Part 10 (1/2)

aI just put a chicken into the oven for dinner later, and now Iam sitting here on the porch with my feet up. They have been absolutely killing me. Circulation, I guess. Have you seen the new adaptation of David Copperfield on PBS? I think youad really like it. Theyare airing it in five parts this week. I watched the second part last night. A woman from church told me about it, and thereas that actress with the enormous eyes, oh, whatas her name, whatas her name? Ann Marie would know it, Iall have to ask her. She was in Bleak House also. Anyway, when are you coming?a The way Alice rambled made Maggie wonder how long it had been since she had spoken to anyone. Sometimes Maggie would picture what an average day might look like for Alice, and the thought of her grandmotheras lonesomeness was like a punch in the gut. She felt happy about her decision to visit.

aIall be there tomorrow. So maybe we can watch the rest of the show together.a aOkay, well, tell Gabe Iave got a new book of sheet music from the librarya”Broadway: The Patriot Songs.a aActually, itas just going to be me,a Maggie said.

Perhaps Alice hadnat heard her, because she only responded, aI need to get to the Shop an Save before they run out of the good m.u.f.fins that he likes. And theyave got hamburger meat on sale, so we can do burgers on the grill tomorrow night if you want. Or I could do a meatloaf. Letas do that, because it might rain.a Maggie wished she didnat feel envious of the fact that Alice clearly wanted to see Gabe more than she wanted to see her. Maybe she should have said, We broke up, or Grandma, heas an a.s.shole.

Instead, all she said was aSounds good.a aWell, this must be costing you a fortune,a Alice said. aA long-distance call on a cellular phone? Wead better wrap it up.a aThereas no such thing as a long-distance call from a cell phone,a Maggie said.

aWhat?a aNothing. Love you.a It felt sort of unnatural, saying I love you to Alice. But it was just as strange not to say it, so Maggie did.

As soon as they hung up, Maggie looked at her phone, in case she had somehow missed a call from Gabe.

Her fear began to swell but she pushed it down. She knew she was pregnant, but at certain moments it was still easy enough to believe that nothing was happening. Perhaps this was how those women who delivered full-term babies into McDonaldas toilets started out.

She watched TV. An hour later, in the middle of a Golden Girls episode, her heart began to thump out of nowhere. She tried to take deep breaths. When she looked down at her calves, they were covered in red splotches.

Maggie put her head between her legsa”wasnat that something people did?

It didnat seem to help. A moment later, she sat up straight and called her mother. She couldnat keep the secret any longer. This child was literally making her sick. (Could you possibly be allergic to your own fetus? No, that was ridiculous.) Kathleen would know what to do.

Maggie spoke to her mother at least once a day, but now that there was actually something important to say, she feared it.

It would never have dawned on her to call her father, even though he was in the same time zone. She talked to him every couple of weeks, but only about the most ba.n.a.l topics: how the Red Sox were faring, what he thought of the latest season of Law & Order, whether her super had properly installed the carbon monoxide detector. He had married his longtime girlfriend, Irene, the previous year and asked Chris to be his best man. Maggie had felt so sad for her younger brother that this well-meaning but emotionally tone-deaf man was his one and only father, though of course he was her only father too. He and Irene were heavy drinkers, just as he and Kathleen had once beena”they were fun and boisterous much of the time, but the flip side was that they had loud, drunken arguments in front of other people, and did G.o.d only knows what when no one was looking. Maggie prayed her father had had the good sense to get a vasectomy.

After Maggie dialed her number, Kathleen answered the phone sounding m.u.f.fled.

aWeare out in the barn up to our elbows in s.h.i.+t,a she said happily. aYou okay?a aIam freaking out,a Maggie said. aI really need to talk.a aOkay,a Kathleen said. aLet me go into the yard. Hold on.a There were a few banging sounds and her mother said, aOh Jesus, can we get rid of some of this?a Then Kathleen came back clearer. aWhatas wrong?a aI have these red splotches all over my legs, and I canat breathe too well.a aLike big cl.u.s.ters of splotches or more like bug bites?a aCl.u.s.ters.a aAre they red or brown?a aRed.a aSounds like hives,a Kathleen said calmly. aYou never get those.a aI know. Iam freaking out. I canat breathe.a aCalm down. I think you might be having a panic attack. You need to take some Saint-Johnas-wort. And nettle is a great herbal antihistamine. Same as I gave you for your pollen allergy. And take some deep breaths, sweetheart. Thatas the most important part.a aI donat have that stuff,a Maggie said.

aYes, you do. I left a bunch of things under your sink last time I was in town.a Maggie had thrown it all out after a bottle of sandalwood oil leaked onto everything else, leaving a sickly sweet odor behind in her bathroom for weeks.

aWould a Benadryl work?a she asked now, looking in the medicine cabinet to see what she had.

aSure,a Kathleen said. aBut get that other stuff I mentioned too. So, what happened? What has you so freaked out?a aI have to tell you something pretty huge,a Maggie said. aBut first, Gabe and I had a big fight. He told me he doesnat want to live together. I think we may have broken up for real.a aOh, honey, Iam sorry. Listen, itas for the best.a Kathleen spoke quickly, barely pausing between words, as if she were speed-reading from some script on helping the brokenhearted. aI know it doesnat seem that way now, but trust me. The universe works in mysterious ways.a Maggie felt sick at this casual comment. She still wanted him to be right for her, wanted Kathleen to say something else, though she knew her mother had never liked Gabe.

