The years have been kind when I see George again. I’m wandering the carnival alone, licking the last bit of cotton candy stickiness from my fingers. It’s Father’s Day weekend, and Daniel and I have made the trek back to my hometown, my Dad slowing down, another year never certain. I’d left the two of them sitting on lawn chairs in the back yard, talking, Daniel the son he never had, neither of them interested in the Field Days that came to town each June. I drift along, searching the crowd for familiar faces, promising myself I’ll be better about visiting, Mom lost to cancer three years ago, the house a constant, painful reminder. I imagine Daniel as I left him, laughing with my father, one leg tossed over the other, his black & white checked Vans, a threadbare t-shirt that says, No Human Being is Illegal. A good man, a happy union ours. In the beginning we’d taken things for granted, buying a 3-bedroom house for when the kids came along. But the years passed, and over time the two spare bedrooms took on different shapes and meaning. One a study filled with papers and books, the other now a storage space. The early desperation that gripped us slowly evaporated into something light and filmy — just the slightest residue — until finally we made peace with things. We don’t need a baby to make us happy, Daniel said one night a few years back after another test had failed to produce the second pink line. After too many tests, too many pills and shots and people poking around. I saw the truth of it in his eyes and even felt a pang of relief. Suddenly everything stopped hurting. Just like that. As if someone had turned off the flame.
Coming off the makeshift stage, George grins when he sees me, like he’s been expecting me all these years. He’s wearing the same black jeans, his t-shirt revealing just a hint of a belly. A touch of gray at the temples, damp from performing. I clap my hand over my heart and return the smile, surprised to find him here, suddenly wishing I’d taken more time to get ready. Freshened my lipstick at least. He’s wearing an Italian horn necklace, a symbol of luck. We hug — similar to the time twenty years ago in the Lost Horizon parking lot. That night, I’d let myself be held, the muddied strains from the opening band leaking into the air. A jarring blast of music whenever someone opened the door to the club. His band, the headliner, scheduled to go on later. His red Les Paul cocked in its stand on the stage inside. I could feel the desperate thud of his heart against mine. I don’t want this baby, he’d whispered. Seismic words exploding into my ear.
They didn’t have those tests back then, sticks you could pull out of the wrapper and pee on to reveal something so monumental. Instead nausea and heartburn had driven me to Dr. Hunter, breasts as tender as a fresh bruise. You’re pregnant, the nurse announced as I sat in a paper gown on a cold table, barely twenty-one, those two words setting off fireworks in my mind. The table the same cold metal I’d end up on a week later. But in a different office that time. Dr. Hunter, she said, didn’t do that kind of thing.
The air is alive with the smell of caramel and sugared dough, and the music of voices — hey check one two, someone calls into the mic — and the flashing lights of the carnival rides. We walk as if we know where we’re headed, over to a food stand. The heat of sausage and peppers on the grill. George orders a sandwich and we hoist ourselves up on a picnic table, swinging our legs, watching people stroll by, pretending not to look at each other. He lifts the wax paper and offers me a bite. I shake my head and cough, trying to clear the memory that suddenly lodges itself there.
After the procedure, he had driven me back to my apartment in silence, my belly cramping over and over. An empty body settling itself, adjusting back to things. He stopped along the way to buy me a sandwich. A giant deli sandwich, like a mountain between us, wrapped in wax paper. He left it on the coffee table, left me curled on the couch as the wax paper slowly unfurled, inch by inch, until the living room grew too dark to see it. I listened to him whistle all the way to his car, the muffler drowning in the distance as he drove away, the wake of his car dragging me down.
I knew it had been a girl. I’ve seen her face in so many strollers over the years, so many dark-eyed little girls running around.
George and I talk, words tumbling and spilling, all the things two people who’ve unexpectedly collided might say. Behind us, the band plays oldies and the crowd thins. There are so many stars the sky looks like a party. He’d heard I’d married, he says. Is happy for me. But he never did. I smile, imagining Daniel, suddenly missing him.
And then, as if he’s just remembered, George reaches for his phone and grins. Shows me a photo of a little girl. With glasses. She looks like him. Second grade already, he says, shaking his head.
She’s beautiful, I say, swallowing hard. Over and over I say it. She’s beautiful. Until I can’t say it anymore.
Linda Mary Guyette writes and lives in a small cottage on a small lake outside of NYC. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Brooklyn College, and her stories have appeared in Calyx, The Little Magazine, and Potpourri. She’s currently revising her first novel, “The Radio Man.”