She was nearing thirty-six and was desperate to meet a man who would give her a child. None of that in vitro nonsense for her. She knew heads turned when she walked by. When she lived in San Francisco, she allowed a black man to come live with her. They spent their nights on a Murphy Bed that pulled out from the wall. Nice man, great lover, great cook – she still made his spaghetti sauce with shrimp – but a biracial child was not for her. Marriage was tough enough, her dad told her over the phone, don’t complicate matters with a child who won’t know whether he’s black or white.
Her dad passed away several years ago, never to learn if his Danielle would give him a grandchild.
She knew desperation begat ill-fated decisions, but she couldn’t stop herself.
“Never married, attractive white female of child-bearing years, wishes a stable relationship with like-minded. guy. Classical music, art, boating, sports (tennis), please reply.”
That’s how she met Curt. Her black boyfriend was named Curtis, this one was simply Curt. And he was. Maybe he was the one for her. She had what she considered a gift for loquacity and of course they say that opposites attract.
She parked her small blue hybrid Toyota in the parking lot of the Willow Grove, Pennsylvania Barnes and Noble. Her pink bumper sticker read “Support Breast Cancer.” She bought it online when she was buying a few art prints from All Posters and noticed an ad for the sticker. She loved the contrast between her blue car and the pink sticker.
As an artist with her own gallery in the resort town of New Hope, colors and clothing meant the world to her.
He was waiting for her on a sunny day in May just inside the store. He looked even better than his online photo. Their baby would be beautiful, she thought.
“You’re Danielle,” he said, walking up to her and putting his arms around her waist. She quickly removed them.
“Curt, we’re in public. Please!” she whispered.
“No need to sit down,” he said. “You wanna go canoeing?”
She paused a moment.
“Well, sure,” she said. “I have to check my calendar to make sure I’m free.”
“Uh-uh,” he said. “We’ll go now.”
She thought a moment.
“I’m not wearing the best clothes to canoe in.”
He looked her up and down.
“You’re fine. I’ve got the canoe on top of my car.”
What had she gotten herself into? She’d last gone canoeing when she attended Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, where she and a group of six – men and women both – glided along the choppy Winooski River. They had carried the silver canoe high in the air over their heads in the dark of the night.
That’s when you were bold. When you were young and a college student. Nothing was out of bounds. The river shimmered under the starry sky. Each person grabbed an oar and felt the rough water bend to their wills. Never was she so happy. She visualized the rowers back then in the movie Ben Hur, her all time favorite film. Never failed to make her cry. Muscular Charlton Heston was in the lead. Thank goodness she was lucky enough to be born in the twentieth century. What if she’d been a slave?
Curt’s car had one of those swinging green deodorizers on the mirror. She looked at him as she buckled herself into his black Ford SUV, with the silver canoe on top. He was dressed in khaki shorts, some sort of workboots, vest and shirt. She wore black patent leather pumps, and of all things, a dress. She loved dressing up, so for her first canoe ride with Curt she looked as if she were attending an art opening, minus the champagne.
He said not a word as they drove along. His driving, she was glad to learn, was safe and careful.
“May I know where we’re going?” she asked.
Quickly he replied, “Delaware Water Gap.”
Ooh, she thought, that’s far away.
As if he could read her mind, he said, “It’s only about an hour away.”
She watched the scenery out the window as they drove silently along. Pennsylvania was as beautiful as anywhere. A good place to raise a child. After the long winter, the leaves were unfurling in gratitude, a tender green like a katydid or a lime. She brushed her eyes against the leaves, hoping, as she always did, that such beauty would render her a better artist. She had never met anyone she could tell about this. Perhaps Curt would grow more talkative and she could share this idea with him. Who knows? Maybe if she gave him a chance, they could become true soulmates, like on, what was it called, eHarmony dot com?
