I have a second interview today. The power is mine. I am bulging with it and
Iíd be a liar if I said I wasnít enjoying it. They offered to come pick me
up but I said Iíd get there on my own. On the phone, we called it a visit, but
I know the truth. I remember my first job interview. Talcum powder in my purse
to rub on my sweaty hands and a snap-to answer for every question. I had wanted
that job and these people wanted my baby. I would say yes, or I would say no.
My mom takes me on the way to her shift. Actually itís not remotely on her
way, but she does it anyway and miracle, doesnít remind me ten times what a
nice thing sheís doing. I keep telling her that there can only be one martyr
at a time and for the next five months the titleís all mine. She stops at the
gate to their neighborhood. "I got to get to work. Besides, if I go in in
this crap trap, securityíll just tail me until I leave."
"But hereís my engraved invitation," I laugh, but get out anyway.
"Theyíre bringing you back, right?" she asks as I slam the door.
"Right," I lie. I am taking the bus. No sense getting their hopes
up if Iím not sure.
The guard at the gate looks for my name on a clipboard and points me in the
right direction. I hear him on the phone, telling them Iím coming and I wish
he hadnít. I walk up a slight hill and see an old man in red satin short
shorts and no shirt, running with his lab. His flesh is white and webbed with
blue veins but he is proud of himself, you can tell, and he nods as he huffs his
way past me.
Their house isnít too much further. Itís what I expected. A notch below Gone
with the Wind, minus the lawn. But itís not Rhett and Scarlett at the
window and then the door, itís Al and Marty Clayton who now greet me.
We have met once before at the office with the lawyer and the counselor.
Marty had hugged me close before she could stop herself. I felt like a dress she
had grabbed off the rack before anybody else could get to it. From the way they
looked me up and down I thought I understood what it must be like to be really
beautiful, but now I know itís different. Wanting and needing are different.
They courted me though. I remember when I dropped my earring, Al picked it up
and offered it to me like a kitten.
Today they are smiling, always smiling. We look to see if we have remembered
each other right. Al is still big and jolly in his V-neck sweater and corduroy
pants. Marty reminds me of a cockatoo with her nervous movements and the spray
of red curls branching out of her hair clip. My stomach is a magnet. They canít
help but look.
"Annie!" Al booms and steps aside to let me in.
"Did you have trouble finding us?" Marty asks and touches my arm,
just barely, then pulls her hand back quick. I wonder if Al has warned her off
of touching me.
"Nope, the directions were fine. My mom dropped me off." I see them
looking over my shoulder, maybe to get a look at my gene pool. "She had to
get to work."
"Please, come on in. Weíll have lunch in the living room," she
says and I follow her to a cozy room with classical music playing and framed
prints of flowers and plants on the walls. Thereís a blue Oriental rug and a
couch that I canít stop stroking itís so soft. The room is perfect. I wonder
if they have arranged it just so for me. Put in the CD, I see her coming,
Marty might say. Do you want the vase of roses here or here? Al asks. I
like it that they are out to impress me, the goose with the golden egg.
"I didnít think to ask you on the phone," Marty says. "Do
you have any special cravings?"
"Not really," I tell her. It is not true. I crave the quick fix of
caffeine in the morning, and still drink coffee, too much probably. "So sue
me," I tell my mother when she looks at me like Iím downing drain cleaner
or something. "Itíll give the kid some spunk."
She leaves me with Al. "So howís everything going?" he wants to
"O.K. I donít get sick in the morning anymore but I donít sleep as
well. Heís letting me know whoís boss, I guess." Al looks at me funny
when I say this and Marty has quit frittering in the kitchen. They know my
ultrasound isnít for two weeks. "I mean, I think itís a boy. We did a
Chinese birth chart for me at work and it says itís a boy."
"Yeah, you take your birthday and your conception date and look at the
chart. The girls whoíve had babies swear it works."
Marty appears with a bamboo tray. She sets it in front of me and lists the
contents of my plate like a waiter ticking off the specials Ė ham and
biscuits, cucumber sandwiches, pasta salad, fruit salad. "Looks
great," I tell her, but she doesnít seem to believe me. Al brings in her
tray with a glass of wine on it. She takes a too big a swallow and it trickles
down her chin.
"I hope you donít mind." She raises her glass and giggles.
"Iím just a little nervous."
"No dear, really, Iím sure she hasnít noticed. Youíre a master of
disguise," Al says, winking at me, and takes a seat.
