Angels | Fiction
The newborn looked like a mutant raisin. That was all Kathy could think of as she stared her niece in the face. The pale thing lay on her sister-in-law’s chest and looked back with pupils like 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 transmogrifying chemical out of a comic book.
After a few seconds of eye contact, the baby began to slowly move its mouth, working herself up to a cry that made Kathy stand up straight when the sound eventually came out. As she set her pocketbook down on a chair next to her mother, Kathy asked, “So what are you going to name her?” Hospital policy only allowed two guests during visiting hours, but Jacob managed to sneak in his parents, his sister Kathy, and some in-laws that Kathy didn’t know by name.
Jacob said, “We decided that if it was a boy I would name it, but if it was a girl Tanya would.”
Jacob then looked at Tanya lying on the hospital bed. With the attention of the room on her, she held her newborn daughter and said, “Angela.” Tanya’s slight eyes were dull, her 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 looked 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?” Kathy asked.
This time Tanya looked at Jacob who smirked and said, “Jacob Rajeshwer Junior.”
Everyone in the room, except for Tanya’s parents, laughed at his lack of imagination. “Hey, it’s got roots plus Jacob’s a good Christian name.”
Kathy said, “I forgot that’s a thing with you now.”
"No need to mock my beliefs ’cause you’re jealous of my cool name.”
"No one’s mocking, Jacob.” Kathy kissed him on the cheek and said hello to the unknown in-laws who were orbiting Tanya and Angela. They all exchanged quick, friendly smiles that only took a second or so away 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 the car.
“I’ll be right back,” she told Jacob. “I forgot something in my car.”
Almost no one took notice as Kathy got up and walked into the hallway, but Jacob 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, I’ll stand outside with you.”
“That’s what I said. I need a cigarette break.” He laughed. “I’m the one looking at dirty diapers and sleepless nights. Be grateful you don’t have any stresses to smoke away.”
“I guess,” she said as he caught up to her. They walked to the elevator and she let out a sigh that Jacob didn’t notice. Kathy hadn’t talked to Jacob in months. She hadn’t seen him in almost a year. Her excuse, whether legitimate or not, was that she had just been promoted. Her career wasn’t necessarily more important than her brother, but she enjoyed it and there was only so much she could do with an ocean between them. Really, they lived in other worlds. What could she do about that? Nothing was the answer.
The news about her niece’s birth was wonderful, but also burdensome. As the new head of marketing, she had broken through the glass ceiling, which in India could be more appropriately described as the Kevlar barrier. Those years working harder and longer than anyone else was her ammo to get an executive office and a title that let people know she mattered. All of it might be in jeopardy if she decided to rush out because of personal issues. She had deadlines coming up and print ads to give the final okay on. Leaving might have meant that she wasn’t capable of handling the responsibility. All of this weighed heavy on Kathy’s mind along with even bigger concerns that made her sigh again as she and Jacob exited the elevator into the hospital lobby.
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After getting her gift of baby pajamas from the backseat of a rented car, Kathy stood beside the revolving front door of the hospital next to Jacob who had already begun smoking.
Jacob said, “Missed you at Dad’s birthday.”
“Same here. There’s only so much I could do about a sick pilot though.”
“Not blaming you. Just saying you were missed.”
“Hey, thinking of sticking around for a few? There’s a great tandoori spot five minutes away. We can get dinner for everyone. Or a Columbian spot. Or a Greek spot.”
Kathy rubbed Jacob’s slightly rounded stomach and said with a laugh, “Or Pakistani or Chinese. I’m sure you've been to every one of' them a few times, huh?”
Jacob laughed along with her and said, “I've been eating for two! One of the perks of the new neighborhood. If you stay for a few days I could show you some of the little multicultural miracles of Jackson Heights.”
Kathy looked away with a sad smile that said that she wanted to avoid conflict. Jacob exhaled long and loud.
“I’m just glad you could make it for this. It may not look like it ’cause I’m so damn suave, but I’m really overwhelmed here. Her parents like me, but they’re pretty old school and still not over the fact that, besides the fact that I love dim sum, I’m not even close to being Chinese. They can make things uncomfortable sometimes. Now we have a baby and they’re already talking about how they’re going to do this, and how we’ve got to do that…” Jacob shook his head and Kathy gave a supportive pat on the back in an attempt to reconnect in some meaningful way. He continued, “Then that gets me thinking about the fact that I really am 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've got, like, these psychic powers now and 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. Kat, I’m really swimming right now. There’s no solid ground under my feet.”