Soon they were bumping along a dirt road leading to the Delaware Water Gap. The parking lot was filled, but Curt knew just where to park. He backed into a “handicap zone” and removed a handicap placard from his glove compartment. She stared at him.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “I’m friends with my congresswoman and she gave it to me. She gets me off jury duty, too,” he laughed.
Danielle was appalled but said nothing. They got out of his truck. He rustled around in the back seat and threw her an orange life jacket.
“Better wear this,” he said, while putting on his own.
Looks like a strait jacket, she thought, having watched many a movie, most recently, A Streetcar named Desire, for the fourth time, and attempted to close up her life jacket. Curt came up to her silently and closed, with a satisfying “click,” all the clasps.
“It costs thirty-two dollars for the both of us to ride here. Ya got sixteen bucks?”
“No, I do not,” she snapped.
He murmured something under his breath that sounded like “bitch,” then told her he’d be right back, as he pulled his wallet out of his khaki shorts.
Once they got out on the river, she thought, there would be no escape. What should she do? What would her late father tell her to do. She listened for the sound of his voice, a baritone, who loved to sing, especially Christmas carols.
“You’ve gotten yourself into a fine mess, darling,” he said. “God be with you.”
Curt returned, loping along. A smile lit up his face.
“You ready darlin’?” he said with a huge smile.
Her spirits lifted.
“Sure am,” she said.
He dragged the canoe effortlessly across some pebbles and pushed it into the shallow water. He held her hand as she stepped into the canoe, which rocked precariously. She steadied herself by bending her knees as he led her to the rear seat, so he could be in command.
“Here’s your power tool, darlin’,” he said tossing her an aluminum oar. She caught it, only to drop it onto the boat. Damn, she thought, I’m so clumsy.
They set off. She watched his huge muscled arms stroke left and right, as he issued commands to her, “Right,” then after a few minutes, “Left.”
“I’m enjoying the rhythm” she shouted to him. And knew she was in the flow. A book lover, she had read the book “Flow” by some Hungarian guy, who said life is all about “flow.” In the worst way, she wanted to ask Curt if he knew about the concept of flow, being so energized and immersed in what you were doing that everything else ceased to be.
She felt so close to Curt she knew she had made the right decision to be with him on these tranquil waters, churning with foam. She trailed her hand in the cool water, hoping he wouldn’t see her and think she was lazy. Above the sound of the oars she heard the loud honking of geese. She shielded her eyes from the sun and looked up and saw them heading for the water.
“I love geese,” she shouted. He nodded. And surprised her by extending an arm toward her so they could hold hands.
She felt his muscled, calloused palm. Such virility!
She watched the geese skid onto the surface of the water, then dip their long skinny black necks under the surface. She turned around to watch them. Must be fish below the surface, she thought, and gave a shiver. So many living creatures here on the Delaware Water Gap. Off to the right, near the sandy shore, mallard ducks – in their bright green feathers, which reminded her of doormen – sailed along, also in the flow.
She was perspiring in her dress and the strait jacket but it certainly didn’t matter. What a wonderful day this had been. She couldn’t wait to paint a picture in her two-story condo. Her studio was on the second floor, the easel set up, several paintings drying on the hardwood floor. What would she paint? Although the water had a grayish cast, she would make it a peaceful blue. She’d contrast the colors of the geese with the mallards and the silver canoe would mirror silver clouds above.
Dad, she told him, this has been one helluva great day.
She spoke too soon. Curt stood up and turned around. His face looked different than before. She had never seen such a lock before. Crazed, you might call it. His clean-shaven face had turned pink as he came toward her. He grabbed her oar and tossed it into the water. No, not tossed, threw. He spread his legs apart and she watched him in his khaki shorts violently rocking the boat. What on earth was going on?
Within twenty seconds he had overturned the canoe and they both floated along in their life vests. Her blue dress ballooned all around her.
“Christ almighty!” she cried. “Please. Save me.”
Curt swam beside her, lifted up her blue dress, bent her backwards so her head was part way in the water and raped her. She was absolutely helpless. It was over in less than a minute. She swam away from him and began to scream.
