Waiting for Anthony
Lori cried softly as she folded clothes, sitting on the couch in their living room. The TV was turned low; the hysterics of game show contestants occasionally rose to an audible level. She watched a contestant jump up and down, screaming as his new car emerged from behind a gold curtain. Her short auburn hair was cut close to her pale round face, curling under her chin. She wore a sweatshirt to hide the weight she had gained during her pregnancy.
They had been married only a year, their wedding held in her Aunt and Uncle’s backyard the summer after they graduated high school. They had become close during the last few months of their senior year, but the quick marriage seemed right to both of them. Their parents gave their blessings, so they tied the knot.
Her husband Albert was in the bedroom, packing a large black duffel bag. He was calm, but spoke loud enough for Lori to hear from the other room. “I’ve tried, I’ve really tried, but I just can’t take it anymore. You have no idea what it’s like. It eats at me everyday. People stop talking when I come into the room. I’m in the navy; I don’t have any secrets. It sucks. Every day sucks.”
Lori walked to the bedroom, and stood in the doorway. She said, “I know. My God, I know. I don’t blame you for leaving. But, I do love you. Isn’t there some way? Anthony needs you, he needs a father. I’m so sorry. How many times can I say it? I can’t change the past. We can move, whatever you want. When you get out of the navy we can go anywhere. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” She watched him pack. “Aren’t you going to say anything?”
She went back to the living room. She stacked the clothes neatly on the arm of the couch and wiped some crumbs off the table, into her hand. She walked to the kitchen and put them in the sink.
Albert heard her sobs getting louder. He stood in the doorway, his massive body nearly filling the space. He was wearing a dark blue t-shirt, dark blue pants, and simple black leather shoes, his standard uniform when on duty. He said, “No, I don’t have much to say. It just doesn’t work. Yeah, he needs a father. I tried and tried and tried…I just can’t take it. I tried to do the right thing, whatever the hell that is. I have a headache every day. I can’t sleep. When I get off the ship I’m not coming back. You can go live with my parents; they’d like to see Anthony more.”
Albert walked back into the bedroom and started packing again. He shoved as many clothes and CDs into the bag as he could. There was barely room for his Xbox, but he squeezed it in.
Lori could hear him banging the dresser drawers and ripping clothes from their hangers. She turned the TV up and took a sip from her diet cola, placing it carefully on the coaster. She folded more towels, and fuzzy blankets with pictures of blue puppies and red fire trucks.
Ann took off one shoe, and folded her leg under her thigh, pulling her brown skirt over her knee. She slapped her hand on the arms of the chair.
Her sister Sue said, “Those are cute, where’d you get ‘em?”
Ann replied, “Nordstrom—of course. The half yearly sale is the best. Do you ever go to it?”
“No, we don’t have one in Eugene, and I just don’t get up to Portland much.”
“You should come up, we can go boutique shopping. Northwest 23rd is full of great shops and restaurants.”
“I can barely afford to shop at thrift stores. I don’t think I’ll be shopping at Nordstrom any time soon.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes. Ann said, “Why can’t they make these hospital waiting rooms nicer? Pink and blue chairs, yellow flower wallpaper, green carpet. Is that even wallpaper, it looks like plastic?” Ann ran her hand over the wall. “It’s got some texture to it. I guess it’s easy to clean. Ugh, I hate hospitals. Bad things happen in hospitals.”
Sue asked, “So where are mom and dad? Why aren’t they here?”
“You are so out of the loop.” Sue glared at her.
Ann continued. “Sorry, just kidding. They should be here in a few hours. Their plane lands at 1:30. They’re going to take a taxi to my house; they left their car there. God, Lori’s three weeks early with her first baby. It must be stress. Who would’ve thunk it?” Ann smacked her gum and blew a small bubble. She popped it with her finger.
Sue continued. “And where’s Aaron? He still lives right by Albert and Lori, right?”
“No. He moved about six months ago.”
“Really, why? I thought he had a great pad by Albert? It sounded perfect. Doesn’t he help Lori when Albert’s out at sea?”
“I don’t think it was working out too well. You know, maybe too close for the brothers.”
“What do you mean?”
Ann stared at the carpet. “Oh, I don’t know.” She reached into her small, black leather bag and grabbed some lipstick and a mirror. She applied it quickly and deftly. She put them away and pulled out a nail file. She started filing her pinky nail. “I don’t know, it just seemed like maybe they all got sick of each other or something.”
“It’s not like they were living together?”
“I don’t know. They don’t really tell me too much. They’re just dumb kids.”
“Now what do you mean?” Sue dug in her floppy, hemp handbag. She put balm on her lips with her fingers and quietly slid them against each other. She looked at Ann, who was staring at her nails as she filed them. Slowly and sarcastically, she said, “O-kay.”
The door swung open. Their younger brother Aaron came in and said, “Hey.”