Despite her motheras complaints about Alice, they were shockingly similar in certain ways. They both prided themselves on telling the absolute truth as they saw it, even if it hurt.

aWhat did you want to tell me?a Kathleen asked.

Maggie leaned against the counter. She couldnat shake the feeling that Kathleen was rus.h.i.+ng to get her off the phone. Why had she a.s.sumed that it would be smart to tell her mother? Kathleen would likely go ballistic when she heard the news, telling Maggie that she had ruined her life. She wasnat going to start sterilizing bottles and knitting booties anytime soon.

aI wanted to tell you that Iam going to Maine anyway, without him.a aInteresting,a Kathleen said. aWhy?a aI donat know, I thought it might be good for me, and Iave taken the time off work.a aRun straight into the nurturing bosom of your grandmother,a Kathleen said.

aYeah, right,a Maggie said. aWell, I would go see my mother but sheas up to her elbows in s.h.i.+t.a aYou know thereas always room for you here,a Kathleen said, but she didnat press the matter.

aI miss you,a Maggie said.

aI miss you too. Youare about the only thing I miss from back there. How are the hives?a Maggie looked down. aOn one side theyare gone, and on the other side theyare fading. That was fast.a aHives are weird like that.a aHow are you able to diagnose over the phone?a Maggie asked. aWho taught you?a aNo one taught me, Iam just a mother,a Kathleen said. aYouall be the same way someday.a That was Maggieas chance to tell her, but her mouth felt dry; she couldnat form the words.

aGo lie down for a bit, and then maybe take a long walk on the Promenade,a Kathleen said. aBe very kind to yourself, okay? Call me anytime today if you need to. And let me know once you get to Maine tomorrow.a aI will.a aAnd give my best to Malice.a aMoma”a aSorry. Alice.a That afternoon, Maggie was lying on the couch when she heard a commotion in the hallway. She pictured Gabe climbing the steps, suitcase in hand. She got up quickly and looked through the peephole.

Her neighbor Rhiannon was lugging a bookcase up the stairs. She looked amazing in her grubby T-s.h.i.+rt and shorts. She probably hadnat even showered. Her toned upper arms were straight out of a magazine photograph. Maggie made a mental note about bicep exercises.

Despite her desire to get back into bed, she poked her head out.

aNeed some help?a aCan you get the door?a Rhiannon asked. aItas unlocked.a Maggie left her own door ajar and pushed Rhiannonas forward. The apartment was laid out exactly like her own, but instead of hand-me-down china from her aunt Clare and the stained sofa and love seat on long-term loan from her mother, here there were beautiful grown-up pieces of furniture and a row of elegant handblown gla.s.s vases on the windowsill. Lined up on the bathroom sink and tub were various containers in different shapes and sizes: a purple pot of lemon-scented cream, a slim vial of coconut oil, honey-almond sugar scrub packed in a mason jar, and eye pads infused with coffee-bean extract. There were lotions made specifically for knees, hands, cuticles, feet, throat, eyelids. Maggie wondered how many of them Rhiannon actually used, and whether they could possibly play any role in her beauty, which seemed predetermined, unchangeable.

At the moment, Maggieas shower contained half a bar of soap with a hair stuck to it, whichever shampoo had been on sale at Duane Reade, and the matching conditioner, with the lid popped off so she could shove her fingers inside and scoop out the last remaining drop, instead of walking four blocks to the drugstore to buy more.

aI found this on the street. Isnat it gorgeous?a Rhiannon said, shoving the weathered wooden bookcase against the wall of her little foyer, where it suddenly looked as if it had always resided. aIt was about to get ruined by the rain.a aItas great,a Maggie said.

aHow about a cup of tea?a Rhiannon asked.

