Janice Chan stood in the bathroom staring at the tab, three tabs actually, all lined up on the counter along the sink. She looked at herself in the mirror. Half her chestnut hair was pulled up into a bun at the back of her head, the other half hung randomly around her long, thin cocoa face. Narrow, angular Japanese eyes flowed into a long, slender Jewish nose gently arcing over full, African lips. “Pure breed mutts” is how her mother used to refer to their family lineage.
Her slender hand went to her forehead at that thought, Mother? Oh my god, am I really going to be a Mother? She adjusted her Hello Kitty pajamas and looked into her own eyes in the mirror, the reflection of the tabs glaring up at her like neon beer signs advertising UNPROTECTED SEX. She could hear her Mother’s voice in the back of her head, “Would a condom really have been such a big deal? And where is Mr. Round Pecks now?” Oh hell, I’m going to have tell him, too. Damn spontaneous fling, now we’re the fucking Brady Bunch. What if he wants to raise it? In the 3 weeks we hung out I never even saw him read. Do I want to raise it? Do I not? I wonder how that new thing, The Procedure, really works?
Tom Finnegan unlocked the back door to Finnegan’s Pub, stepped inside, entered the alarm code on the worn, faded pad, then turned and walked down the hall in the dark to where the light switches were. Carefully avoiding the dip at step 5 and the ripple at step 13. Even in the dark, he could navigate flawlessly this building he’d known since his father had opened when Tommy could barely walk. An audible click, a hum of power flowing threw old knob and circuit lines, and the antiquated florescent lights slowly powered up. The entire property had been built in the 1970s and never remolded. White Formica covered the bar, and the tables, neon beer signs decorated the walls, a coin operated flip jukebox sat in the corner, and the hardwood floors clashed with the tone of the wood paneled walls. Behind the bar hung autographed pictures of local minor league sports heroes and politicians, and the coup de gras: A picture of Frank Sinatra that Grandpa Joe had gotten on a trip to Vegas.
Everyday Tommy would open up and revel in the fact that all of this was his now. Then he would flirt with the waitresses as they arrived, get the place ready to open, and head home till the evening shift started. After taking a nap, he’d work out, go to his wood-shop and build something poorly, then its off to Father Avery’s soup kitchen to volunteer for 2 hours. Every day this was his routine. Every night he would go to the bar, do the ordering and/or books, then help out behind the bar, and usually pick up a female customer before the night was over. At 30 years old, Tommy thought his life was perfect.
No Love, No Marriage
Janice tried to put yesterday’s revelations out of her mind all day, to little effect. She wasn’t going to do anything about it during a Monday shift, but you couldn’t tell that to her brain. No matter how hard she tried concentrating on researching and cataloguing arcane legal documents, her mind drifted off to those test results. Which, in turn, sent her mind spinning onto the job implications of her new situation. She had started as an intern, then got hired directly out of graduate school 3 years ago, promoted a year ago, she had figured another year or 2 before she became a department head with this or another firm. If she took 6 months off, followed by a dramatic decrease in overtime, that would alter her career path severely. Not that she didn’t enjoy her current position, but permanently?
She sat on the train, heading home when the disembodied voice announced the approach of Peterboro Station, Mr. Round Pecks’ bar was just a block away. She sighed and stood. This is another decision I’m sure to regret.
As soon as Janice entered the bar, she was squinting against the florescent lights reflecting off the formica. I can’t believe I let those girls bring me in here. I can’t believe I slept with the guy responsible for this visual crime. Looking around there was only 1 table occupied and a couple sitting at the bar. The waitress and the barmaid sat at the opposite end from the customers, under the tv, playing with their smartphones and ignoring each other. Everyone in the bar appeared to have shopped at the same t-shirts and sweatpants warehouse.
“Can I help you, honey?” The barmaid hollered from her stool around her chewing gum, a strand of orange hair caught in the corner of her mouth, unnoticed. Her white t-shirt had sleeves and was emblazoned with the emblem of Finnegan’s, an empty mug on its side.
Janice hated cute nicknames, especially from people she didn’t know. She approached the bar, set her brown leather, faux Giani Bernini bag with the label facing out. “Yes, honey, I’m looking for you’re boss. Mr. Thomas Finnegan.”
