Anne stared at the closed door, her weeping having almost instantly ceased as she was struck dumb and mute by Preston’s abrupt and unexpected exit. Never before in their entire relationship had he ever walked away from her while she was in the midst of any sort of crisis or turmoil, no matter how silly he may have thought the cause to be, no matter how much he may have believed she was overreacting. Even the very few times he had been upset or irritated with her, he had never done so. Anne wasn’t exactly sure what she had expected when she disclosed the news to him but she knew it wasn’t that.
Preston, after entering the garage, had walked around the car, his brain fogged, to the driver’s side door feeling disconnected from reality. Perhaps it was all a morphine induced dream. He would soon wake, whether to find himself on a gurney or in his bunk back at the faux chemical plant or in his and Anne’s bed having fallen asleep watching television, some actress in whatever show was currently on had uttered those words and his slumbering mind had replaced her with Anne, manufacturing a dream around it. He’d had similar experiences in the past.
He opened the car door, lowering himself into the driver’s seat and closed it, cocooning himself within the vehicle, staring out of the windshield, waiting. Now that he knew it was a dream, surely he would wake up soon or the dream would morph into another with a different storyline. Maybe all of this was a dream, everything from the day he’d met with Dr. Waller. Perhaps it went farther back than that. When he woke up he’d find Nan was still alive and well and he wasn’t dying, decades of life still ahead of him. He’d tell Anne all about it over breakfast and they’d dissect it as they had others.
Preston saw the door from the garage into the kitchen slowly open out of the corner of his eye through the passenger side window. Anne stepped through, closing the door behind her and standing in front of it, looking at the car, at Preston sitting in the driver’s seat still staring blankly ahead of him at the wall of the garage. She walked the few feet to the passenger door of the car finding it unlocked. Opening it, she entered the car, seating herself in the passenger seat, closing the door, She stared at the same wall at which Preston rested his gaze for a moment before bowing her head, looking towards the floorboard of the car where her feet rested.
“Alan….” she said gently, breaking the silence. Preston looked down and away from the windshield to the steering wheel, his fantasy of it all being a dream having now ended.
“When...how…?” he asked, his questions running together as he struggled to voice them, his thoughts still feeling disjointed.
“Dr. Batari said I’m at five weeks, almost six now. It had to have been our anniversary. You have a Ph.D. I don’t think I need to explain how.”
“I mean...you’d been told….we’ve been together six years…”
“I know. I asked the same thing. Dr. Batari said the most likely explanation is that at my age..my body beginning to transition...everything that had been out of whack was set right, at least for awhile. I had been more regular the last few months. I suppose that was a sign. I didn’t think much of it. I still didn’t think it was possible, especially at forty three but I guess I was wrong. Dr. Batari said she had another patient that was forty six...totally natural, no fertility drugs or anything.”
Preston went silent again, still staring at the steering wheel. Anne turned her head to look at him.
“I knew you wouldn’t want it. I know we can’t go through with it. I wasn’t even going to tell you about it. I’d made an appointment at the clinic. When I got there, there were all these protesters...”
“And they intimidated you, talked you out of it.” Preston said.
“No. I thought I’d just do it and be done with it and you’d never know, I’d just take the pill and that’d be the end of it...but once I got there, I started thinking...it’s not like you were some one night stand,...you had the right to know, to have your say. I didn’t want to go in there and then change my mind, decide to tell you, and then have them think it was because of them.” .Anne said. Preston felt guilt rising within him over the secret he had kept from her for so long. “I wasn’t sure how I was going to tell you but I didn’t intend to spring it on you right after you walked in the door, especially after what you’ve just been through.”
“You already know my thoughts on the subject. That being said, what I think doesn’t matter. The decision has to be yours. But before you decide, there’s something you should know...if you would decide to go through with it, you’ll be raising it alone. I won’t be there.” Preston said, bowing his head, looking down into his lap. Anne looked at him with disbelief.
