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.