Chapter 19: Susan
There’s a problem with my idea to tell Matthew what he’s done.
I don’t want to go to his place ever again.
And in spite of her promise, I’m afraid that my doctor might call Martin about me. She doesn’t know my new address, but I gave her my new number when I called to book the appointment.
I’ll have to switch phones again. All this switching and moving around is getting expensive.
I have money in the bank, but I don’t want to tell them my new address.
I want to be anonymous.
I’ll change my number one more time and not give it to anybody. I don’t really need a phone, but I have to have one for emergency calls.
Maybe I can send Matthew a letter.
The idea pops into my head as I finish knitting a hat.
How can I send him a letter? He can’t reply without my address, and I’m certainly not giving him that.
I start another hat and mull things over in my mind.
He can meet me some place. I won’t put my return address on the letter, but I’ll designate a date and time I’ll be at a certain restaurant. What will I write in the letter?
I’ll finish the hat, and then I’ll figure it out.
Once the hat has been added to my pile of finished projects, I get a pen and piece of paper and write.
This is important. Meet me next Monday at noon at the McDonald’s three blocks from your apartment.
I address the envelope, go and buy a stamp, and mail it.
Will he show up?
I go back to work on more hats.
The week is bad.
Work is stressful.
A customer is unhappy because her fries are cold, and the manager is there to hear this.
I get pulled aside.
“One more unhappy customer, and you’re done.”
It happens on Saturday.
I’m not the one who makes the customer unhappy, but the manager likes my coworker better than he likes me, probably because she’s in her twenties and flirts with him, so he believes her story and I’m called into his office.
“You screwed up again. Go home.”
I have no job, and my rent’s due soon.
Even if they want me back, I can’t handle nights at the bakery.
This is all Matthew’s fault.
What seedy job will I end up at next?
I spend Sunday knitting so I won’t have to think about anything.
On Monday, I drive to the McDonald’s and arrive just before eleven. Being early means I get a good table. I haven’t brought anything to keep me occupied for an hour, so I grab a newspaper somebody has left on another table and sit down with the milkshake I’ve ordered.
It’s yesterday’s paper, but that’s okay. I don’t get any papers or magazines. I don’t even go and buy them. I don’t read news on the Internet because my phone has a tiny screen and I’ve left my computer behind.
There’s nothing much of interest, so I flip through the paper. I scan headlines.
Then I see it.
I don’t even see Matthew come in and walk over to me.
I have my head down on the table, but my sight is so blurred by tears, I wouldn’t recognize my own mother if she were looking right at me.
“Susan. Are you okay? What’s wrong?” I recognize his voice. He’s standing beside my table.
The reason I wrote to him seems now like the distant past.
The smell of newspaper is horribly in the present.
What will my future be like?
I probably shouldn’t ask that or even think it.
I point to a chair and he sits down.
“I got your letter. Are you okay?”
I shake my head.
I don’t trust my voice, so I point to the paper.
“Is there bad news in there about somebody you know?”
I shake my head.
I point to the line, which is getting longder.
“Would you like something?”
I shake my head and point to him.
“Oh, you’d like me to go get something. Are you sure?”
I use the time to clean up my face and sip some of my milkshake.
By the time he returns with a tray of food, I’m as composed as I’ll ever be.
“There’s news about me. It’s yesterday’s paper, so I’m old news.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand.”
“My husband wants a divorce.”
I take a sip of my milkshake.
“It’s a summons. I don’t want to talk to him or even see him, but . . .” I gesture at the paper.
“Would you like me to help you find a lawyer?”
“I don’t have any money. I lost my job.”
“Oh no. What kind of work do you do?”
“I worked at a fast food place.”
“I don’t know if I’ll be any help, but I’m here to listen if you want to tell me about your husband.”
“He wants the house and the mortgage. I get my car and some money. I don’t want to talk to him.”
“I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I think that if you don’t respond, he gets what he wants. Would you like me to check?”
I shrug and he takes out his phone, which is much bigger than mine.
He taps on the screen for a few seconds and nods.