“You’ll leave me?” Anne asked quietly, her voice strained, she on the verge of tears once again.
“No! No...that came out wrong. Of course not. That’s not what I meant.”
“I don’t understand…” Anne asked, confused.
“I wanted to let you be happy as long as I could so I didn’t tell you...I should have, you had the right to know as well.”
“Tell me what?”
“I have a rare form of cancer that affects the blood. I may only have a couple of years left, maybe less than that. I found out a year ago, that day I had the meeting with Dr. Waller. I’ve been undergoing treatments for it, they’re buying me some time, keeping me on my feet, but they’ll eventually stop working. I’m dying.”
“What?” Anne asked, sounding as if she’d just had the wind knocked out of her, tears beginning to well in her eyes.
“I shouldn’t have kept it from you. I’m sorry.” Preston said quietly, tears beginning to escape his own.
“No. That’s not true….you’re lying…you just don’t want me to-” Without finishing her last thought, she opened the car door, almost falling as she exited the car, slamming the door closed behind her. Preston opened the driver’s side door. “It’s not true!” Anne cried, reaching the door into the kitchen and throwing it open, entering the house. Preston followed her, an expression of guilt and sorrow on his face.
“Anne…” Preston said as he followed Anne from the kitchen into the sitting room. She stood in the middle of the room, her back to him before turning to him, her face now drenched in tears.
“You can’t leave me!” she exclaimed, breaking down into sobs for the second time since Preston had arrived home. Preston reached her and despite the pain it caused him, took her in his arms, pulling her to him, holding her tightly. “You won’t! I won’t let you leave me! Please...please don’t leave me!” she wailed as Preston felt her body trembling in his arms.
Later, Anne having quieted somewhat due to mental and physical fatigue, Preston had returned to the kitchen for his bag, afterwards putting an arm around her, leading her to the bedroom. Anne moved as if in a trance, in a similar zombified state as Preston had been after Dr. Waller had dropped the same bombshell on him a year earlier. Preston wondered if someone could go into the physical state of shock as many did after a severe injury from the mental equivalent. Of course he knew the signs of it and how to treat it if it turned out that was possible and that it was the direction in which she was headed.
Easing Anne to sit on the edge of the bed with gentle words of reassurance, though he was not sure she was hearing them, he sat his bag near the foot of the bed and opened it, finding the bottle of narcotics. Opening it, he removed one and grabbing an empty glass from the bedside table, walked into the bathroom, filling it from the sink before returning to sit next to Anne.
“Take this…” Preston said, holding the pill in front of her lips. She slowly opened her mouth, Preston placing the pill on her tongue. He put the glass of water into her hand, moving her fingers around it to hold it, then assisting her in lifting it to her mouth. Anne took a drink, swallowing the pill. “There you go. Good girl.” he said as if talking to a child. It wasn’t ideal, but it was all he could think to do, that he could think to give her as there was no depressants in the house, other than alcohol, no valium or anything of that nature that might relieve the shock and stress his announcement had caused her.
As soon as she had swallowed it and he had taken the glass from her hand, setting it back on the bedside table, he had second thoughts, though of course it was too late. His mother had sought out the bottle to drown out her sorrow. Had he just started Anne on a similar course but with narcotics? He then also remembered the reason that he had finally come clean to Anne about his condition in the first place. Was it safe to give such a strong drug to a pregnant woman? But then it ultimately wouldn’t matter anyway.
Preston, now in nearly excruciating pain himself, removed another pill from the bottle and downed it with water from the same glass he had given Anne before replacing the pill bottle into his bag and zipping it closed. Assisting Anne to her feet for a moment and pulling back the comforter and sheet from the bed, he’d sat her back down, moving her into a lying position and covering her before rounding the bed and joining her on the other side, She had curled up next to him on his left side as he lay on his back, Preston sliding an arm under and around her.
Lying in total silence for some time, Preston began to feel the effects of the drug. Sensing her body relaxing, he was sure she was as well. It was a situation he had never envisioned for them, two highly educated people, former college professors, to be lying together under the influence of drugs. Thinking that Anne had fallen into a doze, he was surprised when she began to sit up.