“Hey back at yuh.” Aaron’s pale skin was flush, his eyes were red, and his wispy blond hair swirled in every direction. He wore baggy jeans and a light blue, over-sized hooded sweatshirt.
Sue joked, “I see you dressed up for the big event. Is that ketchup?”
Aaron flopped down next to Ann. Using his fingernail, he scraped some of the dried ketchup off his sleeve. He asked, “How much longer? Any word?”
Sue jumped to her feet. “I can’t stand it. Do you guys need anything? I’m going to get some coffee?”
Ann smiled at Sue, and said, “No, but don’t be gone too long, it could be any minute now.”
Sue grabbed her jean jacket and left.
Aaron said, “What’s up with her?”
Ann grabbed Aaron’s arm. “What’s going on?”
“Ouch. What do you mean? My brother’s wife is having a baby? Isn’t this what I’m supposed to do?”
Ann stared at him. Aaron stared back and stuck out his tongue. “What? What? Do I have a booger or something?” Aaron laughed nervously and picked at the dried ketchup a bit more.
“Albert’s really pissed at you, that’s all I know. He won’t tell me anything. What’s going on?”
Aaron laughed. “I don’t know; he’s an asshole. He’s just stressed out that his wife is having the baby so early. What can I say?”
“I don’t even know if you should be here if he’s that pissed. Why won’t you tell me what’s going on? You’d tell me if it was a big deal, right?”
“It’s nothing, Albert’s just mad. What can I do? He’s just pissed because he wasn’t around and I took Lori to Lamaze classes and helped her out. He feels guilty and he’s taking it out on me.”
Ann looked him in the eyes. “Is that it? Is that all there is?”
Aaron swallowed and looked straight ahead. “Yes. Take a deep breathe. Man.”
He looked at the door to the parking lot. “Here comes Aunt Carol and Uncle Bob.”
Ann said, “Hey, good to see you guys.” Ann and Aaron stood up, and they all embraced stiffly.
Carol and Bob were in their late 50s. They were both tall and skinny, their raspy voices and wrinkled faces revealed a lifetime of heavy smoking. Bob wore a white, nylon windbreaker he acquired at an RV show they attended that morning. Carol wore a yellow, striped t-shirt and dangling gold earrings.
Carol said, “You guys look so tired, you’re not the ones having the baby. Is anyone in there with them?”
Ann replied, “No, Albert doesn’t want anyone in there. He’s a control freak.”
They talked for half an hour. Carol told stories about her children and the Johnston kids playing together, fighting over toys, pulling hair, normal things. “You guys might as well have been brothers and sisters. That’s the great thing about kids,” she said, “no matter what happens they always forget about it a few hours later.”
Albert popped out of the doorway, his blond hair flat on his head, wet from sweat. He didn’t look at anyone in particular. “You guys can come in now. She’s done.”
They followed Albert down a short hallway, and into Lori’s room. Carol and Bob were behind the others. She whispered to her husband, “He doesn’t seem too happy about it. I hope they’re okay.”
Bob replied, “He’s just tired. They’ve been in there for 12 hours.”
They gathered round the new mother’s bed, her new baby boy in her arms. Lori was still flushed, and had dark circles under her eyes. Albert picked the boy up.
Carol began to cry. “My God, he’s beautiful.” She looked at the baby, then at the new parents. “Wow Albert, he already looks like you, he’s got that Johnston nose. Are you guys going to keep the family naming tradition? What will it be? Allen? Arnold? Anthony. Ooh, I like that. Anthony?”
Albert looked at Aaron, walked up to him, and stood just a few inches away. “Aaron, leave now. No one wants you here. Get out. ”
Aaron looked at around the room. Carol continued to look at the baby, but everyone else stated at Aaron.
Bob put his hand on Albert’s shoulder and asked, “Albert, what’s going on?”
Aaron cleared his throat and said, “Yeah, whoa buddy, what is going on? I think you should’ve had the epidural.” Ann shook her head slowly at him.
Aaron said, “I’m outta here,” He looked at Lori one last time, and left.
Carol took a quick, deep breath, then kissed Lori on the cheek. Carol’s voice was cracking as she said, “You look beautiful honey. You’ll never be the same — but in a good way I mean.” Lori started to cry. Carol held her hand. “Having a family isn’t as hard as it seems. It’ll be fine.”
Lori picked up the phone and dialed her mother. “Hi, its me.” She had trouble talking through her tears. “Yeah, Albert’s gone. He had to be on the ship by six. No, I didn’t take him.” She stuttered. “Mom, he’s not coming back. He’s getting off in San Diego, and he says he’ll just find a place to stay there. Can I come and stay with you? No one knows where Aaron is, and I can’t do this alone. Now both of Anthony’s fathers are gone.” She put the phone down, unable to continue. Finally, she said, “I’ll call you back in a few minutes.”
Lori picked up the remote, switched the TV to a talk show, and took another drink of her diet cola.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED