Cortney J. Rowe
My eyes fly open as I sit up in my fluffy, white bed. Running my fingers through curly hair, I look at the bedside clock. 6:45 A.M., April 10th, 2010. Just another typical day.
Climbing out of bed, I go and sit at my vanity table. My greying, dark brown hair is a lion’s mane around my tan face, lined with crow’s feet and wrinkles. Even my bright brown eyes do not make me look any younger. Damn you, fifty-one. I would not have to go through all these fertility treatments if I were younger.
I begin to flat-iron my hair, frustrated that it was taking longer than usual. Afterward, I dress in a pink-and-white skirt suit with a string of white pearls. After putting on my pink heels, I tiptoe down the hall and open the door near the spiral staircase.
“Marcus! Wake up! Time for school!”
Dark-rimmed hazel eyes open immediately. I fold my arms as he lurches out of bed. “If you were up already, why didn’t you get up and get dressed?”
“Just trying to get a few more minutes of sleep, Mother.” Marcus tosses his pajama top in the hamper and grabs a white buttoned shirt from the drawer. As he starts to button it up, I grab the bottom, noticing the wrinkles.
“You can’t put this on! Let the maid iron it…”
“It’s on now, so forget about it,” says Marcus as he yanks the shirt away, “Besides, the shirt wouldn’t be wrinkled if we had closets in this house.”
Biting my lips, I throw up my hands. “Fine, if you want to look like a slob, that’s your choice. I was just trying to help.”
Marcus rolls his eyes as I turn around and grasp the window sill. He knows why the house has no closets. How could he say something like that? Needing something to do, I open his window, the morning breeze rushing through the bars behind the window. “Isn’t the wind refreshing today?”
Marcus is pulling up his brown slacks. “Would feel better if the bars weren’t up.”
“Okay, Marcus” If this is how the morning was going to go, then I should stop talking to him. I watch him as he pulls his pants higher, only for them to fall just above his hips.
“I wish I had a belt.”
A jolt runs up my spine. I grasp Marcus’ arm and look him straight in the eye. “You don’t need a belt. We’ll call a tailor to fix all of your pants today. I’m sure your father has some that might fit bet-“
“Mom, Mom, Mom,” Marcus says as he places his hands on my shoulder, “It’s okay. I’ve lost a lot of weight over the years, and they’re only a little loose.”
I breathe a sigh of relief. I cannot even look at another belt again. “Well, I know you have a Student Council Meeting, and after that is basketball practice, so you’re going to be busy today. There’s nothing more uplifting than a socially-active child!”
Marcus kneels near his book bag. “Do you know what today is?”
“It is April 10th.”
“No, not the date, I mean that it’s been five years since— “
“—April 10th, five years ago. And next year, it will be six years after April 10th, five years ago.”
The hint of softness that came across Marcus’ face a few moments ago disappears completely. “Fine. Sorry, I brought it up at all. See you when I get home.”
He threw his blue-and-white book bag over his shoulder and barrels down the stairs. I run after him. “Have a good day! Wish me luck at the fertility office!”
Marcus shrugs his shoulders as he pulls a black cap over his bald head. “Whatever,” he says as he slams the door. My eye twitches as I smile at the closed door; it is only after I hear his Jeep pull out of the driveway that I walk into the living room and collapse on one of the white couches. Marcus just woke up on the wrong side of the bed today. Once I tell him that the fertility treatment was successful, he is going to be excited about his new brother or sister. I lean up to see the clock above the living room opening. 8:45. Over two hours before the appointment. I decide to relax until then.
The mantelpiece catches my eye. Miniatures from unknown artists sit between vases of lilies. I love lilies, as well as many other flowers, but my favorite flower is the orange rose; the uniqueness of it attracted me when I was younger. When Scott learned this, he would get me a bouquet of them every month, even filling my hospital with orange roses when I had…anyway, now I cannot bear to look at them anymore. No matter: the lilies are nice. Before the miniatures, the mantelpiece used to be filled with pictures. There were our wedding picture from twenty-six years ago; a picture of Scott and Aaron Rosenberg, his architectural firm partner and best friend; at least one picture of Aaron’s daughter Ruth when she was younger; and many pictures of Marcus and…I turn my attention to the white baby grand near one of the living room’s picture windows.
Sounds of a young boy creating a cacophony using the keys flow through my memories, suddenly replaced by melodious notes from a natural musician. A lump develops in my throat, but I swallow it and jump to my feet and put on a 500-watt smile. Today is going to be a good day. Scott’s going to meet me at the hospital, they’re going to find some usable eggs, Scott’s going to give them some of his sperm, and we’ll be on our way to having another baby! With this in mind, I leave the living room and start my day.
