Chapter 17: Susan
I haven’t slept well the last few days.
I leave work and don’t need to work tomorrow, or is that tonight, but I’m too tired to do anything.
I crawl into bed.
A piercing sound wakes me.
What is it?
It sounds like a fire alarm.
My heart pounds.
I leap out of bed.
I’ve got to get out.
I run to the door and struggle to open it.
I pull and pull, but I can’t get my door to open.
I’m gonna be stuck in here and burn alive!
I pull harder, but the door just will not open.
The sound of the fire alarm is making it hard for me to think.
I pull again.
The deadbolt is on.
I turn the lever and pull open my door.
I bolt down the stairs.
I reach the bottom and fling open the outside door.
Where is everyone?
I dash to my car but of course my keys are in my apartment.
I lean against my car, gasping for breath.
“Are you okay?”
It’s him, Matthew.
I’m hardly wearing anything, and here he stands, outside and in broad daylight.
I still can’t seem to catch my breath.
Where the heck are the firefighters?
I don’t have much but . . . oh no! I’ve left my photo album behind. All my pictures of Mom and Dad burned up in a flash.
I start to breath even faster.
I’m light-headed and my chest hurts.
Maybe I’m having a heart attack.
“Lady, are you okay?”
I hear Matthew’s voice from what seems like a mile away.
“It was a fire alarm test.”
“In fact, I think it’s over now. Would you like to come over to my place? I can make us hot chocolate or there’s orange juice.”
Would I like to go to his place?
I still can’t seem to catch my breath.
Just a test.
A fire alarm test.
The outside of my car is hot and the sun is beating down on my head.
“Would you like some help? I could walk beside you if you’d like.”
That’s what we do.
I manage to climb the three flights of stairs.
I still can’t seem to catch my breath.
Matthew opens his door, and I follow him inside.
He points to an armchair, and I collapse into it.
“Take slow, deep breaths,” he says.
Slowly, my breathing eases, and I look around me.
His apartment looks like mine, except everything’s in mirror image.
He also has nicer furniture than I do.
The couch is big enough to be a comfortable bed.
“Would you like a hot chocolate or some orange juice?”
He has a little table in the corner with a laptop on it. The lid’s closed.
Maybe he’s some kind of business man.
“I’m sorry. I’d better go back to my place.”
“I’d really like it if you stayed.”
“You’d really like it if I stayed?”
He nods emphatically.
“My name’s Matthew. What’s yours?”
“You have a beautiful name. Would you like anything? It was quite hot outside. I knew it was a test, but that alarm scared me, too. I could do with a pot of hot chocolate right about now.”
“Well, if you’re having some, sure, I’d like a hot chocolate please.”
“Coming right up!”
I listen to him go into the kitchen.
I hear him opening cupboards, and then I listen to him stirring like crazy.
A few minutes later, he comes back into the living room carrying a tray.
On it is an actual pot. There are also two mugs, and a small bowl containing marshmallows.
He sets the tray down on the coffee table in front of me.
“Would it be okay if I joined you in that chair?”
“I don’t mind moving to the couch.”
He looks disappointed.
“If you’re sure, but it would be nice to sit together.”
“I don’t really have much on,” I say.
“That’s no problem for me at all. In fact, I have way too much on.”
Two hours later, I’ve forgotten all about the fire alarm, and I’m starting to think Matthew might just be the best man who ever walked the face of the earth.
We’ve just gotten dressed again when his phone rings.
He pulls it out of his jeans pocket.
The volume’s a little loud, and I hear the caller’s voice clearly.
“Dad, guess what?” She sounds about twelve or thirteen. I don’t recognize her voice, but she could easily be one of the teens who used to call in to Tina’s show.
He’s got a daughter.
That means either he’s cheating on his wife or girlfriend, or he’s divorced. Whatever the case may be, I’m out of here. I wanted a good time with a single man with no kids, not to walk into a family home, even if he’s the only one currently in it.
He waves frantically, but I pretend I don’t get it, open the door, and run to my apartment as fast as I can go.
I open the door that I’ve left unlcoked, go in, and close it. I lock it and go and put on some real clothes.
What was it I said? No more men? Well, this time, I mean it. No more men, ever. Not even a little fun for an hour or two. Men are the pits.
I avoid Matthew again. That’s relatively easy to do with my job, but I’m starting to find the hours are getting hard on me. I’m not sure how much longer I can keep this up, so one day, I knock on my landlord’s door.
John opens it.
“What can I do for you?”
“Do you know anybody else who operates a tight ship but who doesn’t ask questions?”
It’s as simple as that. I leave a month’s rent in thanks, pack my bags, and move.
It’s the same. There’s no elevator, but the building is clean and well-maintained. I’m in 3C this time. Only two flights of stairs to climb with groceries, although the stairs are a lot narrower here.
I’ll never have to worry about Matthew again.
I will never speak to another man except when necessary. For the rest of my life, I’ll live here, work at fast food restaurants, but never have to do anything for anybody ever again.
