The Conspiracy

Issue 30 by Robert Klose

I was not alone. Every resident I knew had toyed with giving up. Even though I was several years older than the others it was still, sometimes, simply too much: the workload, the hostile or uncooperative patients, the long hours, the smug attending physician who, even at this juncture of our education, conveyed the impression that if we so much as considered quitting, maybe we should.

Of course, we didn't. None of us did. We pressed on, firm in the belief that, at some point, things would become easier—when the boot camp of residency was over, a more routine schedule reigned, and real money started rolling in.

It was eleven P.M. I dragged myself home through careworn Jersey City streets reflecting a world that seemed to be coming apart at the seams. Five days previous the president had been killed, followed in short course by his alleged assassin. Questions swirled about the cataclysm. I had my own suspicions. John Kennedy was one clean generation ahead of me, if a separation of twenty years constituted a generation. In addition to all the other qualities I had seen in the man, in this superficial way he had also inspired me: he was twenty years older than me and still looked young and vital, and he was, of course, accomplished, suggesting that I too would be a young, vital and successful doctor into a long stretch of the future.

If the breakneck residency didn't kill me.

I descended into our basement apartment just off Magnolia. It was the best we could do, living in the cold understory of the old brownstone. In an earlier day it would have been called a tenement. The only natural light filtered in through a solitary street-level window; the apartment didn't receive any direct sunlight because of the brownstones on the opposite side of the street, so Trisha kept the lights on during the day as well. Another expense that pressed our already strained budget.

I felt so beset. It was not only the residency. I resented having to constantly count pennies. So why had Trisha insisted on having a child, knowing what lay ahead for me? Emily was seven — a precocious and intellectually demanding girl. Even at this late hour, I knew that if I were to look into her room, she would be reading a book by flashlight. But I dared not alert her to my return home, as her curiosity and her desire to engage me in conversation were insatiable. Emily became too much at times, as if she had conspired with the residency to overwhelm me.

I looked about the kitchen, the largest space in the apartment. Was I hungry? Did I want a warm cup of tea? I was too tired to know what I wanted. I moved toward the bedroom but was upended by a knock at the door. Damn it. Once again, I had done this to myself. I had not gone directly to bed, and now Morris had come home, noticed the light, and presumed upon my availability. I couldn't refuse him. He and Eve were our landlords. Good, decent, caring people who viewed kindness as a mandate and treated us like the children they never had.

I opened the door but made no effort to disguise my exhaustion. Morris filled the doorway with his expansiveness. But it wasn't only his body. It was his character. He radiated optimism and good cheer. How, I asked myself, could an eighty-year-old man find so much to live for? Shouldn't he be preparing for death? The least he could do was brood now and then.

Morris looked like an older version of Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof. Raised on tripe, potatoes, eggs, and whole milk, he was living proof that there was no such thing as a bad diet. His face was ruddy and fleshed out, punctuated by a pickle nose. He had a head of thick white hair which conjoined his ample beard. When he smiled, his broad cheeks rose to compress his gray eyes into almond slivers. He was unselfconscious about the tremendous paunch that flowed down over a restraining belt. He took my hand and pumped it like a politician. "David, David," he sang. "I saw that you were up so I thought I'd say hello and see if you needed anything."

We retreated into the apartment and Morris sat down at the table. "Tea, Morris?"

"Of course."

I put on the hot water and took a seat opposite him. "How's work?"

"Work is work," he said. "The Forum is the last of its kind in Jersey City. It's hard to believe it started out showing silents. Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Good family stuff. It's interesting how appetites change. When did people start demanding pornography?"

I looked at Morris in wonder. All I could think of were Mafia hitmen—legion in New Jersey. They made a clean separation between their family lives and how they earned their paychecks, going to church on Sundays and knocking people off during the week. What did they tell their children? Well, Morris didn't have to worry about that. It was the only sorrow he and Eve harbored: despite their best efforts (and Morris was nothing if not virile) they had not managed to reproduce.

"There was pornography in ancient Rome," I volunteered.

