OPTIONS • by Andrée Gendron

Jane, my best friend ever since junior high, cornered me after work to ask what was going on. She hadn’t seen nor heard from me in weeks. She and others must have left me a million text messages. I never replied. Jane called. I let it go to voicemail. What was there to say? Nothing. It was clear how she felt about certain subjects like the one I was dealing with.

We sat in my car. I admitted how recklessly I’d been behaving lately. For the first five weeks, I was clueless. Once I began to feel odd, I thought I better get checked. When the doctor broke the news to me, I had a meltdown. We scheduled a follow-up visit, but I never went. All the way home, I cried my eyes out. It felt like I’d been hit and left in a ditch. I barely caught the other guy’s name before he took off. The accident was half my fault anyhow. Still, I wasn’t alone in the ditch. There was a passenger with me. A baby. Mine.

Jane forgot how mad she was. “Oh, Nan.” She listened while I unloaded everything I’d been keeping inside. It was hard for me to recount all the crazy thoughts I’d been having. Weird, terrifying stuff. Future scenarios of what may be. I could see it was just as hard for her to hear.

That was a long, lousy week. I tried to picture myself holding a baby, my baby. It was hard to tell if he or she was cute or not. It would or could not stop crying. Friends mentioned colicky babies required every ounce of a mother’s love and patience. Both things I didn’t have. They assured me it was a common condition and wouldn’t last forever. I swore I just wanted to smother the baby with a pillow to get some sleep. That was scary. I tried hard to block out the mental image, and the sound of its ceaseless wailing in my head. At work, I became a joke to my female coworkers. They all knew, of course. I took their abuse in numb silence.

Then something in the news upset me. I dreamt I was older, hugging my son moments before the police took him away. Already a grown man, he resembled his father. I tried telling reporters, and everyone, how he was once a sweet child, a good boy, but no one believed me. Later he boasted about his horrific crimes, then my shame was made public. Somehow something had switched on or off in his sick head. It left me wondering what I could have done wrong. My broken heart was a joke to him like all the senseless acts of violence he’d committed right under my nose. Such a waste of lives, I thought — theirs, his and mine as well. I woke from that nightmare and had a good long cry. The next day I enjoyed a much-needed visit with friends of the family.

Jane kept listening though every word I was saying was unsettling. It got worse.

While spending a weekend on the couch, I pictured myself holding my daughter. She slept as I tried not to look at her flat face or slanted eyes. I resented her broad smile, how it seemed to mock my frown. I was afraid I wouldn’t grow to love that face. The one that told everyone, “I have Down Syndrome, but I’m happy.” It was another possible condition, one that would never go away. I refused to take her for walks in the park, afraid I’d leave her outside a fire station. I had heard they let people abandon their kids there. I shook off that ugly thought. These scenarios sickened me more than anything else. Could I seriously be so cruel? I sobbed knowing the honest answer to that question was “yes,” then went grocery shopping.

Jane was crying and fidgeting with the chain around her neck. The cross that hung from it came from the Colbys who adopted her and her little brother, Paul.

Then I told her I saw myself rocking my son to sleep. He laid still as I studied his perfect features. I loved listening to his steady breathing and wondered why he trusted me so completely. If only he knew how irresponsible I could be, how selfish I was. I never wanted a baby so soon. Maybe that was why he kept one small hand wrapped around my index finger just in case I decided to neglect or abandon him. I swore there and then that would never happen. He was safe. With all my might, I clung to that strong maternal feeling, that one happy image of us together, and replayed it in my mind as often as I could day and night.

Jane said nothing but nodded in approval. She had to leave or be late for work. We hugged, and I promised not to blow her off again. Naturally, I was fully expecting her to lecture me. She just listened to what I had to say. That’s what best friends did.

When my procedure date arrived, I went there alone. The nurse called me in, verified my full name, date of birth, then asked, “Are you sure you want to do this?” I fidgeted nervously with my new necklace. The colorful plastic baby beads spelled the words HOPE, LOVE, and PEACE. After a moment, I told her there had been a mistake. I had time to think over my options and wanted to keep the baby. She didn’t look surprised or ask me to explain myself. Instead, she let me out the rear door of the clinic. “We appreciate you not upsetting the other patients in the waiting room. Good luck.”

When I got to my car, Jane was waiting for me with a worried look on her face. I smiled. She smiled back then suggested we go shopping.

Andrée Gendron lives in Massachusetts. Her writings have appeared online at The Horror Zine, Aphelion Webzine, 50-Word Stories, Microfiction Mondays, and Down in the Dirt. Check out more of her work at www.andreedianegendron.com.

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