MICHELLE AND CALLIE CONFRONT VARIOUS MATTERS
[Excerpt of Pregnant Without a Cause by Wilshire Lewis]
Michelle lay on the bed in the cool semi-darkness, the blinds and curtains drawn against the sun. Home from the hospital at midnight, exhausted, but constantly aware of every move and breath the baby made, she hadn’t really been able to sleep all night, but dropped into tiny naps while her mind kept racing and twirling. Finally, at mid-morning, they all slept quietly for a couple of hours.
Now Callie sat by her feet, holding the baby, staring down at him. Michelle wanted to hold him, but she didn’t dare. Because he had to go soon. She should have called the adoption agency from the hospital, but didn’t, making excuses to herself. She had insisted they give the baby formula despite her engorged breasts, and she insisted on a small pack of Pampers. Now she really had to call the adoption lady. She glanced again at the phone in its charger on the nightstand, and began to cry.
“What are you crying for?” Callie kept her gaze on the boy.
“I’m not crying,” said Michelle, dabbing at her cheeks. “I’ve got to call the adoption place.”
“Oh.” Callie snuggled him a little. “Say we don’t?”
Michelle would not be tempted. “We shouldn’t get too close. It’ll make it hard.”
“We’re already too close.” Callie cooed at the baby. “Little tosser. Little git.”
Callie had spent the summer restless and unhappy, streaming British TV shows that all seemed to involve working class teens, until she started to become one. Michelle knew it wasn't healthy, but she had her own problems. She stared up at the ceiling, fear and hopelessness clawing at her. “It’s the only thing I can do.”
Callie’s voice rose sharply. “You can do? What about Edouard?”
Michelle hoped to cut off the subject. “He would never understand.”
“He wouldn’t understand that you secretly had his baby, and you had it adopted without his knowledge?” Callie rolled her eyes. “What is wrong with the man?”
“No, he can’t know.” Michelle shook her head. She wasn’t ready to tell Callie the whole truth. Maybe she could get by with half. “If there is no father, it’s easier.”
“You think he won’t notice that there’s a baby in the house?”
“There isn’t going to be a baby in the house.”
The baby gurgled and his little fists waved. Callie bounced him softly. The perfection of the two of them, the moving together so easily, reduced Michelle’s resolve to tapioca. She had to call right now, or she never would.
“So, Edouard is not the father?” said Callie.
“I didn’t say that.”
“But you’re not going to marry him. At least I was willing to try to get to like him. But giving the baby away is a much worse idea. And there has to be a father.”
“Not if he abandoned me.”
“Who abandoned you?”
“Who was that?” Callie gave her a disbelieving look. Callie had never asked that question throughout the whole pregnancy.
“He abandoned me.” Michelle searched her memory banks for a suitable fictional father. “Leaving nothing but a braided chain. He was a sailor.”
“A whated who? A sailor?” Callie laughed. “In Phoenix? Have ye gone quite daft, woman?”
Michelle shrugged. She could not say more. She was caught in a cast-iron pickle. At the hospital, the doctor had confirmed what Michelle had struggled for months to deny. The baby was not premature. He was full term. That meant his conception had come almost a month earlier than Michelle had been telling Callie and trying desperately to believe herself. She had insisted the doctor keep this information to herself, but she needn’t have bothered. She was just a staff doctor, and once she left the room, Michelle never saw her again.
Sitting there holding her perfect and perfectly adorable sudden brother, Callie could not understand why her mother wanted to hide him or deny him. True, she had hidden her pregnancy from everyone except Callie and Gumms, but Callie had assumed that once the baby arrived, that would change. Now she realized that her mother’s plan all along had been to give him up for adoption and pretend like he had never happened. But why would she do that in this modern era, when single parents practically ruled the world, when parentless babies bounced all over the landscape.
And then it hit her.
“Oh, god.” Callie’s stomach twisted into a knot. “You didn’t.”
“Didn’t what?” Her mother stared at her with a panicky grimace.
Michelle laughed, a somewhat hollow and evasive laugh, it seemed to Callie. “Good God, no!”
“Why else would you hide it?” To Callie this was an open and shut case. “You saw him last Thanksgiving.”
