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Also by Ladette Randolph:
Our Infamous Failure | What She Knows

What She Knows

pizza boy

The pizza jiggles wantonly in the box the delivery boy holds open, a marketing gimmick, she guesses, some shenanigan Romeo's has trained him to do, holding the box open so the pizza can be inspected.

"I didn't order a pizza," Annie says.

"Oh." The boy looks down at the pizza.

"I wouldn't order Romeo's."

"Oh," he says again. He looks up at her over the opened lid of the cardboard box. Their eyes meet and though he does not smile she feels a sudden weakness in her knees. Then. "You didn't order the pizza?"

"I didn't order the pizza."

"Okay," he says, but he does not move to leave right away and Annie makes no gesture to usher him out.

She wishes suddenly she were older, forty perhaps, the sort of woman who could say to the boy, "You could come in, though. You could stay for awhile. I'll get you something to drink." She wouldn't be specific about what she would get. She hasn't imagined that far.

And though the delivery boy wouldn't say anything, he would be interested. She would go on then. "You need to leave the pizza outside, though. It's making me sick." She wouldn't tell him she was three months pregnant, and that the smell of grease from the melted cheese, and pepperoni, and sausage had created a nauseating ruckus in her stomach.

If the boy remembered the pizza then and said, "I need to make my delivery," she would say, "Do you? Why don't you just forget your job?" She would not add that jobs like this are easy to find, that he could find another tomorrow. She would repeat, "Why don't you leave the pizza outside and stay for a while?"

The boy would flip the box top shut and step onto the porch. She knows, though, if this happened she would feel a rictus of regret even as she watched his back flash behind the door. And when he reemerged he would blush and look down, shy about what to do with his hands. He would seem naked without the box, thinner and younger, so much younger than he would have when she first saw him touting the opened box. Seeing him there waiting, young and thin, and with no purpose, she would no longer want him to stay.

"I'm sorry," she would say. "I shouldn't have said that. Of course you can't quit your job. You need to make that delivery before it gets cold. Somewhere, someone is waiting, depending on you. Your job. You need that job too. Quitting now could be the beginning of all sorts of bad decisions."

"Oh," the boy would say again. He is gone now, but before he left she noticed his shiny reddish hair had been slicked close to his head, his smooth cheeks recently shaved, though she could see he did not need a razor very often. He had smelled of aftershave. A certain moist quality on his skin suggested he had bathed only recently, that he had taken care to be well-groomed.

In her vision, after she told him to go, he would leave, but he would look back once awkwardly while holding the pizza box flat on his extended forearms. In the streetlight, she would see his silhouette, a bit ungainly but purposeful too; she would realize it had been that purposefulness she had liked in the first place, She would think then: this is what will not happen. I will not take that young man into my kitchen and pour both of us a shot of whiskey even though I am sure he has never had such a strong drink before. I will not look deeply into his eyes and he will not look back into mine. We will not swallow the whiskey feeling that quick splash and burn against the backs of our throats and the slow warmth running down into our limbs, I will not lead him slowly by the hand toward my bedroom, not caring that the bed is unmade, that my pantyhose, with their sharp, biting smell, lie tangled among the other clothes discarded after work on the bed. I will not speak softly to that young man. I will not smell pizza on his breath from bites hastily taken as he left the restaurant to make his deliveries; nor will I smell pizza on his clothes. I will not slowly lick his ear and feel him shudder beneath me, feel his newness, his awareness of every touch, his thrill, all nerve endings and expectation. I will not take him then slowly, making him wait.

I will not watch him leave late in the night, forgetting the pizza box on the porch, the pizza cold and coagulated. I will not be the one to lead him into experience. I will not be the memory he smiles upon when he is no longer the pizza boy but the man responsible now and wishing for newness and first times and innocence.


All day, at any given moment, an insipid song can be heard simpering through the PA system—"Close to You," "Cracklin' Rosie," "Muskrat Love." It is aural terrorism. The office Annie shares with another woman is small—a storage closet the company converted into a space for two computers and a shared printer, shelves above small desks. All day long insurance salesmen come to her office with letters, badly written, outrageous misspellings, illegible, and ask Annie to type them. She does so, automatically making the changes necessary to ensure a customer will be able to read what is intended. At the desk behind her the other secretary, very young, clacks away on the keys of her computer. She sniffles all day. Allergies. Annie brings her bee pollen and sinus/allergy tablets. The other secretary, her name is Janey, thinks Annie is so nice. Actually, Annie can't abide the sniffles. It makes her sick to think of other people's snot.

Billy Dare is one of the insurance salesmen. This is his real name. Annie suspects his parents found it in a comic book. In his spare time he trains dogs; he drives a '67 Ford pickup with striped seat covers coated with dog hairs. He owns two coon hounds. When he arrives for work in the morning his suits are slightly rumpled and often covered with dog hair. Annie tells him to dust himself off, if she notices, when he is leaving for a sales call. Billy Dare is the worst speller of all the salesmen. His dogs are named Buck and Joe. Annie thinks these are stupid names. Dogs should be named something like Baxter or Winston or Taffy so people know it's your dogs and not your friends you're talking about.