"Yes, yes," said Morris. "I was just thinking out loud. I'm not saying I invented it. Business is business. It's a living."

Trisha and I had agreed to not tell Emily what Morris did for work. But that hadn't kept her from finding out. She had simply asked why people would make movies without their clothes on. And then she had turned the topic to her math homework.

I knew better than to complain to Morris about my long hours, because he was no slouch. He was up at six, opened the theater by seven for the early birds, and stayed on until ten, sometimes eleven. He was the projectionist, usher, and bookkeeper. His only employee was the ancient Esther, a tiny, heavily-made-up woman with a smoker's voice who chronically accused Morris of stinginess. But she had worked for him at the ticket window for twenty-five years now and never so much as suggested that she might leave him.

I brought Morris his tea. He splayed his hands out beside the steaming cup and radiated joy. "Ah," he sighed, as if I had presented him with a pot of gold.

"How's Eve?"

"Asleep, I hope. Kennedy affected her deeply. You saw how she cried and cried. To tell you the truth, that's why I stopped in here. I'm hoping that if I wait long enough she'll be asleep when I go upstairs. I'm her only comfort, but sometimes I need a rest too. She draws so much out of me…"

Morris smiled as he said this. I knew that Eve was emotionally needy, but I also knew that Morris filled her needs willingly. His gentle complaint was merely to show that he could take it and take it gladly.

"How is Emily?"

"In her room. I'm sure she's up reading. We should keep our voices down."

"So who's shouting?"

"She likes you, Morris."

"She's a princess," he glowed. "I've asked her many times to come up to my pottery room. I could teach her how to use the wheel. But she seems to have a busy life."

I was aware of Morris's kind offers to show my daughter his studio. I once asked her if she had any interest. She had cocked her head thoughtfully and wrinkled her nose. "I like him," she said, "but I don't want to be alone with him."

I had stifled a laugh. Morris was the man least likely to pose a threat to anybody, especially a child. I would have been honored if he had taken my daughter's hands and pressed them into wet clay, guiding her in the creation of something beautiful.

I looked at those hands now as they cupped his tea. They were large and hairy, with prominent veins and black age spots. A worker's hands. Hands from the old country. Hands that had caressed Eve's head as she sobbed into Morris's shoulder the day the president was shot. Trisha and I had offered whatever it was that one offered under such circumstances, but we wound up looking on helplessly, holding Emily close, as the catharsis proceeded and great womanly waves of grief echoed in the vestibule. "Our boy. Our boy!"

Was it really possible to be wracked by such sorrow for someone who wasn't family or friend? I didn't know whether to envy Eve or discount her response. Truth to tell, there was something in her grief that irritated me, that made me impatient. I considered that her hysterical sobbing might be a clever indictment of my cool acceptance of the tragedy.

Morris pushed himself up from the table. "Well," he intoned, "I suppose I'd better go upstairs. Tomorrow is the Sabbath and they need a minyan at synagogue, so I'll be busy there. But let Eve know if you need anything."

"I will, Morris. Thanks for all your consideration."

"Don't thank me," he said. "You and Trisha and Emily are family."

Despite the care I took getting into bed, I woke Trisha. For some reason she began to speak tenderly of Eve. "She feels things so deeply," she said. "It's like she and Morris had adopted Kennedy in their hearts as the child they could never have."

"Please."

I could feel her harden. "Cynicism?"

"He was the president," I said. "It's horrible that he was killed, but life goes on. It's not like he was a frequent dinner guest in their apartment. At any rate, the thing is probably deeper than Oswald. Who knows what role the government played?"

"Why must everything be a matter of conspiracy with you? Emily is still talking to me about it. She cried when he was shot."

"I didn't know she cried. Why didn't you tell me?"

"You were at the hospital, and it was so fleeting. It wasn't anything like Eve. Just a few gentle tears. I held her and we talked about it. Then she went out to play."

I realized that my daughter's response was closer to mine than Eve's had been, although I hadn't shed any tears. Instead of going out to play, I had gone out to work. "That's what I said. Life goes on. I'm glad Emily understands that."