“I have to finish dinner. You’re probably starving. You need to eat.” she said, her words slightly slurred.
“I’m not hungry at the moment. We can have something delivered later. Lie down, relax.” he said, easing her back to her former position.
“I’m sorry...you’re so sick and all I was thinking of was myself. I didn’t even ask you how you were feeling.” she said quietly, her words slightly more slurred.
" I’ve been feeling quite well, actually. Sometimes I forget….”
“Me too...I mean, about the other thing. I’ll call first thing Monday and reschedule.”
“Is that what you want?”
“It’s for the best, all the way around.”
“I’ll go with you.” Preston said.
“You don’t have to do that.”
“Yes, I do. I won’t let you face those nutters alone.” said Preston. Anne giggled, sounding almost drunk as she did so. Preston relished the sound of her laughter.
“I knew you would call them that.”
In the cloak room of an elementary school, a young red headed girl exited the small restroom at the back of the cloak room and approached the hooks on which hung students bookbags, backpacks, and coats. She unzipped the front pocket of a backpack and reached into it, feeling around within. Removing her hand, she saw within it a white envelope. On the front of it was written “Bookstore Money.” Though the young girl had just recently learned to read, she knew the words well as they were also above the cabinet in the hallway outside the classroom that was opened every Friday afternoon after lunch, children able to bring money to purchase picture books to take home. Hearing the sound of someone approaching and entering the cloak room, the girl quickly folded the envelope, tucking it into a ragged, worn coat on the neighboring hook before exiting the cloak room as another girl entered.
Anne, a young student in the same classroom, sat at her desk coloring in a connect the dots worksheet she had completed. Her teacher, Mrs. Burrow, had just announced it was time for those students that had brought money for the bookstore to collect it before she would escort the class out into the hallway to make their selections. Anne didn’t rise. She never had money for the bookstore, though she loved books. Her favorite event of every school week was library day when she would be able to choose a book and take it home.
Not long after Mrs. Burrow’s announcement, another young girl came running from the cloak room in tears and up to Mrs. Burrow. Anne, who was engrossed in coloring her worksheet, didn’t notice. Mrs. Burrow said something to the young teacher’s assistant before entering the cloakroom. After a few minutes, Mrs. Burrow reappeared, holding an envelope in her hand.
“Anne…” Mrs. Burrows called out. “Come here, please.” Anne put her crayon back into the crayon box and stood, dutifully walking across the room to Mrs. Burrows. Perhaps Mrs. Burrows had some task for her to complete. She was often given such responsibilities as Mrs. Burrows knew she could count on Anne, she even volunteered to do them sometimes. Anne didn’t consider for a moment that she could be in any trouble. A quiet, shy, somewhat subdued, hard working and well behaved child, she very seldom was, one of the very few students that earned a gold star on the class chart for all five days of school nearly every week.
After arriving home from school, Anne’s mother dragging a tearful Anne into the house roughly by the arm, Anne had practically been thrown onto the couch. Craig, Anne’s stepfather, had just awakened for the day since he was working the night shift. He had risen from the kitchen table in the small kitchen as Anne and her mother had entered the house, following behind them.
“What’s going on?” Craig asked, looking from the sobbing Anne to her mother, his wife, who appeared angry enough to chew nails and spit fire.
“She’s a thief! I got a call from the principal. She stole a girl’s bookstore money out of her backpack!”
“But I didn’t do it! I swear! I didn’t steal anything! It wasn’t me!” Anne wailed.
She had told Mr. Owens, the principal, the same, in tears at that time too. In fact, it had seemed the tears had not stopped flowing since the second Mrs. Burrows had looked down at her with disappointment and told her what had been found in her coat pocket. Mr. Owens, in an attempt to prove a point, had taken the beaded bracelet she wore that she had bought for a dime at the thrift store off of her wrist and asked her how she liked it when someone took something from her before telling her that he would be calling her mother, sending Anne into a panic, she begging and pleading as she sobbed for him not to do so. After that, he had held the paddle in his hand, it still in use in those days, telling her if she was ever caught stealing at school again, she would find her rear becoming acquainted with the business end of it.