Billy doesn't talk very much; he's the least talkative of the salesmen, but when he gets started about dogs he can go on forever. Annie knows more than she wants to about the mating, and eating, and hunting habits of coon hounds. Billy reads everything he can get his hands on about them, and Annie thinks he's smart in spite of not being able to spell. One day he got started in her office about how Buck is such a great stud his services are in demand all across the country.

"People pay big money for stud services. I've shipped Buck from Pennsylvania to Louisiana to do his duty."

"How much does it pay?"

"Five hundred dollars plus expenses."


"Board, fees to and from the airport, you know."

Billy gets excited talking about these things. His eyes shine and he tugs at his hair, clutches it in his fists. It's a little weird but not entirely without appeal. He looks like a little boy then.

"You'd be surprised how many people want a good coon hound to stud."

"Yes, I would be," Annie says.

"Dogs are a lot like people," he says. He says this all the time. Everything a dog does is a lot like a person.

Annie went out with Billy one time. He took her to see an action movie—Terminator II—or something like that. She didn't like the film, but she liked having Billy's arm around her shoulder. Afterwards they went for pizza. It was like a high school date, comforting and familiar and boring. He didn't ask to come in but she invited him. He seemed a little bewildered by the invitation.

"I've got a beer in the fridge," she had said. Billy livened up.


Once he was in the apartment he kept talking about dogs even as she kissed him on the back of the neck. It didn't take long though, it was pretty sudden in fact, for him to respond with a slight snorting groan, like a bull. Afterwards, he had to leave right away.

"The dogs'll wonder where I am."

She hadn't planned on using Billy Dare for stud services. At one time she'd wondered what it'd be like to have a baby, and for a little while when she was with her last boyfriend she'd thought about trying to get pregnant. But when they split up she was glad it hadn't happened. Now, she isn't sure what she'll do. One thing she knows for sure, though. She isn't going to tell Billy. He doesn't need to know. Men are a lot like dogs, she thinks. She doesn't want to be in this position, doesn't know what she's going to do. When she sees Billy Dare in the office after their date he acts like nothing ever happened between them. She doesn't even think he remembers. That's okay. It wasn't all that memorable anyway.


The problem with families is that they want to get together on every holiday, especially if they're within driving distance. Easter is the holiday Annie hates most. One Easter her mother made her hide eggs for the kids early in the morning. The grass was wet, and the wind was blowing, and it was raining. Later, even the little kids hated hunting for eggs in the rain. Her mother never learns though. This year it's Memorial Day. They're all meeting halfway and they'll go to their grandfather's grave to place flowers.

They've planned a picnic. Late in May, a picnic is in order, only when the morning arrives it's that same rainy thing again, except not a warm rain like you would expect in May; it's freezing cold. Annie can see her breath on the air. It's Monday morning and she wants to be sleeping in, her only day off, but she has to get up early and get ready to leave so they can all hurry and meet halfway. Her mother wants to hear the Legion Club band play taps at the cemetery. Annie doesn't even bother to ask why this is meaningful. She stops by the deli and buys a quart of potato salad to contribute to the picnic. In the rain, she drives to her mother's house.

"Good morning," her mother says cheerfully. "Are you ready to go?"

There's nothing wrong with her mother really. She's a nice woman as far as mothers go, but for some reason the entire family gets on Annie's nerves. She's the only one who isn't married and doesn't have kids. Only her father seems to understand. He doesn't say anything. That's just it. He doesn't speak. It's his way of protecting himself. He stays out of the way and as soon as he can, he sneaks off to the garage or the backyard or the basement, somewhere where the little kids won't find him.

Annie's oldest sister complains about her father's disinterest in the grandchildren. "I don't understand Daddy. He shows no interest in the kids." She says this at every family get together.

This morning Annie and her father exchange a glance. Outside it is pouring rain, but her mother goes on humming as she packs a picnic basket.

"Aren't you a little worried about this weather, Mom? It's not exactly picnic weather."

"We have a lot of time for the weather to clear up. It'll be nice this afternoon. You just wait and see. Gene, can you get me the folding table from the basement?"

Her father goes to the basement. "Can't we just assume there will be picnic tables where we're going?" Annie asks.

"We could, but I don't know anything about this park. There may be a lot of people and then we wouldn't have a table."

That's how things go with her. She's an optimist with no reason for optimism. The day never does warm up and all the kids are rotten—sick and cranky, with chapped, red faces—and Annie can still see her breath on the air. Plus, she's got morning sickness.

"You look a little green around the gills," her mother says.

"I'm okay."

"Are you eating right?"

"I'm eating fine."

"I know how you young girls eat—Doritos and M&Ms—just junk. You fill up on junk and then there isn't room for nutritious food."

"Let her be," Annie's dad finally says. "She's an adult."

"Thank you," Annie says.

After lunch, which has taken place under a shelter in the middle of the empty park, where all the plates have blown away, and everyone is shivering in their coats, stamping their feet, the kids decide they want to do a play. They've been rehearsing it while the adults were still eating. Now, as their parents tell them there won't be a performance, they're angry. They're shouting at the adults, carrying on. Annie never wants to have kids. In light of this day, she never wants to have kids. She feels a little square of panic, like a field, and it's growing. She simply can't do it. No kids.

an appointment

The doctor's office is too bright. He has posters on the ceiling with chimpanzees in various silly costumes, and captions that anthropomorphize an expression the chimp wears. They're meant to make you smile while your legs are spread and your butt is hanging off the edge of the table and some strange guy wearing rubber gloves has his hand up you. Annie isn't smiling. She's grimacing as he removes the speculum. It slips out. She can feel how slippery it is, like a baby sliding out.

