Second Chance

Second Chance

by Fran Van Cleave

June 16, 2003—Midnight Friday

They—the ubiquitous they—say I that when you’re pregnant, you’re supposed to glow. I picture myself, Gillian Blessing, overweight, tortoise-shell glasses, the blue-tinged skin of a true redhead, glowing like a UFO as I deliver the genius fruit of the womb.

So much for fantasy. Oh, the physical description is right on, but I’m the perfect opposite of glowing, and barring random mutations, the seed of Joel Slotkin will produce considerably short of genius.

Of course it’s my fault. I’d pried myself away from science fiction for a while, on account of the fact that I’d just turned seventeen and could not find any Honest-to-God sexy romantic heroes in the whole genre, and believe me, I’d looked. To me, hard SF does not mean rivets.

Anyway, I ended up reading the Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini (fabulous), writing wretched poetry (not fabulous), and hanging out at Paris Blue’s Madderroot Teahouse.

Blue’s is right across the mall from 2001 Books, where I work four days a week shelving audiobooks. What about those funny old paperback doohickies with the English hieroglyphics? Don’t ask.

So a week later I had sex with this poetical blackjeans character I met at Blue’s for the whole lusty sweaty-limbed experience of it. And we got carried away—that was the whole point, you understand—and the “pregnancy prevention device” broke. Très unromantic.

I’m still trying to decide if it was all worth the reciprocal experience of sitting here in the bathroom with that revolting pink rug on top of the toilet tank—Angie’s idea, not mine—staring at this hideous purple line on my EPT and trying to decide what I’m going to do about journalism school. I decided that if I had to think about it this long, it wasn’t. Worth it, I mean.

I’ve never been able to abide being around people who can’t look on the bright side of things, but this is really dumping a virus in my cheerful program. College starts in sixty-three days, and I’ve already been accepted. To the mutual relief of both my foster mother and me, I graduated high school early and won a scholarship—only a thousand Newdollars, which is pathetic but still above average.

So for her next trick, the prodigy of Xavier Catholic High School goes down to the Reproductive Options and Empowerment Center with her fake IDENT and has an abortion. Lovely.

Or, I could sink to the lowest of the low, and auction off my embryo at one of those disgusting walk-in slavery shops that masquerade as a “Second Chance” for mother and child. Oh, don’t get me started on those exploitive scum!

I don’t believe in God—not the Catholic version—but in life itself, in all its mystical-pagan-terrifying beauty. Who could look at photos of the Great Nebula in Orion, with all those gorgeous baby stars, or the crystal glory of spilled Milky Ways on a summer night, and not feel a shudder of primitive awe?

Angie could, but the woman doesn’t look at anything other than the markdown section at Nieman Marcus and the TV Guide crossword puzzle. But I digress.

Look, I know I have a complex about death on account of my father killing my mother when I was ten. She wouldn’t give him a divorce, and that’s about all I want to say about it. My shrink, Dr. Pangloss (Montero, actually, but he’s in desperate need of a personality), is certain I’ve got this fragile self-image as a result. I do get awfully tired of explaining that my self-image is fine, thanks—it’s just death I can’t stand. I mean, I get upset when my tortie cat, Chairman Mao, leaves dead lizards on the carpet.

Herein my dilemma: I want to be a writer more than anything else in the world. I’ve scribbled the usual allotment of amateurish short stories; I’m objective enough to know that what small native talent I possess needs work. Writers don’t make much money, and I won’t sponge off Angie or government assistance; I decided that a long time ago. I have no other skills, and the thought of spending the next eighteen years of my life working at something else to pay for twenty-six minutes of passion—give or take ten minutes—horrifies me. Good grief, we only did it once!

But what utter self-absorption to say that proto-me must be extinguished so I can toddle off to college, become a writer and get published.

Frankly, I always suspected I was too much of a pushover. I always thought I’d welcome self-knowledge.

Out, out, damn line. Doesn’t have quite the same cachet as “spot,” does it?