The 2 women looked at each other and smirked, “Well, sweetheart, Tommy ain’t my boss, he’s my brother. And if you need to see him cuz he made you call him daddy, forget it, he’s probably moved on to some other slut already.” The waitress giggled.
Janice’s anger at being called a slut was only intensified by the fact the description of the situation was brutally accurate and clearly a regular occurrence. A truth she did not want to dwell upon. “The help doesn’t need to know my reasons. Is he around or not?”
“He’ll be here in a few minutes. Why don’t you have a seat. Would you like us to help you with a beer or something?” She had particularly malevolent look in her eye when she said help.
“No, I’m fine. Let him know Janice is here when he arrives.”
An hour later Tommy walked in the front door of his bar, grinning his big boyish grin. The place was half full of regulars now, a few of whom were already drunk. Janice had been sitting at a table in the back, getting work done on her laptop, but found herself increasingly distracted by people-watching. A woman stumbled in at 5:45 already plastered, stumbling and calling for whiskey, dressed in a white skirt and rainbow striped tube top, she barley managed to make it to the stool upright. Her drinking partner, a balding man in wrinkled grey flesh, just laughed and then fell off his own stool, then laughed some more. Janice sat in stunned silence watching the parade of human self deprecation.
Tommy’s sister gave him a nod in Janice’s direction, he turned, saw her, paused for moment, then the light bulb clearly came on as he remembered her, and with a broad grin he headed towards her table.
“Hi, Janet, right? How are you?”
“Janice. I’m fine. How are you?”
He didn’t seem to realize she had corrected him on the name. “Me? I’m always great. Life is good ya’ know.”
“I’m glad you feel that way. We need to talk. Why don’t you sit down.”
“Wow, normally when a girl says that to me she wants to break up. But we’re not together, so, what’s up?’
Confused by abnormality, he sat down quietly. Janice sat across from him, and leaned forward, folding her slender hands in the center. He responded by mirroring her actions, his thick torso casting a dark shadow across the pale, cracked white formica tabletop, as his thick, calloused fingers interlocked just a few inches away from hers. Janice found herself very aware of the warmth of his body. She was a little disturbed with herself for the involuntary response under the circumstance, but she chose to just ignore it and move on.
“Listen, Tom, here’s the thing,-”
“People call me Tommy, not Tom.”
“Right, Tommy, I want you to understand I’m just here to inform you. You don’t need to do anything or be anywhere, or anything. I don’t even know what I’m doing yet, I just thought it was right to tell you what was happening.”
Tommy still hadn’t come within the vicinity of a clue, “Janice, what are you talking about?”
She realized she had never said the word out loud. In fact she had never even said it in her thoughts. “I’m- well, Tommy, I’m, that is we- no I am, pregnant. You’re the father, biologically.”
The news knocked him back in his chair like an Ewok log trap swinging down from a tree and hitting a Clone trooper off his sky sled on Endor. Just moving along, then- BAM! Cute, little, helpless looking, creature just nocked you on your ass. It took him a moment to speak, she just sat quietly and let him gather his thoughts.
“I uh, I guess, I don’t want to be rude but my first question is how do you know its-”
“Because it has to be yours, Tom, there is no other option. It’s not like I’ve been using my vagina to gather semen samples from around the city.”
“Of course, of course. I didn’t mean- I just- I wasn’t- Well, alright then. I guess,” The he drew himself up, squared his shoulders, took her hands in his and declared, “let’s get married!”
She yanked her hands and body back as far as the booth would allow, “Married? Are you insane or just incredibly stupid? Even if I do decide to keep it, which is a real possibility, there is no way in hell I’m marrying you. I barely know you. And you just learned my proper name! Let me repeat, you don’t need to do anything, I just thought it was right to tell you.”
“Of course it was right to tell me, its my baby, too. I wont pretend I’m not relieved about the marriage idea, but I want to be a father to my baby. Doing nothing is not an option.”
“I haven’t decided I’m having it yet, either. I just found out this weekend. I need time to process this myself, and decide what comes next.”
“What? Listen, first of all, abortion is a sin. Second, with that new thing, The Procedure, its totally unnecessary. So why would you?”