“If you didn’t do it, why was it in your pocket? I suppose fairies put it there. Stop lying!” Anne’s mother yelled at her. “You’ll never think of stealing anything again after I’m through with you!” Anne’s mother turned her head to look at Craig who stood silently a few feet away. “Beat her!” she said to him.
“What?” Craig asked in disbelief. He’d spanked Anne before after minor infractions, a couple swats on her behind while she was clothed, but nothing that could be considered a beating.
“You heard me! She needs to learn her lesson! I won’t have a thief living under my roof! ” Anne’s’ mother exclaimed in a fury. Craig relented, sitting down on the couch next to Anne. Anne drew back as he took hold of her arm, pulling her face down across his lap. “No...on her bare ass! Keep going until I tell you to stop! I don’t want her to be able to sit for a week!”
Craig looked up at his wife with an expression of dismay. It was clear he didn’t want to do what he was being asked to do but also did not wish to face the wrath of his wife if he refused. Craig had always been kind to Anne even though she was not his biological daughter, far kinder to her than her mother, but he had never in Anne’s recollection refused to do anything her mother had asked of him or stood up against her mother’s bullying of her or himself. It was easier for him to do what she asked, to put up with it or look the other way than to endure being on his wife’s shit list, a place no one wanted to be.
Craig reticently pulled down Anne’s pants as he held the writhing, struggling, girl down with his other hand as she screamed and cried.
“No! Please! Don’t! Please! I didn’t do it!′ Anne shrieked. Craig began to spank her, Anne crying out each time his hand fell on her tender flesh.
“Harder!” Anne’s mother ordered. After a few more spankings, Craig stopped as Anne continued to bawl.
“I think that’s enough.” Craig said.
“I’ll tell you when it’s enough!”
Craig resumed spanking Anne, each time her mother cajoling Craig to make the next harder. Anne wondered if it was ever going to end. Her ass cheeks felt like they were on fire. She couldn’t even scream anymore, her voice hoarse, she only making the motions of doing so with her mouth as a gulping sound came from her throat.
Finally, Anne’s mother had told Craig he could stop. Craig stood Anne up and pulled her pants back up around her waist, Anne swayed on her feet as if she were about to pass out.
“Get out of my sight!” Anne’s mother had ordered, pointing towards the doorway. Anne limped painfully from the room, each step torture. Reaching the bathroom, she went inside, closing the door behind her and sliding against it to her knees on the floor, The flesh of her ass throbbed and burned. Struggling to rise once again to her feet, she hobbled over to the full length mirror on the wall, the one with the crack in the corner and turned her back to it looking over her shoulder and lowered the seat of her pants. She could see the clear outlines of Craig’s handprints, the entire surface of her ass bruised black and blue.
Craig had never spanked her again after that and her mother had never asked him to. It was the only time that she had been physically abused, at least to such an extent. Her mother had slapped her across the face a few times as a teenager but nothing more than that. Yet the experience had stayed with her, haunted her, up to the present day...the fear, the pain, the helplessness as she had pleaded over and over that she was innocent. She hadn’t stolen anything.
Not long after that, the true culprit had been caught red handed once again attempting to steal from another student’s bookbag. Her teacher had informed her mother that Anne had been innocent but Anne had received no apologies from anyone...not from Mrs. Burrows, not from Mr. Owens, not from Craig...definitely not from her mother. The matter was simply dropped and never mentioned again.
Seven year old Anne became forty three year old Anne as she awakened after reliving the event in a narcotic induced nightmare. It was still fairly early, the sun having just set, an orange glow remaining near the horizon she could see through the bedroom windows. Reality flooded over her along with the memory of what had passed after Preston had arrived home. Anguish again consumed her mixed with that still lingering from her dream which had been dredged up from where it had been buried deep within her for all those years.
