He is behind bars again. These words alight in Lise’s mind like the kettle on the stove singing its mad bird song. A thought that arrives from a storage of RAM in a remote location of her head, What if I had not gotten the abortion? Quinton would not be here, is one answer to the question making its yearly circulation around her consciousness. Lise pulls the kettle off the hot burner, pours boiling water into a mug with her children’s faces. A gift from mother’s day long past, these faces are now long gone. Certain shadows to their present day features do remind Lise of these babies with their chubby cheeks and rosy lips.
What if she would have had a girl? Maybe this little girl would have had aspirations to be a pianist or a marine biologist. Lise sits down at the kitchen table, a pile of un-opened mail scatters next to one serrated envelope. She had not asked the sex of the aborted fetus. Thought the doctor would have refused to tell her. Who would want to know details of the baby they are discarding?
Lise decides it would be best not to see Quinton this time. She does not want to go through the harassment—the long drive, the thoughts that come from the open road or the harassment of security, once she arrived. At least not yet, she will make no travel plans until after the treatment is done.
Lise thinks back to the day 23 years ago. It is a muggy green day. The kind of late spring afternoon filled with a virescent glow. Tony is still at the office. Jonas asks him to help with reports. Lise is eight days late. It isn’t that she and Tony do not want another baby. Elizabeth is barely two and Garret not even a year. The talk of the third included a gap of another year or two. They were not going to do two in diapers again.
She thought about punishment—retributuion—paying for sins, but it is with an absent mind. Lise has not been to church since she was 15 when her mom made her sing the cheesy worship songs and keep her eyes on the pastor while he talked about the devil in the TV, jabbing Lise in the side when she noticed her daughter’s gaze drift to a guy in a row over. Church, Lise figured, gave her a false sense of reality—like she saw right and wrong through a funny mirror at the fair. Lise knew they existed, but did not have confidence in their truth. She did not believe God could be a father sitting on a thrown doling out merits and demerits. Still, Lise wondered if Quinton is God’s restitution.
Lise had waited too long and the pain had been excruciating. But did it ever feel good? She was well past the first trimester, thick into the second before she could make a sure decision and even then she wondered at her selfishness. Moms were supposed to sacrifice like Mary, mother of all mothers. But it had been the wrong time. Yes, the timing was off. Tony agreed. Tony was still getting the business off the ground and Garret was not sleeping through the night. Better to wait another year or two. Better for the kids, for everyone. Right?
Twice she went to the clinic. Twice Lise left the clinic pregnant. The third time Tony went with her, held her hand while the technician did the third ultrasound. The doctor came in and said this was it. She couldn’t push it any longer. Still, she went home to think it over for one more night.
Lise cried for a few days, but after that she was fine. She had two babies to look after and pulled herself upright for them, and for Tony, who relied on her. In return, he was doting, as if she was still pregnant, checking in, like he thought she might crumble to dust any second. He kept repeating the words, “We can get pregnant again anytime you want.”
Lise’s hands shake as she reads the unfolded letter. Not from fear or anger, it’s the damn chemo. This time Quinton is arrested for armed robbery. Two years ago it was stealing a car, before that, vandalism. She tries to remember where she went wrong—if it is her fault or his. When Lise is six months pregnant with Quinton they have a scare. Contractions went from eight minutes apart to three minutes and then one minute in a matter of a half hour. Doctors prepped her for an emergency C-section. Then the contractions miraculously stopped and Quinton’s heart rate dropped back to normal. Bed rest for two months and still he was born a month too soon—trouble from the beginning. If he had been a girl they were going to name him Emma Rose.
Lise re-folds the letter, puts it back in the envelope and leaves it on the table for Tony to read when he gets home. He is better at taking these sots of things. Lise holds her mug up in front of her face, staring at the little boy with bright blue eyes trying to squirm out of his big sister’s arms. They had waited until Garret was two. Lise took as soon as they started trying. It was better this way, she and Tony would say back and forth to each other as her belly grew. When Quinton was born he looked like an old man replica of Tony and they said aren’t we glad we waited? But it is still a question