Angels – A Short Story About Choices
The newborn looked like a mutant raisin. That was all Kathy could think about as she stared her niece in the face. The pale thing lay on her sister-in-law’s chest and looked back with black dots that couldn’t see more than a foot away. She was wrinkled, with facial features that Kathy couldn’t describe other than to say that they were there. Her nose was there; her ears were there; her mouth was there. They were all there, but they were as shapeless as a dream. The only thing Kathy could say for certain was that the wrinkles in the baby’s skin made her look like a raisin that had been exposed to some transfiguring chemical out of a comic book.
After a few seconds of eye contact the baby began to slowly move its mouth, working itself up to a cry that made Kathy sit up straight when it eventually came out.
Kathy asked, “What’s her name?” as she set her pocket book down on a chair next to her mother. Hospital policy only allowed for two guests during visiting hours, but Keith managed to sneak in his parents, his sister Kathy, and some in-laws that Kathy didn’t know by name. He said, “We decided that if it was a girl Tanya would name it.”
Keith then looked at Tanya lying on the hospital bed. She said, “Angela.” Tanya’s slight eyes were dull, her porcelain skin glittered with beads of sweat, and her black hair was tossed across the pillow with no care at all. She seemed happy nonetheless. She gazed warmly at the infant girl in her hands – lifting the child off her chest to look at her face. “She’s our little angel.”
“And what would you two have named it if it were a boy?”
This time Tanya looked at Keith who smirked and said, “Keith Rajeshwer Junior.”
Tanya’s mother held in a sigh, but everyone else in the room laughed at his lack of imagination. “Hey, I’m trying to give the kid some roots.”
While still laughing their father said in his thick accent, “Or confuse them with names that do not match. I know something about that.” Keith warmly patted his father on the back as Kathy said “Hi” to Tanya’s parents and younger sister who were orbiting Angela. They all exchanged quick, friendly smiles that only took away a second or so from their joyful and quiet observation of the baby. Kathy took off her jacket and got ready to take up space for at least the next hour. As soon as she sat down though, she remembered the present she had left in her rental car.
“I’ll be right back,” she told Keith, “I forgot something in my car.”
Almost no one took notice as Kathy got up and walked into the hallway, but Keith followed behind her – late by a few seconds and behind her by only a dozen feet.
“I’ll go with you. I need a cigarette break or something. Maybe we can catch up.”
“I don’t smoke, but yeah we can stand outside.”
“I said ‘I need a cigarette break.’ I’m the one looking at dirty diapers and sleepless nights. What stresses do you need to smoke away?”
As he caught up to her she said, “None. I guess.” As they walked to the elevator she let out a sigh that Keith didn’t notice.
After getting her gift of baby pajamas from the backseat Kathy stood beside the revolving front door of the hospital, next to Keith who had already begun smoking.
Keith said, “Missed you at dad’s birthday.”
“Same here. There’s only so much I could do about a sick pilot.”
“Not blaming you. I’m just saying you were missed.”
Keith’s exhale was long and loud.
“Glad you could make it for this though. It may not look like it but I’m just overwhelmed right now. Her parents like me, but they’re still not over the ‘not a Japanese guy’ thing and they can make certain situations real uncomfortable. Now we got a baby and they’re talking about they’re gonna do this, and they’re gonna do that for my kid…” Keith shook his head side to side. “Then that gets me thinking about the fact that I’m really a father now. I keep thinking about what’s going to happen in the next few years. What about when she’s in high school? I can see ahead to puberty, boys, paying for college – which should be like a billion dollars a semester by the time she’s able to go… K, I’m really swimming right now.”
Keith turned his head to look at Kathy who was staring ahead, the stormy wind blowing back her curly brown hair.
“You listening over there?”
“Yeah. Just a little distracted.”
“About what? I just had a baby.” Keith took a pull from his cigarette. “Was looking for an open ear here.”
“I’m sorry Raj. Go ahead.”
“It’s Keith, and just forget it.”
Kathy looked at the ground as Keith took his last pull form the dying cigarette.