"You're right. You're a little over three months along." He takes off his gloves and writes something in her chart before turning to her.

"You can sit up now."

Annie struggles to sit up, her stomach muscles clenching, having to skooch her butt back first. The doctor doesn't seem to notice her trouble. When she's finally sitting up he looks at her. "It's late, you know."


"It's not easy at this point. There aren't as many options."


"But you still want to go ahead?"

"I have to."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because I do."

"That isn't really an answer. Does the father know?"

"I don't know the father," she lies. "He wouldn't care anyway. I'm just another bitch."

The doctor frowns. "Do you care to explain that?"


"I'm concerned about this. I'm not sure you've thought it through."

He's been her doctor all of her life, and he's tapping the pencil now, looking at the chart. Doctors never seem to understand that not everyone wants their opinion. Her life has nothing to do with what this doctor thinks.

"You're twenty-two years old?" He looks up.

"Yes." Annie isn't sure what he wants her to say, what he's looking for.

"Are you absolutely sure you want to go through with this?"


"Then I think you need some more time. I'd like to see you try to track the father down. It's not fair to him not to know."

"Why is it a problem that I'm not absolutely certain?" she says. "I won't be absolutely certain I want it either. Why is that uncertainty okay and this isn't?"


Annie's favorite bar is The Dude. She goes there to dance. Even though it's a gay bar they welcome everyone—lots of straight people go there to dance because the dancing is in a group, not just couples, though there are couples too. Annie thinks it's very generous of The Dude to allow straights to come since there are so few places for gays to be by themselves.

The bands are usually good, hardcore. She likes to mosh. Tonight she thinks the moshing may be a good thing. She drives into the group, her head lowered, her elbows raised, and starts pushing and jabbing and jumping. This feeling of being pushed along in a group of sweating strangers is hard to describe. She doesn't expect people who haven't done it to understand how fun it is to feel slightly threatened, exhausted, full of energy and rage. Rage is good. She feels a lot of rage and this is the only place where she can express it. She screams and no one hears, not really, because they're screaming too.

A stocky guy with short, bleached hair elbows her, hits her hard, slamming against her upper arm and shoulder. His knocks her into another guy who knocks her back. She laughs, meeting their hits with her own. But then the blond guy's elbow slips and catches her in the stomach, knocks the wind out of her so she doubles over. This is not a good position to be in when bodies are flying around. The guy is nice, though, and pushes her to the edge of the pit so she can recover without getting her head stomped in.

She sits at a table on the side panting, trying to catch her breath. That's exactly what she wanted, a good sharp jab in the stomach. She feels satisfied to watch the others dance. While she is watching, her friend Dana walks in. Dana is wearing a purple miniskirt with multi- colored, horizontal striped tights and a midriff T-shirt that shows off her flat stomach and her delicate bellybutton. Dana has the best bellybutton of anyone Annie knows. Dana knows it too.

"Why're you sitting out?"

“I got socked in the gut."


"You going in?"

"Later." Dana opens her bag. "I've got treats."

"I don't think I want any."

"Suit yourself," Dana says and leaves the table for awhile. When she comes back she is smiling, her eyes glassy. She giggles when she sits down beside Annie. "So what're you thinking, my main girl?"

"I'm not thinking much of anything."

"Good for you."

They watch as the swirling, slamming bodies surge to the music. On the stage the lead guitarist drops to one knee and plays a solo. Annie thinks he's a whanker, a double moron. This is not her favorite band—the Matilda Quotient. Dana doesn't agree. Dana thinks the lead guitar player is a babe. She sighs now as he plays his solo. He looks up at her. Dana follows this band, and they're used to having her in the audience; she's their groupie.

"You're such a groupie, Dana," Annie says now.

"He's in love with me. Can't you tell?"

Annie looks back to the stage. Although the guitar player is looking at Dana, he doesn't seem to see her. "He's in love with himself."

Dana is disgusted and lights a cigarette. "You're just jealous he's hot for me."

"Whatever you say. Give me one of those," Annie reaches for the pack of cigarettes hanging halfway out of Dana's black bag. She leans forward to accept a light from the tip of Dana's cigarette. After taking a deep drag she leans back, "Whatever you say."

the morning after

In the morning Annie is disappointed that nothing has happened. She slept through the night, waking up with a slight headache, her clothes smelling strongly of smoke, a rancid, left-over smell. She hates the smell of smoke from the night before and decides to go to the park to get out of the house. She doesn't know what she thought would happen, but she imagined that it might have gone like this: She might have gone home, sat on the toilet, and gotten some heavy cramps, a little stronger than she gets during her period, and then she might have felt something slip between her legs, something a little thicker than a clot. She might have flushed the toilet without looking and then gone back to bed. In the morning everything would have been okay again.