I rapidly tap my foot against the blue carpet in the fertility office. The appointment starts in fifteen minutes, and Scott still is not here. Where is he? He promised he’d be here on time. I look around at the rest of the people in the clinic. A young woman is leaning on an older man as he holds her hand and whispers in her ear. A woman talks to her mother about what type of sperm she wants for her baby. Two men gush about their embryos being implanted today, each holding the hand of their surrogate. When I see a pregnant woman waiting for a post-in vitro checkup talking to her husband while her young son lies his head on her belly and talks to his baby brother, I cannot take it anymore. I pull my phone out and punch the button for Scott’s number. It rings a couple of times before “Hi, this is Scott Carlton” comes up. I push one, and the message recorder comes up. “Where the hell are you, Scott? It’s almost time for the appointment! Get here soon!”
I click off the phone and realize that half of the clinic is staring at me. The gay couple and their surrogate look at me with pity while the woman shakes her head and continues to talk to her mother. The pregnant woman covered her son’s ears, and the young woman looked at me from the corner of her eye before returning to being comforted by her partner. I sit straight up, smooth out my skirt, and give a friendly smile. No need to get rattled over something that will be okay. Scott is coming; he’s just running a bit late, that’s all. I’ll apologize to him for the message I left as soon as he comes.
“Mrs. Cynthia Carlton?”
I jump up, walking towards the receptionist’s desk. “Yes?”
“Dr. Green is ready to see you.”
My heart races as I look towards the door. “May I wait a few minutes for my husband?”
“You may, but that will cut into your appointment time, and we wouldn’t be able to reschedule it until sometime next week.”
I bite my lip before taking a deep breath. “Okay. But when he comes, can you send him to my room?”
“I can do that.”
“Thank you so much!”
With that, I go into the back and walk past several doors before I find the one labeled R. Green. A short and stout doctor with blonde hair and blue eyes stands up and shakes my hand. “Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Carlton, I’m Rachel Green, spelled exactly like the Friends and one E away from the ER character.”
I nod my head. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to respond to that. Dr. Green must have sensed my discomfort because she gets down to business when we sit down. “Let’s see…you received the human chorionic gonadotropin on the 8th, so now we’re ready for egg retrieval and fertilization, right? Where is Mr. Carlton?
“He’ll be in time for fertilization,” I say, “Let’s retrieve those eggs!”
“Okay.” I go into the bathroom and change into a white hospital gown, lying on the bed when I return. “I am going to put you under sedation such that you’ll feel mild discomfort from the needle, but it’s safer than anesthesia. Is that all right?”
I nod my head. She puts an IV in my arm, and I start to get drowsy, closing my eyes and imagining that I was somewhere else.
I was lying on my back inside a purple plush area. My arms were folded across my chest, covering my starch white shirt and black vest, which complimented my black pants and dress shoes. Although my eyes were closed, I could sense everyone looking at me. There were some of my fellow marching band members standing near the back of the crowd looking at me. A few feet in front of them are my high school track teammates, who came from their prestigious colleges to see me. Near the edge of the crowd was Professor Dane Johnson, the sponsor of the Minorities in Engineering Club. It took me forever to convince him that I was three-eighths black so I could join the club. Standing to his left was Professor Gong Jun-fan, the sponsor of the Chinese Culture Club and my Chinese teacher. Next to him stood my girlfriend, Roberta Zhang, who I had met in the Chinese Culture Club. A beautiful Mexican woman of Chinese descent going to school to become a doctor; she was the perfect girl for me.
Near the front was my father’s business partner with his wife and daughter. Every summer I would intern at my father’s company; it taught me good business skills. In front of them, my fourteen-year old brother lays his first basketball medal on my chest, while my father bowed his head to hide the tears coming down his face. He had a firm grasp around my mother’s shoulders; she was sobbing uncontrollably, wondering why this was happening…
I jerk up, looking towards the heart monitor, which was beeping rapidly. Dr. Green gently squeezes my shoulder as she turns me her way. “Please calm down.”
I slowly inhale and exhale, trying to stop my hands from shaking. “Did you finish the egg retrieval?”
Dr. Green sighs. “When your heart rate went up, I had to stop the retrieval early. I was able to retrieve eight eggs, which is less than we hoped.”
“Can we do it again? We can use the anesthe- “
“Anesthesia mixed the sedatives you’ve already taken could cause a negative and perhaps fatal reaction. Besides, we should try to keep these eggs viable until your husband can come.”
My eyes widen as I look at her. “My husband still isn’t here? He never came?”
“Anyone who comes would have to speak to the receptionist. Four people came in while you were back here, but none of them was your husband.”
