Thursday, July 19, 2012


Thanks to all those at Thrice Fiction -
See Page 21 for story and outstanding illustrations!

by MaryAnne Kolton

Bethann Dean was huge, like the Goodyear blimp, only rounder.  And only in front.  If you were walking behind her, you wouldn’t even know she was pregnant.  She stood on the driveway, in the dark, next to the car, with her pink polka dot, overnight bag, looking … determined?  Impatient?  Resigned?  Hard to tell.  Lloyd raced from room to room, making sure all the lights were off, throwing some salmon kibble at the cat dish and grabbing several energy bars.
“Lloyd, please!” she hollered.  She had yelled these same two words, at exactly the same volume and with the identical tone of exigency, on the afternoon the blimp had been created.  Lloyd’s parents were on a cruise.  The couple was on his bed, her legs wrapped tight around his lower back.  He didn’t have a condom and she wasn’t on the pill.  They had been dating for three months.  He had graduated from high school three days before.  Bethann had one more year to go.
Since both families were devout Christians, Bethann and Lloyd were married two  months later.  A tense, family-only, ceremony followed by cake and champagne for the grown-ups (sparkling grape juice for Bethann) at the Dean’s mansion.  Lloyd’s football scholarship from Duke was forfeited like an expensive watch, pawned, never to be retrieved.  Bethann would get her GED at some point. 
The Deans were devastated by the news, but pretended – in public –  to be pleased about having a grandchild to spoil.  Lloyd was their only child.  He would be the first male in four generations not to attend Duke and play for the Blue Devils.  Each time his father, Richard, former linebacker “Dickie” Dean, thought about this, he had to press the fingers of his fisted hand against his mouth to keep the furious, disappointed words inside.  His wife, Lenora Rose, accepted the insincere congratulations at the country club with a tight smile and murmured words of thanks.  Since she had always envisioned Lloyd married to a well-educated, young woman  with impeccable manners, from another prominent family in their refined circle of friends, her life had become one weepy day after another.
Of course, there was the social divide to be considered. 
Bethann’s single, bartending mother was thrilled to bits.  Her daughter had always been much in demand as a babysitter.  Evie Butts had no doubt she’d be a wonderful mother.  Her co-workers at the Slide Right Inn applauded and hugged her as if she’d won the Lottery.  To think that the child they’d known since infancy was moving so far up in the world.  Once Evie had announced the good news, she noticed that her regular customers looked at her with a newfound touch of deference.  As if she, a potential member of the Dean family – if only by marriage – had gained a little more shine.
 Richard and Lenora Rose rented a small, furnished apartment for the couple.  It was decided that Lloyd would take courses at the local community college and work part-time for his father at one of the car dealerships on Dean’s Auto Rodeo Road.  Bethann would continue her summer job serving soft cones, sundaes and blizzards at the local DQ.  Once the baby, Eva Rose, was born, Bethann’s future was charted as a stay-at-home mom.  Lloyd would eventually work full time for his father.  The child’s gender was the icing on the cake for Evie, and a mortal wound endured by Richard Dean.
The Deans supplied the necessary baby furniture, travel systems, swings, bouncing chairs and other equipment.  Upon reviewing the credit card bills, Richard remarked he could easily fund a moderate-sized, company start-up with the payments.  Evie hit garage sales like a soldier going into battle, until she had accumulated several onesies, much-read copies of Pat the Bunny and Goodnight Moon, and a barely soiled, handmade baby quilt.  The pièce de résistance was purchased with saved tip money: a pink tee shirt with the words “Grandma’s Little Angel” scripted in gold and silver glitter on the front.
Lloyd dutifully attended childbirth and parenting classes.  As the anxiety-riddled, father-to-be, he assimilated all the information and took part in all the exercises.  He repainted the apartment with environmentally safe, fume free paint.  He took Bethann to her doctor’s appointments, attended classes at Le Blanc Community College, prepped cars at his dad’s Cadillac dealership, and tried not to appear as if he was being tasered every few hours.  He forced himself to put one foot in front of another.
On the nights that Bethann came straight home from the Dairy Queen, instead of sitting at the Slide, getting pregnancy and parenting advice from aging alcoholics and other shady characters, Lloyd rubbed her swollen feet and legs.  They talked about the last minute items they had yet to purchase: baby gates, plastic caps for the electrical outlets and locks for the cupboard doors.  He tried to convince Bethann that they could wait a bit for those things, since the baby wouldn’t come down the chute knowing how to crawl.  But she was insistent that all security systems be in place before they brought their baby girl home.
 One night when he sat on the floor in front of the television, watching a basketball game  and doing a report, his very pregnant, young wife said to him, “Lloyd, honey? 
“Yeah,” he answered.
“I know this isn’t what you wanted.  How you planned your life to be.  But you are happy about the baby, aren’t you?
Lloyd paused a minute.  “Yeah,”  He said.  “Sure.”
“And you do love me just a little bit, don’t you?”  The tears were tracking down Bethann’s plump cheeks.
“Uh, yeah, I love you.  It’ll all work out, Bethann.  I promise.”  He felt like such a shit.
Sometimes they lay stretched out on the floor watching the reality shows that Bethann loved.  One train wreck after another, that’s how he saw them.  Lloyd remarked on how dumb the shows were until he realized the cameras and crew might well show up on his doorstep at any moment. 
On the few occasions that he had a moment alone, he felt disgusted with himself – angry and bullied by everybody else.  He got headaches when he tried to focus his thoughts.  His hands trembled for no reason.  Cold sweats soaked the sheets at night and he muttered curse words at inappropriate times.  One minute he was a big deal, high school football star and the next, a piece on a game board, pushed here, dragged there.  He began to run several miles a day and found that  running helped him breathe normally and think rationally.  It was the one pleasurable activity he allowed himself. 