“You know, I haven’t seen you in months. You live on the other side of the damn world and now that you’ve stopped by for a few hours to see your new born niece you can’t even talk.” Keith flicked the butt into a nearby patch of wet grass. “If you’re gonna be here, then be here. If not then you can head back to India. Tell Mumbai I said take a shower.”
He walked past Kathy and towards the revolving door when he heard her say, “I’m pregnant.” He stopped moving for a moment then walked back to where he had been standing.
Keith pulled out another cigarette and asked, “You have a boyfriend or a husband I don’t know about?”
“No I don’t.”
“I see. First question. Are you sure? I remember you telling me way back in high school what the doctor…”
“I remember Keith. Hormones, synchronization, etcetera. This is not supposed to be possible, but it is. I’m pregnant and I don’t know what the hell to do.”
“Um, do you know who the father is?”
Kathy turned her head to Keith with squinted eyes that accompanied a sharp and angry look. “Of course.”
“Well, I’m just asking Kathy. These things happen, and honestly… I don’t know you that well anymore. I have no idea what my executive sister is doing with her life, except dressing well. I’m just trying to find out what’s going on.”
Kathy’s face relaxed as she said, “I guess you are right. There hasn’t been much back and forth between us for a while.”
“No there hasn’t been. But we can start right? Tell me what’s going on. What are you thinking about?”
Kathy sighed and reached out from under the hospital’s protective roof and let rain from the afternoon’s on-and-off thunderstorm cover her hand. Droplets dripped from between her fingers as she just looked on with pursed lips and somber eyes.
“I can’t have a baby. I’m not settled. I have a job that needs too much of my time. I don’t really know the father that well. It’s just… it’s just not a good idea.”
“The pale thing lay on her sister-in-law’s chest and looked back at Kathy with black dots that couldn’t see more than a foot away.”
“I can understand that… Just know that if you do decide that it’s a good idea, you’ll have help.” Kathy looked away from the raindrops and back at Keith. “There are a lot of things that you can do when you have support. I’m sure you could afford to hire a nanny or something. Me and Tanya, or Mom and Pop can take’em for the summer. You know how many people in the family would stand the twenty hours of travel time just to see’em.”
“Then what would be the point of me? I wouldn’t be its mother, just the landlord.” Keith chuckled lightly. “I don’t know what to do really. I know what makes sense, but…” She let the sentence die and finally pulled her hand from the rain, shaking off the water.
Keith replied, “Yeah. I know.”
“I’m not telling anyone else about this. Okay?”
“Look, let’s just go back inside. They’re gonna think you’ve smoked a whole pack by now.”
“That’s probably what Tanya’s thinking. If you weren’t here she’d be right.” He looked Kathy in the eyes. “This parenting thing is gonna be really stressful, but it’s a stress that me and Tanya chose cause it we thought it was small compared to the happiness of having a child. Things in general tend to turn out well when you do what’s right for you.”
“Your message has been noted captain subtlety. Let’s go inside.”
They walked through the revolving door and back inside the cold, chemically tinged, hospital air. As they entered the room again Tanya asked, “Your little brother giving you a hard time?”
“Yeah. Something like that.”
“Expect some phone calls from him with more of the same. He kept talking about you coming here.”
Keith flashed an exaggerated grin for Kathy while she laughed. Everyone else in the room paid them no attention and kept looking at Angela. Kathy soon joined in and was staring, once again, at her newborn niece.
Tanya’s father stuck out his finger for Angela to grab. She weakly held it for a few seconds while everyone “ohhhh”ed and “ahhhh”ed. Kathy “ohhhh”ed a little and while looking closer she was able to see some defining features. Her smile slowly disappeared as she concentrated on making a mental catalogue of anything distinct about the baby’s face: Angela had little ears that stuck out more than normal. Her nose was wide but it hardly poked out of her face. Not flat necessarily, but small. Although she wasn’t sure what her life was going to look like in a few months, she knew for sure that her new niece was adorable. As beautiful as a little angel.
*Image Courtesy Katherine Rodrock