“You have thirty days to respond. If you don’t, then he gets what he wants. If you don’t agree with him, then you do need to answer, but you should be able to do that through a lawyer.”
“Except I can’t afford a lawyer.”
“I could help with that.”
He hasn’t even asked to see the paper and he’s offering to help me.
“You know this isn’t why I wrote you that letter.”
“Why did you send the letter?”
“Because . . . I’m having a baby, and it’s yours.”
I wait for him to say that it’s probably not his, but he doesn’t.
“You know what my grandma used to say?”
“‘God works in mysterious ways.’ I think she was right. I’m moving out of my place.”
“Are you moving back in with your daughter’s mom?”
“With Francis? No. I’ve never lived with her. I go and visit, but no, what I mean is that I’ve bought a house. It’s a farmhouse. I mean, I’ve bought a farm.”
“I know it sounds crazy, but yes, I really did. If you’d waited much longer to send that letter, I wouldn’t have received it. I’m moving tomorrow. Would you like to come with me?”
He hasn’t even asked my husband’s name.
“I won’t cook you dinner. I won’t do your laundry. I won’t work for nothing.”
“We can each do our own laundry. As for dinner, I have a rule for when Beth, my daughter, visits. We cook and eat together. When she was three, she helped me to set the table. Now she’s thirteen and helps me make dinner. After we finish, she helps me to clean up. Breakfast and lunch are make your own, although of course I made those for Beth when she was little. Now she makes the best scrambleed eggs ever.”
“Does Beth live with you?”
“No, she lives with Francis. We visit every Sunday, sometimes at my place, and sometimes at hers.”
“Is Francis your ex?”
He shakes his head.
“We were never married. She was never my girlfriend. We went to the same high school. We were best friends, and when she finished college, she asked me to be the father of her child. Will you come and live with me?”
I shake my head and he looks crushed.
He picks up a fry, grimaces, and puts it back down.
“What kind of farm is it?”
“A dairy farm. The previous owners sold the cows, so there’s not much there now.”
“Have you ever milked a cow?”
“Never. Well, I’d better go and look for a job.”
“Will I ever see you again?”
“Yes. We can meet every Monday at noon, but not at your place, and not at mine. What’s your phone number?”
He gives it to me.
I don’t offer mine, and he doesn’t ask.
I’ll block my caller ID when I phone him.
It’ll be nice to get out for something besides work.
Now all I need is a job.
Chapter 20: Melanie
Martin still doesn’t like the idea of a guy doing my ultrasound, so I reschedule it for when he’s at work.
“I won’t ask for any information without you there. But they need to do this.”
The person doing the ultrasound is a woman. She’s brusk and business-like. In fact, she doesn’t even smile.
Roberto would have been much better.
Martin has had three root canals in a month. That wouldn’t worry me, although of course I’ve heard those are no fun, but he comes home ready to eat dinner.
That does worry me.
He doesn’t comment about the freezing coming out, feeling any pain, or having to eat on the other side. Something is definitely up.
It’s just before five in the morning, and I’m making breakfast while Martin has a quick shower.
I dish it out just as he walks into the kitchen.
He sits down and tucks in.
After he’s eaten, he says, “I have a doctor’s appointment at four, so I’ll probably be a little late tonight.”
“Okay, I hope everything’s okay.”
He doesn’t answer but gets up and goes toward the door.
“Please put your plate in the sink.”
“You leave your plates and stuff on the table, and it’s kind of annoying. Can you please put them in the sink?”
“Oh, um, I don’t have time.”
“Yes, you have time. You have at least ten minutes.”
“I like to be early.”
“Please put your plate in the sink. You’ll still be early.”
I’m not sure why I’m picking today to have this out with him, but I’ve had it with the way he just leaves dirty dishes lying around.
He puts his shoes on.
“You have a choice. You can start cleaning up a little or you can make your own dinner tonight and your own breakfast every morning.”
“Look, I don’t have time for this.”
“Neither do I. I’m tired of doing all of the housework all of the time. From now on, I’m only doing two thirds of it. Since I need clean clothes, some of your laundry might not get done.”