My mind wanders somewhere else as Dr. Green gives me her apologies. All I can hear is my foot tapping against the side of the bed until the doctor asks whether or not I wanted to keep the eggs.
“Of course!” I say, giving her the biggest smile, I can muster, “We’ll both be back real soon to make our baby!”
I bite my lip as I pull up to my driveway. Scott didn’t come. I panicked, so Dr. Green couldn’t get as many eggs as we wanted. I should be freaking out, but a uniformed calm comes over me. My calm shatters when I see Marcus’ car in the driveway.
My heart races as I run into the house. “Marcus? Marcus!”
Marcus appears at the top of the stairs; he has changed into a yellow-and-orange checkered shirt and white jeans. He runs down the stairs and places his hands on my shoulders. “What’s wrong?”
I want to be comforted by this gesture, but I shrug his hands off instead. “Why aren’t you at school? You should be at Student Council now!”
Marcus walks towards the coatrack. “I didn’t feel like going to the Student Council today. As of matter of fact, I didn’t feel like going to school. When you left, I came back and try to get some sleep, but I kept having night—“
“You can’t skip school, Marcus! You need it to get anywhere! How could you be so irresponsible?”
Marcus gives me an unnerving smirk as he pulls out a brown leather jacket. “Guess in vitro didn’t work, eh?”
I know I should focus on the fact that he skipped school, but that comment is so mean-spirited that I must comment on it. “What is wrong with you? You haven’t been supportive of the idea all day, even though it would make me happy. Why are you being so cold?”
“Cold?” Marcus shouts, making me jump back, “Me? ‘And next year, it will be six years after April 10th five years ago’, like it’s some other day. It’s been five years since Justin died!”
The memories flood my head as I brace myself with a small table in the living room. The leather shoes floating in the air. The limp tan hands. The vacant brown eyes. The curly, dark-brown hair spilling over a head bent at an odd angle. The tautness of a black belt.
I distantly hear Marcus’ voice breaking as he continues. “Why don’t we ever talk about him? Why did you take all his pictures down? Why are you acting like he never existed? You are just trying to replace with a new baby and— “
“Shut up!” I swerve around, making him jump, “You weren’t there! Your father wasn’t there! You didn’t see him hang—“ I stop myself. Falling apart like this just won’t do.
I sigh as I straighten my blouse and wipe the residue from my eyes. After that, I put on a pleasant smile and pat Marcus’ wet cheek. “I guess I was so angry about you skipping school that I overreacted. I’m sorry.”
The coldness returns to Marcus’ face as a final tear runs over my hand. “Me too. That I thought things were going to be different this time. Goodbye, Mother.”
“Where are you going?” I shout as he walks out the door.
“To see my girlfriend, Robbie!”
Robbie? Marcus can’t be…that would be disgusting, but I mustn’t react. “Have a good day then,”
“And you don’t even care that I’m dating her. Whatever, goodbye.”
With that, he gets into his car and drives away. Exhausted, I flop onto the couch. This day has been rough, but I refuse to let it break me. A knock on the door motivates me to get up, straighten myself, and answer it. I am surprised to see that my visitor is Ruth.
“Hello, darling!” I embrace her, noticing that she’s gained a few pounds. “What brings you here?”
She twirls one of her long black curls. “I just wanted to say hello, and talk to you a bit. May I come in?”
“Of course!” Ruth comes in and sits on the couch without taking off her brown trench coat. I join her and grab her hand. “You’re shaking, dear. What’s the matter?”
She looks at me with wide blue eyes. “I’m pregnant.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful!” I say with as much gusto as I can while I hug her. I try to ignore the many thoughts that came in my head. How I was hoping that maybe someday Ruth and Marcus would get married. It will break Rebecca and Aaron’s hearts to have a 19-year old, unwed, pregnant daughter, especially if the father is some bum or hooligan. Nevertheless, she came to me for a reason, and I’ll help her out as much as I can. “I bet if you explain the situation to your parents, they’ll be—“
“Sco-Mr. Carlton is the father.”
I break my embrace, going numb. Distantly, Ruth explains how two years ago, Scott was devastated over Justin’s death, and she comforted him. Things happened, and that they didn’t want to hurt me, and that this wasn’t supposed to happen. As if they had a mind of their own, my hands clasp around her neck. Miles away, her screams and pleads reach my ears, but I couldn’t respond to them. Our maid tries to pull me off to no avail. Finally, Marcus comes from nowhere and pries my fingers off of Ruth’s neck. I don’t register any of this, only falling back on the couch. Someone dialing 911 is the last thing I hear before I completely check out.
