When she walked into her new apartment for the first time, she burst into tears as a plethora of emotions rushed over her. Alone with Timmy in a city with which she was completely unfamiliar and where the only person with whom she was acquainted was the kind stranger who had met them at the bus depot and escorted them to the housing project, she considered her sparsely furnished new home.
It was more like a plaintive howl than a scream. Visceral and primitive, the sound filled the small room and echoed down the hall, but she did not hear it as it emanated from somewhere deep in her soul. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that she asked her good friend, as they sat at the dining room table writing “thank you” notes, “Did I scream that night?”
“Well, like I said, I slapped her the first time when she was pregnant with Timmy. She must have been about six months or so along. It just . . . happened. Before I even knew what I was doing, I heard the sound of my hand slapping her cheek.” He sat for a moment, breathed heavily. “I’ll never forget that sound as long as I live. Which, according to the doctors here, won’t be much longer. And brings me to my first question.”
He stared out the window, considering the cloudless blue sky. From the bed in his third-story hospital room, he could see the tops of the trees in the parking lot below swaying softly with the light summer breeze. He wished that he could return to the marina, hose down the decks of his small vessel, and point its bow toward the San Francisco Bay. He would sail out to sea, allowing the wind to carry him and his boat in any direction it wished for as many days as he had left on earth.
He sighed deeply as he shifted his gaze back to the I.V. pole from which hung several plastic bags containing clear liquids. Three separate tubes carried the substances from the bags to his veins. He winced as he moved his left arm. Looking down, he noticed that a new bruise had developed where the nurse had unsuccessfully tried to reinsert the needle earlier in the day.
“Another one,” she said matter-of-factly.
“What? Who?” Karen shrieked through a loud yawn. “Oh, man, I really wanted to get through the summer without going to a another freakin’ funeral!”
“Huh? No, no . . . nobody died.”
“Then what are you talking about?” Karen mumbled, still half-asleep.
“You obviously haven’t read today’s newspaper yet,” she replied. “Go get it. Look at the ‘Birth Announcements’ on page eight. I’ll get another cup of coffee while you do.”
When Chloe saw Susan walking toward her, she felt some relief and took her first deep breath of the morning. Positioned at the entrance to the mall’s large, centrally-situated cafe, she watched Susan navigate the throng of window shoppers.
Chloe could not remember a time in her life when she had not known Susan. They met when Susan’s family moved into the house down the street from her family home in the summer of 1974. They were both three years old and immediately became fast friends. They attended the same local public schools until they selected different colleges and found themselves separated for the first time in their lives. They remained close, though, visiting each others’ campuses on weekends and spending breaks together back in their home town. When Susan married, Chloe served as the maid of honor and was thrilled when Susan asked her to be the godmother to both of her children. And when she divorced, Susan moved back to their home town to raise her daughters in close proximity to her large family.