“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.”

“Oh, all right,” Karen responded, stretching and yawning again. “Be right back.” She placed the telephone receiver on the kitchen table and stumbled toward the front door to retrieve the morning edition of the local newspaper from the step.

In the meantime, her best friend of more than forty years cradled her cordless telephone on her shoulder as she moved toward the counter of her spacious, sunny kitchen and poured herself a second cup of coffee. Every morning, she arose early — sometimes before dawn — and read the local newspaper as she enjoyed freshly brewed coffee and her only dietary indulgence, a single cake donut. Sleep never came easy or lasted more than a couple of hours, so she consoled herself by enjoying the stillness of those fleeting morning hours, frequently lingering in her kitchen. She was determined to complete the crossword puzzle published in the local newspaper each day as she talked on the telephone with friends living throughout the United States and in several European countries, many of whom she accumulated during her successful corporate career. Two years ago, she retired — on the eve of her fiftieth birthday — and returned to her home town where she purchased and renovated the largest home in the small city and settled into a daily routine interrupted only by the several trips she took throughout the year. She enjoyed telling friends about her upcoming “vacations from my retirement!”

She heard Karen open the back door, call “Good morning, ladies!” to her two elderly neighbors who went for a walk every morning promptly at six o’clock, and then shuffle back toward the receiver. As she listened to the familiar sound of her friend’s slippers scraping the tiled kitchen floor, she smiled and mumbled to herself, “I’ve got to buy that woman a decent pair of slippers for Christmas this year.” Karen’s well-worn, but beloved, fuzzy Garfield the cat slippers had long been a source of good-natured derision.

“O.K., let me see here . . .” Karen mumbled as she flipped to page eight of the Village Enterprise. “Hmmm . . . oh, my god. I don’t believe it.”

“That’s number five,” she deadpanned.

“Wait a minute,” Karen said quietly. “The name . . . ”

“Yeah,” she said. “How ’bout that?”

“That’s the same last name she had last time, but what the . . .” Karen’s voice trailed off as she reread the announcement. “It’s a different father.”

“Sure is,” she replied, her voice still devoid of emotion. “Check out the list of the other children. Four others and a combined total of three different last names between the five of them.”

“Holy schmoly,” Karen whispered. “Father’s Day must be fun. How old is this girl, anyway?”

“Well, I don’t know exactly, but according to my calculations, she can’t be more than twenty-three,” she responded. “Let’s say she’s twenty-five. Five kids by the time you’re twenty-five years old — with three different fathers — makes for an extremely difficult life unless your last name is Trump or Hilton . . . or one of the fathers is Brad Pitt.”

“I’m stunned. It seems like the last birth announcement was just a few months ago,” Karen said quietly.

“I know. I don’t think it was even a year ago,” she sighed. “And there’s his name. He’s listed again as one of the ‘proud grandparents.'”

“The joys of small-town life . . . your personal business published for the whole village to gossip about,” Karen observed.

“How does the newspaper get this information?” she asked, sipping her coffee.

“Well, as I remember it, there was a hospital volunteer who came to my room and went over all of the relevant information with me. I remember that she asked my parents’ names, and the names of Samuel’s parents. I thought it was for the birth certificate, but the Enterprise published one of these announcements when Alex was born. So I think the hospital forwards the details to the newspaper,” Karen explained.

“But there are a couple photos of other babies included in this article,” she pointed out. “Those pictures had to have been submitted by the family.”

“True,” Karen acknowledged.

After a few moments of silence on the telephone line, Karen said, “Well?”

“Well what?”

“Well, how do you feel about this?” she probed.

“Lucky,” she declared, a distinct hint of sadness in her voice. “I just can’t imagine trying to take care of all those kids. When I was that age, I couldn’t even walk and chew gum yet.”

“Baloney,” Karen chided. “When you were that age, you were in graduate school, working two — or was it three? — part-time jobs and juggling at least as many men, as I remember it. Including one professor.”

“Do you realize that by the time he and I were that age, it was already over? I was wearing bell bottoms the night we broke up. I had been disco dancing with Dave the night before. It’s beyond ancient history, girlfriend. According to this blurb, he’s still married to the Mrs. and they are the ‘proud grandparents’ of the five little rugrats. I’ll bet the little Mrs. is helping raise them and he’s providing financial support. Their house,” she added cynically, “is undoubtedly child-proofed.”

“Remember the question I asked you a few weeks ago?” Karen asked gently.

“Yeah, I remember,” she said evasively. “Well, I’d better let you get ready for work. And I have a ton of errands to run today. I’m leaving on Sunday, remember?”

“I have it on my calendar. Shall we have brunch before we head to the airport?” Karen queried.

