Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Fatherhood

I've written and re-written this a few times. I was trying out a really sparse, bare style like a few of the really good Hemingway short stories I've read recently.

It turns out I'm no Hemingway.

After a brief, gut-wrenching hesitation, she blurted, “I’m pregnant.”

Those two simple words were how it all started. They’re not words easy to say, no easier than they are to hear. When they hear those words, men cringe, their stomachs turn, they flinch as though their testicles had been smashed with a ball peen hammer. Peter, though, had a much easier time of it than most men. Unlike most attractive, usually single guys in their mid-twenties, Peter wanted children and welcomed with open arms the prospect of fatherhood.

Ashley had broken the news to him the night before.

She was shocked and confused, hurt even.

Peter was elated.

In their six months of dating, the notion of children had never been mentioned let alone explored and now they would have to rush headlong into it.

After she broke the news, Peter took Ashley back to her apartment where he walked her up to the front stoop like the gentleman that he was.

On the front stairs, she wept.

He held her head to his chest and wrapped his arms around her, warming her like a comforting blanket. He shushed her gently and told her that everything would be okay. He told her that having a child would be a good thing. He told her that they would make great parents.

Delicately, with much love, he wiped the tears from her face and kissed her.

This calmed her down and they said their goodbyes.

Peter worked all the next day and wasn’t able to see Ashley, but he called her twice to make sure she was all right and to make sure that she knew he loved her.

After that, he called his parents to tell them the good news. “I’m so proud of you,” his mother told him. “It’s about time you settled down.”

“Being a father,” his father told him, “is a lot harder than it looked.”

“I know, dad.”

“Well, let’s just say we lucked out when it came to how you turned out. Make sure you’re a better father than I was to you.”

“I’ll do my best, dad.”

“You’ll do fine.”

Then he called and told his brother.

“So, what? I’m going to be like an uncle or something?”

“That’s what I’m saying.”

“Cool. I guess.”

The day after that, Ashley and Peter had previously made plans to eat dinner with their friends, Bobby and Sarah from work.

Ashley was late, but everyone else had already been seated and ordered cheap beers.

“She should be here.” Peter looked at his watch and wondered where Ashley could be.

“It’s no big deal, I’m sure she’ll be here,” Sarah said and took a long sip of her beer.

“So,” Bobby asked, “How’ve you been? Haven’t seen you around the office much.”

“You know, this and that. I got assigned to the McKenzie file, so I’ve been putting together my reports from the other office.”

“That sucks.”

“Yeah. It does. How’s the Houseman project coming?”

“It’s a whole bunch of bullshit. But that’s what we get for under-bidding to get the contract.”

“Yeah.”

Bobby and Peter both gulped at their beers but set them down again as soon as Ashley arrived and sat down. As soon as he noticed her walking toward the table Peter’s face began to glow.

“Hi.” She offered stiffly as she took her seat next to Peter.

Bobby and Sarah echoed her greeting, Peter kissed her on the cheek and put his arm around her.

“Now that Ashley’s here, I think we have something we’d like to say.”

“Oh yeah?” Bobby said.

“What is it?” Sarah asked.

Peter looked into Ashley’s eyes, “Well--”

“--Don’t.” She cut him off.

Brutally.

“What? Bobby and Sarah are our friends. I think they should know.”

“Know what?” Sarah asked, more and more curious by the second.

“Please, don’t. We’ll talk about it later.”

“It’s okay. I already told my parents. My brother, too.”

Ashley breathed deeply, annoyed.

“What? It’s okay, you can tell us.” Bobby explained in a soft voice.

Peter hesitated, but was so excited despite Ashley’s uneasiness that he could no longer hold it in. “We’re going to have a baby,” he blurted.

“Wow.”

“Yeah, congratulations.”

Ashley arose quickly and stormed out of the restaurant.

“What’s wrong with her?”

“I don’t know.” Peter stood and followed her out.

He found her on the side of the building, hunched close to the red-brick, her hair whipping in the wind. Her arms were folded and her head was down. She was sobbing.

With great trepidation, he approached.

“What’s wrong?”

She offered no reply.

Gently, he put his hand on her back and rubbed it with the tips of his fingers, hoping to soothe her. “It’s okay. It’s just Bobby and Sarah. They’re going to find out sooner or later anyway.”

She recoiled at his touch.

“What? What happened?”

Without turning around, muffled and into her folded her arms, she said, “I had an abortion.”

And with those four simple words it all came crashing down.

With those four simple words Peter was shattered.

“An abortion?” he asked, confused and in a soft, low voice.

She nodded her head, shaking more tears from her face, each one dropping slowly to the ground.

“I’m not going to be a dad?” And with that, Peter fell to the ground under the weight of his own body, aching with the fact that he'd have to tell that bare fact to everyone he'd already joyfully informed.