Trisha laid a hand on my arm. "All I'm saying is that each of us grieves in his own way. You know how Eve is. And Morris too. If God appeared and asked for a human sacrifice to save humanity, they would be the first in line."

Trisha was, of course, right. It was just that I couldn't identify with Morris and Eve's sentiments or their powerful empathy. By rights they should be bitter. First-generation immigrants who had been driven from some godforsaken shtetl, arriving in America almost penniless, with not a word of English. And then the devastating disappointment of no children.

Emily skipped into the room. I would now have to postpone any hope of sleep. I sighed and nestled into my pillow, but she did not take the hint. She perched there, examining me with her large, brown eyes which rested upon prominent cheekbones, her sweet, unblemished face crowned by a high, genius-size forehead. She cuddled in between us, slipping her thin legs under the bed sheet and blanket. "This is cozy," she said. Trisha threw an arm around her.

"Why are you here, Emily?" I asked her. "Mommy and daddy want to sleep."

"We can all sleep together, Dave," she countered. "Like a family."

I resolved to ignore her newly acquired habit of calling me by my first name. "Families don't sleep together in the same bed."

"They do in Mongolia."

"Emily, get out."

"David." Trisha was scowling at me.

My daughter pulled herself close to Trisha, turning her back to me. "No comment," she said, with hurt in her voice.

Where did she learn to talk like this? Mongolia? No comment? Dave? "I'm going to sleep," I said and rolled away from the two of them.

"This isn't fun, Dave," said Emily. She sprang out of our bed and left the room.

I turned back to Trisha. Her lovely face, framed so neatly in her dark hair with its unruly cowlicks, registered disappointment. "Trish, I've got to get up at six."

"So do I. That gives me an hour to pull things together before Emily gets up at seven and I get to the bookstore by eight so my boss doesn't throw a fit. We're all in this together, David."

"Think of how much easier everything would have been if we hadn't had Emily."

"Oh, Dave…"

"No, I didn't mean it like that. I love her and everything…"

"And everything?"

"Trisha, listen. All I'm saying is that if we had waited until my residency was over and I was settled in a real job we would have had the time and resources for an easier life."

She would have none of it. "My goal is not some imaginary easy life. I want to live the life I have, just like I did during all those years when you were deciding whether you wanted to go to med school. And remember, you wanted a child too."

"Not exactly. You wore me down." Was it really possible that she shared none of my feelings in the matter? "So you're happy?"

"Sublimely."

"I should have used a condom."

She clapped her hands over her ears. "Please don't talk about our daughter in terms of condoms."

"They're effective ninety-eight percent of the time," I pressed.

"Dave, please! You're going to make me cry."

"Like Eve?"

"David!"

"Everyone in this house is so emotional. Eve cries for the president, Morris cries when he sees Emily, you cry when I talk about condoms."

"Dave…"

"I'm the only one who seems to have a grip on his emotions."

"Dave, you…"

"Let's sleep, Trisha. If we continue to argue I won't get any sleep and what good will I be tomorrow?"

"No good whatsoever. I can guarantee it."

I examined her closely. "I don't understand."

She pulled the sheet away and laid both hands on her abdomen, outlining a heart with her fingers. Then she gave me a smile which seemed disconnected from the moment.

"Oh, no, Trish."

"Oh, yes, Dave."

I sat up, perched to bolt from the bed. "You're on the pill!" I said, accusingly.

"I know. I just wasn't very consistent. David, I'm sorry. I got sloppy. But I don't want to treat this like a catastrophe. If I can handle it I don't see why you feel you can't."

"Well, we're just going to have to take care of this."

I knew Trish's resolute look, which she conjured in spades. "Emily is going to have a sibling."

"Oh no she's not."

"Oh yes she is. Morris and Eve will be thrilled."

Trisha rolled over and pulled the bed sheet and blanket tight around herself, like a cocoon. An impenetrable cocoon. I called her name several times, but she made no response. "We can't afford it," I snapped as I threw my legs out of bed and walked out of the room. "Come to your senses."

