SHORT STORY >
That’s all Alice truly wanted. On the prowl for this holy sanctification, like a lioness stalking her prey.
It was another one of ‘those’ nights. The night’s Daddy came home wobbly, shouting and screaming. Mommy fought valiantly at first but then got slapped aside by a thunderous right hand. Then she would cry. The night would continue in sordid boozing until she passed out in nightmarish sleep, a pool of tears and empty bottles surrounding her.
The next morning all would revert to normal. The swollen cheek and blue eye explained away. Alice’s siblings snickering to themselves, “It’s all her fault, don’t you know?”
It crushed Alice to hear them be so mean about her.
Her grandpa is always saying, “Just another day in paradise.”
As expected, breakfast came with the usual, “It’s not your fault, honey, don’t listen to them,” And the excuse that “Mommy is a somnambulist. That means she gets up and walks around in her sleep! I must have walked into the cupboard door or something. You know how daddy likes to leave those open!” Alice knew that there was no sleepwalking, but she didn’t pry. Instead, she stuffed her mouth full of whatever cereal Mommy set in her bowl, to excuse her silence.
The school day was arduous, but finally, it was time to return home. Something was different today. Daddy’s car was pulled up in the driveway. It was too early for him to be here. Something was wrong, and a pit grew in Alice’s stomach.
The children were sat down in the living room. Alice’s hands nervously fidgeted. “Your father and I are going to be taking a break from each other for a while,” Mommy seemed angry. So did, Daddy.
“Jesus, Mary, do you want to put it any more bluntly? They’re kids for Christ’s sake,” Alice never liked Daddy’s constant use of blasphemy, but what could she do?
Mommy started with her snarky passive aggression. Daddy wouldn’t hit her today. He hadn’t had a drop to drink. They’d only enter into a shouting match. Mommy already began in her native South African tongue.
Knowing she wouldn’t be missed, without a sound, Alice left.
I’ll be there tonight,” Chuck said, ending the call, and Alice couldn’t be happier. With all that had been going on lately, she needed some peace from the one person who could provide it.
Seen as a black sheep to all at school, another horrid day proceeded the phone call. Insults, bullying, and battery all followed suit. It was a cold, brutal life trying to fit in where you didn’t belong.
Mommy brought the kids home just after four o’clock. A.J and Sammy had after school activities. Alice never partook. Instead, today, she dreamed the day away, every so often checking her watch, counting down the minutes until she was with her knight in shining armor.
“Lunch is ready,” Mommy shouted from the kitchen. Alice waited, her siblings darting off. When Mommy called a second time, she was on her feet and in the kitchen. Alice didn’t dare raise her ire. Not today.
A plain cheese sandwich; it was dry and tasteless, but Alice scarfed it down anyway. She finished her drink (diluted Oros) and quickly returned to the television room. She was watching an old favorite, a “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” marathon. Alice wanted to watch them all, despite having seen each episode four times or more.
The first episode finished, and after a few minutes of advertisements, the second began. Alice sang elated, almost reminiscent of Duddit’s from “Dream Catcher”:
“‘Ooby Ooby Ooh, where a’ you? We ‘ot some ‘ork to do now…”
Time passed quickly, watching the show. Alice didn’t even notice Daddy come in. Not that he made much effort to show he was around. He’d become strange like that in recent years.
Come to the end of the episode, he raised his voice, “Time to change the channel,” Sharp and to the point. Alice’s movements showed the start of a protest, but before she could open her mouth, she was cut off with a simple, “Fuck off to your room already,” A nonchalant dismissal finalized with an equally dismissive wave of his hand.
When her gaze broke, from Daddy’s sickened expression, she saw on his side table, a whiskey tumbler far too full with the golden liquid. She didn’t want to be the next victim on the chopping block, so she did as told.
The hours passing felt like an eternity. Her room was always fully stocked with things to do; a computer, connected to the internet, books, toys, and all other such little articles to keep her entertained, but she was waiting on her gentleman caller, and nothing seemed to fill the void that formed in her chest.
It was a little after six o’clock when the doorbell rang.
Mommy answered, “Chuck! What are you doing here?”
I’m pregnant,” The news couldn’t have come at a better time. Tony had been getting promotion after promotion lately, thrusting him into a higher cash bracket, allowing him to move up in the world. A fancy car, real gold watches, a better class of friends, and the four-bedroom home, he and Mary would often summarize as their palace of incontrovertible perfection. The thought of another perfect addition to accompany their already perfect lives only inflated their egos all the more.
The first trimester flew by. The preparation that went into crafting the spectacular home ground for their child was a tiresome effort. When they finally finished, there was not a single thing out of place. Diapers ready by the dozen, various fancy trinkets, high-end strollers, and the like all cluttering the room, though neatly.
“It’s going to have a good time here, Mary!” It referred to the child. The realization hadn’t quite set in for Tony nor Mary at that point, and to them, it would merely be an extension of their lives. An unreal object, tethered by a placenta, floating ethereally in Mary’s womb. It was not a person.