“Help! Help!” she cried. Her calls were heard by a sailboat passing by.
The white sails grew closer and closer and she raised up her arm so they could find her. All the while she massaged herself between her legs. Rape, she learned, was excruciatingly painful.
She returned her life vest to the office and asked to use their phone. One of her girlfriends would pick her up.
Her voice trembled when she got in Bonnie’s car.
“My blind date,” she said, “turned out to be a horrid person. I just wanna go home and relax.” She asked Bonnie to take her to Barnes and Noble to pick up her car. She sobbed all the way home.
The hot bath felt soothing. She brought one of her pretty wine glasses, filled with sherry, into the tub with her, resting it on the edge, as she soaked herself.
Her pain was so bad she couldn’t walk upstairs to her bedroom but settled down onto her blue and white love seat. She sipped on several glasses of sherry and found herself staring into space. She knew about rape hotlines but she didn’t want to discuss what had happened with anyone. What the hell was his last name, she wondered. She wanted to Google him, but couldn’t remember.
“You are one fine idiot,” she thought.
“Oh my God!” she said aloud. “What if I’m pregnant?”
She stood up and paced back and forth in her small living room. She looked out the window in distress. Luckily he didn’t know where she lived. She went outside wearing her yellow bathrobe and stared up at the stars. It was a warm spring night. A crescent moon shed its light onto her car, the small cutleaf maple in the front yard, and the few flowers that were coming up. She gazed up at the moon bathing herself in what she thought of as its healing light.
She took a week off from her gallery, staying in her apartment, calling out for Chinese food, and rarely answering the phone. She called her pharmacy.
“Hannah,” she said to the Korean pharmacist. “I want to take a pregnancy test,” she said, summoning all her courage. “My new boyfriend and I last made love on May fourth.”
“Oh, good for you!” said the always cheerful Hannah, who had three young children of her own.
“Have you missed a period?”
“I have,” said Danielle.
“Okay, come in and get the test kit.”
Over the counter at the brightly lit pharmacy, Hannah told her how it worked. Danielle was so anxious to find out, she was almost going to use the pharmacy rest room, but stopped herself. Impulsivity was how she got in trouble in the first place, so she would wait until she got home.
Putting down her pocket book on the coffee table, she removed the test kit from the plastic bag. She sat down and read the directions. She was to pee onto a test strip that would show the presence of a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). The hormone is produced in the placenta shortly after the embryo attaches to the uterine lining and builds up rapidly in your body in the first few days of pregnancy. She shivered as she read the word “embryo” and imagined a little one growing inside her. She went into the kitchen, grabbed a tall glass and drew water out of the water dispenser on the outside of her fridge. She drank all the water while staring at the photos on the front of the fridge. Postcards, mostly. One of the huge lions at the New York City Public Library, a huge red bison from Cave of Altamira, near Santander, Spain – was that where Santander Bank took its name from – and a postcard of legs of all sizes from her girlfriend in Los Angeles.
Climbing quickly upstairs, she went into her pink powder room and sat on the pink toilet. As the urine poured out in a fast stream she captured it in a Pyrex measuring cup and then dipped in the stick. She watched in fascination as the color changed to pink.
Pregnant! She didn’t know whether to feel good about it or feel terrible. She remembered his flushed pink face. She washed her hands and went downstairs to think. She ran her hands across her belly, imagining who – or what? – was growing inside her. With a sob, she knew what she must do.
She hated the word “abortion” but tomorrow she must contact one of the few remaining Planned Parenthood Centers around. They couldn’t see her for another week.
“Don’t you get any ideas, now,” she said kindly to the little cherub or devil growing inside her. “Enjoy these brief moments of life and then ‘out out brief candle.’ I’ll feed you well. We’ll go out to eat every day. And I’ll buy us lots of chocolate.”
She communed with her child every day. She rubbed her belly in a soothing motion and drank hot chocolate with whipped cream, and Constant Comment decaf tea that had a strong flavor of oranges and cinnamon.
