The Rationale

Rationale

Illustration by Billy Tackett

by G.M. Weger

 

In the early morning hours I awoke from a dream, and he was standing in the doorway. He had his father’s olive skin, green, catlike eyes, and wavy golden hair. There was something familiar about him, so I didn’t scream. He came and sat at the foot of my bed.

“Do you know me, mother? I’m your son, Aaron.”

I was speechless. He was so close that I could smell his salty skin and grease-stained hands. I thought that I must be in that state halfway between the waking and the sleeping. Last night was All Hallow’s Eve, the night where it is said that the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is lifted and one can speak with their departed loved ones. I laid out my offering of crackers and cheese, ham, carrots, some truffles, and shots of rum—things I thought my relatives would enjoy after their long journey across the worlds. I set out pictures of my mother and grandmothers—my grandmother’s engagement ring, my mother’s pearls, an embroidered tablecloth made by my maternal grandmother—things that reminded me of them or once were theirs, and three small stuffed toys for my lost babies.

“Am I dreaming?” I asked the young man.

“No Mother, you’re not.”

“Why have you come?”

“You invited me.” His manner was direct, matter-of-fact, short.

“How did I do that?”

“You put the blue bear on the table for me and asked that I come.”

“Are you my first?”

“Yes.”

I remember the tacky upstairs apartment I lived in with his father. The passionate fights we used to have. How he would push me around so violently, throw me up against the wall, just short of hitting me. I remember making up after the fights, how good the sex would be, the orgasms, like a surprise. I remember the hurt when Mike wouldn’t go with me to have the abortion. I was so young. It meant nothing to me to get rid of it.

“Is this how you would be if I had you or how I want to see you?”

“This is the truth. I’ve got the scars to prove it.”

Aaron looked older than his twenty-four years. It was in his eyes—pain, defeat, anger, defiance—things that weren’t supposed to be in a young man’s face. The eyes tell so much. Looking at old school photos of my sister I could tell what happened that year just by looking at her eyes. They went from childlike, happy, and innocent, to pissed-off and stoned. Lost was the sweetness of youth. But where did it go? When was the exact moment that the eyes changed? Was it when I was born and took the attention away? Was it the first time I betrayed her by going out with Mike?

“What do you want, mother?”

He didn’t want to be there. I could tell by the way he was sitting close, but with a wall between us. “Just to see you, I guess. I’ve often wondered what you would have been like… if I’d had you.”

“Yeah? I’ve got some questions for you too.” He stood up. “Like, why was I born?”

I was too young to be living with a man. He was the quintessential bad dude—a drug-addicted whore who’d do anything for pleasure. I don’t know how we rented our places to live, but we did—two of them. It was in the second one that I got pregnant. By that time, in addition to pot and booze, I’d either smoked swallowed or snorted quaaludes, valium, seconal, acid, cocaine, morphine, crank, angel dust, mushrooms, and pretty much anything I could find in a medicine cabinet. The time spent with Mike is a blur of drugged-out scenes.

“But you weren’t born. I aborted you.” I finally answered, confused.

“You didn’t want me then. That’s worse.”

“How can it be worse when the life I would have given you was so… insane?”

He glared at me and turned his head toward the window. I could see it then. It wasn’t visible on the left side of his face—a lovely, clear complexion with the smooth, olive skin of his Portuguese father. The right was different, like the front side of a cheese grater—angry purple craters—the scars we gave him from our sexual ignorance, and he wore without choice. They were his warrior marks.

“It’s like saying that it’s better not to try because you might fail. You took away my life.”

“It’s complicated Aaron.” I suddenly felt drained. How could I justify my choice to him? I was just a child without thought for what precious life was growing inside me.

He left then. Just turned and faded into a zillion black specks that fell away like so much flea dirt. I wanted to shake it off of me and leave it there, having been its host for too long. I closed my eyes. Silence, how I longed for it.

“Hey, Ma.” It was a young woman’s voice. “Wake up.”

She was small and sinewy with yellow skin and dark eyes that peered from beneath her dirty brown hair.

“I’m not your mother. Perhaps you should check with the desk for the correct room number.”

“This be it.” She stood with legs planted and hands on her tiny hips. “July 23rd, 1985. Remind you of anything?”

Hawaii, I thought, and a miserable, self-obsessed young woman with a penchant for men and mai tais, and an exotic man who spoke broken English. He wanted to send the baby to his Brazilian mother to raise. All I wanted was to be put to sleep during the procedure.

“Are you Carlos’s daughter?” I asked, but the answer was there in front of me in full jaundiced color. “What do you want of me now? I’m old.”

She sneered. “You’re not so old.”

“I must have a fever,” I mumbled, feeling my forehead.

She twittered, “That’s right, mom, I’m a fucking hallucination.” She pulled a pack of cigarettes from her bag and lit one, inhaling as naturally as if it were air. I smelled the scent of cloves then and remembered how it used to cling to everything in Carlos’s house. I had liked it at first. It was a sort of sweet and spicy scent that was intoxicating to the senses, but after a time it wore on me and made me nauseous. After discovering that Carlos regularly went to a methadone clinic to kick heroine, the cloves smelled a lot less exotic and much more pathetic. I had to get away.

I waved my hands trying to clear the air. Perhaps she would disappear too, but she didn’t. Instead, she pulled a chair close and blew smoke up toward her nose impatiently. “So, Ma, why’d you drag me here?”

