Sunday, June 7, 2009

Short Story Sunday - Part II

A married couple endures trials, tribulations and greasy food on the road to becoming adoptive parents.

Diner French Fries at Two in the Morning By Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Copyright held by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

Fred absentmindedly flipped through the selection of songs on the tableside jukebox in their diner booth. His wife Arlene made random patterns in the splotch of ketchup on her plate with a French fry. They had mostly avoided eye contact since placing their orders, kept conversation to a bare minimum. The silence would not last. There was too much to be said.

Fred and Arlene were a couple that frequented diners. It fell just short of being a hobby. The two of them had never been to this particular establishment before. They had never been anyplace in Delaware previously, except perhaps for a rest stop along the highway while passing through on the way elsewhere for one of their extended weekend east coast vacations. Fred was in the habit of ordering a side of fries with gravy from diner menus, since he had yet to encounter a diner that made the dish poorly, and he would devour them at what appeared to his wife to be an almost inhuman rate of speed. Upon completion, he would greedily stare at the fries sans gravy on Arlene’s plate and inevitably ask if she was eating the remainder of them. She decided that if he asked the question on this of all days, she just might stick her fork through his hand.

The diner was about one quarter full at two in the morning. Fred and Arlene did not pay much attention to the other customers, who ignored them right back. The two midnight shift waitresses wore pink and white uniforms, moving from table to table refilling coffee cups and water glasses with zombie-like determination. One of them had red hair and emphatically chewed gum like a cow working over its cud. The other was also a redhead, though not naturally so, and her nicotine stained fingernails indicated that cigarettes rather than Wrigley’s Doublemint was her drug of choice.

The hospital that Fred and Arlene had just left in their wake could be seen through the window if they craned their necks. Neither of them had any intention of looking back towards that bitter sight. They had not had a bite to eat in hours, but ate more for the sake of having something to do than to satisfy hunger. They were exhausted, but did not expect sleep to overcome them any time soon. Neither of them would cry, because they were overwhelmed by a form of sadness that was beyond tears.

“Maybe we should just give up on the whole thing,” Arlene said. “We could travel more. You could write that book you’re always promising to start. Instead of looking at this like it’s the end of the world, we could choose to see it as the beginning, as an opportunity to truly transform our lives.”

“Any decision we made at this point would be rash, Arlene. We’ll probably see things differently in the morning. Right now you’re focusing on how disappointed you are, and the fact that you never want to feel this way again. I don’t either. But the next time will be different, I really believe that. We just need to be patient.”

“I think Brenda took it even harder than us.”

Brenda was the social worker assigned to them by the adoption agency. Fred and Arlene had become quite fond of her over the course of the past two trying years. In that time, Brenda had brought them together with three women who chose them to be the adoptive parents of their babies. The first was Ashley, a 19 year old college student who had gotten drunk at a fraternity party and been taken advantage of by at least three guys she could recall. With a month of her pregnancy left to go, Ashley decided to keep her child.

The gum chewing waitress stopped at their table and poured them more ice water. Fred briefly wondered what her story was. Did she have a blue collar husband waiting at home? If not, had she ever been married, or did a series of one night stands to alleviate boredom and a few abbreviated relationships that never quite panned out define her love life? How had she been in bed at her sexual peak? How frequently did she get in the mood now? Did she have any kids, and if so, what was the pleasure to grief ratio that they caused her? Did she favor trashy novels, soap operas, the wit and wisdom of Oprah Winfrey, or the biblical guidance of televised evangelists? Did dissatisfaction gnaw at her perpetually, or had she mastered tricks to muzzle her state of discontent? It did not matter in the slightest to Fred what the answers to these questions were. He simply liked to ponder the hypothetical lives of people he crossed paths with before moving on and forgetting them entirely. This habit bestowed a measure of significance to even the most minor encounters of his days.

Their experience with Ashley made Fred and Arlene much more wary when they met Paulette. Brenda assured them that while there were no guarantees, they should be looking forward to a best case scenario taking place rather than dreading when the proverbial rug might be pulled out from beneath them. Paulette sincerely did not wish to raise a child on her own. Having grown up miserably in a single parent household, she wanted a more traditional upbringing for the child she had not intended to conceive. Two weeks before her due date, Paulette’s ex-boyfriend defied expectations by returning and proclaiming he was ready to be a husband and father. There was no longer a need for Fred and Arlene to be part of the equation. Strike two.

A young attractive Hispanic couple entered the diner. Arlene’s line of vision went straight to the woman’s rounded belly that indicated she was approximately four months pregnant. Her husband held his right hand protectively on the small of her back. Arlene surmised they were the exceedingly fertile type that could conceive by merely talking dirty to each other. She simply could not picture the woman needing to bother with persistently taking her temperature or any other measures to determine when she was ovulating. It was difficult to imagine her in bed after lovemaking with legs pointed towards the ceiling to clear the swimming lane for her husband’s sperm. To envision them taking fertility drugs, going through the ordeals of artificial insemination or In Vitro, was pretty much impossible. Arlene had acquired an ability over the past few years to glance at an expecting couple and instinctively know how carpeted or rocky their road to conception had been. It was a useless gift that she would have preferred not to possess.