Her mother pushed a toe into Callie’s thigh, obviously annoyed. She wouldn’t be annoyed if it was not true. How could she have had sex with him after everything that had happened? “How could you?”
“I couldn’t and didn’t,” she huffed. “You can change the subject.”
“Then give me another name,” said Callie. She raced through a list in her mind. Maybe someone from Package Express and that’s why they fired her? Or that slick character from the TV show? But that would mean her mom was a—no, it had to be Edouard.
“Not now.” Her mother avoided Callie’s eyes, staring at the clock, the curtains, anything but her.
“Not now? Then when?”
Michelle shook her head.
This was irrational behavior from the usually super-rational super-Mom that Michelle pretended to be. What did they call that thing that made mothers want to strangle their babies? “I think you’re a little confused.” Callie spoke soothingly. “You know, after-birth crazy.”
Michelle stared at her daughter blankly. “Postpartum depression?”
“Whatever.” Callie made sure to remain very calm. “So let me see. Your first plan was to spring the baby on the world and hope everyone loves a surprise. Now you want to send him off to adoption oblivion and pretend it never happened? You may fool everybody, but you can’t pretend it never happened. You’ll know, and you’ll never forgive yourself. You’ll always wonder where he is, what he’s doing, is he all right?” Callie almost burst into tears herself at this recitation of the child’s fate.
But Michelle would not soften. “It’s not always easy to know the right thing to do.”
“Mom…” A light went on for Callie. There was a solution right there, staring them in the face. It was so obvious Callie almost laughed. “You’re going to do the show, aren’t you?”
“I need that show!” Michelle threw her arms in the air and dropped them over her face. “I need the money. I need the, having something important to do. And… I don’t know…”
Callie could see the pointlessness of trying to talk sense to her. How do you deal with someone so caught up in fear and anger? But she had to make her see the brilliance of her solution. She slid herself carefully up the bed, holding the baby in one arm, and reaching out to her mom with her other hand.
“Why don’t you let me adopt it?” The idea was so crazy, so thrilling, but so obviously right that Callie could hardly believe it herself.
“Why not? Being a poxy hoor is all the rage at high school these days.” The idea was unfolding in her mind as quickly as she said the words. “You should see how the single moms get doted on. They show off their babies like they just baked their first apple pie. Actually, none of them could bake an apple pie, but they can have a baby. And people fawn and coo.” Callie caught herself cooing at the baby in her arms. “Nothing against the babies. But girls you never heard of show up with one and all of a sudden, they’re drawing a crowd. It’s hideous, unless, and I never thought of it this way, unless you’re the girl getting the attention.”
That was it. She got fat because she was pregnant! And no one knew she was pregnant, because she was fat! The example of how that worked lay right next to her. Instead of a gormless duff, she’d be a sexy new mum! It saved her mother from all her disasters— or anyway kept her on the show— and kept Edouard out of the family. And most important of all, it kept this baby in Callie’s arms.
Michelle lay back on her pillow, her eyes falling closed. “That is the most horrible reason I ever heard to raise a baby. I’ve got to call the adoption agency.”
Callie shrugged the orphan higher on her chest. Her brother. “Poor little Roscoe.”
“Well, why can’t I call him a made up name, since I’ll never know his real name. But I swear if you let him go, I am going to find him as soon as I can.”
Michelle’s voice had a distant quality. “If you have to call him something, call him Boomer.”
Callie looked at her mother for more signs of the post-participle manic depression. “Boomer?”
“That was the name of the EMT. Boomer Sikorskey. I was staring at the name tag during the whole…”
“Boomer.” Callie mugged at him and his eyes, all black pupil, sort of wallied back at her. “You sure boomed into our lives, little Boomer Junior.”
A bell rang for Michelle. Years ago, a football game on TV. Craig sang that song. “Boomer Soo-ner, Boo-mer Sooner!” In fact, it was when she was pregnant with Callie. New Years Day, and Michelle had no idea who or what Boomer Sooners were, but Craig was so funny. Craig. The man who wasn’t there after a while. The future had looked golden that Boomer Sooner day, and year by year it got darker. It looked black now, so could Boomer Junior somehow bring them light?
Michelle could feel Callie’s gaze lock on to her with a rare sense of purpose and determination.
