As I was preparing for class, Lois Blaylock, a fellow member of the English department, burst into my office looking like she had just caught the dean in a compromising position with a chicken.
She had been my mentor through my five turbulent years as one of the only male faculty members at a small women’s college in the Midwest. We shared a friendship and respect, although we preferred to express it with sarcasm rather than sentimentality.
“Do I have news for you.” She closed the door and waited a theatrical three seconds to speak. “What bright, young member of our department has gotten herself pregnant, do you think?”
“Gotten herself pregnant? Call the Nobel Prize people. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner in biology.”
“Cut the comedy, Gould. This is my moment.”
“Well, then. Congratulations on your blessed event.”
“Not me, you idiot! The closest I get to that sort of thing is the Seaman Art Center. Doris, Dr. Doris Lindoff, is with child. What do you make of them apples?”
“More like perfect melons, if you ask me.” She let that one pass, although I’m certain she filed away my remark under P for Pig. “I think it’s wonderful. Doris loves children. Who’s the father?”
“I’m not privy to that information.”
I looked at my watch and realized I had only a few minutes before my class began. “Why don’t you go read Gertrude Stein or something? I have a class on Hemingway coming up.”
“It figures.” She shook her head. With that, Lois turned and sashayed out of the office as only a six-foot, two-hundred pound, proud-to-be-a-lesbian can sashay.
My mind wasn’t on Hemingway, but fortunately the usual handful of students who read the assignment were agitated. While they argued whether Papa’s female characters demonstrated his latent homosexuality, I thought of Lois’s bombshell. Doris and I had had a rather torrid affair when she joined the department. The last time I was with her, I calculated, was over a year ago, so I was clearly not the father.
Doris was still married when she was hired, and my divorce wasn’t final. Her move to Wisconsin from North Carolina, allegedly for the job, was really a separation from her husband who never joined her. He, whom Doris described as the archetype for lawyer jokes, arranged the divorce via email and texts.
My divorce was a little more complicated as my ex left me for a neighbor, and she and her lover remained in town. When Doris entered the department, I was a mess.
I know it sounds crazy, but adding an affair to the chaos of our lives helped us both to focus. Doris offered me a shoulder, along with the rest of her gorgeous body. I, in turn, offered her my shoulder, albeit slumping, and whatever else was left of me. We released our frustration through sex and tearful confession. When our tryst had reached its natural conclusion, we both felt strong enough to move on.
Now I felt genuine concern for my friend.
As soon as class ended, I knocked on Doris’s office door. She looked up from a desk full of papers.
“Thought I’d say hello.” I tried acting casual, but I could feel my pulse racing. “How’ve you been?”
“Fine. I just wish these student papers wouldn’t keep multiplying whenever I turn off the light.”
“Speaking of which…”
“I heard… um… the news. If you want to talk…”
“That’s sweet. About what?”
I had the distinct impression she was enjoying herself.
“Well, I just heard that… uh… you’re pregnant.” I barely uttered the last word aloud.
“Is it true? I mean… is there anything I can do?”
“No. I think once the little soldier finds his way, there’s no need for reinforcements.”
“That’s not what I…”
“Are you offering to make an honest woman of me?”
I did a double take to make sure she was kidding. She ’d never looked more beautiful. “If it weren’t such a cliché, I’d say you’re glowing.”
“Thank you. And except for my first bout with morning sickness a few hours earlier, I’ve never felt better.”
I tried tiptoeing into the next line of inquiry. “I didn’t know you were seeing someone.”
“I’m not.” She performed an exceptionally good Cheshire cat impersonation.
“Then who the hell’s the father?” Sometimes you have to give up on subtlety.
“Haven’t the foggiest. It was a no-name experience.”
The Doris I knew wasn’t a prude, but I had trouble seeing this side of her. I had to sit down. After what seemed like an eternity, I asked, “How do you feel about raising a child?”
“Oh, I’m not keeping it. Maybe another time.”
I respected her right to choose, but she seemed frighteningly calm. I reached out and squeezed her hands. I tried saying something supportive, but all I could do was stammer.
Her eyes darted to the small window on her office door. I turned and saw Lois and her wife, Carol, peering through it.
They barged in, almost falling over one another, like two characters from a 1930’s slapstick comedy. Carol was as petite as Lois was large, making them look like Laurel and Hardy in drag.
“Please put him out of his misery,” Carol said. “If I don’t get a chance to laugh out loud, I may implode.”
Lois explained. “Doris has agreed to carry our baby. This has been in the works now for months. In vitro fertilization and all that.”
I just stared, my mouth wide open.
Lois’s voice turned serious. “Carol’s egg was fertilized by an anonymous donor. It seems neither of us has workable female equipment.”
For once, I resisted an obvious wisecrack.
“I’m going to be the baby’s godmother,” Doris said, still grinning.
“And we’d like you to be the godfather,” Carol added.
Lois read my mind. “One Brando impersonation, Gould, and you’re out.”
Wayne Scheer has been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net. He’s published numerous stories, poems and essays in print and online, including Revealing Moments, a collection of flash stories. His short story “Zen and the Art of House Painting” has been made into a short film.