“But I need clean clothes. Look, I have to go. I can’t be late.”
“Okay, but I mean it. I’m not making dinner for you tonight.”
He slams the door.
Okay, this could get interesting, but I’m not going to give in or back down.
At nine, I get a call. My doctor wants to see me, and she can do 4:00 this afternoon.
I call Martin right away. He’s working, so I get his voicemail.
“It’s me. I got a call from my doctor. She wants to see me at four today. I’m worried about the baby. The receptionist couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me anything. I know you have an appointment, but I didn’t want to try to change this.”
I spend the rest of the time being nervous about whatever the doctor wants to tell me.
At three, I get into my car and drive to the clinic.
Dr. Smish keeps me waiting until 4:30.
Martin hasn’t come.
“Sorry about that,” she says as we sit down. “What can I help you with today?”
“I don’t know for sure. I got a call asking me to come in today.”
“Oh, let me have a look.”
She types and reads.
“Oh, I see we’ve received the results of your ultrasound.”
“Is there a problem with the baby?”
“Let me just take a look.”
She clicks keys and reads.
“Everything looks good. There’s just one thing you need to know.”
“You’re carrying twins.”
Numbly, I thank her, make sure I have my card for the next appointment, and drive home.
“Where the [blank] have you been?!” Martins says as soon as I walk into the kitchen. “It’s time for dinner.”
“First of all, we don’t speak to each other like that, and second of all, I’m not making you dinner because you refused to put your plate in the sink. Thirdly, I left you a voicemail to let you know where I was.”
“I didn’t have time to check my phone. In case you’ve forgotten, I work.”
“What about at two? I could have used your support at the doctor.”
I sit down at the table.
“Yes. She called this morning and wanted to see me at four.”
“You knew I had an appointment at four. My root canal.”
His root canal?
Something is definitely wrong here. This morning, he said it was a doctor’s appointment.
Maybe he said the wrong thing.
“Yes I knew you had an appointment, but this was about our baby, and I didn’t want to postpone it. Everything is fine, but I’m having twins.”
“That’s great. I wish you’d called me.”
“I did call you. I left you a voicemail.”
“You should have called me at two.”
I throw up my hands.
“You should have checked your messages at two. Can we cut the crap and be adults here? We can’t be parents if we’re going to fight over the smallest things.”
“Yes, you’re still kind of young, but I’m sure things’ll be better once the . . . twins are born.”
“No. This whole thing started because we have a problem. Let’s solve the problem.”
“So can you make dinner, please?”
“How about you make dinner? Either for yourself or for both of us.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
I shake my head.
“I’m serious. I’m not cooking tonight. I bought some veggies and bread so I can make myself a sandwich.”
“Okay, I guess we can have sandwiches tonight.”
“Sure, you’re welcome to make yourself one.”
“Can’t you make me one?”
I shake my head.
“If you really don’t want to cook, you can order dinner tonight, but that gets expensive.”
“No, I’m not ordering dinner. I eat like that at work.”
“Okay. Well, what are you going to make for yourself?”
“Come on, why are you doing this to me?”
“Because we have to be a team and raise two children. I can’t cook every meal for us. There are going to be times when I’m run off my feet caring for the babies.”
“But you don’t have the babies yet.”
“No, I don’t, but we need to start now so we’ll be ready for them.”
He goes over to the counter and pours himself a cup of coffee. He takes a sip.
“I have a question for you.”
“Do you know how to cook?”
Slowly, he shakes his head.
“Well why didn’t you just say so? It would have saved us a lot of time.”
“Well, that’s easy to fix.”
“Yes. All you need to do is learn how to cook.”
“But it takes years, and it probably has to be when you’re young.”
“Who told you that?”
Oh boy. He’s sensitive about his mom. I’d better not even so much as imply any criticism of her. Besides, I can’t imagine she’d tell him he can’t cook.
“I don’t understand. What did she say?”
“She says learning to cook takes lots of practice.”
“So did you ask her to teach you?”
“No. I used to watch her sometimes and ask her how she did it so fast. She said, ‘with years of practice.’ I sort of understand what she does, but I’d do a terrible job if I tried.”