The tap of my foot on the stone floor is the only sound that registers to me in the jail cell. Everything that happened today is a blur. Everyone I know is a blur. The only thing that matters now is the repetitive beat of my toes and heel. I absently look at the cell door as it slides open. Scott is standing on the other side, but it doesn’t register until he exclaims, “Jesus Christ, Cindy! You didn’t have to do that to Ruthie!”
I strike him across the face. “Don’t you dare chide me about your whore!”
I walk past him to get my things. “Don’t call Ruthie a whore! I’m as much to blame as she is!”
“Oh, we both can agree with that!”
I snatch my things off of the counter, apologizing when the police officers tell me to calm down. I put on my heels so I can look straight into Scott’s green eyes. “I asked for one thing today. One. Come to the clinic and give your sperm. That’s all. You couldn’t even do that for me, and now? I have to find out you’re having a baby by someone else?”
“I’m sorry I didn’t come today, Cindy, but to be honest, I didn’t want another baby.”
I suck my teeth as I pull on my jacket. “Thanks for letting me know that you don’t want a baby by me, Scott.”
“That’s not what I mean!” he catches me outside and holds my arms. “Ruthie’s pregnancy wasn’t supposed to happen, but I will take responsibility for it.”
“That’s makes me feels so much better.”
“Listen to me! I had to talk to someone about Justin’s death, and you weren’t available. You always avoided the subject, moving on from it. I couldn’t do that. I had to talk about it, and Ruthie was there to listen.”
“Oh, I’m sure Ruthie ‘helped’ you a lot!”
“Cindy, I told you it wasn’t like that!”
“You know, how dare you use our son’s death as an excuse for cheating?”
“Cindy, that’s not fair!”
Tears stream down his face as he bites his lips. I turn away, knowing that was a low blow. My chance of escape, however, comes in the form of a yellow cab. “Taxi!”
Scott grabs my wrist. “Don’t go. We can ride home together.”
“I have to be alone for a while, Scott.” He lets go of my wrist, and I climb into the taxi. “I’ll see you when I get home, okay?”
He nods his head and closes the door. I watch as he disappears in the distance. I can’t blame him for the way he chooses to grieve Justin; I’m not sure if my way is working any better.
The cab driver nods as he pulls away. The cemetery looks ominous at night, but there is enough moonlight to illuminate the tombstones. Although I haven’t been here in five years, I know where Justin’s grave is: near the gate under the willow tree. I made my way there.
When I get to my destination, I’m surprised by the first thing I see. At the base of the tombstone is a bouquet of orange roses. There’s only one person who could have brought this: Scott. I leave the flowers undisturbed, taking off my heels and crawling to the tombstone, touching its letters. Justin Williams Carlton. Williams is my maiden name. Born, January 14th, 1986. I was so excited when I had him, being my first child. Died April 10th, 2005. He was only nineteen.
My body shakes as tears flow down my face. I wanted to ask Justin why. Why did he kill himself? Why was he so unhappy? Did he even consider how he would destroy his family with this final act?
I curl up in a ball and bite my fingers, still shaking, still sobbing. I wanted to stay here forever. I don’t want to go back to a world where I’ve pushed my son and husband away, where I have to accept my husband’s baby by another woman, where I’ll have to question for the rest of my life why my other son is no longer here. I want to lie here forever.
A leather jacket falls over me. I put it on and sitting up, I see Marcus kneeling next to me. “Ruthie and her baby are okay,” he says.
“I don’t care,” but a part of is glad I didn’t seriously hurt them. We sat there for a couple of minutes before I spoke again. “I don’t understand.”
Marcus rubs his head. “With everything he was doing at school, I think he was overwhelmed. Some people can handle the pressure, some can’t.”
I wipe my eyes. “What do we do now?”
Marcus’ eyes become moist. “We take care of ourselves and each other. That means not holding in things. It’s better to let them out. Justin wouldn’t want us to be consumed by his death.”
I reach to wipe his eyes. “That means eating more, and not trying to hold onto Justin through his associates. You don’t have to do that, Marcus.”
Before I know it, Marcus puts his head on my chest and starts to cry. “It’s just so hard without him, Mom.”
I pat his head as he wraps his arms around my waist. “We’re going to get through this together. The three of us: me, you, and your father.”
Marcus nods. “That sounds great.”
“Let’s go home. In memory of Justin, I’ll make some fish and chips and beignets. How does that sound?”
As we stand up, Marcus puts his arm around my shoulders, giving me a genuine smile. “That sounds great.”
I put my arm around his waist, and we walk away. My forgotten heels remain lying against the tombstone.
Edited by Haley Mendenhall