“Don’t go getting all preachy with me, Tommy Fornicator. I’m going to do what seems best for all involved. What that is? I don’t know, yet. The Procedure supposedly allows fetus to be removed and grown in an incubator starting at 10 weeks. Which I’m already passed. Now, the jury is still out on how viable that is, but even so, there’s more to consider than just the technical aspects.”
“I’m supposed to do what? Start a little version of me, then tear it out of my body before its done, dump it into a lab to be grown, and then let whomever take it from there?”
“Its not like adoption was just invented. Besides, in this case, it would be me adopting the child.”
“You’re going to raise a kid as a single dad?”
“Sure. Why not? This bar paid for the raising of me and my brother and 2 sisters.”
“I don’t know, we’re talking about a baby I’m carrying.”
“Not if you use The Procedure.”
“Not if I abort it, either.”
“So you don’t want the kid, but you don’t want someone else to raise the kid either, so the kid has to die?”
“There is no kid, yet, its just a blob.”
“A blob that’s going to be a person. A blob that god says its a sin to kill. And don’t forget it’s half me. Now back in the old days, when it was all about your body, I’d shut up and accept that I don’t get to be the decider. But now, it doesn’t have to stay in your body. They say The Procedure is no worse, no more difficult for you, than any of the other stuff your Gyno does. So why not let me adopt the fetus?”
“I don’t know, dammit! I don’t know! I just found out about all of this. I haven’t decided if or what I want for me. But I’ll keep your opinion in mind, I promise.”
“Will you at least promise to tell me before you finalize any decision?”
“Alright. Well, let me know if you need anything in the meantime. I have a full kitchen and my cousin is doctor.”
“What kind of doctor?”
“Ummm, a foot doctor I think, but he still had to go to med school and study everything.”
“I think I’ll stick with my O-B.”
3 weeks later Janice and Tommy drove up to the New World Clinic on the corner of Jackson and Glendale. A squat, octagonal building occupying most of the block painted bright pink and yellow, with a red, brick sidewalk leading up to the automatic sliding glass doors set opposite the corner on the diagonal. In the grass lawn stood a short, wide sign announcing their name with the slogan, “Preserving the Image of God”. Janice cringed a little reading the sign while waiting for him to parallel park. She knew it was well intentioned, but somehow it offended her secularist, evidence based view of the universe to suggest that the creator of all things looked like humans. She had to admit it pleased her ego somehow.
He stepped out of the black Grand Prix and hurried around to get her door, but she had already let herself out and onto the sidewalk. He tried to reach for her hand, but she demurred this attempt as well. Side by side they walked towards the doors in silence. Janice dressed in a long black, sleeveless dress and Tommy in jeans and bright yellow golf shirt. He adjusted his baseball cap, and reached to push the door open for her when it automatically swooshed open in reaction to their body heat being viewed by unseen detectors.
She smiled at him, “Thank you, anyway.”
“Even the machines wont let me be chivalrous.” She giggled politely.
Inside the building it was alabaster on ivory, the only color was a pink path painted on the floor leading straight back and around the corner to the right. Tommy and Janice dutifully followed the road laid out for them in silence. The hallway unbroken by other sight or sound, her shoes clickety clacketing with each and every step. The end seemed to get further away the more they walked like some cheap horror movie. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest. When they finally turned the corner, Tommy was sweating like it was on a pump. They both paused at the entrance to the seating area.
It looked like Barbie had vomited on Sponge Bob and then a blind person had been allowed to finger paint with it. Yellow’s, oranges, and pinks laid down and twisted around each other in bizarre plaid/argyle/tie-dye and then stretched across the chairs, couches, and walls of the room. The floor and ceiling were the same alabaster of the hallway, which only served to enhance the technicolor sensory assault.
In the middle of the far wall a 4×4 opening was cut for the paper pusher squad to access their public. A bright orange counter beckoned the couple. Janice took a breath and they began the slow march across the room. They stood at the counter and looked at the staff, expecting a reaction from their presence. The pair of overweight, curly haired, muumuu wearing bureaucrats offered no such politeness, instead continuing their gossip session regarding the activities of someone named Peter and his “friend” Greg.
Tom cleared his throat, “Excuse me, ladies.”
The face over the muumuu on the left looked at them, “What?”