Jacob turned his head to look at Kathy, who was staring ahead contemplatively. The stormy wind was blowing back her curly brown hair. “You listening over there?”
“Yeah. Just a little distracted.”
“About what? I just had a baby.” Jacob took a pull from his cigarette. “Was hoping for an open ear.”
“I’m sorry, Raj. Go ahead.”
“It’s Jacob, and don’t worry about it.”
Kathy looked at the ground as she pursed her lips. Jacob took his last pull from the dying cigarette.
“You know, I haven’t seen you in months. You live, like, a twelve-hour flight away, and now that you’ve stopped by for a few hours to see your new niece you can’t even talk?” Jacob flicked the butt into a nearby patch of wet grass. “If you’re going to be here, then be here. If not then you can head back to India. Tell Mumbai I said take a shower.”
He was walking to the revolving door when Kathy said, “I’m pregnant.” Jacob stopped moving for a moment, and then returned to where he had been standing.
He pulled out another cigarette and asked, “You have a boyfriend or a husband I don’t know about?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Okay. First question. Are you sure? When you were in college I remember you telling me what the doctor…”
“I remember,” she interrupted Jacob. “Hormones, synchronization, etcetera. I wasn’t supposed to be able to have a baby, but here it is. I’m pregnant, and I don’t know what the hell to do.”
“What do you mean you don’t know what to do?”
“I mean just what I said. I don’t know if I’m going to keep it or not.”
From her peripheral view, Kathy could see his face wrinkle up. Jacob wasn’t sure what to make of the news and she expected no less. Despite the exoticness of Jacob and Tanya’s ethnic differences, they lived a TV life. They met as juniors at Columbia College, they fell in love, he converted to her religion, they got a house in the second dullest of the five boroughs, and now they had a kid. In her eyes, Jacob was still a kid—the toddler, ten years her junior, who dug around in her make-up drawer and powdered his balls with her foundation. He was a little spoiled and easily shaken by things outside the norm.
He looked at her with a mild mix of indignation and surprise. “I don’t really think you have a choice if you’re pregnant. You’re having a baby, right?”
“Jacob, I didn’t tell you so you could try and convert me. I don’t want to hear what your man in the sky has to say about me being pregnant!”
“Look! I’m just saying!” Jacob stopped. He took another pull from his cigarette and said, “You’re right. You know what? Let’s take a quick ride to that Pakistani or Chinese place.”
“I’m not hungry, Jacob.”
“Obviously I’m suggesting the ride as an excuse for us to talk. I want to know what the hell’s happening with my sister.”
“Okay. Only if you’re buying, though.”
“Goodness. How much do you make a year again?”
They walked into the light drizzle towards Jacob’s car. After hitting the local streets Jacob asked, “So, do you know who the father is?”
“Of course I do.”
“Well, I’m just asking, Kat. These things happen I guess, and honestly I don’t know you that well anymore. I have no idea what my corporate sister is doing with her life, except dressing in really nice suits. I’m trying to find out what’s going on.”
Kathy said, “I guess you’re right. There hasn’t been much back and forth between us for a while.”
“No, there hasn’t been. But we can start. Tell me what happened.”
Kathy looked out of the passenger side window as tiny droplets of rain collected on the glass. They grew bigger and bigger as they amassed more water until, eventually, they were blown away by the wind of the car’s forward movement. She watched the cycle a few times, finding herself calmed by it. The muscles in her face relaxed and she said, “About two months ago I was in a marketing conference. There was a pretty good presentation on how to approach social media.” Her voice began to speed up as she talked. “The thing is that people say you need quality content but they don’t understand what ‘quality’ means for different networks. What’s good for Twitter won’t necessarily work on Facebook. You have to be acutely aware of the what each…”
Jacob slowed the car down so he could safely stare at Kathy. He contorted his face—complete with raised eyebrows and curled lips—to express a dismissiveness that Kathy responded to with a smile.
“Got it. So, I had questions that I wanted to ask one of speakers on that panel. I caught up to him afterwards, and we talked for about twenty minutes. He asked if I wanted to have drinks that night with him and some of his colleagues. We met. He was smart and gentlemanly and funny, and we went back to my hotel room.”
Jacob parked the car. “Let’s get off here.”
“This place isn’t Pakistani or Columbian.”
“No, but it’s Thirty-seventh Avenue. There are plenty of food stands not scared of a little rain to get us full before we hit two blocks.”
“Okay. You’re still paying though.”