And so I didn't sleep that night. I sat up in the kitchen, staring at the wall, the floor, and into the abyss. I rested my head on my arms a few times, and perhaps I blinked out for a few minutes here and there. I heard Morris shuffling about upstairs, and I heard him leave the building. Whistling. Whistling! If he knew what I was up against, would he be whistling? He was part of the world's designs against me.

I groomed myself and left the apartment early, so as not to have to confront Trisha. There was no visible evidence of pregnancy yet, so termination would be a simple affair. One didn't get as far as a residency and not learn how to get things done which weren't, legally speaking, part of current practice. Failing that, there was a woman in Hoboken—a former M.D.—who was said to be adept.

I had a competing preoccupation, however, which I dwelled upon as I hurried to the hospital. A patient assigned to me. A nine-year-old boy with a tumor. A serious tumor. Actually, he was riddled with tumors, but all such masses begin from a single cell, which becomes a little cluster of cells. Much like an embryo: bursting with energy and potential. One might say that a tumor is a monstrously deformed embryo. When we can, we cut it out and discard it. So that the patient has a chance at life.

I ran into the hospital, driven more by a desire to escape the cold than to see my hopeless case. I was still shedding the chill when I arrived in his room. Nelson lay there in bed, propped up, more dead than alive. His skin was thin-looking, sallow. A congeries of tubes lay across his body: a nasogastric tube from his nose, conducting greenish ooze; a urethral catheter, a feeding tube embedded in his abdomen, an IV in each arm. Why? I asked myself. Not, why did this tumor happen to him, but rather, why are we doing this to him?

Curiously, Eve entered my mind. She would give her life for this boy, expending the whole of her energy to minister to him, comfort him. She would trade places with him if she could.

As it was, the boy's parents were sitting on either side of the bed, holding his all-but-lifeless hands. I went into my act. When I entered the room, they immediately turned to me. Why were they looking at me so accusingly? Or could I no longer discriminate between accusation, false hope, and resignation?

"So, how is Nelson doing today?" I said with a bounce in my voice.

The boy's eyes didn't register a response. He was looking at me, and yet he wasn't. It was as if he knew exactly what the situation was, and was wondering, perhaps, how it was possible that I couldn't know as well. His father, his face registering his pain, shrugged. "A little better," he peeped. I looked at the boy's mother, but she averted her immeasurably sad eyes, turning them to her son, willing him to… to… to do what?

I bent down and took my patient's pulse. It was brisk and thready. I pressed my stethoscope to his chest. He flinched when the cold diaphragm touched his skin. "Sorry," I said. And I was sorry. I should have warmed it with my hand before applying it. Why, damn it, hadn't I cared enough to do that?

"Yes, a little better," I echoed as I slipped the stethoscope into my pocket. "I'll be back this evening."

I did go back. I took another pulse. Another listen (warming the stethoscope this time). Then I left Nelson and his parents to transit the stillness of the night.

On my way back to the apartment I resolved to be civil to Trisha. She was in such an early stage of the pregnancy that there was ample time to negotiate a course of action. Yes, action. That's what medicine had taught me. Identify the cause of an illness and take action against it. Pills. Shots. Surgery. Radiation. Cause-and-effect. Action.

November was the month least becoming the city, and I was glad to get out of the chill, and the damp wind. When I entered the kitchen, I was upended by the triumvirate of Trisha, Morris, and Eve, sitting at the table, drinking tea. When I walked in, Eve all but levitated. She was a small, spindly, slightly bent woman, wearing an ever-present necklace of pearls. Her hair was dyed a lusterless black. "Oh, David!" she sang as she embraced me. "God bless you and Trisha. God bless!"

I bristled at her presumption, but if I had learned anything during my residency, it was the art of dispassion.

"New life!" chimed in Morris in his robust baritone. He raised his teacup in a mock toast. "Mazel tov!"