“That’s true. You might do a bad job of something the first time you tried it. Your mom’s being modest. I bet she learned in five minutes. And, given that you’re her son, I bet you can, too.”
He smiles uncertainly.
“Let’s decide what to have and then I’ll show you. What would you like?”
“Okay, let’s get started.”
It ends up being a lot more work and way messier than if I had made them myself, but that’s okay. It’s nice to see a big, macho man in the kitchen chopping vegetables.
The tacos are great, well, most of them, anyway.
“I’m exhausted,” he says after we’ve eaten.
“Me too. Do you know how to wash dishes?”
“Yeah, but I hate it.”
“Join the club and come with me.”
As the sink’s filling, I say, “Do you know how to work the washing machine and dryer?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Okay. We need clean towels soon, so once these dishes are done, I’ll show you how.”
“I’d rather make love.”
“Join the club, but this has to get done first.”
“How often do I have to do this?”
“Let’s see. On Thursdays and Sundays, we can make meals together, and I’ll show you things. I’ll make breakfast on three of the other days, and you on two of them. For dinner, I’ll do four and you do one. For laundry, you can wash your own clothes and our sheets. I’ll do my clothes and the towels. On your next day off, I’ll show you how to clean the house and you’ll be in charge of cleaning the living room.”
“Will you wash the dishes?”
“Whoever cooks the meal washes the dishes. If you’re running late for work after you make breakfast, I’ll exchange dinner dishes with you.”
I hand him the last plate and he dries it.
“Now let’s do that load of towels. For tonight, your job is to gather them all up and then watch me work the machines.”
A few minutes later, he brings me a basket of towels.
“Great. Let’s take these to the washing machine.”
He follows me down into the basement.
I flick on the light and open the washing machine.
“Just toss the towels in.”
“Now pour this detergent until it’s at this line for a small load, and this one for a large load. This load is big.”
I measure and pour it into the machine.
“Now for towels, we use these settings.”
I press the buttons.
“Now this one is START.”
I press it, and the machine starts to fill.
“Now we wait.”
I grin wickedly at him.
“Once the babies are born, Thursdays will be your day to look after them.”
“What?! I thought you were going to do all that stuff.”
“I need a break sometimes, just like you need days off from work.”
“But they’re babies, not work!”
“Yes, and babies are a lot of work. Changing diapers is messy. Feeding them takes forever. Getting them to stop crying is sometimes impossible.”
“But I’m a guy.”
“Have you ever heard of single fathers?”
“Yes, but I’m not one of those.”
“We don’t know what will happen. I could get sick. I hate to say this, but I could even get killed or die of something. Nobody knows the future.”
I put my hand on his arm.
“I’ll be right there with you. I’m not going to leave the babies with you alone for eight hours and go for a drive or something, at least not for the first few days. I can even be in the same room all the time for the first one or two. My dad did it with us. Mom left us alone with Dad lots of times. Sometimes it was just for an hour, but once, she even left the state to visit an old friend who was getting married in California. We were fine. If we hurry, we can make love before we need to put these in the dryer.”
Chapter 21: Susan
It’s been thirty days since the summons was published in the paper. Even through a lawyer, I’m not going to communicate with Martin. Besides, a lawyer would need to know my address, and I don’t trust anybody anymore.
I’ve seen Matthew a couple of times. We went to McDonald’s.
He told me about his daughter.
I’ve learned that her full name is Bethesda, but they only call her that when they have something important to talk to her about.
“Like when you’re mad at her?” I asked.
“No, not like that. For example, we call her that when we congratulate her for getting good grades.”
I’m meeting him today.
We arrive at the same time and get our food.
As soon as we’ve sat down, I say, “I found a job.”
“What kind of job?”
“It doesn’t sound fun, but it’s nice to make money.”
“You can say that again. So, how’s your farm?”
“Not in operation yet. I’m living there, but it’s not ready for Beth to visit yet. I’ve decided I’m gonna wait until Thanksgiving, and then I’m having a house-warming party with all the trimmings.”
“Would you come?”
