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Vignette 7

Rob walked into the house hungry.  He wondered if his wife had cooked tonight.  Dinner was a haphazard thing in their home.  Two adults working full-time, and two sons who were busy with sports and other after-school activities meant that there wasn’t often time to sit down together as a family.  This always made him feel guilty, somehow, because he knew he was depriving the boys and himself of something special.  Perhaps that is why he couldn’t hear the song Cat’s in the Cradle without leaking a few tears.  He was a busy man, managing a large hotel.  Guests didn’t stop checking in at five pm.  His wife was an accountant at the same hotel.  While her hours were a bit more stable, she still often arrived home too late to cook anything elaborate.  It was a house of takeout food and microwave magic.  Hamburger Helper was a treat, because at least it was cooked on the stove.  Nina was a good cook, but with no captive audience, and too little time, it hardly seemed worth it.

He didn’t smell anything fabulous coming from the kitchen.  A small splash of disappointment washed over him as he wandered in to find the kitchen pristine.  No dirty dishes meant the boys hadn’t eaten dinner at home.  A clean stovetop meant that Nina hadn’t cooked.  He glanced at the weekly calendar on the fridge and groaned.  Thomas had a soccer game tonight.  He was missing another game.  This was going to cost him a week of sullen silence from both Thomas and Nina.  He promised himself that he would do better.  He promised himself that he would make it up to Thomas by doing something special with him this weekend.  Then he poured himself a bowl of cereal and took it into the family room to watch the news.

“The latest information we have from the high school in California is that almost all of the hostages have now been released.  According to the principal of the school, only four people remain unaccounted for:  Ellen Jones, a guidance counselor at the school, Tina Acevedo, a senior at the high school who is on the cheerleading squad, and is believed to be the girlfriend of the hostage-taker, and Dr. _______, and English teacher at the school, and Brandon Hawkins, a senior at the high school who is a star point guard for the team, and who has taken the hostages.  According to witnesses already released, Hawkins announced that there was an explosive device planted in the gymnasium, and he is armed with a semiautomatic weapon.  Jones volunteered to stay when he released the other hostages.  Principal Norman Matthews has informed us that she has worked closely with the student for a number of years, and believes that she remained to try and talk him down.”

Rob sat open-mouthed and watched the report.  His cereal sat untouched in the bowl getting soggy.  Suddenly, he jumped out of his recliner and ran to his bedroom.  On his dresser was a wooden box, its purpose much the same as a child’s old cigar box.  Inside were old ticket stubs from concerts, matchbooks from restaurants and bars, his high-school prom picture signed by his date, and other miscellaneous important items from his past.  Nina often teased him about the box, but often smiled when he went through it.  The wrist and leg bands from the births of both boys were also in there.  He dug through the box impatiently, and finally pulled out a fragment of a one-dollar bill.

He had met Ellen at his first job out of college.  He was the assistant manager of service at a mid-range hotel in the Borscht Belt, read: glorified bellboy.  He started on Memorial Day, which was the official opening of the summer season.  Two weeks later, the manager over him hired a new receptionist, as they now needed one for both day and evening shifts.  Ellen had started in June.  She worked the night shift.  Things on the night shift were pretty laid back, as there were few employees working, and not much to do.  Rob had quickly noticed that she was efficient and dependable.  He had just as quickly noticed that she liked to drink.  A lot.  There was a fresh gallon jug of Carlo Rossi in the ice machine every other day.  But she borrowed his books to read in the quiet times, and discussed them with him as often as possible, and he grew to like her a great deal.

The daygirl quit two days after Ellen started.  Ellen started working doubles.  She claimed she didn’t mind, because the work was easy, the hotel fed her, and she didn’t have much else to do.  “No boyfriend?” Rob had joked.  Ellen had turned beet-red and looked down at the floor.  “Not any more,” she replied.  She asked Rob if he knew of anyone looking for a roommate.  The doubles, she explained, were making it too hard to stay awake for the hour-long drive back to her father’s house.  The doubles combined with the wine, thought Rob.  He had only considered for a few minutes.  He thought that if she moved into his place, perhaps he would have a chance at having a relationship with her.

“Marco and I could use a third person, if you don’t mind living with guys.”

“Actually, I’d prefer it.  I don’t do well with other women.”

“You’re not going to expect us to remember to put the toilet seat down or anything like that?”  Rob was thinking about what a pig Marco was.

“I think I can handle remembering to put it down myself,” as she grinned at the thought.  “You think Marco would mind?”  

“I don’t know.  I’ll ask him later.”  Rob didn’t spend much time with Marco.  He was a pretty boy from the Bronx who believed himself to be an Italian Stallion.  He actually annoyed Rob more often than not, but since they worked opposite shifts, it seemed to be working out so far.  Ellen worked with Marco as well, and he knew that she was aware of his foibles as well as his exploits.

The next day, Ellen had moved in.  She also wasn’t around much, as she was working as many hours as possible to save some money for college in the fall.  Often, though, the three would spend time together at the end of the evening shift, either going out to the local club or just hanging out getting wasted and watching movies.  Getting wasted was a big part of summer activities at the hotel.  The manager of the service desk had the reputation of being able to provide ANYTHING a guest asked for, and he lived up to the reputation.  Marijuana, cocaine, book making, you name it; you could get it if you had connections to the manager.  Ellen did.  Her dad had handled some legal issues for the boss a while back, and his eternal gratitude meant that she had access to some of the finest drugs in the area.  Rob suspected her dad would have dropped dead had he known how his work was being repaid.