Trisha was watching me benignly, a Cheshire cat grin on her face. "I was about to ask Morris and Eve something."

"Ask?" I echoed.

"Yes. I know you wouldn't object to their being the child's godparents."

Eve cackled. She clapped a hand over her mouth and looked at Morris, then threw her arms around him. Then she threw her arms around Trisha. Then she came for me and I stiffened like a board as her thin arms encircled me. "I'm speechless!" she said. "May it be a boy." She pulled back from me and looked pleadingly into my eyes. "You would love a son, David?"

I knew Trisha could feel my pain, but she only sat there in repose, cradling her tea. "I-I don't know how much control I have over that," I said.

"There are things Trisha should be eating and drinking. They can insure a boy."

"Rubbish."

Silence.

Eve looked at Morris, who seemed poised on the border between laughter and tears. "Oh," he finally noised as Eve drifted over to him. "David is right. He's a doctor, after all. Even doctors know that God decides these things. And what's the difference, anyway? We will love whatever God brings them."

I knew I couldn't prevail against the cabal of two superstitious Jews and a discordant wife. Like a shadow sweeping across the kitchen, I moved to the bedroom and closed the door. Having not slept the previous night, I lay down in my clothes and closed my eyes. But sleep was once again elusive. How long could the body endure this? Another question to which I didn't know the answer. But, mercifully, I drifted off. When I awoke at six, Trisha was lying next to me. And so I did have an answer after all: when the body wants sleep, it claims it.

As the days and weeks wore on, my mind took a curious turn, moving from its focus on the burgeoning life in Trisha's womb to my daughter's response to it. It was evil of me to suspect and, forgive me, hope, that Emily might be so jealous at the prospect of a sibling that she would conspire with me to somehow forbid it. I recalled something my older sister had told me once she felt it safe to do so: when my parents brought me home from the hospital, she was in her room, drawing baby pictures and then tearing them up as she incanted, over and over, "It's only I, so Baby die."

Chilling.

And yet, in my desperation for an ally, I had to know what Emily's feelings were. It took me the longest time to screw up the courage to approach her in the matter. Returning home from the hospital at a reasonable hour for once, I found her planted in the middle of her bed, peering at a map of Africa through an immense magnifying glass. "Oh, hello, Dave. Come in."

I sat down on the edge of the bed. "What are you doing?"

"Fixing Africa. There are new countries there, and I need to update the map."

"Must everything be updated?" I ventured.

Emily looked up and examined me through the magnifier, casting a monster-size eye at me. "Our family's going to be updated," she said, not missing a beat.

I stared at her. "Emily, put down that magnifier."

"Why?"

"You're scaring the hell out of me. You look like the crawling eye."

She laughed. "That's funny."

I took a deep breath. "When I was being born, my sister didn't want me. I think it was a natural response."

Emily stared at me. "That's not funny," she said. "Do you think I don't want a baby brother?"

Did nothing escape this child of mine? "No, it's not that. I was just interested in knowing how you were feeling about it, that's all."

"I'm not jealous," said Emily. "I'm excited. I told all the kids in my class."

"Emily, I wish you wouldn't…"

"Is it supposed to be a secret? I want a little brother. I'll be a great big sister. I'll protect him."

I slowly shook my head. "How do you know it will be a boy?"

Emily threw me a pitying look. "Eve said so. She's feeding Mom stuff to make it a boy."

I ran my hand over my face. My only potential ally was slipping away.

"Did you tell Mom you're not happy?" she asked.

"I didn't say I wasn't happy."

"I'm happy."

"I know you are." I pushed myself up and cupped Emily's cheek in my palm.

"Your hand's cold," she said as she pushed it away. I watched as she fetched up her magnifying glass and returned to Africa. Then time resumed its march into a future I did not welcome.

Whenever another month turned, I felt a very real pain in the pit of my stomach, like the hand of some immense clock, advancing with a loud, wooden "tock" toward an inexorable end. And that was precisely the problem. I looked at the pregnancy as an end, while everyone around me saw it as a beginning. How in God's name could such a thing be reconciled?