“Here’s what we’re going to do,” said Callie. “We are going to keep him, and name him Boomer, and love him.” She smiled. “You’re going to march in there with head held high, look them straight in the eye, and lie your head off.”
“March in where? The show?” Michelle felt like a slightly delirious leaf in a whirlwind. “I can’t do that. I’m not strong enough. I’d melt like whipped cream. And more importantly, it’s wrong.”
“Wrong? Wronger than hiding the baby? Wronger than giving him away to strangers?”
Her daughter’s point stabbed Michelle like a spear. “How can I lie? How can I hide the baby? I would have to stay with the baby anyway.”
“I’ll take care of him. He’s my baby, remember that.”
“You’ll be in school.”
Callie smiled. “Well, Gumms or Aunt Patsy is going to have to help.”
Michelle groaned. Her mother and sister? That was even more impossible.
“And you’ve managed to fool everyone through an entire pregnancy. Hel-lo!” Callie clearly thought that was the clincher.
Michelle’s heart sank. That was Edouard’s voice, from the kitchen. A second later he rapped on the frame of the bedroom door, and his arm and shoulder appeared briefly, but he remained in the hall. “Are we decent? Can I come in?”
Getting more complicated by the second. Michelle took a calming breath. “All right.”
“Hey.” He stepped through the door, an uncertain smile on his round, goateed face. He wore his usual Banana Republic shirt, powder blue and yellow this time. “I tried calling. Since yesterday. You okay?”
Lord, thought Michelle. Oh lord.
“Whoa!” He looked at the baby. “Who’s this?”
Michelle was about to jump off a cliff. She wanted to trust Edouard, to tell him the truth. She had to have an ally. But his face had become a strange, contorting thing, one eyebrow up in surprise, his mouth opening and closing like a catfish on a dock.
But Callie looked at her with the clear and determined blue eyes of an assassin.
“I’ve got something to tell you,” Michelle said, and Edouard almost reared back, as if he wanted to go hide under a desk.
Callie interrupted. “You see…” she raised the baby by hunching her shoulder, and turned his little face toward Edouard. “You see, I had a baby.”
LILY TORRENCE: AT THE PREVIEW
The audience was going for it. And what they were mostly going for was Edmund Glover. Max could tell by the backs of their heads that the audience members were totally immersed in the story. Glover played a French resistance fighter, but the audience didn’t give a hoot about that. They had come to see Edmund Glover: tough, intelligent, and soulful. And they were getting what they wanted.
Then there was a burp.
At a key moment near the climax of the picture, a Gestapo officer stood over Glover holding a pistol, snarling at Glover, who slumped against a crate, beat up, almost done for. They were on a dock in Marseilles at night, in the fog.
The German in the black leather coat mocked him, and democracy. “You know it is over. Your Amerikan allies are far away, and quite indifferent to your fate.”
Glover struggled to stand, hooking his arm over the top of the crate to pull himself up. A reverse camera angle showed that the crate was actually a cooler full of fish. Unseen by the Nazi, Glover gripped something inside there. Tense music filled the theater, almost unheard by the engrossed audience—that stinking Nazi!
Suddenly Glover whirled, and socked the Gestapo man in the face with a two foot long fish. The villain staggered back and Glover knocked the gun from his hand. They struggled along the dock in a furious fight.
But it was no good. Once the viewers realized he hit the guy with a fish—it took a few seconds—they emitted a burst of surprised giggles. Now they were hearing the music, which sounded much too obvious, and the action of the fight seemed like re-processed slapstick. A man in the audience yelled, “Holy Mackerel!” and another wave of titters rose up. Max found himself sinking down in his seat.
Sheldrake separated himself from his young paramour and tapped Max on the arm. The two of them stood up and sidled out to the lobby, followed by Gil Gladstone.
“I told you that goddamn fish idea...” Gladstone hissed at Max as the three men gathered in front of a dark red banquette in the corner of the empty room.
“Don’t glower, Gilbert!” Max grumped. “So back we go to your grappling hook.” To the empty lobby he announced, “I still hate hitting a guy with a grrrrappling hook.” Behind the concession counter, the popcorn machine applauded politely.