“Sounds great. Bring Sam and Alex. My treat,” she responded, her tone brightening.

“They’re going fishing with a couple of Sam’s buddies from work, so it will have to be just us girls,” Karen explained.

“Excellent! You pick the place. My plane leaves at 3:00 p.m., so we’ll have plenty of time to linger over our mimosas,” she responded.

“All right,” Karen replied. “It is getting late, so I’d better run.” She paused for a moment. “Do me a favor?”

“Anything,” she answered. “You know that.”

“Answer the question,” Karen urged.

She swallowed the last lukewarm drop of coffee from her cup and took a deep breath. “You’re not going to be happy until I do, are you?”

“Nope. I really want to know what you believe, deep down inside in that dark, vulnerable little corner of your heart that you have convinced everyone else has no address,” Karen prodded.

“Fine. But you have to do me a favor,” she bartered.

“Name it.”

“You have to promise me that we will not speak of this again. I will answer the question — once — but then that’s the end of it. Talking about it incessantly is pointless. The past is . . . well, the past. We can’t change history. No matter how much we might wish we could.” She instantly regretted saying that, but it slipped out before she could stop herself.

“I promise. I will never ask again,” Karen swore solemnly.

“All right then.” She sat up straight and drew a long, focused breath through her nostrils as she pursed her lips and chose her words carefully. “The answer is ‘yes.’ I believe in my — what did you call it?”

“The dark, vulnerable little corner of your heart that everyone else thinks has no address,” Karen reminded her playfully.

“Yeah. Whatever,” she rolled her eyes. “I believe that he would have had a better life if he had chosen me. There. I said it. Out loud. I believe that all the way to the dark, vulnerable little corner of my soul, not just my heart. If he had loved me even half as much as I loved him, it would have been enough for me. I would have married him, given birth to all the little crumb-crunchers he wanted, and I’d be chasing all those grandkids around with him right now.”

“But, Karen,” she continued pointedly, “he didn’t love me, did he? So this is an entirely academic exercise. I haven’t seen him in nearly thirty years, so I have no way of knowing whether he’s happy or not. He might be flippin’ ecstatic every minute of every day, for all I know. I can’t judge the quality of someone else’s life, even though I am completely convinced that, under my value system, we would have had a fabulous life together. And I, naturally, enjoy imagining that he’s completely miserable.”

Karen snorted, but did not interrupt.

“But . . . ” she let her voice trail off and paused for a moment as she considered her words carefully. His house is undoubtedly child-proofed and he’s probably lost more than a few nights’ sleep about his daughter’s circumstances. I, in contrast, am enjoying my hard-earned retirement, my investment accounts are doing quite nicely in spite of the current economic climate, there is no spit-up or drool on my new living room furniture — which, by the way, you still haven’t come over to see — and I have to get to the travel agency and pick up my tickets and itinerary this morning. I don’t think about him . . . except when I pick up the newspaper and see another one of these silly announcements. O.K.? Satisfied?”

“O.K., girlfriend,” Karen replied softly. She glanced up at the clock. “Oh, geez, I really do have to get Alex ready for school now. I’ll see you Sunday.”

“You’ve got it,” she said cheerily.

She hung up the phone, walked back to the counter and poured herself a third cup of coffee. Then she paused in the doorway, perusing the elegant dining room adjacent to the kitchen and, beyond it, professionally redecorated living room where she frequently entertained guests. She turned, walked out the back door and sat down on the pristine patio. The sun was shining brightly now as she waved to the young man who had just come through the gate to perform his twice-weekly maintenance ritual. “It’s going to be a hot one today, so I got an early start. Figured you might want to spend some time in the pool this afternoon,” he called to her.

“You bet I do,” she agreed, pulling her feet up onto the chaise lounge. She leaned back, stretched out comfortably, and closed her eyes.

As always, it was his face she saw in her mind’s eye as she drifted into an early morning poolside nap. In the dark, hidden-away, vulnerable corner of her heart where her feelings for and memories of him remained hidden away, he was still the handsome, twenty-something young man who walked out of her life that night so many years earlier, rather than a fifty-something grandfather of five. And he always would be.

Inspired by A Thousand Words: Prompt Number Eight

Presenting the finest of the writer’s blogs by the bloggers who write them: Top 5 Picks as chosen by the August 15, 2008 WOOF Contest contestants.

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  1. This was a lot of fun! What a neat protagonist you’ve created here. And I’m more than a little curious to see things from HIS point of view. Is he really happy? What does he think of all these kids with different fathers?

    There’s a ton of material in here. Kudos on a job well done.

    Susan Helene Gottfrieds last blog post..100 Words: Corn

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