“I did no such thing.” Then I remembered the doll I had set out. “I was just reminiscing. I’m entitled to that.”

“No, it’s the drugs and death waiting. The stink in here! It’s poisoning your mind.”

“You must know. It follows you, as it did your father.”

“Bitch! I didn’t crawl out from a rock, you know? You made me!”

Yes, of course, she was right, and it was another mistake. The timing was inconvenient. I wasn’t ready to be a mother. And I certainly didn’t want Carlos to be the father. But there it was anyway. He was so pitiful and hopelessly inadequate as a potential mate. There was no way I was going to have a child by him. The only thing I could do was run away and have the abortion without telling him.

Looking at her now, I knew I had made the right decision. I could see the signs like a road map on her arms. At eighteen or nineteen years old, she was already a big time user. Judging from the color of her skin, her liver was in a highly toxic state. I had seen enough and shut my eyes, so I wouldn’t have to see her accusatory glare. As artfully as a master magician, I said, “Be gone,” and waved my hands. When I opened my eyes, only her smell lingered, but her name, like a cacophonous note shrieked in my head, “Me-lo-dee!”

I breathed deeply in-out, in-out. My breath came as a meditation. It cleared my head. The chatter in my brain finally stopped. I felt my heart slow and then the usual sadness crept in and sat in my chest. I was utterly alone.

There was a whistling sound coming from the window. I went to open it a crack and a small child’s hand snaked through, then a mop of reddish hair, a flannel blue pendleton over thin shoulders, a blue-jeaned backside, and finally well-worn ankle-high tennis shoes. He stood up, shaking his hair out of his blue eyes. I immediately recognized this ruddy-faced boy. “Billy,” I said, holding out my arms to him. But he didn’t come to me. Instead, he shuffled a safe distance away into the shadow by the door. “Come here, Billy. It’s ok,” I coaxed, but he didn’t budge.

“Who are you?” he croaked.

“I’m…” I began. The question, coming as it did from a nine-year-old child, gave me pause to consider more deeply. Children had a way of cutting to the core of a thing. Indeed, what was I to this boy? His father and I were engaged to be married when he was growing in my uterus. I was finishing a ten-year gig in college. At the age of twenty-nine, I was introduced to sex toys and was having a fine time. Jim was fat and balding with bad teeth, but I’d told myself those things didn’t matter. The end came when I became critical of his attempts to keep me barefoot and pregnant. I had bigger plans. Double income, no kids, was my mantra.

I heard a whimper from the corner of the room. Billy was hunched there, his blue shirt lifted up in the back showing his pale, almost luminous skin. It was mesmerizing. Godlike. I went to him, touching his soft hair and felt a warmth through my hand, a sense of comfort and relaxation, like I could get lost in the child.

“Billy, son, let me hold you.”

But he squirmed away just out of reach into the darkest corner of my room.

I called to him again. And then I saw him. He was shorter than Billy, but bigger in a gangly sort of way. He didn’t walk; he jerked to me with arms outstretched reaching. His face was distorted, a grotesque caricature of my angel boy, Billy.

“No!” I screamed, shrinking away from his devil touch. I shut my eyes relieved in a way to finally receive my punishment.

“Wake up Mrs. White,” I heard the nurse say.

He was gone or hiding. “Where is he?”

“Your babies? It was a long ordeal, but they’re resting.”

“Billy’s twin. He was here. He wanted to hurt me.”

The nurse looked quizzically at me. “Are you feeling okay, Mrs. White? Let’s just check your vitals…”

“No, pleeeease tell me!”

“Mrs. White, there’s no one here. Just you and me.” The nurse was all business with her pressed uniform and hair pulled into a tight little bun on the back of her head. Her mouth was a razor slit in her face, a single gaping hole that her voice came through.

I looked around the room for Billy, not ready to believe he was gone. “But he was here a second ago!”

“Let’s try to relax, Mrs. White. It’s been a difficult day. You must conserve your strength. Your babies will need you.”

“My babies?”

As if on cue, Dr. Koonan walked into the room. “And how’s our little mom doing? Feeling more rested?”

“I’m feeling confused doctor.”

“Confused? About what?” The nurse was raising her eyebrows at Dr. Koonan like they shared a confidence.

“What babies?”

Then, as if through some wizardry of its own, the door pushed open and in came a very large, clear plastic bassinet. Inside something moved.

“There must be a mistake. These aren’t mine.”

“Every mother feels a bit overwhelmed at first, Mrs. White.”

The nurse pushed the bassinet closer to the bed. I turned my head away.

“You’re so lucky to have three healthy, beautiful babies, Mrs. White.”

“Three?”

The nurse glanced at the window. It was still open. “You mustn’t think on the other one. He didn’t develop… normally.”

I looked at the doctor questioning.

“He was stillborn.”

The nurse was insistent. “Look at them, Mrs. White! Your babies!”

I did. There were three tiny infants on their backs. They had small white caps on their heads, each with a ball of colored yarn at the top. Two blue and one pink. But I didn’t need the colors to see their gender. One boy had purple pea-sized marks on the right side of his face. The other had flaming red hair. And the third? They say that babies can’t see details until they are about three months old, but this small girl was glaring right at me with her angry black eyes. A smell began to rise around me, like the stink of a thousand sins. I knew it well.

 

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