I’m serializing the first 10% of State of Love & Trust here on my blog. It’s a story about Pearl Jam fans in Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, Corktown.
Begin with the first installment. This post is #5 post in the series.
Chapter 4 – All or None – “Baby” (part 1)
Clive – Belknap Township, Mich. – Friday, June 30, 2006
The happiest man alive. That was me from the snowy day last March when Becca had agreed to marry me, until this very moment in the blazing heat. I should have known something like this would happen. I had my reasons, I swear, that one little word could double me over with the force of a gut punch right there in our backyard garden.
I stumbled backward and stepped on a rotting tomato. Embryonic slime oozed warm between my toes. I scraped my bare foot in the rough crabgrass while she continued kneeling in the dirt. Steady. Stable. Oblivious to the earwig flailing in her water glass. She quit looking at me for a reply and forced her weed digger between twin dandelions.
“Maybe we should have planted popping corn,” Becca said, as if she hadn’t just detonated a neutron bomb.
I stood there, fists involuntarily clenched, mind scrambling to grasp the implications. Cicadas played an alien battle of the bands in the cedars lining our deep lot. The stench of cow manure wafted from a neighboring pasture. Her beagle, Cubby, continued snoozing peacefully in the thin shade of my weeping willow.
We’d been careful. So damned careful. She was on the patch.
“Please. Don’t change the subject,” I said. “How did this even happen?”
She tugged off her flowered gardening glove and showed me her palm. The stitches were gone but the fresh scar, where the boning knife had slipped through the avocado and pierced her hand, was still a deep shade of red. “I’m thinking it was those Canadian antibiotics.”
The week before the Pearl Jam shows, we’d taken a belated honeymoon at her brother’s bed and breakfast in Montréal. That’s where the stupid knife mishap occurred. It was completely my fault. I never should have asked her to make guacamole for me.
She shrugged. “I guess they deactivated my birth control.”
I was trying to be patient. Trying to understand. Sweat rolled down the backs of my knees. I weighed what to say next to this woman I adored, who’d taken a chance on a broke-ass artist from Detroit when every busybody in Presque Isle County was sure she should have married the Hollywood-handsome foreman from the quarry.
“We talked about this. Remember? You said, ‘Maybe in ten years.’ And I said that seemed soon but I was open. Was I dreaming, or did we not have basically that exact conversation?”
She pushed her sunglasses on top of her head and squinted up at me. “Yeah, you’re right. We did.”
I went for it. “So you don’t plan to go through with it or anything.”
“Seriously? I think, I mean, now that it’s happening, why wouldn’t we?”
I swallowed. The bitter taste of fear burned in the back of my throat. “Are you ready for this? Because I’m sure as hell not.”
She stabbed the earth and worked a furious circle with her weed digger. “It was an accident, but it’s something. You know? It’s ours.” She wrestled a dandelion from the dirt and pointed its wicked white root at me. “You’re giving me a knee-jerk reaction. An automatic hell no.”
“Someday. Alright? Someday we’ll try this. I’ve already promised you that. But this wasn’t part of our plan. A dumb accident that’s nobody’s fault doesn’t mean we have to totally abandon our plan.”
The plan was that I’d continue growing my business, Retro Replicas, from my home studio while she gradually expanded the service territory of Crowe & Father Home Heating, the business she’d inherited when her dad died. A surprise baby that would probably arrive in time for our first wedding anniversary did not fit anywhere into that plan as far as I could tell.
Becca took a sip of her water and spotted the drowning earwig. She jumped to her feet and flung the glass across the yard. It smashed against a stump near the fire pit. “Crap. I’ll get that. Oh!” She put her hands to the sides of her head, blinked hard and swayed.
I grabbed her by the waist and steadied her. “Hey? Bec? You alright?”
“I’m fine. Jeez. I’m just hot. I stood up too fast.” She stumbled toward the hose coiled at the side of our peeling white bungalow. Her sunglasses fell to the grass as she splashed water on her face.
My inadequacy at this husband gig nauseated me. What was I supposed to do, though?