At the park a little boy who can barely walk plays in the water at the edge of a fountain. He keeps trying to crawl into the water and his mother has to pull him back. This makes him laugh. For a while he is content to trail his hand in the water, but soon he's trying to crawl in again. His mother is patient, and though she scolds, she doesn't get cranky. Finally, she says, "Since you don't want to listen to Mommy we'll have to play somewhere else."

The baby begins to cry. Annie is surprised that he is able to understand what his mother has said. She has noticed he only speaks a few words and not in complete sentences. Children are smarter than she imagined. A child could be smarter than she is. This is not a comforting thought. There are so many reasons why she wants to stand on a relatively tall building and jump, a building not so tall that she will die or necessarily even get hurt very badly, but a building tall enough to break the life growing in her. She doesn't want to be responsible for a life like that, and yet she can't seem to bring herself to stop it. She hadn't imagined she'd be so wishy-washy about something like this.

While she is at the park she thinks about telling Billy Dare about the baby. She wonders what he would do. This is what she knows he would not do: He would not sweep her into his arms and call her darling. He would not tell her he wants to marry her and take care of her and the baby. He would not clean up his house, and get rid of those coon hounds, and invite her and the baby to live there. He would not paint the baby's room pale yellow and put white curtains at the windows. She would not look over to catch him smiling at her lovingly by a fire in the evening.

After that Annie thinks about what she would do if she were to keep the baby and raise her, because she knows already it will be a girl. This is what she would do: She would wake up early and feed the baby mashed bananas and Cheerios. She would point to the squirrels out the window playing in the trees, and then push the baby in a stroller around the block. When they came home she would make a grilled cheese sandwich chopped up into little pieces for the baby. She would read to her from little books and make animal sounds for each animal in the alphabet book. And at night she would rock the baby to sleep under a soft blue blanket embroidered with illustrations from nursery rhymes.


On the best days she feels as though someone died and she went to heaven. On those days there are dresses, and hats, and purses, and rhinestone jewelry from someone's estate, vintage things she finds before the specialty shops find them and mark up the prices. On those days she drags home sacks heavy with treasures. She washes and mends the clothes, reglues the rhinestones. The hats and purses she likes and has good intentions of using but never does. She sometimes goes through her things and plans to give them away, but then she invites Dana over to take what she wants first. Only Dana always stops her.

"You could wear this to a barbecue," she says holding up a sleeveless gingham dress with a matching short jacket. Or, about a black, off-the-shoulder dress, "Don't give this away, it would be perfect for going to the opera." And later, in regard to a full-skirted applique dress, "You can't pass this on, you could wear it to a dance at the Pla-Mor." Annie doesn't have the heart to give away anything once Dana has stopped her, although she is amused by the social life Dana has fabricated for her." A barbecue? The opera? A dance at the Pla-Mor?"

Dana shrugs. "You never know."

Today, as Annie is looking through the racks, before she realizes it she is looking for dresses a few sizes too big, for smocks or other long tops, for pants with elastic waists. Once she sees what she's doing she goes to the maternity section. A vintage outfit—sleeveless pink crepe, a top and skirt, very Jackie O. She pictures white gloves and white shoes, a pillbox hat. Perfect for Easter Sunday. Easter Sunday? Lord. The suit is inexpensive and she buys it.

When she tried the suit on in the thrift store, it fit perfectly across her hips and flat stomach. Later, at home, she puts the suit on again. This time she takes a pillow from the bed and stuffs it under the skirt, adjusting the ties at the waist to accommodate this new girth. Once she has pulled the top over she admires her new self in the mirror, turns from side to side inspecting herself. Not bad.

Maybe tomorrow she will go back and see if there are any baby clothes. She deliberately avoided them this time. She might check to see if there is a crib or high chair, something in a nice '60s blonde wood finish. Retro baby. She imagines little bell bottom pants and a corduroy jacket, a small necklace of beads she will make. Then she catches herself. What is wrong with her anyway? She wouldn't have guessed it would be like this. Everything in her life had seemed simple in theory.


The library downtown is old. The stained marble steps at the entry are listing slightly to the west. There is a stale smell of old carpet and books, but Annie doesn't mind the smell. She goes to the electronic card catalogue most remote from the entryway just in case someone she knows should come in. "Babies" she types in the subject category. Up flash hundreds of listings with subcategories like Discipline, Toilet Training, Nutrition, Day Care, Fathering, even things that strike her as strange like The Family Bed, Massage for Baby, Your Baby's Past Lives. After looking through several of the titles she feels discouraged. Among the titles she has seen in the card catalogue is "Your Baby and Downs Syndrome." After that, she feels dizzy and nauseous; the panic has returned. I can't do this, she thinks.

But she goes to the section where the books are shelved anyway. Once there, Annie finds several old editions of baby care books, titles from the 1950s and '60s. She flips through the pages seeing photographs of mothers with infants, the mothers all so outdated they've become cool again. The babies look just like babies always do, only now she looks at them more keenly, sees that they differ in big ways. They aren't all just the little, plump, bald-headed things she's imagined them to be. The books make her feel uncomfortable though. There seems to be so much she doesn't know—bathing, diapering, feeding, breast feeding, burping after meals. Everything requires more thought and effort than she expected. Where would she find the time?