I experienced a modest surge of what I would call spirit as winter ebbed and spring began to suggest itself by the end of February. The combination of longer days and moderating temperatures allowed me to lean forward again with something resembling hope. I arrived home one evening just as Morris was returning with a bundle of branches in his arms. "Forsythia," he said as he displayed the buds to me in the light of the streetlamp. "Eve knows how to force them. It will be an early spring for us."

I examined Morris for some sign that the forsythia was really meant for my benefit. Was he indulging in a clever bit of metaphor? I cursed myself for such a thought. "They're beautiful, Morris," I said. "Very beautiful." I bit my lip to keep from pronouncing "beautiful" a third time.

Trisha and I seemed to have struck upon a silent understanding not to talk about the pregnancy. We held out for a good long while. But in tandem with the blooming of the forsythia, she became so clearly pregnant that by April the words "the baby" punctuated her speech with all the frequency of the STOP fragment in a telegram. In truth, termination of the pregnancy was no longer an option, and I had sense enough not to voice any regret. Trisha had waited me out and now we were committed.

On the very first day of the ninth month she told me to take her to the hospital. "I can feel it coming," she said. I called a cab and we traveled without incident. We checked Trisha in and, oddly, the labor pains subsided, as if toying with me. I was now playing a triple role: doctor-in-training, expectant father, and single dad. What forces in the universe had conspired to put me in this position? I kissed Trisha on the forehead and left her snug and comfortable in her hospital bed. "Let me take care of Emily," I said. "Then I'll be back. If there's anything urgent, call me."

Before leaving I called Eve, who would have leapt through the phone line if it were possible. She promised to alert Morris and come to the hospital.

I picked up Chinese on the way home and set the cartons on the table. Emily, by this point, was ecstatic. She had begun writing a book she had titled The Welcome Boy. "You still think it will be a boy?" I asked her as the aroma of pepper steak filled the air.

Emily held her chopsticks aloft as if they were divining rods. "Eve said so."

I huffed. "How would Eve know? I'm a doctor and I don't know."

"You're just a resident," she countered. "You could still flunk out."

I looked at my daughter and struggled for the right words. "I'm at a very difficult juncture and can't even count on the support of my family."

Emily shrugged her thin, narrow shoulders. "I support you, Dave."

I slammed the table, making the cartons jump. Emily stared at me. "You will call me Dad or father or doctor or any variant thereof," I commanded.

Emily fled her chair and stood on the threshold to her room. "When Kevin arrives I'm taking him away from you," she threatened.

"Kevin?"

"Yes. My little brother." Then she slammed the door.

I had to return to the hospital. The one good thing was that Esther was home when I called and she was available to sit Emily. "At least I know you'll pay," she rasped in her strained voice. "God knows if it was Morris he'd give me an IOU."

It was a miserable evening. Windy with a drizzle of unusually cold rain for July. My shoes gathered the water up like wicks, until they were sopping and I could feel the leather shrinking about my feet, constricting the circulation. Was it too much to ask for one sweet, mild, pleasant day? I walked toward the hospital for lack of anywhere else to go. It was the neutron star whose gravity I could not escape. And what would be there waiting for me? A child about to be born, and another child about to die. Two of the lights on Grove Street were out, making the neighborhood even darker and sadder. "Mister."

I stopped. A young woman, no, a girl, had come out of nowhere. It immediately struck me that she had Emily's cheekbones and her knowing look. She was wearing black vinyl stovepipe boots, tights, a poodle skirt. A thick white sweater thrown over a red halter. Her face was heavily made up, the mascara running. She wiped it with a finger. "Wanna talk?"

My impulse was to move on. But I didn't. "About what?" I asked.

She shrugged. She couldn't have been more than sixteen. "About staying warm."

"I-I have to go." I excused myself, but as I put out a foot she caught my arm.

"Where do you have to go?"

"Look. I'm a doctor. I'm going to the hospital. I'm telling you the truth." Why did I feel compelled to vouch for my honesty with a stranger?

