What’s happened has happened,” Paul said, and slid out of his pants and into Hilda. He bit her around the neck—gently, and then not. She cried into his hair. “Is it really over?” Paul asked when they both finished up. Hilda, having spent so much of her young life with Paul, knew that he was asking about the baby, not Paul and Hilda together, because how could such a splendid thing ever really end? “It’s as over as it can be,” Hilda said, feeling the familiar hollowness of her body. “Oh,” Paul wallowed, thinking about the bank. “Is it fair?” he asked. “Is it fair what we have done?” Hilda closed her eyes so she too could imagine the bank, the little rows of Hilda Dahlgren girls and Paul Wallace boys crouching behind the old Bethesda Nursery School. “I feel as sick about it as you do,” Hilda said. “You know that, don’t you?”

They both went back to bed. “Go to Finland, Paul,” Hilda said after one more consummation of a lifelong love. “You’ll come back when you’re ready.” Paul wailed into Hilda’s white neck. It was a long, wet goodbye.


The morning after the initial consultation, Hilda regarded the literature on egg donation and detached motherhood once more in the sun-littered kitchen, counting six weeks since Paul had boarded that overseas flight. All of the photographed mothers in the pamphlet were older than Hilda by some years. Blonder, squatter, with more modest features. It pleased Hilda to see this as much as it saddened her. She thought about the transaction, the check presented in exchange for someone’s lifetime access to her pretty back and full mouth.

Paul was silent from Finland, silent and probably very cold and probably very drunk, if she knew Paul. She tried not to think about it. “The neighbors, what will they say?” asked Hilda’s mother, frying morning eggs. A vase of spring daffodils sat meekly on the table. “They will probably be grateful that I am supplying them with a pretty child,” said Hilda, and ate up as much as she liked, which is what the doctor had instructed.

Soon she was fertile and ready for harvest. Normally when she was in this state, she would find Paul and sink herself down onto him, and he would hold her little face in his hands and they would think with real, clear honesty, yes, this is what is meant by wonderful. But for now the doctor would have to suffice. Paul was in Finland, flanked by aggressively blond and busty women, or so she suspected.

It isn’t fair, Hilda thought, none of it. Though she knew it never was a question of fairness.


The day came. Hilda was a perfect patient, sat like a perfect little hen and produced a perfect little egg. The egg grew into a perfect little fetus and then a perfect little baby, surely, and Hilda watched from her window. Once, neighbors had watched her grow out of similar windows. A child and then a bigger child, with longer limbs and a more ovular face, and then a girl with fleshed hips and hair down her back, and finally as she appeared to herself, Hilda Dahlgren, nineteen and strangely freckled, legs like a crane. Hilda wondered when that beauty would fade, as it must even for her, girl that she is.

When it was done Hilda retired to the window. This would be as close to a photo album as she would get.

Looking from the window there was no certainty as to which child was Hilda’s child. Any baby could be her baby, she thought, looking into their open mouths and down to their soft, folded chins. She regarded each one as such a little darling, even the vaguely misshapen ones, that she could nearly convince herself that any baby being pushed or held coming down Saint Ronan Street could be the product of her uprooted egg. Of course, there was only one egg, which amounted to only one baby, and there was no certainty of the baby remaining in New Haven, though Hilda hoped the child would look out onto similar yards that she herself had looked upon in her youth, perhaps finding a similar Paul Wallace boy to tease and betray and love endlessly.

She spent all her time at the window. In the yard where she had met Paul all those years ago, she watched a fern grow in the shape of a cactus.


Every evening she waited for Paul and every morning she was alone and hungry. Sporadically, the doctor came to check on her, to see when she would next be ready to duplicate. “How many Hildas does the world need?” asked Hilda. The doctor did not have a good answer. He thought about a world full of Hildas. Beaches covered in hairless Hilda bodies, Hilda faces framed in store windows, Hilda feet inside every pair of shoes. Then he left.

Arthur and Faye came and ate meringues and drank cold beer with her in the kitchen and brought letters that Paul had written about Helsinki and Espoo and a girl named Adele who did not have legs like Hilda and never would. Hilda smiled when they read that part, sad as she was. “How ’bout a trip to the city?” said Arthur and winked at Hilda, who did not return his gesture. Arthur was often a decent boy, and then sometimes not. Perhaps this was Paul’s concern about the trips, that boys would be decent until they couldn’t stand it any longer. And what choice do they have, really, confronted with a girl like Hilda Dahlgren?