She reached for the remote on the coffee table and clicked on the TV.
Idly, she stared at the screen, not paying attention until she heard a young girl say, “I’ll have a root beer float.”
That did it. Her impulsive nature ignited, she visited a new ice cream parlor and ordered a root beer float. Sitting at the counter and staring straight ahead into the mirror, she watched herself, a very pretty girl, she knew, suck on the straw as the sweet liquid flowed inside her and Cherry, as she called the child.
The owner of The Swan Ice Cream Parlor began to chat with her.
“What’d you think? Good?”
“Mmm, delicious,” she said, unable to stop sipping. Then she scooped up the vanilla ice cream with a long silver spoon.
“Bassett’s Ice Cream,” he said. “High fat content. Much more than at Baskin and Robbins or Friendly’s. That’s why it’s so good.”
“It’s awfully good,” she said.
“My name’s Frank,” he said, nodding at her.
“My wife, Shirley, and I, dreamed of starting our own ice cream parlor. She didn’t make it, though.”
Danielle looked up at his unsmiling face. A handsome balding man he had sad blue eyes, which grew moist as they talked.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said.
“Ovarian cancer,” he said. “The fight of her life. We never had children but I loved that woman more than myself. Would’ve traded places with her in a heartbeat.”
Danielle stuck out her cold hand and wrapped it in his.
“I shall return,” she said when she finished eating.
“The sooner the better,” he said. “You make me feel, well, comforted.”
Driving to Paoli, she forced herself to think about Frank, rather than what was going to happen to her. She listened to Zoe Keating, cellist, on the classical music station. Very innovative. A jazzy style of playing that humongous between-your-legs cello. She had seen a movie about French cellist Jacqueline du Prez whose career was stopped by multiple sclerosis. Dreadful. She was married to Israeli born Daniel Barenboim. As her disease devoured the gray matter in her brain, she became crazed. Oh, it was a terrible movie. How she wanted to shut it off, but wasn’t able to.
Pulling into the parking lot of Planned Parenthood, she saw the picket signs. “Baby Killer!” “You’re violating your own body!” They’d warned her about it. She parked her car and walked, head down, into the center. She was greeted immediately by the receptionist.
“Nice to see you, Danielle,” she said. She was ushered into the dressing room immediately and given a freshly laundered hospital gown that had been warmed up. How thoughtful! She was accompanied into the hospital and helped onto the gurney. Lying down, her legs in stirrups, she saw the kind faces of four individuals behind blue masks. She declined the anesthesia.
“Hold onto my hand,” said one of the nurses. “This is going to hurt.”
She stared at the ceiling while instruments were inserted into her. She felt their coldness but she felt little pain. Goodbye Cherry, she said.
Afterward they told her she must remain for two hours. She sat in the recovery room with several other women, pads between her legs. The women avoided conversation and looked furtively at one another.
“Hot tea, dear?” asked a nurse with honey-colored hair.
“Sure,” said Danielle.
The nurse showed her several tea bags including Constant Comment.
“Hey, that’s my brand,” said Danielle, pointing. “If it’s decaf I’ll have a cup please.”
She drove home in the dark. She found herself praying for her little Cherry.
“Forgive me, Darling,” she said. “As a single parent I could not have taken care of you.” She refused to tell her she was the child of a rape. “I will always remember you, even after I’m married and have another little Cherry or Matthew.”
She fell into a deep sleep that night. She awoke toward morning, having dreamt she was on a sailboat with high white sails with that nice man she met at The Swan Ice Cream Parlor.
Ruth Z. Deming, a psychotherapist, has had her work published in lit mags including The Legendary, Literary Yard, Mad Swirl and Writing Disorder. She lives in Willow Grove, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia. She runs New Directions Support Group for people with depression, bipolar disorder and their loved ones. Her blog is http://www.ruthzdeming.blogspot.com/.