If you couldn't tell, I enjoy the challenge of working within limits, so I am starting Five Word Fridays just for fun. It is mostly for my own pleasure but others are welcome to join in if they want. The basic idea is to pick five words at random (I had my wife give me five unrelated words, without explaining why I wanted them) and then write a story or poem or whatever, using all five of those words in whatever order they were chosen. Today my words were, in order: light bulb, flower, baby, avidly and picturesque. If you join in, leave me a note at the end of this post with a link to your entry. And here is mine.
The light bulb flickers sporadically above me, bathing the room in a lurid glow. There are water stains on the roof and walls in one corner, testament to some catastrophe or another. The close air stinks of mildew, stinging my nostrils and the back of my throat. I cannot see it, though, so I suspect it’s under the carpet. The faucet in the bathroom drips precisely every 13 seconds (yes, I’ve timed it), a dim but constant accompaniment highlighting the dilapidation. The only amelioration of the squalor is the fact that there are no rats. That and the flowers on the table in a terracotta pot. They are tulips with bright orange pointed leaves like flames, with golden throats and pale green stems and leaves. They are the only bright spot in an otherwise dingy existence – the only thing at which I seem to have exhibited a talent.
I came to Los Angeles from the Midwest. It doesn’t matter where in the Midwest – there’s nothing left for me there any more anyway. Besides, it’s all the same. I was lured by the promise of palm trees and beaches and a glamorous new life for me and my baby. Well, I guess there is a (stunted) palm tree outside the apartment. And beaches if we can afford the bus. The glamorous new life has yet to materialize.
I know what you’re thinking. “ Poor girl, having a baby out of wedlock, forced to leave her home.” You would be wrong. It’s the other way around. My wife, Emily, was devastated when she found out she was pregnant. She wanted to concentrate on her career and couldn’t be bothered with distractions. We figure a condom slipped or something. Who knows? She blamed me and spent the long, long months of her pregnancy furious at me. I barely convinced her to keep the baby – her first thought was abortion. I was actually pretty excited. I had always wanted to be a father and avidly fought for the right to make that dream a reality, even if it was a surprise and a tad inconvenient. After all, when are children really convenient? We began to part ways during those 40 weeks. She took my excitement and my desire for the baby as lack of support for her devastation. I suppose, in a way, it was. I understood that she needed to grieve the loss of the life she had expected, but she never moved beyond that to acceptance and excitement. She gradually distanced herself emotionally and physically from me, growing more sullen and uncommunicative the larger her belly grew, as if the child within her were a barrier between us rather than a sign of our union.
I suppose, given all of that, that I should have seen what was coming next. But I didn’t. I spent her pregnancy making excuses for her, believing that once she held her child in her arms all this resistance would melt away. I went to every doctor’s visit (though looking back I realize that’s the only way I got her to go – what did she care for the baby’s health?), exhausted myself caring for her every need and whim. She refused to go to the baby shower my mother threw for her, so I went instead, providing plausible excuses for her absence. I single handedly prepared our home for the arrival of our child. The day she went into labor I could barely contain myself. Labor progressed faster than I expected as if she just couldn’t wait to get this unwelcome intrusion out of her. 18 hours after her first contraction Kyra Janelle Samuels was born. Emily refused to hold her or breastfeed her, so I doted on my daughter, holding her, giving her a bottle, cooing and talking to her, or just gazing at her as she slept in my arms. One of the nurses, with a frown towards my wife, taught me how to change her diapers and so I was launched into the adventure of fatherhood. Emily and Kyra were released the next day and I carefully drove them back home. While I held Kyra up to show her her new home Emily went upstairs and packed a suitcase. The first intimation I had that something was terribly wrong (yes, I know. Duh!) was when the doorbell rang and I opened it to find a stranger on the front step.
“I’m here for Emily,” he said, his face and voice carefully devoid of expression.
“What do you mean? She just came home from the hospital.” I gave a nod to Kyra by way of explanation.
“Yes, I know,” he replied with a small smile, “and she called me to come and pick her up.”
“Pick her up? Where is she going?” It still hadn’t hit me.
He sighed. “Look, if she didn’t explain, I’m not going to. Is she here?”
I was saved from having to answer by her arrival at the door with her suitcase.
“Hi Jason. I’m ready.” She gave him a quick kiss on the lips. I frowned, finally understanding. “Will you take this to the car,” she asked handing him the suitcase. “I’ll be right there.”
He quickly grabbed the suitcase and took it to his car which was parked in the driveway, busying himself with putting it in the trunk.
“What’s going on?” My voice was cold.
“Look, Michael, don’t make a scene, okay? We’ve been drifting apart for months, ever since we found out, so don’t pretend like this is a surprise. I just don’t want anything to do with that,” she gestured with her chin at Kyra, a sneer of utter disgust on her face. I think I’ve never hated her so much as in that moment. All over my body my skin tingled with heat.
“That,” I growled, “ is our daughter. And I am your husband.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve found someone new. Look,” she put a finger on my lips as I started to object, “nothing you can say is going to make me change my mind, okay? Jason doesn’t want kids and that’s about all I care about right now. You’ll be getting divorce papers sometime next week, according to my lawyers.” She was already walking down the steps and along the sidewalk as she said this last. Ice rimed the pit of my stomach.
“Emily,” I blurted, but she put up a hand to forestall me without even breaking her stride or looking back. Forlorn, I watched as she got in the car and they pulled out of the driveway. It was the last time I ever saw her.
The following Tuesday, as promised, Emily’s lawyers stopped by with the divorce papers. I was tempted not to sign them, just to make it difficult for her. But by that time word had spread and everywhere I went people pointed and muttered with pity in their voices. I couldn’t hear what they said, but I could see the expressions on their faces and I couldn’t stand it anymore. Only four days after Kyra’s birth and Emily’s departure I knew I couldn’t stay there much longer, that Kyra and I were going to move. So, I signed the papers and started looking for a place to move to.
I considered several places all over the U.S. New York, Charleston, Miami, Saint Louis, Seattle. One by one, though, they all dropped off the list. New York seemed to busy, too tightly packed. Charleston, I was told was an uncomfortable place to live if your family hadn’t been there for generations. Miami seemed too gaudy from what I could see. Saint Louis too close. Seattle too drizzly. Los Angeles seemed perfect. It had as many people as New York but was spread out over a much larger area. It was temperate and sunny. Every photo I could find made it look so picturesque, a veritable paradise of sunny beaches and cool breezes where dreams were made real and Kyra and I could start a new life together, anonymous and unknown. Perfect.
Kyra’s cries snap me out of my reverie. With a sigh I get up, grab a disposable bottle of soy formula (she’s allergic to milk), turning off the flickering light as I go into the bedroom.
“Hey, cutestuff,” I coo as I pick her up and give her a kiss. Despite everything that’s happened I wouldn’t change a second of anything that brought her to me. She quiets and snuggles into my the crook of my neck and shoulder. I hold her for a minute, relishing her closeness, her baby smell, until she begins to root. Laying her gently in the middle of the bed, I lie down next to her, snap off the lid of the bottle and slip it into her pursed lips. She groans contentedly as the first of the formula rushes into her mouth and I eventually fall asleep to the soothing rhythm of her sucking.