Annie leaves the library without any books. Her head is spinning a little as she walks back out into traffic. Although she is in a crowd walking toward the bus stop, she feels very alone, isolated, as though she is invisible. No one seems to notice her, and she hugs the knowledge of what is happening to her to herself. She doesn't want Dana to know or her mother and sisters. All of the people who might be of help to her she fears will also be a danger. This is what will happen if she tells her mother and sisters: They will be angry at first because she isn't married, but then they will become protective. They will make plans, take her under their wing, force her to move out of her apartment and into someplace closer to them. They will give her boxes of hand-me- down baby clothes and hand-me-down maternity clothes, paint and furnish the nursery the way they like it. She won't need these baby books because they'll all tell her what to do, give her endless advice and not realize they're contradicting each other. The whole thing will take on a life of its own, an energy and scope far beyond anything she has yet understood about being a woman in the world. And it won't stop there, she can see further to the ways she will be appropriated into the stream of life around her, so far avoided or ignored—schools, doctors, clean air, crime. She begins to see how she will be afraid, vulnerable in ways she has not imagined.

Annie's bus comes, charges to the curb, stands huffing and snorting and then roars away without her. She hasn't had the heart to get on and sit in cramped seats so close to strangers. The air seems too hot, a mixture of diesel and the perfume of people she doesn't know.

a visit

Buck and Joe bound about Annie. She can tell they want to jump on her but are too well behaved.

"Buck, Joe. Stay back," Billy says now in a gruff voice, firm and yet affectionate. The dogs grow subdued, though they still pant and grin at her.

"Will they let me pet them?"

"Sure,” Billy says, "but you'll have to put up with a little licking. It's how they get to know you.”

Annie reaches out tentatively, her hand high above their heads, and touches both dogs with just her fingertips. The dogs slather her with great wet tongues, thick as Turkish terry cloth.

"Nice doggies,” she says even though she is very grossed out by their tongues. She is trying to understand Billy's life. This is a mission she's on, trying to get to know Billy. The dogs do not lose interest as she had hoped they would. They continue to circle her.

"Back guys,” Billy says. He shoos them from the door and invites her in.

His house is what she expects, cluttery and none too clean, stacks of magazines, mostly dog training journals, but a few sports magazines as well. There is an antique girly calendar above the sink with a slightly chubby blonde woman in a kittenish pose. Among his things are other signs of his taste in Americana, a few Pyrex and Fire King bowls in the sink, a black panther lamp, a yellow enamel kitchen table and vinyl covered chairs. He doesn't invite her to sit down but she sits in one of the kitchen chairs anyway.

"You want a beer?" he asks.

"No thanks."

"You mind if I do?"

"Go ahead."

He isn't curious as to why she doesn't join him in a beer, doesn't know her well enough to know that this is an exception, that she's sworn off temporarily without really admitting it to herself until now. He doesn't offer her anything else but sits down in the chair beside her, tipping his beer back in a big swig before setting it down between them. When he looks at Annie she feels suddenly shy, silly. Why has she come here? What did she expect to happen? Did she expect him to see her and know? No, she's not that dumb, it's something else, something to do with loneliness and with needing to be with someone even if they can't really help. Billy is a little weird in this way, and she knows it from their first encounter. He doesn't assume the way other men do; he has to be led along, prodded, primed before he'll act. It's an unusualness she sort of likes, but right now she feels frustrated as he looks at her again before taking another drink. He's questioning, too, what she wants, senses, she can tell, she isn't here just passing the time.

Annie lacks the urge and the energy to seduce Billy tonight, though she has to admit that's what she wanted. She can't seem to muster the stuff of seduction, the smiles, the lowered lashes, the brushing of limbs, the stories. It is not about sex, this longing she has, it's about belonging somewhere with someone. Somehow the stranger who has taken up residence makes her feel more alone than before. But this isn't going to work, this fix she's hoping for from Billy.

"I just stopped by to see the dogs," she says. "They're nice dogs."

"Thanks.” He doesn't seem surprised by this. She realizes that though he may not be stupid, he is thick in some way. He's sort of sweet, but she can't depend on him.

As she leaves, the dogs circle her again, licking freely this time, and Billy doesn't tell them to stay down. She can hear them howling as she drives away, sees in the rearview mirror their heads thrown back baying at the sky. Crying? Saying goodbye? She doesn't know.

Sunday afternoons

Okay, she admits it, she gets depressed on Sunday afternoons. Something to do with going to work the next day, feeling washed out from the night before. Dana comes over this Sunday as she does most Sundays so they can hang out together. They listen to music, or shove sections of the newspaper to each other, or watch old movies on TV. Dana yawns a lot and says she's bored and dreams about things they could do. "We could go over to the art gallery, see the exhibit there, Egyptian jewelry."

Annie grunts, "Yeah."

A few minutes later, "We could go to the Children's Zoo. That would be kind of a kick looking at the animals and watching the kids."

Annie does not reply. Dana scrolls through a list of potential sites of amusement, many of which require some amount of pre-planning like advance tickets, all of which require energy that neither of them seems to have. This futile dreaming, a combination of boredom and wishful thinking, depresses Annie worse than she was before. She feels suddenly very impatient with Dana.