A couple of weeks later, I’m exhausted. I sleep and sleep, but I can’t seem to sleep enough. I start to worry that I might fall asleep at work.
Maybe I’m becoming depressed, or maybe it’s anemia.
I make an appointment to see my doctor.
It’s for 9:00 a.m. one Monday morning in August.
I tell her my symptoms. She orders lab work. I go home none the wiser.
The results will take a few days. During that time, I could easily fall asleep at work.
I make it home on Thursday, and then on Friday morning, the call comes.
“Your results are in. Can you come see the doctor? We had a cancelation, so you could come on Monday at nine.”
Why can’t they tell me over the phone?
I drag myself through two more days of work, and spend Sunday in bed.
On Monday morning, I drag myself to the doctor’s office.
I sit down on the plastic chair and wait.
My name is called.
I’m shown into a little room and sit on another plastic chair and wait.
The door opens, and Dr. Jones comes in. She’s smiling. So I have something curable. Good.
“Hello Susan, how are you?”
“Tired. I have anemia, right?”
“Let me just take a look at your chart.”
She sits down and types.
“No, you don’t have anemia. So you’re still feeling tired?”
Didn’t I just say I was tired?
“Do you have any other symptoms?”
Come on, tell me what’s wrong with me and fix it so I can go back to work.
“Your numbers are great.”
“So do I need more tests to find out what’s wrong? I can hardly stay awake at work, and it’s just a matter of time before I spill boiling coffee on myself. Oh, and that coffee stinks.”
She smiles at me.
“Do other things smell bad or just coffee?”
“Mostly just coffee.”
Will you just get to the point and tell me? I want to scream.
“I can tell you what’s making you tired, but I can’t help you stay awake at work.”
“You said my numbers were good.”
“Yes, they are. What’s making you tired is not a disease, infection, or illness. What you have is a positive pregnancy test.”
This isn’t happening.
This is not real.
I’ve heard wrong.
“Your pregnancy test is positive.”
Maybe she mispronounced whatever that test is.
“Can you write that down for me please?”
She writes on a piece of paper and hands it to me.
You have a positive pregnancy test.
Her writing isn’t the best, so maybe I’m misreading it.
“I’m sorry, I’m having trouble reading handwriting. Can I see the computer screen?”
I get up and stagger over to stand behind the desk.
WBC and then some numbers.
“Which one is it? Did you say potassium?”
“No, it’s this one.”
She points to another line.
I stare and stare, but the letters and numbers are gibberish. Apparently, my own blood speaks a language that I can’t read.
“That thing means I’m . . .”
“Yes, that indicates you’re pregnant. It’s a hormone. Do you have any questions?”
“Is it possible the test is wrong?”
“It’s not likely, but it is possible.”
I don’t want to see this anymore, so I walk back to my chair and sit down.
“When was your last period?”
I tell her.
“Your due date is probably around-”
“I don’t want to talk about this anymore. I’m going home. I mean, I’m going to work.”
She looks at me seriously.
“If you’re afraid you might spill boiling coffee on yourself, you really shouldn’t go to work.”
“But I need to work. If I stay home, I’ll get fired.”
“Hot coffee can flow onto other people. I think it would be better to get fired than for somebody to get seriously hurt. Other jobs can be found.”
Yes, but not so many where nobody asks questions about who you are.
“I’ll write you a note, and your manager should understand.”
There’s no way I’m telling him I’m- No!
She writes a note and hands it to me. Then she gives me cards for a bunch of appointments.
Then she gives me some glossy brochures.
I shove everything into my purse, thank her, and leave.
I throw her note in the trash and drive to work.
I manage not to pour boiling coffee on anybody, but I do drop a bag of food and have to pay for the customer’s order.
But I don’t get fired, and nobody even yells at me.
After a week, I stop feeling so tired. Maybe the test was wrong and I’m back to normal.
The next Monday at 8:45, my phone rings.
“It’s Dr. Jones calling. I’m just checking to make sure you’re all right.”
“Yes, in fact, I’m not tired anymore. So I guess the test was wrong.”
“Being tired and other symptoms may come and go. I just wanted to check if you were okay. If you have any questions, please call me, and I’ll call you back as soon as I can. I’d really like to see you next Monday at nine. Will you be there?”
“No. I have a job to go to, and I can’t take the chance of being late.”
“I can see you at 8:00 instead.”
“All right. Before you go, have you told Martin?”
“What? Martin? Why would I tell him?”
“You mentioned you were married to Martin, so I just thought-”
“No! This is all Matthew’s fault. Do not call Martin. Do not call Matthew. Do not call any men about me! I’m through with [blank]ing men!”
“Please calm down. I’m not going to call anyone. You need to decide what to do and whom to tell or not tell. Is there any information you need or anything I can do?”
“Not unless you have a time machine.”
She doesn’t, so I hang up on her.
What would Matthew say if he knew what he’d done?