“We’d like to get some service.”
She sighed a tremendous sigh and shuffled her girth up and over towards them. Leaning in and breathing heavy from the effort she intoned, “Welcome to the New World Clinic, where we work to preserve God’s image. This brochure lists our services, and numbers you can call for anonymous consults, all services require a minimum of 24 hours before an appointment can be scheduled. Is there anything else I can help with you with today?”
Several times Janice attempted to interrupt her, but there was no stopping the preprogrammed litany. When she stopped to breath, heavily, Janice said, “We have an appointment with a Doctor Hu.”
This appeared to annoy the mound of woman greatly, “Well why didn’t you say so in the first place? What’s the name?”
“Chan, Janice and Finnegan, Tom.”
“So that’s Mr. And Mrs. Finnegan?” She began paging through her book.
“Did I say that? No. I think would have said that if that’s what I meant, don’t you?”
“Excuse me ma’am.”
At this point Tom decided it was best to redirect the conversation, “Excuse me, perhaps you 2 beautiful ladies could compete for my affections another time? If we could perhaps just move this along?”
That caused both of them turn and look at him with eyes of fire, as he intended, ending the tete e tete. The clerk-hemoth gave another sigh and returned to her book, “Yes, I see you here, Finnegan and Chan 2:15. Have a seat, fill out this form, and we’ll call you when the Doctor is ready.”
After 15 interminable minutes sitting in the splatterific waiting room, not speaking to each other, their names were finally called. She was already 5 steps toward the door by the time he was on his feet, scrambling to catch up with her.
Dressed like a green ninja, Tommy sat on a stool to Janice’s right, holding her hand as she lay on her back on a cold, metal examination table. She stared at the blank, ivory ceiling and tried not to think about the fact her legs were spread and strapped into harnesses with her vagina exposed to a doctor she had never before met. He, Dr. Hu, was hunched over so his head and arms were beneath the sheet draped over her knees as he held a black plastic sphere against her pink nether and made technical adjustments.
“Ah yes, very nice.” The Doctor’s voice could be heard from beneath the sheet.
Tommy did not like that at all, “Excuse me?”
“Oh, no, no.” The small, round head of the doctor popped up from under the sheet. Green mask and hat covered most of his features so that only his bright, narrow eyes could be seen. “I was referring to the data I’m receiving. It’s coming through clearly. The specimen is a healthy 20 week old female with all the parts it should have in all the right places.”
Janice choked back a tear at hearing that news. Tommy turned to her, “Honey, if you want to change your mind, or take more time, now is the time to say.”
Dr. Hu poked his head back up, “Now would actually be the last time.”
“No. I’m sure. Let’s do this.”
“Okie Dokie. Nurse, administer the dose of anesthetic.” With that his head dove back under the sheet and returned to operating the plastic sphere. Janice tried to hold still as she felt it pressing against her vagina. The nurse, a old African-American woman dressed in hospital greens, squeezed her right hand as she released a syringe full of drugs into her veins. Then the Doctor pressed some buttons, a section opened, and a slender, plastic cone extended inside her. She could feel each dry, skinny, plastic section slipping a centimeter into her, expand, then the next section, then the next. Then she passed out.
When she awoke, Janice lay in a bed, her legs flat and together. She wore a blue cloth apron, and was covered by a white sheet. The doctor and Tom were both gone and she felt as if her innards had been scraped by a dull, flat, metal bar. As the burning inside her vagina registered, the last vestiges of cloudiness from the anesthesia quickly dissipated. Sitting up triggered a spasm of super-cramps erupting across her abdomen. She almost fell off the table curling into the fetal position.
A few minutes of sobbing later, she stood/fell onto her feet and looked around the room. A standard looking hospital room; white everything, chair by the bed, sink, locked cabinets, and her clothes in neat pile on the end of the counter. Janice started towards the pile but found herself restrained by medical tubing and wires connected to her arms and chest. She fell back onto the mattress and stared at the ceiling. She laid her hands on her stomach and touched the strange emptiness though she had never felt the child’s presence. Every bit of logic told her she made the right decision, but even so, Janice had never felt such loss as that of a suddenly empty uterus.
“I am no longer pregnant, I did not give birth, my fetus continues to grow. What am I?”