Authors: Cynthia D. Grant
“Weren't you listening to me? You can get on welfare and get a place. Lyn and the baby can move right in. They been staying here. She's driving me crazy.”
“But Ma, I can't take care of a baby. I don't know how.”
“Don't worry, I'll help you.”
“I'm too messed up. The teacher saysâ”
“Who you gonna listen to, your mother or some stranger? She probably wants to steal the baby for herself.”
“No, she don't want it.”
“People always want something.”
“She's gonna help me find a good family for the baby.” She shouldna said that. Her mother blew up.
“What's wrong with the one you got? Jesus Christ, Raina, I don't believe you! How would you like it if I'd gave you away?”
“You did. Remember all those foster homes?”
“Because you were acting like a little slut!”
“That's not true! You never listened to me!”
“Do we have to go into all that now? We're talking about your kid. My grandchild.”
No, let's talk about me, Raina thought. I wanted you to hug me, but you pushed me away like a puppy crawling back on its belly; begging: Please don't hurt me. Please, just love me.
“You're not thinking about an abortion, are you?”
“No,” Raina said. “It's too late.”
“I told Lyn if she did, she was out of the family. Now she's glad. The baby's so cute. He doesn't look a bit like Gary.”
“Ma, I don't know.” She could feel herself sinking, like her mother was some big wave crashing down. Then lifting her up.
Maybe things would be different.
“You better come home.”
“Right now? It's raining.”
“So take the bus.”
“I can't. I'm broke.”
“Get your teacher friend to give you some money.”
“She's gone. Maybe I should wait till she gets home.”
She could hear her mother breathing, her lighter snapping shut. Then she quietly said, “You're scared, aren't you?”
“No. About what?”
“The baby,” her mother said. “You and me.
“Things have changed. I wanna talk to you, Raina.”
Her heart was pounding. “Do you think maybe you could come and get me?”
“I'd love to, baby, but the car's not running. We'll talk when you get home, okay?”
She found money for the bus in a jar on the counter, taking only what she needed, not another dime. She made her bed and got the bag of clothes, then sat down in the kitchen with a pen and some paper.
She tried to write a note that explained everything, so the teacher would understand, and would know how much she appreciated stuff. But the paper she left on the table was blank.
She woke with him in her head every morning, like still being drunk after a bad night; not the way he was just before he died but the way he'd been when they'd met and she'd thought: Everything will be all right now.
Her mother banged dirty dishes in the sink until Raina opened her eyes.
“You were supposed to do these.”
“It's Lyn's turn.”
Lyn and Brandy and the baby were still asleep. Her mother shared the other bedroom with Don, who didn't have a clue he was on his way out. He'd told Raina he was going to be her new daddy, while her mother made faces behind his back.
Raina stretched on the couch. Her shoulders ached. “Can't you make this thing more comfortable?”
“Yeah, put a board over it.”
Her mother was pissed. It was cold, it was early, and she had to go to work while everyone else could stay in bed, then sit around all day, watching television. Lyn loved the home shopping shows. “I'm gonna get me one of those,” she'd say, pointing a potato chip at the set. Last night her mother told her she was getting too fat. “Well, look at you!” Lyn said, and they really got into it, while Raina wished she was anywhere else and Don drank beer and watched
She climbed off the couch and went into the bathroom. There was a mirror on the door, streaked with toothpaste and soap. She undressed and examined the shelf of her belly. How had she allowed this baby to happen? Why had she ever come home? Or thought for one secondâ
Her mother pounded on the door. “I gotta get in there! It's my house, remember?”
The door was locked. She turned on the shower.
“You better be out by the time I'm dressed!”
HELLO, I'M CARLA! HOW CAN YOU HELP ME?
What did her mother expect her to do? She'd been to the county, she'd filled out the papers; she'd get her own place when the money came through. She was sick of picking up after her sisters and Don, and everyone else who kept blowing in; her brothers and Sheila, their packs of kids, her mother's girlfriends who crashed on the couch because they were too screwed up to drive home.
