Racheal was not normally the judgemental sort. She was a live and let live kind of person who let bygones be bygones.
But the noise from across the hall was positively deafening. Here it was, six o’clock Saturday morning, her first day off after working all week, and she has to listen to this?
Through the sounds of children screaming you could faintly hear the familiar tunes of Barney. I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family.
This was not a happy family across the hall.
It wasn’t much of a family either – single mom, three kids of different ages and colours. Not to be harsh or anything, but obviously by different fathers in a short period of time. Even though the mom claims the two oldest have the same father, it’s impossible, really. The little girl with dark ringlets has coffee coloured skin, and the little boy has an afro and is positively dark. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. But still.
You’d think that woman could pull it together, get a job or something. She says she took some college courses, wanted to be a nurse and had to quit school.
Got pregnant you know.
Do you think she’d learn from her mistake? Nope. Three kids later, she’s still unemployed and does nothing but sit around all day wiping dirty noses.
Sure, she laughs a lot. Takes the kids everywhere. You’d see them, her enormous hips waddling as she pushes the double stroller onto a streetcar. She even gets the driver to get out and help her. The nerve of some people. Smiling, laughing, like life’s a picnic or something. Going off to the Art Gallery or Museum. Big whoop-dee do.
You know, some people have to work for a living.
I heard she cut a deal with the Superintendent, she pays part of her rent and the City picks up the rest of the tab. Must be nice.
And you should see those kids running up and down the halls like banshees. Riding little toy cars, half naked, the baby in just a diaper. I’m surprised nobody complains. Maybe they do, and the Super just doesn’t do anything about it. Not surprising around here.
Oh, you gotta see the procession in the evenings. I guess they throw out their trash after dinner. Most folks do. But they make such a bloody big deal about it; the mom in pyjama pants, her rolls bulging out the bottom of a dirty tank top, and cleavage hanging out the top, carrying bags of trash. One step away from wardrobe malfunction.
Naked baby’s bouncing on her hip, just wearing a diaper. Or he toddles around, biting the other two. The other little kids zoom around riding on toy cars, usually half naked, and racing up and down the hallway. The boy carries a sword and screams bloody murder; pretending to fight monsters or something. The girl hangs onto this old worn out baby doll and sings Barney songs to it. God awful racket.
You’d think they’d put some clothes on at least. I know they have clothes.
On laundry day? Dear lord, they take over the whole place, using every friggin washer in the laundry room and leaving piles of clothes everywhere; half naked little kids running through it all and throwing clothes around. Some of its nasty too, puke stained or yellow or brown streaks. You don’t want to use the machines after her.
At least she doesn’t dry much. Says it saves her money to hang dry in her apartment, so she hauls basketfuls of wet stuff back up the elevator, dragging screaming kids behind.
Here’s a hint, honey – stop having kids. Get a job, that’ll save you some money. Really, what does it cost to put three kids in day care? It can’t be that much.
I don’t think she can get a job. Not the way she looks, heck, no one would even hire her to work at a gas station. And she’s supposed to have done college courses, in nursing, no less.
Just look at her. Chopped up hairdo, screaming in a fake red dye; some drugstore special bought with her welfare check.
Sure, she must have been pretty once. Not anymore; not with bags under her eyes like that, no makeup whatsoever and tattoos with her kids’ names all over her back. Typical trash.
And those stretch marks – red streaks all over the damned place; you’d think she’d cover that shit up. No, she calls them tiger stripes. Freaking cute, right?
Across the hall, a door slammed shut. Chattering noise, sounds of kids laughing, then the squeak of the stroller is followed by the rumble of the elevator. They must be going out for the day. Racheal breathed a sigh of relief.
Finally she can get some peace and quiet around here. Since Jeff left, it’s been one thing after another. Busy at work, she had to prove herself to stay on board with everyone being cut around her. Layoffs were in the air – the usual story, downsizing and all. But she was above that shit.
Management liked her. Adored her in fact. She had talent. She got shit done. She was their go-to girl. Everybody knew it.
So it’s only a matter of time until they promoted her to management herself. They just needed to get through this period of downsizing, do a few more cuts. Racheal knew who was going to go, too. That stupid cow in the corner cubicle; spending all her time chatting to people, making nice. Gone.