Anne moved the covers back, sliding from the bed and to her feet, feeling woozy. She noticed Preston’s bag still sat near the foot of the bed. She looked across the bed to him where he lay deeply dozing, watching him in silence for a few moments with an expression of grief before quietly walking around the bed, lifting the bag and taking it with her into the bathroom.
Anne closed the bathroom door but didn’t bother to lock it. She never did, nor did Preston. The door being closed was enough to indicate to each other that it was occupied and not to enter. There seemed little need for the lock. Switching on the light, she sat the bag down on the vanity top near the sink and unzipped it. Within were articles of clothing...a few T-shirts and shorts, socks, a couple pairs of jeans. She spied what she was looking for, the orange colored bottle of pills. As she reached for them, her eyes fell on something else peeking out from under a pair of jeans. She changed the trajectory of her hand towards it, grasping it...pulling out by the grip a .22 pistol.
She had never known Preston to own or carry any type of firearm since they had met and doubted he had outside the military before that. He had often spoken about how he failed to understand Americans’ fascination with guns. Perhaps now though, travelling as he did, he felt it necessary to carry it. Ironically, she thought, it hadn’t been a mugger or gang banger that he most likely carried the gun to protect himself against that had proven to be the biggest danger, but an inattentive driver.
Anne was not completely unfamiliar with firearms. Craig had taught her to shoot a rifle and she had taken a handgun course in the past using a loaner from the range. She had never owned one of her own. Anne ejected the clip. She wasn’t sure why she had been moved to do so. It held only two rounds. Replacing the clip, she put the pistol back into the bag in the same position in which she’d found it before grabbing what she had originally intended, the bottle of pills.
Preston jolted from slumber as he felt a hand that he instinctively knew from its size and strength was not Anne’s grip his forearm and a familiar voice, though one he had not heard since shortly before his and Anne’s move to Nevada, speaking forcefully, urgently, into his ear.
“Whitby?” Preston said, his head fuzzy, not immediately recalling where he was...or when. For a split second upon hearing the voice, he had forgotten all the years that had passed since then and thought himself again in Afghanistan, thinking he was being awakened for a drill or, god forbid, an actual attack was commencing. His surroundings clueing him into time and place, though his mind still felt muddied from the narcotics and the lingering fatigue from his latest treatment earlier that day, he glanced beside him to see he was alone in the bed. Looking towards the bathroom door, he saw a light on underneath it.
Usually he would have assumed Anne was merely using the restroom and returned to sleep, but not this time. He felt a nagging sense of foreboding and dread. Rising from the bed he walked to the bathroom door, knocking on it.
“Anne?” he said loud enough to be heard through the door. He received no answer. “Anne, are you alright?” he asked. He was no expert on medical matters. He knew the basics and basic first aid and lifesaving skills. He thought of his fears after giving her the narcotic after recalling her condition. Could it have caused a complication? There was also her mental and emotional state to consider. She had endured quite a shock and emotional upheaval related to it. Though she planned to terminate the pregnancy anyway, he did know that a miscarriage in some cases could be dangerous and possibly more so at her age.
Preston turned the knob, opening the bathroom door. Anne stood in front of the sink, a glass of water in her left hand, the open pill bottle in her right, lifting the bottle towards her mouth.
“Anne! No!” Preston rushed from the doorway to Anne, grabbing her wrist and taking the pill bottle from her, picking up the cap from the vanity and replacing it and setting the bottle down before taking the glass from her other hand, setting it on the vanity as well. Anne turned her head to look at him. He could still see the effects of the narcotic he had given her in her eyes, though it was slight, clearly wearing off. “What are you doing?”
“The same thing you were going to do. I didn’t want you to be the one to do it.”
“What are you talking about?” Preston asked, confused. Perhaps she was still affected by the drug more than she appeared to be.