Bethann was awash in a sea of hormones -  pouting and blue one minute, euphoric the next.  She saw her friends from school infrequently.  She and Lloyd argued a lot and talked very little.  Her heart told her that the birth of their little girl would cure everything.  Or at least she hoped it would.  She wasn’t sure because, truth be told, she didn’t really know Lloyd all that well.
Lloyd’s best friend and most of the others guys were away at college, texting him daily about the booze, girls and full-on party weekends.  He saw his life slipping away from him, like a hard-to-hold-onto bar of soap in the shower.  He’d had his future all mapped out, much the same as a well-organized, cross-country trip.  Somehow, well, no, not somehow – but because he was stupid, stupid, stupid before he ever got to the first rest stop, he’d encountered a never-ending detour.
When he’d told his dad Bethann was pregnant, Richard looked at him as if he’d heard Lloyd say there was a large box full of writhing, cottonmouth snakes in the front entrance hall.  Next he wanted to know if Lloyd was sure he was the father.  Richard called Lenora Rose into the library.  They both agreed that Lloyd had no choice but to do the responsible thing and marry the girl.  He was never given a chance to share his thoughts before the verdict was read.  His mother asked him later if he loved Bethann.  It didn’t feel right, under the circumstances, to tell her he didn’t think so.  Bethann was blonde, blue-eyed and hot.  That was pretty much how he felt about her. 
She was still blonde and had blue eyes, however, she had gained almost fifty pounds during her pregnancy.  Lloyd tried to be a good husband.  It was a daunting task without an instruction manual.  When the baby started to kick, Bethann was forever insisting he press on the enormous mound that had been her sleek stomach.  He dutifully felt his daughter kicking, but he couldn’t connect with the ‘my daughter” part.  He was floundering in the scrim of a future snatched from him by something with a maw so voracious, he dare not go after it.  What life might hold for him in the months to come was a mystery.  All he knew for sure was that the imminent responsibility for a wife and daughter was nipping at his heels.
He hurried out to the car, took Bethann’s bag, tossed it in the back, and helped his wife into the passenger seat.  She was on her cell phone, calling her mother.  After they agreed to meet at the ER, she speed dialed Lloyd’s parents and handed the phone to him.  His dad answered and Lloyd told him Bethann’s water had broken and they would be at the hospital in about ten minutes.
“Yeah, okay.”  Richard slurred, awakened from an unsettled, cocktails plus wine plus brandy induced sleep.
“So are you guys coming or not?’’
“Probably ‘or not’.  Let me ask your mother.”  He planted the phone against a pillow while he discussed the matter with his wife.
“Call us back after the child is born.”
Lloyd disconnected and handed the phone back to Bethann.  “Not coming,” he said.  “Now there’s a surprise.”
By the time they pulled up to the Emergency Room entrance, Bethann was growling like a  mad dog.  Her mother was right behind them.  Lloyd put the car in park and ran in to tell the nurse behind the glass wall that his wife was having a baby.  She commandeered an orderly with a wheelchair and sent him outside with Lloyd.  The couple and Evie were escorted to a spacious birthing suite. 
Bethann was huffing and puffing like an old time locomotive when the labor “concierge” nurse, Amy, appeared.  She told Bethann to slow down.  It would be hours before her baby arrived.  And it was.  Ten hours later, Bethann was screaming like a banshee at every contraction.
“Did you forget the breathing exercises you learned in childbirth class?  Let’s you and I do them together.” said Amy.
“Screw breathing,” pronounced Evie.  “If it makes you feel better, you just yell your head off, baby girl. ” 
Lloyd was numb, useless.  Traumatized by the screaming and yelling and horror of it all, he said he was going out to get some fresh air and a Doctor Pepper.  Could he bring anybody anything? 
“Can you bring me something?  Really?” shouted Bethann.  “Don’t you dare leave this room, Lloyd Richard Dean, unless it’s to find someone who can get this baby out of me!”
Lloyd slipped out the door and into the quiet hallway.  He walked toward the bank of elevators on the wall to his right.  As he pressed the down arrow, the tears slipped from his eyes, tracked a path down his cheeks, around his nose and onto his Go Blue Devils tee shirt.  He stumbled toward his car, lodged in the parking deck.
He sobbed for a long while after he slid behind the steering wheel.  When he finally got himself under control, he started the car and headed out to the 7-Eleven on Ellsworth Road.  He parked, got out, wiped his face on his shirt and looked around.  He watched the traffic speed by for a few minutes.
Lloyd locked the car, walked out to the road and started to run on the shoulder.  Soon he was running at a steady pace.  The breeze soothed his swollen eyes.  He reached in the pocket of his jeans, fumbling for his cell phone.  He stared at it for a moment, then tossed it out into the middle of the road.  He kept running, right on through the sunrise.  He ran until he got a killer cramp in his right calf.  Lloyd stopped and did some stretches on the sidewalk at an intersection.  When that didn’t help, he sat down on the grass and tried to massage his throbbing leg.
A trucker, pulled up next to him and yelled out his window, “You okay, kid?”  Lloyd nodded yes.  “Where you runnin’ to?”  Lloyd pointed straight ahead.
            “Haul yourself up here and I’ll give you a lift.”
            Lloyd managed to open the door and get in the cab before the light turned green. The driver changed gears and the truck crawled forward  at a snail’s pace, sandwiched between cars in the morning traffic.
            “Where exactly are you goin’?” asked the driver.  Once again Lloyd motioned forward.
            “Son, I’m hauling a load of flat screens to Juneau, Alaska,” said the driver with a puzzled look at his passenger.
            “Alaska,” mumbled Lloyd.  He nodded his head.  He leaned against the window, fell asleep in about a minute, and slept soundly for the first time in months.

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