“Please do. It’ll start at 2:00 on November 26. You’re welcome to come before that, but please come for Thanksgiving.”
“Like I said, maybe. But I may have to work.”
“Yes. This company doesn’t do Thanksgiving, unless you count the fact that we’re supposed to be ever so thankful to them for hiring us lower forms of life.”
“Do they treat you badly?”
“Not really. And they don’t ask for contact information. They pay cash.”
He doesn’t ask me why I want to be paid in cash.
Instead, he says, “When is our baby due?”
I almost drop my milkshake.
I’ve managed to forget that I’m pregnant.
“I don’t know.”
“Will you keep the baby with you or will you let me be a father?”
“Let you be a father?”
“Yeah. Francis and I agree on most things, but the one thing that’s always bugged me is that I never got to keep Beth.”
“To keep her?”
He nods and takes a gulp of coffee.
“I’ve always wanted to raise kids, but that hasn’t happened. When Francis and I agreed that I’d father her child, we stipulated that she’d be the primary caregiver. We didn’t use those words, but that was our agreement. I regretted it as soon as I saw Beth. Francis understands how I feel, but she just won’t let me look after Beth.”
“So you’d want to keep our baby permanently?”
Maybe I can get myself out of this mess after all. I can give the baby to Matthew, and then I can walk away and never see either of them again. Talking to him is nice, but I can’t sustain a relationship with him.
“Yes, although of course you could visit and take our child to your place for a weekend sometimes. Or you could live with me and we can be traditional parents.”
“On your farm?”
He drinks some of his coffee and chews on a burger.
“Maybe it’s not fair,” he says.
“Once you see your baby, you might not want to let me keep him or her, so maybe it’s not right for me to ask you if I can keep our baby if you decide you don’t want to live with me.”
“You can keep our baby. I’m no mother.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure.”
“I am. I don’t have an ounce of maternal instinct.”
He gives me a challenging look.
“I say. I’ve never wanted kids. When I left my husband, I didn’t bother getting more pills, and all it took was a couple of hours, and now here I am.”
“Do you regret our time in that chair?”
I shake my head.
“That fire alarm woke me from a deep sleep. I thought the world was ending. All my pictures burned up, and then you were there and you told me it was a test. I couldn’t breathe, and you took me to your place and . . . but then the baby happened.”
“You can take parenting classes.”
I shake my head.
“I can’t learn how to be a mom. I know what you have to do, but I just can’t . . . find anywhere near the level of love needed.”
“When Beth was born, Francis and I went to a group for new parents. A lot of them said that they didn’t feel much until they gave birth, or in the dads’ cases, saw their babies. Some of them loved their babies as soon as they knew about them, but a lot of times, love needs to be . . . I don’t know the word. Bound?”
“You mean the way a mom’s supposed to attach or something?”
“Yes! Attach. The baby and the mom have to find that bond. Well, and the dad, too.”
“But some people can’t do that, and I’m one of them.”
“Do you love your parents?”
“Of course. I miss them every day. But that has nothing to do with babies.”
“Yes, it does. You were, and still are, a baby who bonded with her parents. No, I’m not calling you a baby, but . . . What I mean is, if you can bond with your parents and miss them, you can bond with a baby.”
“This is getting too psychological or philosophical for me. Remember, I’m just an office cleaner.”
He frowns at me.
“I won’t pry into your business and ask why you have a job like that when I know you’re smarter than me, but I don’t want to sit here and listen to you putting yourself down. Do you want to change the subject or should I go home?”
Our food’s almost gone, but I don’t want to leave him on this strange note.
“Let’s . . . do something else.”
“Can you rent movies on your phone?”
“Let’s sit in your car and watch something.”
“What sort of something? I like slasher movies. You?”
“The more blood, the better.”
We throw out the dregs of our meal and go outside to his car. He opens the back door, and we both slide onto the leather seat.
He unlocks his phone and looks for a good movie.
“Okay, here we go!”
He taps on a few more things, and then it starts.
I love slashers, but they do scare me, and pretty soon, we’re in each other’s arms, only half pretending to be terrified.