“Why else would there only be two bullets?” Anne said.
Preston stared at Anne, realization dawned on him as he recalled the bag sitting on the vanity and what it contained. Once again, Anne’s almost psychic perception and skills at deduction astounded him.
“Yes, I’d considered it...but I couldn’t...I won’t do that. I’m not dead yet. We still have time...I need you. Please, stay with me. I’ll stay with you as long as I can.” Preston told her. Anne broke down again in tears.
“It’s my fault...I’m cursed, she told me...it’s my fault you’re dying. Anyone that’s ever cared about me...”
“She…..you mean your mother. You saw her?” Preston asked. Anne nodded.
“Your mother’s in Illinois. She’s not here. ”
“She’s always with me.” Anne said.
“I’m going to call Kristine. It’s a bit late there, but she’s likely still up. I think you should talk to her.”
“No...don’t bother her. Not tonight anyway. Maybe I’ll talk to her tomorrow.”
“Alright. You have to promise me...promise me you’ll stay with me.” Preston said, in an almost pleading tone. Anne nodded.
“I promise.” Anne said. Preston put the pills in the back pocket of the jeans he was still wearing that he’d fallen asleep in and reached into his bag, pulling out the gun. Turning, he left the bathroom. Anne followed him. “What are you doing?”
Preston left the bedroom walking past the other bedrooms, crossing the house to the kitchen and to the basement door. Opening it, he turned the light on and descended the steps. Anne, catching up to him, followed him.
The basement was multiple rooms. He walked into the farthest where an old foam mattress was leaning up against the wall. It had previously been in their guest room. They’d decided upon moving in to replace it, planning to haul it to the dump or wait until the next citywide clean up day that was held once a year to put it out to be picked up.
“Cover your ears.” Preston said, looking over his shoulder as he saw her enter the room behind him. Anne put her hands over her ears. Preston aimed the pistol at the mattress, firing it twice. He turned, walking to Anne and handing it to her before moving past her, out of the room in the direction he had come.
Preston pulled the car into the parking lot of the clinic. The two sat in silence for a moment after Preston had turned the engine off. Along the sidewalk to the clinic stood around twelve protesters, far fewer than the first time she had been there, yet they still made her anxious and uncomfortable. Not that they would stop her even if she’d been alone, but she would rather they have not been there and she could walk into the clinic as she would any other physician’s office without any threat to her dignity, without feeling judged and like all eyes were on her while experiencing the same sort of emotions she had long ago when other kids at school had bullied her and lined up to taunt her.
“Are you ready? We still have a little time if you need it.” Preston told her.
“I never expected I’d ever need to go to a place like this. I guess life’s full of surprises...I just wish they were better ones” Anne said, mentally preparing for what lay ahead. “Let’s get this over with.” Both she and Preston opened their respective car doors and exited the vehicle, walking around it and meeting as they walked towards the sidewalk that led to the clinic doors. Preston reached over, taking Anne’s hand.
Walking past the first few protesters, Anne heard what she had expected to hear, the usual guilt tripping statements, the pleas to her “humanity,” the tired claim that the child she was aborting could be the one to cure cancer, something that stung more than it would have before Preston had confessed his diagnosis.
“They could just as easily be the next Hitler.” Preston had said, though too quietly for the protesters to hear as they continued walking. One protester held a poster board upon which were glued enlarged and graphic photos of an aborted fetus. “Bleeding Christ…” he said with disgust, “Don’t look.” Preston told her, moving his free hand up like a blinder to the side of her face.
“God will punish you. You will burn in everlasting hellfire!” A man with blond, almost white hair, dressed in black said as they reached the halfway point of the line of protesters. “‘They sacrificed their children to demons, they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters whom they sacrificed to the idols, thus they became unclean.’ He is coming, He will see you for the whore you are.” the man continued to babble as they passed him.
“You son of a bitch…” Preston said, seething with anger, turning back towards the man, releasing Anne’s hand, clenching his fists.