When that happened, Raina slept on the floor. Oh, she don't mind, her mother would tell them.
She came out of the bathroom and started coffee. When it was done she handed her mother a cup.
“You better call the county again,” her mother said.
“I did. They said it'll take about a week.”
“And tell your lazy sister to get off her butt and clean up that room today. It looks like a pigpen.”
No matter what her mother said, she loved Lyn best. She brought things home for Lyn and the baby and paid for Jimmy's picture to be taken at the store. There were big framed pictures of Jimmy on the wall, and pictures of Brandy and Sheila and Willie. Pictures of everyone but Bobby and her.
“And don't forget to go to the Laundromat.” Her mother lit a smoke and was out the door.
Raina did the dishes. The baby was kicking. Then she sponged the counters and scrubbed the floor so she wouldn't have to think. She wasn't writing anymore. She didn't want to see her thoughts on paper; didn't want to picture the teacher's face and how it must've looked when she came home that night and realized Raina was gone.
She hadn't been back to school. What was the point? Anyway, the teacher must hate her. She wanted to smoke and drink, go crazy, and no one would care; they wouldn't say nothing, but she couldn't do that to the baby.
Don came out of the bedroom and helped himself to coffee. He was like a million of her mother's boyfriends, always talking about how things were gonna change anyday; he was gonna drive a truck for twenty bucks an hour, then he'd buy a new car, and on and on. He was mean to the kids when her mother was gone; hauled them onto his lap when she was there.
He lit a cigarette. “You going to the store?”
“You got any money?”
“Your mother give you some?”
“For the Laundromat. She said to give me a ride.”
“The battery's dead.”
He never wanted to help; he said it hurt his back. Lyn wouldn't help, but Brandy might. She liked her little sister. They'd talked last night. She'd told her she should be going to school, not running drugs for the dealer down the hall. I know, I know, Brandy had sighed. Ten years old and she looked worn out.
“Man,” Don said. “The weather's sure ugly.”
The day was gray. Rain pounded on the street. Her jacket wouldn't zip up over her stomach. She'd have to take the bus to her appointment, then do the wash and get dinner going. Her mother liked to eat as soon as she got home.
Why was she the one who did everything, while Lyn sat around and played with Jimmy, and Don filled the air with his bullshit and smoke? She was sick of people trying to make her do stuff; the teacher, her mother, the girl at the county, her fingernails so long and pointy, she'd bleed to death if she picked her nose. She'd told Raina that after the baby was born she had to go to school to get welfare money.
“Kinda like blackmail.”
The girl's eyes got cold. “We think of it as an incentive.”
Raina went into the bathroom and locked the door. If she didn't lock it, Don might barge in. Oops, he'd say, I didn't know you was in there. Lyn just laughed, but it made her sick.
She took the bus and got off at the Clinic. It was crowded with women and restless kids. A girl with a big belly sat beside her. When she got called, another girl came in and took the girl's place and her magazine and smiled until she caught Raina's eye.
“When you due?”
“Don't know,” Raina said. “Pretty soon.”
“Me too. If it's a boy I'm naming him Torrance. It's T-o-r-e-n-t-s, I guess. I heard it on my soap opera.”
“If it's a girl I'm naming her Brooklyn.”
“Or Dawn or Sundance, I can't decide.”
The girl's face was a cross between pretty and odd, as if she'd been bred in a womb full of soda pop. Raina looked around the room. If faces could be bought, everyone's would've come from Kmart. Hers too.
“Whaddya going to name your baby?”
“I don't know.”
“A name's real important. Think about it. It makes people see you a certain way.”
These girls gave their babies fancy names that ended up sounding like cigarette brands. Raina thought: You can name your baby anything you want, but the world's gonna call it Hey You.
The girl's name was called. She said, “I hope it's not the doctor with ice-cold hands. Good luck.”