The afternoon gets easier. Marty mellows out with the wine, and Al really is
funny. Game show funny with his one-liners and his Santa-like laugh. I tell him
this and he chuckles. "Maybe Iíve missed my calling."
I ask them to tell me their history again. I know part of it from their file.
Itís why I picked them. Everybody makes mistakes, and if Iím going to let
them have mine, I want to know theirs up front.
"She chased me mercilessly," Al says with a leer.
"Whatever." She acts as if she is annoyed. "We had a class
together in college. Abnormal psych. He was on the football team and never
studied. I tutored him."
"I just pretended to be the dumb jock," he tells me. "Knocked
her off her feet and married her before she regained consciousness."
This is the story they tell at cocktail parties. The cutesy story theyíll
tell my kid when he asks.
"But you got divorced?" They have been waiting for me to ask this
and hold hands as if on cue.
"Weíre in this for the long haul," Al starts as Marty takes
another swallow of wine. "We had some problems. Not being able to have a
child was a part of it. Actually, to be honest"--Marty clamps down on his
hand--"I was unfaithful." Her wine glass freezes below her chin and I
know he was not supposed to say this. "But I was lucky enough to get
another crack at this marriage and Iím going to do right by it."
"Itís funny," Marty says and gives me a too-bright smile.
"Before you get married youíll do anything not to get pregnant, and
after, itís all you try to do."
In the second after she says this, she looks even more freaked out. She
thinks she has offended me, but she hasnít. I think of the movies Iíve seen
where couples are desperately trying to get pregnant. Pillows under hips for the
right angle and a thermometer at the bedside. Honey, get in here now the
wife yells my temperature is perfect. And after, if that doesnít work,
a lab where the mystery and romance is really sucked out of it.
"Annie." Al leans toward me. "We are incredibly grateful that
you wanted to meet us. I swear to you, if you choose us, your baby will never
lack for anything."
This is it. The little speech that Al has probably practiced in his mirror a
thousand times. Add a soundtrack and now Iím in a movie. Marty lets fly with
her enthusiasm and kneads her husbandís knee. "Weíd be great
parents," she tells me. "Weíve been practicing on our nieces and
nephews for years."
Later, we have coffee and cheesecake. I get milk, but I smell the bitter
steam from their cups and the milk tastes like paste. "I really admire what
youíre doing," says Marty. "So many women opt for the
alternative." She cannot bring herself to say what the alternative is.
I had wanted an abortion. I was lying back on the table with my heels cupped
in the cold metal stirrups, waiting for the doctor to come in and easily undo
what I had easily done. The counselor thought I was ready. I said I was too, but
I had already imagined what he would look like. I had already seen his face.
"Well, not me," is all I say to them.
"We would help you you know," Al says. I know all about the
arrangements. I will not contact the child. They will throw gobs of money my way
to cover Ďexpenses.í "You donít have to go through this alone."
"Iíve got my mom," I say as the word alone settles in
beside me on the sofa. They are dying to know about the father. I know they are.
They were told not to ask about it but will talk all around it, inching up to it
when Iím not paying attention. I think about telling them that a PhD from
Harvard dropped into town and stuck it to me, and I think about telling them the
truth. Itís none of their business. In my file is the race of the father and
his age and whether he has any diseases and the fact that he could give a damn
what happens to this child and will never come looking for him. I left out the
lame lines he fed me and how he always wanted the lights on so he could watch me
rock on top of him and what he yelled at me when I told him the news. That
little bundle of joy is mine to keep.
"Is there anything else we can tell you?" Marty asks as I get ready
I am tired of talking. They canít tell me the future. Say one day he rear
ends me at a light. He gets out of his Range Rover or Pathfinder or whatever his
parents buy him and I get out of my car and we meet. Will he be a little prick
to me? Or will he just space out on whatever theyíre smoking then while we
trade information? Is there any chance that he will see something similar in me,
somehow know without knowing that we are the same and maybe smile at me, chat me
up, show me some kindness? Thatís the kind of crap that keeps me up at night,
the kind of stuff I think about.
But I just leave to meet my mother at the gate, or so I say. They spastically
wave to me until I am out of sight. I still donít know. On the way to the bus
stop, I rub a circle over and over on my belly. Itís not a crystal ball but it
will have to do.
Betsy Ladner lives in Nashville, TN and works at Vanderbilt
University. This piece is her first published fiction. Hopefully it will not be