Maggie smiled. aNo thanks.a aA whiskey?a aHa, no. Okay, Iall take an herbal tea.a Rhiannon went to the kitchen and said over her shoulder, aAny developments on the Gabe front?a Maggie had told her the story months agoa”that they were in love, but they could never seem to stop arguing; that Gabe had a tendency to lie. Rhiannon was less judgmental than most of Maggieas friends, perhaps because of what she herself had been through.

aNo word from him,a Maggie said.

aWhat happened?a aHe said he doesnat want to move in together after all.a Rhiannon popped her head out of the kitchen. aHe what?a Maggie nodded. Suddenly, she began to ramble, her words growing faster as she went, gaining momentum: aYes. And we were supposed to be going to Maine today, but now I have to go by myself tomorrow and Iam scared of what thatas going to be like, because my sort of crazy grandmother will be there, and he hasnat called me and I am obsessively checking my cell, because I need this to work out.a She felt herself unable to stop talking. She realized she was finally going to say it, and to someone she hardly knew: aI need him to come around. Because I love him. I really do. And thereas another thing.a Oh G.o.d, here she went. aIam pregnant.a Rhiannon guided her to the couch and they both sat. Hives crept down Maggieas armsa”red, itchy, puffed-up welts that hadnat been there three seconds earlier but looked as though they would stay forever. Was this physical a.s.sault on her extremities really necessary, on top of everything else?

aWhy do you say that?a Rhiannon asked. aIs your period late?a aItas more than that. I already took a home test.a aThose can be wrong,a Rhiannon said hopefully.

aAnd I went to the doctor for a blood test.a aOh. Well, what does Gabe say?a She paused, taking in Maggieas expression. Then she said, aHe doesnat know.a aI was waiting for the right time to tell him. I thought once we went up to the beach in Maine it would be easier, anda”itas a long story aa she trailed off, putting her head in her hands.

Then she began to laugh. aI canat believe I told you that. I havenat told anyone.a Rhiannon squeezed her hand, and said, aIam glad you told me. Weall figure this out, donat worry.a Maggie wished it were Kathleen sitting there. But maybe your family could never give you the perfect response, the kindest reply. Maybe their vision of you was too tied up in their hopes and fears for them to ever really see you as just you. Perhaps thatas why her mother had gone so far away in the enda”to be seen clearly, to see others that way.

aI keep breaking out in hives,a Maggie said.

aThose are the worst. I had them all through my divorce. Actually, I had them on my wedding day, too, which might have been a sign. You need Claritin. Hold on, I have some.a Rhiannon went into her bathroom, and then emerged with a little box in one hand and a bottle of pills in the other.

aI also have Valium,a she said, shaking the bottle. aWant one?a aIam pretty sure Valiumas a bad idea when youare knocked up,a Maggie said.

as.h.i.+t, right. Good point. Sorry, Iam flummoxed. I want to help.a Maggie smiled. aYouare sweet.a aForget sweet. I owe you one.a aWhat for?a aYou really saved me the day of my divorce, Maggie. Do you even know that? If we hadnat gone to dinner that night, I donat know what would have happened to me. I donat have many friends here.a Rhiannon hadnat seemed desperate that evening. They had eaten a nice meal, had a gla.s.s of wine, laughed about their lives and their ridiculous dating histories. It was hard to imagine that Maggie had done anything extraordinary for her.

aSo youare keeping it then?a Rhiannon asked.

Maggie felt a knot tighten up in her chest. All the times she had imagined being pregnant, shead never envisioned having to answer that question. But the answer came fast: aYes. Definitely.a Rhiannon nodded. aGood for you. Hey, do you want to borrow my Subaru to drive to Maine?a aYou have one?a Maggie asked.

aI never drive it,a Rhiannon said. aI just keep it around in case I need a getaway car.a aThatas okay,a Maggie said. aI donat even have a driveras license. But itas no big deal. Iall take the bus. I can sleep, get some reading done.a Rhiannon looked thoughtful. aHow long is the drive?a aFive hours.a aThatas nothing. Iall drive you there tomorrow and then turn back. Iave got cla.s.s on Wednesday afternoon.a aThatas crazy.a aNot really. Iave never seen New England. I love long car rides. And I havenat been anywhere in weeks. Iam starting to get stir-crazy.a Maggie raised an eyebrow.

aAlso, Iam thinking you could use the company,a Rhiannon said. aAnd, what could be more fun on a day off than a drive to the beach?a aReally?a Maggie said. aThat might be great if youare sure you donat mind. This is one of those moments when it hits me how moronic I am for not knowing how to drive.a aDonat worry about that. This way it will be cheaper than if you had to rent a car anyway,a Rhiannon said.

Maggie wondered if Rhiannon was picturing her as an impoverished young mother, saving pennies for the babyas formula. And was that perception so far from the truth? She was suddenly paralyzed by the thought of money: she made a mental note to inquire about freelance work, as much as she could manage in the next seven months, and to find more people who needed help with their online dating profiles. Maybe she could place an ad on Craigslist, even though the thought of being a single, pregnant matchmakera”the brains behind other peopleas awkward first datesa”made her want to throw up.

aWhat do you say?a Rhiannon asked now.

aIf youare sure itas not a pain,a she said. aWhy donat you sleep on it and we can decide tomorrow? I really donat mind taking the bus.a aNo need,a Rhiannon said. aConsider me your chauffeur.a

Kathleen.

Kathleen prepared the wooden box, laying down first a layer of damp leaves and then a layer of dirt. She began to pat the dirt so that it was even.