Muriel James was on particular edge. The men had just completed dropping their wives off at the old Brownstone that Muriel’s father had passed down to his only child many years before. William James, Muriel’s loving husband of nearly 35 years, knew today was not the day to be mulling about the parlor. He didn’t mind as much that the house would soon be filled with forty or so women, ranging from the very young to the extremely old. What irked him though, was how Muriel had been acting the past day and a half or so, being on edge and easily reaching temper’s flare. He didn’t think too much upon the situation, as his wife acted quite similarly whenever a large crowd of family would gather at their home. This time, was ever an example of such a situation as any. Everything had to be pristine, in place, as if the house was never in a state of anything less than immaculacy.
William was on his way out of the house, when Darlene, his youngest daughter, to whom this party was being hosted for, entered the door, promptly and unprovoked, she gave her father the dearest, “dadeee,” complete with a loving hug. William kissed her on the cheek, wished her a good day as he leaned over to kiss her wonderfully pregnant belly. He paused a moment, whispering sweet thoughts to his future grandbaby, and then, moments later, he left the women to themselves.
Muriel came quickly to Darlene, as frantic as frantic could be. Darlene, seeing the distress upon her mother’s face, tried calming her down some, “Ma, just slow down, everything looks beautiful.” But Muriel would have nothing of it, ranting on about this and that and that and the other thing she can’t quite recall, until she reeled slightly. When she recovered she peered about hoping nobody caught a glimmer of the display, which of course, Darlene had, but her eldest daughter Beth, who just then entered the room, had also arrived in time to catch the sight as well.
“Mom, sit down, you look terrible.” Beth quickly pointed out, in her ever to the point way of speaking. “ Ma, bet’s right, you don’t look yourself…look at you, flush and pale, sweating like it was summer outside,” added Darlene, “not to mention you’re shaking something awful.”
“No time for this, I’ll be fine, just skipped breakfast, that’s all, nothing more to this story,” Muriel added in her normal, ain’t no big thing laissez-faire, which was a red flag to the girls, as such a stance of character, typically indicated that something was bothersome and weighting to their mother. The girls, of course, read this like a book they’d read so many times before.
Beth, as usual, was first to reply, “ Cough it up, what’s the matter.” Muriel poo-pooed it away, and begin prattling off little snide remarks, which was another indicator that whatever this thing that was bothering her, was much bigger than the girls had thought mere moments before. Darlene spoke up in an overtly sentimental tone, not uncommon to her demeanor when under stressful situations, and certainly in line with her present condition, “Ma, you’re scaring me and the baby,” which garnered a quick snark of a look from her sister, as to any who knew the girls, would not have found this glance the slightest bit out of place.
“Now look, I said I’m fine, and that means I’m fine…I really don’t want to think of anything but your shower…don’t concern yourself none…this is your day…Bethany, take your sister to the couch, she shouldn’t be on her feet this long…and while you’re up and about, might as well make yourself useful, grab the long stems from the cabinet and put them out for me…if you want to help, that’s the best I got.”
The girls wouldn’t budge, and didn’t say a thing, something they learned quite well growing up. To which, Muriel’s tone started getting more curt, until she started to cry, something the girls had not expected, as was never their intention, and something the silent stare had never provoked previously. Typically a quick slant of the upper lip, followed by a shake of the head, and a short giggle, but today, now, the girls were in unknown territory, and were feeling more ill-at-ease, the longer this situation lingered on.
“I’m fine,” as she fruitlessly tried wiping away the tears.
“Ma, please…we’re scared”
“Listen, you know you’re going to have to tell us. This party won’t be happening until you do…might as well settle up now, before the others arrive. If this is still going on after Lori and Maureen get here, you know… you don’t want that… cause if it does…well, you know Lori will call Jimmy, and he’ll call dad and then the whole day’s gone…is that what you want.”
Suddenly, Muriel stopped crying. She wiped away some of the wet and looked directly, somehow, at both her girls simultaneously. Her gaze stared intently into her daughter’s eyes, speaking as slowly as she could, “Well, ok then, best you each grab a chair…You know how much I love you girls…you know how much I love your brother and your father too… but…there is something, something I’m afraid will ruin everything,” to which Darlene interrupted, ”ma, now, don’t leave him, he loves you so much…sure you’re beauty’s outlasted his looks, but he’s your heart, ain’t that what you always say…” Beth had that deer-in-headlights bewildered look about her. She was speechless, which, for Beth, is something that never occurred. “What are you…no, not at all…couldn’t be more off base…look, you want to know what’s bothering me…then listen quietly until I’m done,” their mother chimed back in retaliation, grabbing a glass of water and then proceeded to tell her secret. The girls nodded and let their mother continue:
“As I was saying, all I ever wanted in life was to watch you kids grow up, have children of your own…so I could spoil them rotten…and live out the rest of my days with your father. There’s nothing more to me than family, I hope I’ve made that point clear over the years, but now, I’m afraid, for myself and for your father. In two weeks I’ll be 63 years old, and yesterday,” pausing as she takes in another swig of water, “ yesterday I found out, somehow, I’m once again with child.”
The girls froze to the news. After several moments of silence, moments that lingered into what felt like hours. Beth, spoke first, “ Do you think dad suspects anything,” to which Muriel shook her head side to side, softly saying, “no, I don’t believe so… I haven’t had the nerve to tell him neither.” Darlene then spoke up, “ I thought daddy had that taken care of a long time ago…it is daddy’s isn’t…” Muriel chimed in with a little more pitch this time, “ Yes, of course it’s your father’s…and he definitely had that taken care of too…I was with him when it was…but I used the computer and found out it’s not as rare of a thing as you’d expect…there are percentages…”
Beth stood up, “Ma, whatever you decide,” to which Muriel broke down in tears again, “I know, I know, but there’s no decision to be made, it is what it is…a blessing is the only way I can look at it” “What about the risks,” Beth was quick to bring to light. “Risks are what risks are, probabilities that may or may not take place, this though is not a risk, it’s a gift…Is there a chance I don’t make it through, of course there is, but there always is, just maybe a little more in this case….it’s never been about the baby…no, I’m just as happy as I was when I found about you girls and your brother…it’s just…how do you tell a seventy year old man…who’s been wanting to buy a condo in Florida…that he’s going to be a father once again…how does a wife tell him that…and, then there’s the issue of being able to take care of the baby…after all, we aren’t spring chickens anymore…but it does feel better talking to you girls about this. The girls and their mother than huddled close, each with moistened eyes and dampened cheeks, when Darlene broke in, “I can’t believe this…Bet’s we’re going to have a little sister,” which sent an air of ease throughout the room. Beth giggled a bit, which you could tell they liked seeing, as they don’t see it often enough, “and you know, your baby is going to be a little older than her aunt or uncle…a best friend.”
The family moment would be cut short prematurely, as the doorbell rang, the first of the guests had arrived. Muriel stood up, wiped off her face, redid her hair, put a spring in her step, and greeted her guests as cheerfully as ever. Meanwhile her two girls stood where they were, glowing something wonderfully, wet faces and all.
I’ve been away from the computer for the most part of the past 4 days or so, but got a chance to read through many of the poems linked up to this past Saturday’s Poetics, hosted by Manic Daily. It was a really great theme, and as usual, was very impressed with the posting itself, and all the responses it garnered. So, even though I missed out on the party itself, the impetus for this short story came from pondering the “unexpected,” and thought I’d post it today.