After two years of attempting to get pregnant naturally, Arlene was tested and learned that her insides would not allow her to. The disappointment was dealt with reasonably well and other options were considered shortly thereafter. She and Fred discussed and discarded the idea of a surrogate mother. That left them with the decision to adopt, which led them to the wonderful agency that Brenda worked for and their close calls with Ashley and Paulette.

The third birthmother to select them was Lisa, who like Paulette was 24 years old and seemed to have her act together and priorities in order. Earlier that night, Lisa had given birth to a healthy six pounds eight ounces baby girl. Brenda excitedly called to let them know that the big day had arrived at last. Fred and Arlene jumped in their car and headed to Delaware. They were soon to be parents. The pain and disappointment of past experiences seemed like small price to pay for the exhilaration they were about to experience.

“I guess you should have stuck it out with Kelly.”

“Don’t talk like that, Arlene. I love you. I have no regrets.”

Fred spoke the truth. He could not remember the last time he had given any thought to the last woman he was seriously involved with prior to Arlene. He and Kelly had been living together, but were no longer all that ecstatic about the arrangement, when he first met Arlene. Fred did not leave Kelly to be with the woman he would eventually marry. That just happened to be how things themselves worked out. Within six months of his leaving the apartment they shared, both he and Kelly were deeply involved in new relationships that would lead to the altar. Kelly gave birth to twin boys and then a girl who was the spitting image of her in the next few years to follow. Good for her.

“I feel as if God, or fate, or whoever decides these things is trying to tell us something,” Arlene said. “Maybe we weren’t meant to be anybody’s parents. Maybe our three major setbacks, as you call them, have actually been three big signs that we need to acknowledge.”

“You would make, will make a wonderful mother. And I wouldn’t do half bad as a father. We both want a child, and eventually we will have one, or two, or ten. It’s been tougher to achieve than we anticipated, but it’s still what we want. Isn’t it, Arlene?”

Fred took hold of his wife’s hands, hoping to transfer some of whatever strength and confidence he had at his disposal into her soul. He hated having to watch her heart be broken, yet realized the silver lining that by throwing all of his energy into buoying her spirits, he was distracted from his own heartache. The moment at hand was a critical one, for Arlene was a very willful woman. Once her mind was set, she could not be easily swayed. A new quality replaced the warmth usually exuded from her pale blue eyes after Brenda broke the bad news to them at the hospital, and the name for it was resignation. Brenda’s words continued to echo in Fred’s mind.

“The father showed up. He’s stayed completely out of reach until now. I don’t know how to break this to you, except to just say it. He has refused to sign rights to the child over to you.”

“He wants custody?” Fred vaguely remembered himself stammering in disbelief.

“No, that isn’t it. Lisa is still putting her baby up for adoption. But she and the birthfather have chosen another couple to parent the child.”

“I don’t understand.” This time it was Arlene who spoke through her shock. “What does the father have against us? Perhaps we could talk to him, set his mind at ease.”

It was apparent that Brenda needed to force herself to look them straight on and steel herself for the task at hand. She was not responsible for the result, but it was her duty to report it. If there was anything she could do to change what she had to say, she would have done so without hesitation. But the rules were what they were, and their only choice was to abide by them.

“He does not want his child to be raised by white parents. There is no budging him on this stance. Lisa agreed to go with her second choice so he would sign the paperwork. I’m so sorry.”

Tomorrow morning Fred and Arlene would embark on the excruciatingly long ride home. If Arlene was able to emotionally recuperate from fate’s latest cruel twist, they would tell Brenda they were willing to wait for the next match and hold out hope for better luck next time. Otherwise, their plans would have to be remolded to fit into the new shape of their lives. Prior to their attempts to have a child, Fred would have characterized his marriage as a happy one. He and Arlene loved each other with greater depth and maturity each day. Yet Fred understood that happiness was not impenetrable, or impervious, or infinite. There were only so many hits it could take.

Once again, his water glass was refilled by the diligent sleepwalking waitress. Arlene’s glass was still full and her food was mostly untouched. She was desperate for a respite, for something else to talk or think about, anything other than the trials and tribulations of becoming a mother. Tonight she had gone through psychological labor without the end payoff of a bundle of supposed joy in her arms. She craved a deep, dreamless sleep. She longed for peace, quiet, and harmoniously shared solitude.

“Honey?” queried Fred with caution, though perhaps not a sufficient amount of it.


“Are you going to eat those fries?”


1 comment:

  1. Perfect ending line. Give Ava a kiss for me - our little blessing