“Alan, don’t…” Anne said.
“I bet he says that to all the girls. This way. You’re nearly there.” another man’s calm, soothing voice said as he walked up and put a hand on Preston’s shoulder, diffusing the situation. Preston turned away from the preaching man in black, once again taking Anne’s hand, anger still evident in his expression. Anne looked at the man, recognizing him as the older gentleman who had tapped on her car window, offering her an escort. “Hello, again.” he said to Anne.
“Oh...hello.” Anne said, embarrassed.
“Don’t worry. It happens all the time...women get here, see the protests and are scared off by all of it. I’m Dan.”
“Anne.” said, introducing herself, still sounding ashamed.
“Dan and Anne...we rhyme.” Dan said. “And you are…?” Dan asked Preston.
“He’s my husband.” Anne added, as if she needed to clarify.
“It’s nice to see you here together. You’d be amazed how many boyfriends and husbands leave their girlfriends and wives to go it alone. Sometimes they drive them here just to drop them off or wait in the car. But then I suppose it’s good that they’re involved at all instead of having run for the hills like so many do.” Dan said. Anne thought of her own biological father that she had never met, though she had no interest in doing so. Thoughts of him rarely crossed her mind, she considering him little more than a sperm donor. As they reached the door, Dan opened it for them. “Go ahead and get signed in and I’ll show you to a room. We had a couple of cancellations so we’re actually running ahead of schedule.”
Preston hung back as Anne approached the receptionist at the desk. After having signed in, verifying her information, she rejoined Preston.
“This way…follow me.” Dan said, leading the two through a door to the side of the receptionist desk. The three walked down a hallway, numbered doors along the walls on both sides. “You’re probably wondering what a guy like me is doing in a place like this. I’m a doctor, retired...an ob-gyn. I probably delivered half the people under thirty in town. I got tired of dealing with jumping through the hoops and over the hurdles of insurance companies. I had more than enough in savings and investments so I decided to close up shop a few years early and volunteer here.” Dan opened the door to a small room with a padded exam table with a monitor and other equipment on a cart beside it and across from that a table and two chairs along the wall, Anne and Preston entered as Dan continued to speak. “My mother ended up unexpectedly expecting when she was thirty four. She already had me and my brother and sister. My father had a hard time finding work. He’d had rheumatic fever a couple times as a child and it damaged his heart. He had good and bad days. He ended up dying when he was only forty a few years later. The same thing happened to that singer...”
“Bobby Darrin.” Anne said.
“Yeah. That’s him. I forgot his name. My mother worked in a factory sewing curtains. Her paycheck was barely enough to get us by with only the bare necessities. She knew she couldn’t afford another child and didn’t think it was fair to deprive the ones she already had even more than we were. Of course in those days, there weren’t places like this. She found someone through a friend. They botched it. She died on the table. That’s why I became a doctor and why I’m here. I don’t want that to happen to anyone else.”
“I’m so sorry. At least something good came out of it.” Anne said.
“Dr. Valaki should be with you soon.” Dan said with a smile, stepping out of the room and closing the door.
The doctor, a dark haired woman with what sounded like an Eastern European accent entered soon after, asking Anne the same standard health questions she recalled being asked every time she visited the doctor and a few more pertinent to the situation.
“I’ll need to verify gestational age with an ultrasound. It won’t take long. All you have to do is lie down and I’ll do the rest. You don’t have to look if you don’t want to.” Dr. Valaki informed her before standing and moving to the table and switching on a monitor. Anne looked to Preston appearing nervous.
“It’s alright. She said you don’t have to look.” he told her, putting a hand to her back as she walked towards the table. Lying down, Dr. Valaki asked her to raise her shirt and unbutton her jeans. After Anne had done so, Dr. Valaki put a dab of clear, cold gel on her lower abdomen, spreading it around with the probe, a blurry grey image appearing on the screen, Anne turning her head away. Preston however, found himself looking at the screen before he realized what he was doing, though he had no idea what it was he was looking at. Whatever it was, it certainly didn’t look like a baby.