She wiped her runny nose on her wrist. Then she dabbed at her eyes. "I know a kid who just died in that hospital. I hate hospitals."

"I hate them too," I said. And then, "I'm sorry about your friend."

"He was only nine. Can you believe it? So you're a doctor. Let me ask you, why should Nelson die and us live? Why are some people allowed to get really old before they die?"

I swallowed hard for both of us. "Nelson?"

"Yeah," she said. "He had cancer. He had it bad. He was in that hospital for months." She pointed down the street. "He lived down on Magnolia. Did you know him? He was always out playing."

"He lived here?"

"Yeah. On the block."

I leveled my gaze at the girl. She seemed to age before my eyes, as if I had some power to look down the arc of her entire existence to some sorry, loveless end. I finally blurted out, "Life has not been kind to you. People have treated you poorly."

She looked at me as if suddenly afraid. "I'm old enough to make my own choices," she said, defiantly. "And I use what I have." It started to rain in earnest. Both of us would soon be drenched. She pulled her wet sweater about herself. "I ain't got no more time to stand out here, mister," she said. "Make up your mind."

I reached into my coat. "How much would it cost to keep you warm for a night?"

She grew animated and her eyes flashed. "Twenty-five will do it."

"I'll give you forty if you'll do something for me."

She pulled back. "Nothing weird."

I produced two twenties I could ill afford to part with. I took her cold, wet hand and curled the bills in her fingers. "Go home to your family and sleep there tonight. Will you do that for forty dollars? Will you do that for me?"

The rain had plastered her blond hair and the make-up was running from her face in spidery rivulets of black, green and red. "Ain't got family worth going to," she said as she clutched the money. "But I got a place to go."

"Will you be safe there?" I asked, intensely now, as if so much depended on it.

"Yeah, nobody will bother me there. For forty bucks I can eat and be left alone for a night."

"Goodbye."

I watched as she turned and hurried down the street, her heels clicking on the sidewalk, looking like a drowned rat, her heavy, rain-soaked sweater hanging down below her knees.

I continued on to the hospital, quickly now. My wife was warm and safe, well fed and dry, while Nelson would soon be seed in frozen ground. I suddenly felt that it was not only my duty to be there. I needed to be there. I began to run. Against the wind and the rain. By the time I arrived I looked like a patient in need of assistance, or a madman. The guard at the door grabbed my arm. "Where you goin', pal?"

I fumbled my ID and pushed it at him. "It's me, Hector," I said. "I have an emergency."

"Sorry, Doc." He released me and I bounded up the stairs to the fourth floor. When I came through the door, Trisha was sitting up in bed, cradling a small bundle. Morris and Eve were hovering over the soft blue blanket and the tiny thing that stirred beneath it. They apprehended it reverently, as if it were something sacred. Morris's eyes twinkled as he beheld it: the tiniest pink foot working its way free, the toes splaying and clutching. It was too much for him, and Morris allowed the tears to overflow his heavy lids and run into his beard while Eve embraced him. Finally, as I looked on, unable to speak, he took the foot in his wrinkled hands covered with black age spots, and he kissed it, and he kissed it, and he kissed it. Eve turned and beckoned to me, opening her arms. I shuffled forward and fell into her embrace, then felt Morris's arm around me as well. And together with my wife we regarded the small foot as Eve held me close, softly repeating, "Our boy, our boy."

About the Author

Robert Klose

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Robert Klose teaches at the University of Maine at Augusta. He is a regular contributor of essays to The Christian Science Monitor. His work has also appeared in Newsweek, The Boston Globe, Exquisite Corpse, Confrontation and elsewhere. His books include “Adopting Alyosha — A Single Man Finds a Son in Russia,” “Small Worlds — Adopted Sons, Pet Piranhas and Other Mortal Concerns," “The Three-Legged Woman & Other Excursions in Teaching" and the novels, "Long Live Grover Cleveland," which won a 2016 Ben Franklin Literary Award and a USA BookNews Award, and "Life on Mars."