That weird guy’s gone too. Twenty something with a cheesy beard. Give me a break. You’re far too young to even grow facial hair, never mind a beard; what are you, a werewolf or something? Always asking everyone about their weekends or trying to get a pub night going. Wasting time. He was gone.
Racheal was on top of her game. She got shit done. Management adored her. But still, something nagged at her. At the last doctor’s visit, they did some routine blood work. She said she felt crappy, must be coming down with the flu or something; freaking exhausted all the time. The doctor raised an eyebrow and sent her to the lab with another requisition form, covered in indecipherable scrawl; he said they’d rule out a few things.
Racheal spent the evening Googling symptoms of Mono. Thyroid problems. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Stress. It was probably stress. She had enough on her plate. Jeff was gone after nearly four years together. Sure, there were other fish in the sea. But that was four years of her life, down the drain. They’d even talked about marriage. Starting a family. Eventually, of course, after she got that promotion; stability and career always came first, you know.
But nothing there was concrete. No ring, no real promises. Nothing.
Racheal used to look at white dresses online, snapping her phone off whenever he came near. And now it was over.
Maybe it was Malaria. They just got back from Cuba a few weeks ago. It was Jeff’s idea, to get away for some alone time. Sure they had fun, but she wanted to get out and do stuff. Snorkel, go sightseeing. Jeff just wanted to hang out on the beach, sitting in the sand with a drink in his hand talking to her.
The breakup was his idea.
Fine. What was she going to say?
A jangling ringtone interrupted her thoughts. Could it be –
Racheal glanced at the call display, it was the doctor’s office. Great.
“Hello, is this Racheal?” the voice of the receptionist was in her ear.
“Racheal, the doctor wants to see you about your test results. He’s in the office early today. Can you make it here for 9:30?”
At 9:25 Racheal was seated in the doctor’s exam room, leafing through STD pamphlets and staring at the beige file folder sitting on the table. Standing up, she reached for it, just one peek, and she could figure out what going on.
With a loud knock the door flew open and the doctor bustled in. An ancient man in a white coat, bursting with enthusiasm; Racheal chose him because his efficiency matched her own.
“Hello Racheal, sit down please. And how are you feeling?” he asked, picking up the file and holding it to his chest.
“Still lousy. Really tired. Sometimes I’m dizzy, almost nauseous.” Racheal looked up at him, “Is it Malaria? I just got back from Cuba a couple –”
The doctor raised his hand. “No my dear.”
“Mono? You know, there’s something going around the –”
Waving the folder in the air, the doctor cut her off again and smiled. “The blood work came back positive for pregnancy. You’re confirmed pregnant. Congratulations.”
Shel stared at him.
He grinned, “You are most fortunate, in great health, a true –”
Racheal blanched, and tipped forward; the doctor reached out to catch her. She put her hand up to her mouth and abruptly vomited all over his white coat.
Then started sobbing. Uncontrollably.
The doctor, concerned, stood at a distance, trying to pat her shoulder and hold his spattered coat away. Wrinkling his nose, he called for a nurse to come in. “Can you sit with the patient, please? Err… I need to go change.”
As Racheal sobbed, the nurse passed her tissues and said she’d feel better after a good night’s sleep. Maybe rest for a day or two. Racheal snuffled and nodded and eventually pulled herself together enough to leave the office wearing dark sunglasses.
Racheal spent the next 48 hours sitting on her sofa, staring at the TV sobbing sporadically surrounded by used tissues, and listening to the family across the hall. She thought about walking over, and asking for advice.
Monday morning, Racheal called into work for the first time ever. She said she was ill, and the doctor told her she needed to rest. Not exactly true, but still. She wasn’t in any shape to go in. She couldn’t face people like this.
Monday afternoon, the telephone rang. Racheal’s manager was on the line, and seemed to be reading off a script. “We regret to inform you that your services are no longer needed here. We appreciate your contributions, but –” Polite thank you and goodbye.
It was a long while later that Racheal got up off the sofa, and walked across the hall. Knocked on the door. The sounds of children’s voices and laughter echoed behind.
Liz McAdams is a short (again, we’re talking height, not word count), sharp writer living in the wilds of Canada. Her work appears on Yellow Mama, Spelk, Near to the Knuckle, Shotgun Honey and other places around the web. You can check her out at https://lizmcadams.wordpress.com/