“It looks a bit like some of your students’ paintings.” Preston joked, Anne playfully swatting him.
“I think your doctor’s estimate is right on the money. Six weeks. That’s about the time a heartbeat can first be picked up. I can try if you’d like.”
“No...I don’t think so.” Anne said, her head still turned away from the monitor. She glanced at Preston. Was that disappointment she saw in his expression? ’You don’t….do you?” she asked him.
“No...it’s better if we don’t.” he answered.
“I didn’t think you would, but I always ask just in case.” Dr. Valaki said. She removed the probe from Anne’s abdomen, wiping the gel away with a paper towel and tossing it into a receptacle. “All done. The hard part of the exam is over. You’re still early enough for a medication termination if you’d prefer.”
“Yes, I think that would be better.”
“Alright, I have another patient to see and then I’ll be back. It’s just a follow up so only ten minutes or so. You have to take the first pill here, but the second you’ll take about the same time tomorrow at home. We’ll need you to come back in two weeks.” Dr. Valaki informed Anne before stepping out of the room, closing the door. Anne sat up and stood from the table, returning to the chair, Preston taking the one in which Dr. Valaki had previously sat. Both were silent for a moment. The air in the room to both of them seemed to grow heavy. Preston reached out, taking Anne’s hand, looking at it. He wasn’t sure why, but suddenly Wells entered his thoughts. Something he’d told him Preston’s mysterious friend who had visited him had said.
“You’re sure this is what you want? You’re not having second thoughts?” he asked.
“It’s for the best. All children should be wanted.” she replied. She knew that she hadn’t been. Her mother hadn’t hesitated to tell her so, though she hadn’t needed to. No one would treat a child they wanted the way Anne’s mother had treated her. Of course Anne knew Preston would likely not be around for more than a year or two of this child’s life if she went through with it, but Anne had always believed that even babies and very young children pick up on things like that and are affected by it even before they can consciously remember. From her earliest memories, and she had a few hazy memories from as early as the age of two, she had never felt she’d been wanted by her mother so she had to have sensed it even before that age. Preston paused for a moment before continuing.
“Do you remember what you told me once...about why you chose art instead of history?” Preston asked.
“Of course I remember. Because there’s so much ugliness in the world, history is full of it and I’d seen so much of it first hand. Because I wasn’t beautiful myself. I wanted to create beautiful things to make up for it.”
“And you have, you create...it’s what you do and you’re very, very good at it. You’re doing it right this moment.” Anne looked over at Preston curiously.
“Surely you’re not...?” Anne said. Preston remained silent, still appearing to examine her hand he held in his. “Alan…?”
“Artists and writers both….sometimes an idea comes to them, like a bolt out of the blue, a spark of genius. If they don’t seize that moment, it’s gone. They’ll never get it back again. Whatever masterpiece they would have created lost.” said Preston. Anne looked at him in disbelief. “Maybe I am, but it doesn’t matter. After I’m gone, you’d be the one that would have to live with it. You’d be doing it alone. There’d be no one else, no one like Nan.”
“I said it was for the best. I never said it was what I wanted. What’s for the best and what you want can be totally different things.”
“When I first started university there were people telling me not to study literature. They told me I’d end up waiting tables. They tried to talk me into other things, things that paid better, had more opportunities, but there was nothing else I wanted to do. I’d always loved reading, writing, stories, theater...my mother did, too. Even near the end when she was almost too drunk to stand most of the time, she always read to me before bed. She’d read to me the night before she died.”
“People told me the same thing about art. They told me I’d end up spending my life as a secretary or asking if people wanted fries with that.”
“If we’d listened to those people about what was best, we would never have met.” Preston released Anne’s hand and stood, holding his hand out to her. “Let’s go.” Anne looked at his extended hand, thoughtful for a moment before putting hers into it and rising, Preston leading her to the door and opened it, leaving Dr. Valaki to return to an empty room.