So today I splurged twelve and a half Newdollars on an autocab to go down to the Reproductive Options and Empowerment Center, otherwise known as ROE. There’s a beautiful section of Camelback only a half-mile away, where you can lie to yourself that you wanted to go anyway. ROE’s downtown, where Luciferheads totter along crumbling sidewalks shedding their exhausted matchsticks like dehydrated Christmas trees drop needles. Worse, there’s all these flat-headed government employees scurrying off to lunch down one-way streets.

Why are streets always one-way around government buildings? Is this some kind of existential statement?

Naturally, the clinic was overcrowded and smelled like the rear seat of a bus. Nobody talked in the waiting room. They read magazines or did barrasta, a kind of solitaire played with a round Tarot deck.

Two of the women had King-of-Light brands on their left forearms, long pseudonails like Angie’s—only she wouldn’t be caught dead in that DayGlo green—and what might charitably be described as a map of the world on their faces. Who knows, maybe the ordinary-looking ones doing barrasta were the hookers and the branded ones were the housewives.

A large, ominous-looking sign on the wall wondered, Do You Have A Sexually Transmitted Disease? There-followed a list of revolting symptoms, with pictures of SCUD patients that made me regret that tuna sandwich with onions for lunch.

Telling myself not to be a coward, I walked up to the front and signed my name and the time I arrived on the clipboard in the window. I asked the clerk how long it would be. She didn’t look at the appointment book or the sign-in sheet or anything, just sat there behind the fingerprint-smeared glass, chewing Betelnut gum, which I hear is a harmless habit as long as you don’t mind black teeth. Finally she said, “Beats me. Sit down, we’ll call your name when we get to it.”

If I had a Newdollar for every time I’ve been told to sit down and wait for my name to be called, I’d now be investing in soybean futures. I grabbed the latest Cosmo and sat down to read the astronomy section (just kidding).

It took three hours and fifteen minutes to get in to see the doctor, a young sallow-skinned man in a dirty white coat. He had long coarse hairs on the backs of his hands, and unusually knobby fingers. I thought of him touching me with those fingers and tasted sour vomit at the back of my throat.

“You’re not eighteen,” he said.

“I am too eighteen. See this IDENT?”

He shrugged, indifferent to my scowl and my inadequate forgery.

“I’ve seen hundreds of forged IDENTs. Take this form and get permission from your parents, then come back.”

And that was that. I fumed all the way home. What a waste of time, I thought, though my blood pressure must’ve dropped twenty points the instant I set my foot out the door. The relief of not having to go through with it made me dizzy. I knew I should’ve got permission from Angie first.

I just didn’t want to.

When I got home, Angie was lying on the sofa, listening to a self-help book. Angie doesn’t read to learn anything new, she reads to have her notions confirmed, or “validated” as she would put it. “You’re late for dinner again. I left it on the back of the stove.”

I didn’t give her any excuses, just told her I was sorry.

I should say right here that Angie’s tried hard to be a mother to me, and I’m grateful for the effort she’s put into it. She’s never hit me, and she doesn’t drink up the money she gets from the State, or spend it all on herself. She’s worked at the state prison as “Chief Secretary to the Director of Rehabilitative Services” for two years. She tends to take up whatever psychoanalytical fad happens to be current at the prison, partially in an attempt to analyze why Dr. Malcolm hasn’t asked her to marry him yet, and partially to deal with the discomfort I cause her.

Somehow I cause her a considerable amount, though I don’t mean to. As a child, I read voluminously, not speaking for hours at a time; my immersion in science fiction, coupled with my family history, caused her to worry that I had “schizotypal personality disorder,” the next best thing to schizophrenia. How else can she explain a genre she doesn’t comprehend, except as a symptom of illness?

She wonders where she’s gone wrong, because I didn’t turn out as the slim, well-socialized extrovert with a Blassingame wardrobe she tried to make me into.

I find Angie’s relentless pursuit of middle-class respectability pathetic and futile. She finds my fascination with writing dangerous—my real mother was a writer, a good one, and she fears I’ll follow in her tragic footsteps. I guess you could say Angie and I love each other, in a labor-intensive sort of way, when we’re no ...

Быстрая навигация назад: Ctrl+←, вперед Ctrl+→