"You don't seem interested in doing anything. Is something wrong?" Dana asks.

"It's just that we aren't going to do anything anyway, and I don't feel like the obligatory 'that'd be nice.'"

Dana looks pained. "We might do something."

“We might, but we won't, so why talk about it? I don't have the energy."

“You've been talking about not having any energy lately. What's the matter with you?"

Annie is quiet. She doesn't know how to respond to this, has forgotten how to make the small talk that would throw Dana off track. She doesn't mean to, but tears squeeze through all of her reserves. She can see Dana is upset, moving now to hold her which is the last thing she wants, someone being nice to her. It will only make it harder, but Dana is there with her arms around her shoulders, rubbing and jostling in that way meant to cheer up the person who has momentarily lost control.

“Don't be nice to me, Dana. It makes me feel worse."

“I know, but I don't know what else to do. I can't just sit here and watch you cry."

Annie has to laugh a little, wiping her nose with the back of her hand.

“You want to tell me what's going on?"

“Not really."

“Listen, I noticed something seemed to be wrong the other night at The Dude. I think you need to talk about it.”

“There's not much to say."

“It doesn't look like that."

Annie thinks for awhile. She thinks, this is what Dana will not do: She will not leave me alone. She will not resist buying baby clothes and little books. She will not be quiet about it and let me figure things out on my own. She will not sit demurely listening as I tell her how I feel and what I'm considering. She will not let me believe that I still have options. She will force me to realize that the time for options has passed. She will not be silent.

Dana is looking at her strangely. “You look pale. Are you feeling all right? You look a little sick."

“I'm not sick."

“So . . . "Dana gestures for Annie to go on. “Tell me what's up."

“I'm pregnant."

Dana laughs. “No fucking way. No way."

“Yes way."

“Oh Jesus. I'm sorry to laugh, but that's so funny, Annie."

“I don't think it's funny. Why do you think it's funny?"

“I can't say. It's just making me laugh. You as a mother. Wow. What are you going to do?"

“I don't know."

Dana grows quiet. “Pretty heavy stuff, girl. How long have you known?"

“Oh, a couple months."

“A couple months? And you didn't tell me?"

“I didn't tell anyone."

“Who's the father?"

“Some dork."

Dana nods. “Wow. So what are you going to do?"

"Don't keep asking me that. I don't know."

"How far along?"

"Four . . . five months."

Dana raises her eyebrows. “I guess I don't need to tell you . . . "

“You don't need to tell me."


Dana is at the door. She's holding a gallon of milk. "For you," she says as Annie opens the door. "You need to be taking care of yourself. It's not enough just to stop doing stuff that's shitty for you, you have to start doing stuff that's healthy."

Annie feels exasperated. She wishes she'd never told Dana.

Dana walks through the apartment. She seems purposeful, looking at the ceilings and the walls.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm figuring out some way we can make a nursery in here. The way I see it this room could be divided, put a divider here see." She steps back and paces out the area she is talking about." You could get a simple divider and then the baby would have some place separate."

"Dana, this is making me tired, talking about all of this. Why are you assuming things?"

"But I have to. And you're probably feeling tired because you aren't eating right. Let's get a glass of milk down you now."

"God, I never figured you for a nurturer. You'd think it was you having this baby."

Dana shrugs.

"What does that mean?" Annie mimics the shrug. "Just because I'm pregnant doesn't mean I'm an invalid. It doesn't give you the right to come in here and tell me what to do, and what to eat, and where to put things. It doesn't give you the right to turn my whole life upside down. I wish I hadn't told you. I knew this would happen." Annie doesn't mean to but she starts to cry again.

"See, you're all worked up. I'm not trying to be bossy, but it's pretty clear, Annie, you're not dealing with this thing. I bet you haven't even told your folks yet, have you?"

Annie shakes her head.

"Well, that's okay, but you still need to get real here about what's happening. If you don't want to keep the baby your options are getting narrower all the time. It's past the point, you know, for getting rid of it easily. It'll be harder, and if you want to give it up you need to be making contact with an agency." Dana reaches into her big black bag. "Here, I've brought you some stuff. A prenatal book so you'll know what's happening and some brochures from adoption agencies. It's still an option to abort but it'll cost you."

"Jesus." Annie plunks onto the couch. Dana lays the materials on the coffee table. "I don't mean to overwhelm you. I'm trying to help."

"You're not."

"You think that now. Later you'll thank me."

"You sound just like my mother. Since when are you such a conservative? Where's all this corporate efficiency coming from?"

Dana laughs. She picks up the gallon of milk she's set on the floor and carries it into the kitchen. Annie hears her open a cupboard. From the kitchen she yells, "There's a free clinic downtown where you can get a check-up without it costing you an arm and a leg. There's also a program, government assistance you know, to help you if you decide to keep the baby and still work."

Annie sighs deeply. She tries to avoid looking at the book and brochures on the coffee table, but notices one of the brochures. "Seven Sorrows of Our Sorrowful Mother Infant Home?" she reads aloud. "Are you trying to drive me over the edge?"

"Sorry about that," Dana shouts from the kitchen. "I was in a hurry."