She dried her cheeks with the bottom of her tank top, her belly button a tall O centered at her narrow waist. Her shirt fell into place, rumpled and wet. “So, I know it’s not perfect timing, I’ll give you that. And believe me, I’m as scared about this as you are. But you freaking out on me hardly helps.”
Water burbled from the hose. She kicked off her rubber gardening clogs and rinsed her feet. “Fine. I get it. It’s a screw-up, and it changes our plans. But we’ll get by. I mean, it’s just a baby. It will be small. It won’t eat all that much.”
“Don’t call it that. Right now it’s a little clump of cells.”
“That may be.” She dropped the hose. Her onyx eyes narrowed. “But it’s my clump.”
“Bec, please. Don’t do this to us. Not like this. Not right now.”
“It happened. It’s done.”
“These things can be undone, you know.”
Ignoring my last remark, she refastened her sweat-damp ponytail into a sloppy bun. Water continued to pour out of the hose. She wouldn’t even look at me. Usually, she was so reasonable. But this, this was different. There had to be some way to get her to reconsider. I picked up her sunglasses and handed them back to her, then tried appealing to her practical side.
“We’re in a one-bedroom house. Where’s it supposed to sleep?”
Ouch. That other bedroom was my art studio.
“Seriously, Becca. I mean, come on. Are you really going to go there? My replicas are bringing in good money. If this is your new plan, you won’t be expanding your business anytime soon. Can you show me your thinking on this?”
She chewed her lip and looked away. This had to be sinking in. Bringing up her business was a good angle.
“Who do you imagine is going to take care of it while you’re off fixing boilers?”
“Simple. You’re always home. You’ll be a stay-at-home dad.”
Jesus. I could just see myself painting Houses of the Holy with a baby on my hip.
“Try to be realistic. This is my livelihood you’re messing with. You’re going to leave a baby here and just go off and work. And the kid, it’s going to be crawling around the studio knocking over jars of turpentine. Think of someone other than yourself.”
“That’s exactly what I am doing. You should try it sometime.”
I toed the deepening puddle of cold water in the grass and swished my foot around until the last of the tomato goop washed away. Me, a stay-at-home dad. I stepped out of the puddle onto the dry grass and made another pass at reasoning with her. “They’re not cute.”
“What is that even supposed to mean?”
“Alright, so maybe they’re cute.”
“That’s irrelevant. Cute or not. We’re talking about our kid. You’re saying you don’t want it because it might not be cute? I feel like I don’t even know you right now.”
That wasn’t what I’d meant. I tried again. “Well, obviously it’d be cute. What I’m saying is, so what? That doesn’t stop them from crying and barfing and crapping. They’re helpless. Needy. Fragile. Their whole lives depend on you. It’s exhausting. And if you fail, you can never forgive yourself.”
“You talk about having kids like you think you know something. You didn’t even have little brothers or sisters. Just you and Ellie. Where do you even … how can you just?” She flapped her hands in frustration.
She was flat out wrong about that, but this was hardly the time to lay it on her about how Ellie and I were, or were not, raised and how many siblings we’d actually had.
The nachos I’d eaten for lunch were rioting in my stomach and about to organize a protest march right out of my throat. I staggered forward and grabbed the garden hose. I needed to be doing anything other than discussing this doomsday scenario with the woman I loved. I did love her, really, despite any apparent evidence to the contrary.
I let the hose water splash against my feet until my bones ached from the cold.
“You’re upset,” she said. “It’s a lot to process, I know. But let me say this. There’s a tiny piece of you stuck inside me now. And I’m its mother. I don’t think I’d know how to say goodbye to that.”
Pressure welled against my esophagus. I made for the sliding doors and staggered through the house and into the bathroom. My knees smacked the floor tiles. I clutched the toilet rim as wave after wave of the nacho brigade stampeded out of me.
Stay tuned for the next installment of State of Love & Trust!
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State of Love & Trust. Copyright 2016 © Grace Ombry. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever without the written permission of the author.