His Child

The lake shimmered blue and gold under a late afternoon sun; the sky was cloudless. Better it were raining, he thought, or somehow gloomy, to match his mood. Leaving was hard.

The ferry churned up spray as it was skillfully brought to rest beside the pier. There were no cars waiting, and only a few passengers. He stepped aboard, and felt the engines begin to rev again as he walked to an opening and rail midway down the near side. Astonishingly, Jessica was close enough that he could lean out and give her a peck of a parting kiss.

“Safe trip, Jason,” she murmured. “It’s been wonderful. I’m pregnant. Don’t worry; I’ll take care of it.”

The engines roared and the water roiled before he could even process her words, let alone respond. In a moment there was fifteen yards between them, she waving and smiling, and he was on his way across the lake to the bus stop and the train and New York City.

He felt sweat in his armpits as he tried to phone her from his cell. No luck; there was not an adequate signal up here in the boondocks. He tried a text: Stop! Do nothing until we talk! It seemed to send, but no answer came back. Jessica was still in charge.

It had been an idyllic two weeks. It was she whose family rented the lakeside cottage and the power boat; she who knew the trick to water skiing and taught him; she who introduced him to sampling wine and fine dining, and who insisted on paying because she could and he couldn’t.

There had been no “hurry back” in her parting words. They both knew it was ending. He would go to his summer course in the city. Then, she had suggested, he might phone the landline at the cottage to explore coming back up. But he knew already that the cottage owner would answer, would say Miss Weiner had cancelled the lease and left for Chicago. She intended an ending without sustained drama — yet had just sent him off with a dramatic flourish.

At length the ferry docked, ever so briefly, beside the bus terminal. Seeing an old-fashioned pay phone under shelter on the timbered wall, he called the cottage. No answer. Closing his eyes, he rested his forehead against a timber, the rough-hewn coarseness helping focus his thoughts.

There had been no quarrel, no anger; only an unspoken recognition of the barriers. They were from different worlds, religions, political assumptions. They still loved, but without determination or persistence. They might someday be friends again, even good friends. He could imagine explaining to their spouses that they’d met at an off-Broadway theater when they both dreamt of acting careers.

In silence, she had driven him down from the mountain cottage to the ferry slip this afternoon, both of them — he had assumed – lost in the finality of the moment.

But she had known what he had not: that she was carrying his child.

She had known as they made love one last time this morning. She had known as he packed his bag, and as they noshed in silence on lattés and muffins in the village store before walking to the pier. She had remained silent and as they stood holding hands, watching the ferry near. She had waited until the engine roar and widening gulf would drown out whatever he might try to say in response.

“Don’t worry; I’ll take care of it.”

For a moment he allowed himself an optimistic thought: Might she have meant she would bear and nurture his child?

No, surely not. Her Chicago parents in their sumptuous lakeview condo would not tolerate that.

As the bus arrived, he weighed his choices. It would be hours before the ferry completed its rounds and returned. Dusk would be falling when he disembarked. He would have to hike up the mountain into deepening darkness — and she might already be gone.

He boarded the bus.

He hadn’t known exactly what to say when he tried to phone, but words came to him now. He fished the cell out of pocket to try again.

You took me aback. I love you. Want to talk about our child.

His text had gotten through! She answered:

Can’t. Too painful. I love you too.

We’ve got to talk. Forget my class. I’ll get a bus back.

Don’t. I’m on my way to Chicago.

Can’t wait just one day?

Got to see my doctor.

I don’t think one day matters. Keep your options open. Let’s talk.

I’d forgotten you’re Catholic.

That’s not what it’s about. It’s my child.

Mine too. Can’t . . . .

Damn. Connection lost.

-End-

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