“Yes, how about a trip!” said Faye, who was also a lovely girl, with lovely little breasts and a little pink mouth, but neither matched the loveliness of Hilda’s, did they?

Hilda thought about the proposition and looked out the red-curtained window of the kitchen. The fern in the shape of a cactus had come into bloom. What was that plant? And who had planted it? At night she could see shapes move between houses, scandals and wife-swapping, children hunched on their stout legs in the morning, seeds traveling from one beak to another, the swollen hands of her mother in the rosebushes. How something comes to grow anywhere Hilda could not be sure. After all, Paul had come from a bank, and now so did a child resembling the girl Hilda Dahlgren.

Off they went—Arthur, Faye, and Hilda—by train. There was always a chance that Hilda would die or become pregnant in the city, or that while she was gone Paul would come back and Hilda would be away, but none of those things happened. Arthur and Faye and Hilda sat in the tearoom at the Pierre all afternoon. Arthur paid the bill. He gave a series of little winks, told his best jokes. “We should get you a little dog!” shouted Faye, scone in her mouth. “Hush!” said Arthur, and covered her mouth with his hand. Faye was the only one who took the afternoon champagne. Hilda considered it, but decided she was not hopeful enough just yet for champagne. Arthur went to the front desk to get a room, as he had planned, but Hilda said they had better stay just for the afternoon. She wouldn’t want to miss Paul, if he were to come home unexpectedly.

Following tea they walked around the city in light, pleated coats and ankle boots. Of all the pretty girls in New York, Hilda was only one of many. No one there knew her name, though she had been many times. When she was regarded by a man or woman, it was only in passing, only briefly.

“I’ve made a mistake and missed my appointment,” said Hilda to Faye outside the Peking Duck House. Hilda thought of the bank, of the upturned faces of her descendants, praying blankly like saviorless disciples. Faye kissed Hilda with slightly parted lips. “Have we done this before?” asked Faye, off-balance and with the same unneeded volume as in the tearoom. “Yes,” Hilda said. “Many times.” Arthur chose not to watch. “How many times?” he asked, back turned, shivering in his navy trench. “Many times,” said Hilda, and reached for Faye’s pretty little mouth with her own. “It’s as if we need a little tenderness all the time,” said Hilda, and went off down the street.


They were back in New Haven by bedtime. The train home was quiet; Faye asleep, Arthur sexually frustrated, Hilda restless but subdued. Arthur, in all of his rejected agitation, had insisted they at least share some pasta before they left the city. It was too cool to eat outdoors, but again Arthur insisted. “Don’t be disappointed,” Hilda said, softening her shoulders to him. Faye had another glass of champagne and Arthur joined. No one thought of the trip as particularly successful.

On the way back from the city, Hilda dialed the doctor, but he did not pick up. She left a very brief message indicating her desire to resume with reproduction right away, tomorrow if possible. Back inside her mother’s kitchen, Hilda drank warm milk and watched the fern’s bright blossoms fill with rain. No word from Paul, her mother wrote in a note.


“I’m ready,” said Hilda once again, sitting atop the doctor’s pine desk. The doctor spread open her legs. “How can it be,” said the doctor, startled, “that one girl could have so much?” Yes, Hilda thought, I may be very lucky. “I’d like you to take as many as you can,” said Hilda. “As many what?” asked the doctor. “Eggs, silly,” said Hilda. The doctor laughed. “There is only one at a time,” he said. Hilda hit him playfully in the shoulder. “Of course there is,” she said. Hilda had been playing at this so often and for so long that at times she forgot how not to play, the silliness of being a girl. “What I meant,” Hilda said, “is I’d like you to take one as often as you can.” The doctor shivered at his good fortune. “Whatever you like,” he said, and tried to sit Hilda down on his lap, but Hilda refused. “I’d better not,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to waste this one.” She patted her soft little belly. The doctor looked out his office window at the street below and imagined every passing car was being driven by the absolutely pleasing face of Hilda Dahlgren.

He smiled. Hilda smiled. She was feeling very pleased with herself, for the first time in months. She had refused Arthur and Faye and the doctor, and surely someone else had wanted her, but she had not given up anything to them either. Her breasts were growing, as was her bank account. She thought of the children behind the nursery school, rows and rows of Hilda Dahlgrens, their patient mothers watching them from the grass, raising them with politeness and tepid religious grace, donning Hilda’s perfect skin and tender back. And while they grew, Hilda would sit at the window with Paul, appraising. “Here,” Hilda would say to him, when he was finally back beside her. “I’ve made you the very best Hilda I could.”  end  

return to top