Dorothy Calvert

I had a new mission—track down Peter Bingham.  I was sure now that the page from the letter was some sort of message.  Peter had told Kingston he was going to disappear for a long time, whatever that meant, but something told me he wouldn’t disappear from me.  He’d gone out of his way to give the page to Kingston, a known friend of mine.

I was done with my Cheerios when Helen emerged from the bedroom, wearing the t-shirt she’d slept in that night.

‘Why are you hiding this in your sock drawer,’ she said, holding up the wad of bills.  ‘What’s it for?’

‘It’s…’  I figured I might as well go for broke.  ‘It’s for you.’

‘For me?’  She’d been waiting for this answer.  She knew I meant for an abortion.  ‘We talked about this, Jackson.’

‘Please,’ I said, ‘I can’t do it.  I won’t do it.’

‘I don’t expect you to,’ Helen said, getting louder as I tried to quiet things down.  ‘I’m doing this on my own, with or without you.’

‘Jesus Christ, Helen,’ I hissed.  ‘Why is this so complicated.  You have to turn everything into a melodrama.’

There came a rapping at the front door.  Helen shouted over it, competing for attention.

‘Don’t even talk to me about melodramatic, Jackson.  Don’t even start.’  The rapping became banging.

‘You can’t make this decision for both of us,’ I said.

‘I’m making it for me, not us.’

The rapping was banging now.  Whoever it was had heard us and didn’t care about the interruption.  I heard movement in the back of the house—everyone was awake now anyway.  I walked across the front room.

‘I’m not dressed for company,’ Helen said.

‘Then go back to bed.’  I swung open the door.

‘Delightful,’ the voice said, rich and irritated at having been made to wait.

‘M…mom,’ I stammered.  Dorothy Calvert walked right in.  She beamed with her polite but annoyed smile and bright blue eyes.  She preferred niceties to the argument she’d interrupted.  She wore a sundress and carried two suitcases.

‘Do give your mother a kiss,’ she said.  ‘I’ve come so far to see you, my dear.’  On demand I hugged her and kissed her cheek, wondering how my morning had already degenerated so far.  Helen was next, modestly approaching my mother.

‘I caught you on your way out of bed,’ Dorothy Calvert said.

‘Yes we didn’t expect you,’ Helen said, then gave my mother a hug.

‘I was beginning to think you’d forgotten I was coming,’ my mother said to me over Helen’s shoulder.

‘Of course not,’ Helen said, stepping back and smiling.  I began to feel ill at the sight of them both together—my mother and the girl I’d knocked up.

‘And what about you, Jackson?’  My mother sized me up, regarding my enlarged waistline.  It had been some time since we’d seen one another.

‘I didn’t know you were coming so early,’ I said.

‘I came as soon as I could.  I had not realized you’d driven the LeBaron all this way.  You ought to wash it from time to time, Jackson.’

‘Right,’ I said, dry.  I made a point of not looking at Helen.  If this was the largest lie I’d be forced to deliver then I might just survive the day.

I heard a creaking from down the hallway and Faye appeared wearing her blue bathrobe.

‘Dorothy?’ Faye seemed to emerge from a week’s delirium at the sight of my mother.  They’d always spoken well of one another, although I’d never guessed they were friends.

‘Faye!’  My mother beamed more genuinely than she had for either Helen or me.  ‘It’s been so long.’  My dread thickened.   I imagined Dorothy and Faye sharing iced tea in the yard as Faye filled her old friend in on everything that had been going on these last few months.

‘I came when I heard what had happened,’ my mother said.  ‘I thought Jackson might need me.  Is there any news?’

‘Nothing at all,’ Faye said.  ‘It’s rather worrisome.’

‘I should say so.’

‘Oh Dorothy.’  Faye patted her hands against her blue robe, as thought just noticing it.  ‘I would have had breakfast waiting if I’d known.’  She shot a glance in my direction that only my mother saw.  I felt two sets of eyes.

‘I forgot to mention it,’ I confessed.  My mother tilted her head in disapproval.  Faye disappeared down the hall to her room to change out of her bathrobe.

‘So how are you my boy?’

‘I’m fine,’ I said, brushing my hand through my hair.

‘Is there any news of your father?’

‘Some forensic evidence that proved there was a struggle.  That’s it.’

‘Curious.  Now where have you been, Jackson?  Give some accounting of yourself.  I sense something awry.’  I could sense Helen eyeing me with smug satisfaction.

‘I went and visited Dad on the same day he went missing.  I left in the evening and took a few days getting back.’

‘I am surprised you would go out of your way to visit Johnson.’  Dorothy Calvert could see through my story to the very core.

I didn’t know where to start.  ‘I confronted dad with some letters I found, written about him.  They were pretty nasty.‘  I wasn’t about to admit to the origin of the letters but Helen wouldn’t let me off.

‘Tell her where you got them.’  I looked at Helen, harboring resentment.  Now my mother had to know.

‘I got them from a lady I met in New Orleans.  Her brother was the one who died because of the things dad was involved in.’

A flicker—could it have been pride?—shot across my mother’s face but if that’s what it was I didn’t have time to relish it as she assumed her tough-mama grimace.

‘It sounds as though you’ve been up to no good.’  I couldn’t deny it.  But I wasn’t about to give up.

‘…I just felt like I needed to do this, to find out the truth.’

‘I’m sure.  I’m surprised Helen has put up with it.’  This brought the attention to Helen, which reminded me we had one more thing to tell my mother.  Helen and I exchanged an awkward glance and I knew she was giving me a window to do my telling before she went ahead and made the news public.

‘Helen’s pregnant,’ I said with a sigh, looking down at the floor.

My mother didn’t say anything.  I looked at the floor in silence.  I looked up and met her eyes and then she let me have it.

‘Jackson, you’ve been up to no good at all.’  My mother balled her fists and pressed them against her hips. Her forehead wrinkled, her blue eyes flashed sadness and anger.

‘Mom, I don’t think it’s as bad as it sounds.’

‘You got a girl pregnant.  That’s a problem.  Way outside your means.’

‘Mom, I want us to get an abortion.’

‘You’ve already had one abortion, Jackson.’

‘It was a mistake, that’s all.’  Why wouldn’t she just listen?  I hadn’t chosen this.

‘But that’s not going to happen,’ Helen said, stepping into the thick of it, still wearing her t-shirt, which revealed lots of leg and somehow called attention to the living thing she carried inside her.  ‘I’m having this baby.’

My mother turned her attention to Helen.  She made no statement either for or against becoming a grandmother, remaining neutral.  I kept hoping for a distraction, the hand of god reaching down to save me.  My mother had a look in her eye, like she was trying to figure out the best way to hogtie me.  Helen would help.

I tried one more time to make my point.

‘I’ve stated what I want, and I’ll pay for it.’

‘You can’t buy yourself out of trouble, Jackson,’ my mother said.  ‘Life doesn’t work like that.’  I felt like one of those poor Roman criminals, made gladiator to fight lions.

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