The cover of the prenatal book, featuring a plump, smiling baby and a serene, beautiful mother, has seared its way into her cornea and Annie keeps seeing it even though she isn't looking.

"Here," Dana says and thrusts a large glass of milk into her hands. "Drink it."

Annie looks at the size of the glass. "I can't just sit here and drink a whole glass of milk like this."

"Of course you can. You have to. I'll distract you."

"I don't see how milk is going to make everything all right, Dana."

"It won't, but it's a gesture, a good faith gesture to your body."


The computer guys have come to fix computers at work. It is not only Annie's computer but a string of computers apparently spooled together that have malfunctioned. Because her computer is down, she cannot do the work she had planned and spends a lot of time looking at the walls and the shelves and Janey's back as she, whose computer is not down, works diligently, just like one of those little clerks described by Victorian writers, toiling away, their backs rounding to the work. Annie cannot believe she works in this place, has worked here for three years. The lack of a computer screen has afforded her this broadened view of what she does and where she spends hours of her day.

Billy Dare stops by. He meets her squarely in the eye. This unnerves her a bit, but she recognizes it as a habit of his, only she hadn't noticed before because she was always avoiding eye contact. He seems to look carefully at her.

"You look different," he says.

"Really? How?"

"I can't say, just different."

"I don't think so," she says. She's not about to get into any of that with him.

Before he leaves her office he says, "I hope they get your computer up pretty soon."

As he says this, she knows it isn't going to make any difference at all to her if they get her computer up. She's not coming back, not tomorrow, not the next day, and not any day after that. She's going to walk out of this rat hole tonight and never look back. She's going to do something irresponsible, and risky, and rude and she isn't going to worry about it. Already she knows this, that she isn't going to worry about it. Billy Dare is only part of the reason for her leaving. It's true, she doesn't want him to see her change. His scrutiny is too much, and she doesn't want to deal with what will happen when she can no longer lie so easily and get away with it. But it's much more than that. It's the fact that she feels like she's going to die if she keeps sitting here in this closet that isn't a closet anymore simply because some executive somewhere sitting on his fat ass in a big airy office has said, "it's not a closet anymore, it's an office now."

She spends the afternoon taking her things from the drawers in her desk and putting them into an empty computer paper box. She does this surreptitiously, the box between her feet, so that even Janey doesn't notice anything until the end of the day when she picks up the box to leave and Janey says, "What's in the box?"

"I'm just taking a few things home."

"Oh," Janey says.

No one else mentions the box, and Annie carries it through the lobby. She looks around briefly one last time and smiles to think about what will happen the next day, what people will think. The one thing she knows is that no one will think what is true. While she was waiting to leave at the end of the day, she doodled for a while and then she wrote, This is What is True:
Truth #1: This place sucks.
Truth #2: These people are too white, all of them, so white their eyelashes are white.
Truth #3: People shouldn't have to work in closets and call them offices.
Truth #4: I shouldn't have to see Billy Dare every day.
Truth #5: I'm going to have this baby and I don't want to listen to their talk.


It's a good time to find a new job. No one is allowed to ask if she is pregnant and she doesn't yet really look pregnant. In the job interviews, the few she has, if some interviewer asks slyly what her future plans are, hoping of course she'll say something about a family, she is especially careful. No future plans particularly.

There aren't any good jobs out there right now, so she interviews for boring, dumb jobs like working in a department store selling shoes, clerking at Kmart, daytime clerking at Gas & Go, working as a tech at the regional center. A good job might be working in a coffee house or a record store. The job she ends up taking is at B & R grocery store on Washington Street. First thing, they give her a dark blue smock with her name embroidered on the left where there would be a pocket if there was a pocket. The smock has long sleeves, and buttons up the front. She hates blue.

Every week she has to memorize a list of the prices for produce and the specials for the week. She goes home on Wednesday nights and memorizes: rutabaga—79 cents a pound; cilantro—two bunches for a dollar; Japanese eggplant—$1.99 per pound. This doesn't mean she would necessarily recognize this produce if it came through her register. The first week she tried to figure things out, asking the customers what the weird produce was, but she got tired of doing that pretty fast and started making up things. Now if it looks like an apple, it is an apple. If it looks like a cucumber, it is one. Someone only stopped her once, but they were stupid. The thing they were buying cost $1.00 more a pound than the thing she had credited them with.

It's been a month since she started this job. Things are getting easier and the manager is a strange-but-nice guy who likes her. No one has noticed anything yet because her smock is roomy and because when she comes to work she never crosses her arms across her stomach. She likes the freedom and flexibility of this job. The pay ends up being about the same as her old job.

She'll tell them soon about the baby, once they've gotten to know her better. She has a feeling they'll understand. She has a feeling they won't mind at all what she does. Strange things happen here all the time anyway. Her news will be nothing compared to the drunk who took off all of his clothes in the store a few nights ago, or the stabbing in aisle nine the week after she arrived. The Manager tells her this sort of stuff happens all the time. What could one little baby matter to them?

a vision

"And this is the sorting room where our volunteers sort the maternity clothes and baby clothes we get from the lovely people who pass them on to us," the woman from the clinic is saying as they walk by a large room with a linoleum floor and fluorescent lights where women stand among deep piles of clothing. "Once the clothes are sorted, they're cleaned and hung here for our mothers to choose from." She gestures to racks of clean clothes. All of the clothes that Annie sees look like Lutheran clothes, very bland—belted dresses in pastels or pale floral patterns, slacks with permanent creases, and buttondown short-sleeved shirts. Lots of blue, and gray, and turquoise. The baby clothes are equally boring.