Raina waited and waited, the baby kicking at the small of her back. A nurse finally took her down a long hall, weighed her, then put her in a tiny room. She undressed and waited on the examining table. Dr. Ramirez bustled in and washed her hands.
“How are you feeling today, Raina?”
“Any changes since the last time? Have you noticed any contractions?”
“Yeah, the little cramps. Does that mean the baby's coming?”
“No, not yet. Did you check into that childbirth class?”
“You don't have a lot of time.” The doctor spoke calmly, but Raina had seen that look all her life. She wanted to say: You couldn't possibly despise me as much as I despise myself.
“Lie down, please.”
Raina stared at the ceiling. Someone had taped up a picture of a tiger and her cubs.
“You're one centimeter dilated.”
“What's that mean?”
“It means you better take that class.” The doctor spread cold jelly on Raina's belly and they listened to the heartbeat, strong and fast. “Okay, you can sit up.”
Raina drew the gown around her.
“You remember what we talked about the last time.”
“So you're not smoking or drinking. Or doing any drugs.”
She almost said: What kind of person do you think I am? But she didn't want to hear the answer.
The doctor scribbled on a pad. “Take this to the lab. I want you to get an AIDS test.”
“Why?” Her heart almost froze. “Do you think there's something wrong with the baby?”
“No. But under the circumstances, we have to make sure. Did you ever have unprotected sex?”
“Well, yeah, obviously.”
“I mean more than once.”
She hadn't meant to, but she couldn't be sure. Sometimes she'd been so drunk.
“I don't think so.”
The doctor looked like she wanted to say something but just handed her the piece of paper.
She put her clothes back on and made her next appointment, then headed down the hall to the lab. The technician tied her off and took a sample of her blood and gave her a number to call for the results.
“But give it a couple of weeks,” he said. “At the moment we're kind of backed up.”
In the meantime how was she supposed to eat or sleep? If the baby was sick it was all her fault. And Sonny's too, but he was gone.
She was so scared. She wanted to talk to someone, but Granny would cry and change the subject and Lyn only heard what was on the TV. Her mother would say: What'd you expect? Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas. Anyway, you don't got AIDS; you're just skinny. Too bad that's not contagious, huh, Lyn?
She wished she could talk to the teacher.
She could picture the teacher's worried face, hear her soft voice saying, Raina, what about you? You might be sick too.
That didn't matter. If she was sick, she'd die and everything would stop. Then she'd just be dead or maybe there'd be heaven, and if heaven was real, she could be with Bobby. Unless God sent her straight to hell.
She was trying as hard as she could to relax, to empty her mind of desire and thought, but sitting cross-legged on the floor hurt her knees, and the rug really needed to be vacuumed.
The book advised:
Let your thoughts flow through you like a river running toward the sea
. But she could see the pile of papers on the dining room table, waiting to be read and graded. She closed her eyes. The phone rang. The machine picked up the call.
“Peggy, are you there?” Her mother's voice, laced with a trace of impatience and hurt. She took the phone machine personally, as if it had been bought for the purpose of screening out her calls. “Are you home, Peg? I just wanted to say hi.” I'm not getting up. I'll call her tomorrow. But what if she dies tonight? We found her by the phone, Peg. Clutching the receiver. The doctor says you broke her heart.
She reached for the phone as her mother hung up.
Relax. Breathe deeply. Let thoughts flow through you like a river running toward the sea. She'd been a Girl Scout the last time she'd sat like this easily, but if she lay down to meditate, she'd fall asleep; woke up the other night drooling into the rug. Which needed to be vacuumed, very badly.
Relax. Breathe deeply. Focus only on the moment and the air flowing into and out of your nose. Jeff had come to class stoned, reeking of dope. His eyes were so red, they glowed. No, man, he'd insisted; it's allergies. Then what's that smell? Don't know, he'd said; it must be my aftershave lotion.