One night, they were all sitting around watching television.  After a couple of joints, they were all facing a wicked case of the munchies, and decided to order pizza.  All of them threw in a five to pay for it.  When Marco came back from the door, he had the pizza and a dollar bill in his hand.  Solemnly, he put the pizza down, and carefully tore the bill into thirds.  “Your change,” he announced, and handed Ellen and Rob each a third of the bill.  They had all laughed maniacally, but they also had all carefully tucked their “change” into wallets.  

That was the same night that Marco convinced Ellen that being friends with benefits would be a grand idea.  Rob had been devastated.  Tall, thin, already beginning to lose hair, and with remnants of adolescent acne still visible on his face, he hadn’t stood a chance against Marco if looks had been what had mattered.  He had thought more of Ellen than that. He had lain in his bed with his head buried between two pillows trying not to listen.  Fortunately, Marco only relied on Ellen when he couldn’t find some other pretty young thing at the club.  That was a rare occasion, so most mornings found a strange girl coming out of the bathroom or trying to find coffee makings in the kitchen when Rob and Ellen were getting ready for work.  He asked her once how she could still sleep with Marco and watch the parade.  She shrugged.  “It’s convenient.  It scratches an itch without the complication of a relationship.  If I don’t want a relationship, it seems this arrangement makes the most sense.”

Rob was curious.  “Why don’t you want a relationship?”

“Because the one I just ended was too ugly.”

“Ugly how?”  He really wanted to know.  He wanted to figure out how to convince her to give him a try.

“He hit me.”  That was all she would say about it.

After three weeks of this strange version of “Three’s Company,” Ellen took a day off of work. Rob was surprised.  She hadn’t seemed too hung over that morning.  When he arrived home after work, he found her sitting at the kitchen table with a bottle of vodka.  No mixer.  No glass.  Just the bottle.  She was in a place far, far away, insulated by about half a bottle.  Marco walked in.  “Holy shit, Ellen, that’s a lot even for you.”

She said nothing.  She merely picked up the bottle and took another slug.  Rob sighed, and started a pot of coffee.  When she put the bottle down, he grabbed it, closed it, and put it away.  “Enough, Ellen.  It can’t be that bad.”

“Really?  You want to know why I took the day off?  I took the day off to go to the clinic.  I went to the clinic because I have a goddamned yeast infection that will NOT go away.  Only at the clinic, they said it wasn’t a yeast infection. “

Marco interjected, nervous, “Well what the fuck is it, then?”

“Oh, Marco, your concern about MY health is touching,” Ellen acidly responded.  “Actually, after finding out it wasn’t a yeast infection, they asked me for the date of my last menstrual period, which, of course, I couldn’t remember at first.  Then I realized that I haven’t had my period since before I left college at the end of May.  No yeast infection.  Not even an STD.  I’m pregnant.”

Marco, not too bright, blurted out, “It’s not MINE is it?”

“Not too good with the math, are you, Marco,” Ellen retorted.  “No.  It’s not yours.”  

Rob wanted to kill him for expressing his relief so obviously.  

Rob said, “The boyfriend’s?”

Ellen nodded miserably.

“You going to call him?”

“Hell no.  He’d want to get married and have it.  I can’t have this baby.  First of all, I can’t get back with its father, and I sure as hell can’t do it alone.  Secondly, I have been pouring whatever mind-altering substances I could get my hands on into my body this summer.  What kind of damage have I already done to it?”

Rob asked, “What can we do to help?”

Ellen said glumly, “It costs two hundred and fifty bucks for an abortion.  I don’t have that much.”

Marco, so relieved to be out of the responsibility loop, chimed in.  “I can spare fifty if that helps.”

“Gee, thanks, Marco,” Ellen acerbically replied.

Rob quietly said, “All the bell hops will kick something in.  We’ll get the money.  You make the appointment.  I’ll take you.”  He poured her a cup of coffee.

The anguished look in her eyes as she thanked him almost ripped his heart to pieces.

True to his word, Rob took her for the appointment.  He sat in the cold lobby and waited for what seemed like an eternity.  The receptionist was giving him dirty looks the whole time.  He couldn’t read, he couldn’t think, he could do nothing but wait.  Wait he did.  When Ellen finally came out of the door she had been led through two hours earlier, her eyes were swollen, red, and still tearful.  They did not speak as he walked her to the car.  They did not speak on the long drive home.  Ellen went to her room and closed the door.  She was still weeping silently.  Two hours later, Rob went in to check on her.  She was curled in a fetal position on the bed rocking.  He couldn’t tell whether the pain was physical, mental, or both. He didn’t know what to do.  Finally, he got on the bed and curled his body around hers and just held her.  

After a while, she spoke.  “You know what?  I was crying while I was still under the anesthesia.  Even my subconscious knew that what I was doing was terrible and wrong.”

“It wasn’t terrible.  It wasn’t wrong.  You did what you needed to do.”

“What I needed to do, yes,” she said bitterly.  “It was wrong, Rob.  As much as I rationalize it, as poor as the timing was, for two days, I was immersed in the potential, the possibilities.  For the rest of my life, I will always be thinking of those potentials, those possibilities.  I will always be thinking, ‘This is the year kindergarten would have started,’ or, ‘This would have been high school graduation.’”  

Rob had no response.  He just held on tighter until she finally drifted off to sleep.


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Okay, I think I have subscribed. it is pitiful how long it takes for me to get the basics. Well, actually, not true. I understand quickly once I understand it is just the circling around the understanding and having the courage to leap in that takes me a bit. Yay! Looking forward to this
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