"Should you need babysitting in a pinch," the woman is saying, "we've got a clinic day care for temporary situations only." Today as they walk by that room only four or five children are playing with an older woman. "We can take up to fifteen children at a time, more in case of a real emergency. And we will take a sick child should you need it." Annie exchanges a quick look with Dana who has come along with her. Dana smiles. Annie is happy to know about these things. The woman has already given her a list of possible day care providers and their addresses and phone numbers so she can drive by and look at the houses before calling. All of the workers and volunteers at the clinic are women. They smile a lot and wear their hair straight and natural. Annie likes them, though she doesn't feel entirely comfortable with them. They're all a little too nice. But she feels better knowing about this place, and they've been giving her monthly check-ups all along. Today she is getting a tour of postnatal support.

Things in the building are a little rundown: the design in the linoleum floors worn thin, the walls scuffed, though clean, the ceilings, that fake wafer board, with tiles broken here and there, the fluorescent lights flickering now and then. It's depressing as hell, but Annie can't afford to get depressed about things like this.

Several weeks ago, she sat her parents down to talk. They both seemed nervous about her formality and even her mother couldn't quite find a way to make things smooth and easy. Annie stuttered around a bit, but then she looked at her dad and he smiled at her. She wanted to cry when he did that.

"Okay," she said and took a deep breath. "This is the thing. I'm just going to say it straight out. I'm pregnant. I'm about six months along," she said, ignoring her mother's gasp. She glanced quickly at her father. His face did not change expression but his eyes still met hers. "I haven't just been gaining weight."

"Well, I . . . " her mother started.

Her father nodded. Neither of them said anything for a long time. Annie sat across from them with her hands folded together on the table and willed herself to be serene, and to wait until they were ready to talk. When they were ready, did they ever talk. Her mother mostly. She answered few of their questions in a straightforward way, but she talked enough to make them feel their concerns were being addressed. She'd rehearsed her answers for the big stuff like, what was she going to do now? She had prepared enough so that even though that energy and life-of-its-own she had feared threatened to take over, she wouldn't let it. She rode that impulse from her parents like she would have a cart with a slightly wild horse at the reins, and she wouldn't let them have their head, just let them go the distance until they settled down by themselves.

When their conversation was over she was proud of herself. She had held onto her version of how things would go and they hadn't talked her out of anything. Maybe she'd be okay with this baby thing after all. Since then her mother has been respectful. Annie must have made it clear that she didn't want them to meddle and that if they did they simply wouldn't be welcome in her life. Her mother seems humbled, smaller somehow. She calls ahead before coming over and always asks politely before assuming Annie wants something from her. Given that climate, Annie is more receptive to her mother's advice or gifts.

Her sisters were a little more difficult to manage, not as easily subdued as her parents, big in their bossiness. They were the mothers, they seemed to say, full of expertise. They ballooned with self-importance, what they knew and she didn't. They took a lot of license to tell her what to do and what not to do, and how dumb she had been, but they were easy to ignore.

Now at eight months along, everything is growing strange for her, like looking simultaneously through the wrong end and the right end of a telescope: the people around her seem very small as they move about soundlessly, scurrying to where she doesn't know and doesn't care; and then looming before her, herself: her big belly, her swollen feet, her every twitch and cramp. And at night dreams so vivid she feels as though she has to swim up from a deep pool every morning to wake up. This is what she knows now from the dreams: The baby is not a girl, it's a boy. He will have red hair the color of carrots, that she will cut short in spite of the cowlicks that will stand up at the back of his head like twin fans. Freckles will cover his sharp little nose and sharp little chin. He will wear glasses and be very thin, very petite. He will play the trombone in the grade school band, playing with gusto at home as he practices, showing off for her how he can make the trombone sound like an elephant, and playing timidly in the band concerts at school where his teachers will tell her he is a quiet boy, a little shy, with few friends. But he will be a genius in math, an early reader, and he will dream of playing someday in the NBA, reading eagerly the Sports section of the daily newspaper, filling her in on the statistics that week of his favorite players. He will walk with one foot slightly turned in, his shoulder blades narrow and sharp through his short-sleeved, striped jersey shirts, his elbows jutting out and his arms, in those same short sleeved shirts, freckled like his nose. And she will love him, and he will break her heart, not by being any sort of disappointment or trouble, but simply by being hers.

Printed in the Fall/Winter 1999 issue of CLR

Ladette Randolph

Ladette Randolph is humanities editor at the University of Nebraska Press. Her short stories have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Clackamas Literary Review, Passages North, and other literary journals. The essay "Our Infamous Failure" is part of a memoir-in-progress. Other essays from the memoir are forthcoming in Fourth Genre and Connecticut Review

You can find Ladette Randolph on the web at:
—  Nebraska Center for Writers

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