Simply another manifestation of their perfect existence.
The doctor’s room was cool. Not much more than the previous times the couple came in, but she felt the nip, with the ultrasound device rubbing over her belly, the gel swirling around only enhancing the cold sensation, enticing goosebumps across her arms and back.
“Would you like to know the gender of your child?” He asked, removing the rubber glove from his dark brown hand.
“Yes!” Answered they, nervously staring into one another’s eyes. The anticipation of the next few words weighing heavily on both their minds. Once they found out, it became real. A mass of cells, becoming human.
“It’s going to be a little girl!” Mary began crying. She couldn’t have been happier. Tony wanted a boy. The news crushed him, just a little, and it was evident in those frosty blue eyes.
The doctor droned on for a few seconds, but neither one listened, and neither one cared. Excusing himself, so that they could share this special moment, Tony found it now the opportune time to lean down, hold his wife and whisper, “We will name her, Alice.”
Another bout of tears shot from Mary’s eyes, “I know how much you loved your Grandmother,” He concluded, a peck or two finding Mary’s forehead.
Mary and Tony sat across the polished oak wood desk. Mary ran a hand absentmindedly over Tony’s arm, feeling the scar he’d gotten years before; a compound fracture that needed surgical repair after a rough tackle to the ground, which had a two hundred kilogram lock landing on an awkward angled arm, ruining his career with the Springboks mere weeks before the 1995 Rugby World Cup. The blow was a tough one until he lay eyes on the nurse who’d be attending him.
He fell in love instantly. A young Afrikaans lady, who couldn’t pronounce “Anthony” without a harsh “t.” It only made him want her to say it again and again.
“Mister and Misses Vosloo, thanks for coming,” Doctor Fisher phoned earlier that day, asking the pair to come in for an emergency meeting. There was bad news, “After testing, we have found that there is a possibility your daughter will be born with Down Syndrome. Down syndrome is caused by a random error in cell division that results in the presence of an extra copy of chromosome twenty one. The type of error is called nondisjunction. Usually, when one cell divides in two, pairs of chromosomes are split so that one of the pair goes to one cell, and the other from the pair goes to the other cell. In nondisjunction, something goes wrong, and both chromosomes from one pair go into one cell, and no chromosomes for that pair go into the other,” The Doctor explained. Tony and Mary stopped listening once they heard the original news.
“Mister and Misses Vosloo, there are alternative measures you can take. Abortion being one as well as looking into institutes that raise and take care of children who have Down Syndrome,” But it was already clear. Tony and Mary, in their prolonged silence, had come to their decision. Tony faced Doctor Fisher.
“This changes nothing… She will be raised in a loving home!” Tony said it forcefully, but the words echoed emptily in the room.
Tony!” Mary called, ushering Chuck into the living room where Alice now stood, waiting in great anticipation, “Look who’s here…” She didn’t sound all that happy by the unwelcomed visit, but still, she held the wrapped box that she’d been given upon his entry.
“Dad? What are you doing here?” Tony asked, and before anything else could be said, Alice jumped into the older man’s arms. Kissing his stubble graced cheek.
“Oupa, you came!” Her elation was uncontainable. Tears welled in her eyes.
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world, Darling,” Chuck squeezed her. She always felt secure in his arms. He was by no means a strong man, but when he held her, Alice was enveloped in a feeling of safety.
“What’s this?” Tony asked, turning to the box.
“A gift from Alice. I think it could be a rugby ball,” The harsh tone, fortifying his words were hopefully unnoticed by Alice, “Open it. I’m sure you’re going to get a real kick…” Added Chuck.
So they did. Hidden in the confines of the repurposed Christmas wrappings, a blue and white cover that had seen far better days, in black and white The Four Tops stood in their sexy sixties suits, all in a jiving position; the title reading: I Can’t Help Myself. Mary and Tony must have near worn that LP out back in the eighties.
Mary tore away at the wrappings now, almost frantic. Every movement was revealing more and more. Every tear, ripping away at her, just as easily as the paper. Suddenly, it was fully exposed.
A record player; an Attache GPO. The price tag ripped off.
“How did she know?” Black mascara running down Mary’s cheek.
Tony, unbidden, took Alice from Chuck. Emotion overwhelmed him, and he clasped her tighter than he ever had.
“Alice says it was the first time in years that she saw you smile. Talking about the day you and Tony met,” Mary broke down into Chuck’s shoulder. Make-up staining his khaki shirt.
When she regained her composure, Mary, set up the music box, Tony still cradled Alice, and when the music cracked on, his composure broke. Mary came now, joining in on the circle of love. Her hand, slipping beneath the sleeve of Tony’s shirt, feeling the scar, yet again. She had once healed him, the same way Alice now healed them. The three danced and laughed as if no one watched, as if everything in the world was right. Again.
And at that moment, and those that followed, all was good in the world.
Life became everything Alice wanted.
Peace, love, and laughter.
Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch.
You know that I love you!