I was never excited about the baby. We’re barely making ends meet as it is. She works part time at Chick-fil-A, and I work with my homeboy Roscoe putting shingles on roofs, repairing fences, sawing away tree limbs from power lines. He only calls me when he needs an extra hand, since I’m not on the official payroll and can’t afford to lose half my check to taxes and wage garnishments.
We don’t have the money for a baby. How are we going to buy clothes, diapers, formula, a crib that won’t randomly kill it in the middle of the night? Who’s going to pay for the fucking health insurance?
The day she broke the news, she slammed the bathroom door in my face because I told her to make an appointment at the clinic, pee-stained Clearblue test still in my hand. “How would you expect me to react?” I yelled through the door. “We’re fucking broke.” She stayed there all night, slept on the toilet seat, didn’t even bother to flush after she’d taken the test.
Now she’s telling me there’s two. And neither one is mine.
She’s standing in a corner of the kitchen between the refrigerator and stove, her arms folded across her chest. Her eyes shift between me and the Kool-Aid stain on the tile under her foot, left behind by the apartment’s previous tenant. She sighs audibly, and with each sigh, her shoulders sink lower. Before long she’ll be curled on the floor, her knees drawn her her chest, her face tucked behind her thighs.
“Stop looking so damn pathetic,” I say finally.
“I wish you’d just talk to me. Tell me what I’m supposed to do. How can we fix this?”
“I told you.”
“That’s out of the question.”
“Then I ain’t got nothing else to say.”
I hate it when she begs. It’s not that I think it’s unattractive—depending on the object, her begging and pouting can be a turn on—but the mercy she requires of me now she’s never willing to offer whenever I come up short. And this is far beyond my short comings. She fucked up, and as always, she expects me to turn the other cheek and clean up her mess.
“Who is this guy anyway? How’d you meet him?”
“Oh, you quitting that job.”
“And how are we supposed to pay the bills?”
“Bitch, I pay the bills!” I strike the edge of the island in the center of the kitchen and wince when the corner pierces the side of my hand. “Did you forget how rent was paid last month?” Without a dime and forced to throw away all my pride, I went back home, groveling to Ma for three hundred dollars. I suffered through two psalms, three proverbs, the fifth commandment to “honor thy father and mother,” and a repeat lesson on the Prodigal Son before she finally drove us to the ATM to get the money. On my Pa’s grave I will never ask that woman for anything again. Not for bills, not for a baby, not even if the IRS came banging on my door for tax evasion.
“You don’t have to call me outside my name,” she says.
“You lucky I ain’t call you something else.” I walk past her her to the refrigerator, open the freezer door, and grab the first thing I see in the half-empty, ice-coated compartment—fish sticks. I feel her eyes staring as I walk past her again to get the baking sheet from the cabinet above the stove. “You hungry?” I ask over my shoulder.
“Of course I am. I’m eating for three.”
The soft little chuckle she tacks on the end of her sentence sends me over the rails. “Dammit, Tanisha!” I dump half of the fish sticks on the pan and sling the other half, still in the bag, across the room, peeved that only three mange to spill out onto the floor. “You want me to forgive you, you want me to take care of another man’s babies, and you want me to let you keep working with him, so y’all can just fuck again and you get pregnant again!”
“Once I start showing, he’s probably gonna quit anyway to avoid me. He has a girlfriend.”
I throw the baking sheet—fish sticks piled in no particular arrangement— into the oven, the tray slamming against the back wall. I closet the door with a whack and turn the temperature dial with a flick of my wrist, not caring if it’s too high or low. “First you tell me we’re having a baby. Then you come back and say no, it’s just you having the babies. With this guy, who has a girlfriend. So what am I to you, a pillow you hump every once in a while? Then give me my fucking ring back.”
She brings her left hand to her chest and shields the stud diamond ring that I’m still paying for with her other hand. “Greg—“
She’s begging again, and I’ve had enough. I go straight for the door.
“Where are you going?” she says, but I don’t answer. I close the door behind me and pull out my phone. Lamar, another one of Roscoe’s unofficial employees texted me earlier today. When Roscoe doesn’t call him, he deals on the side, and right now he’s sitting on a pound of bud he just brought in from his supplier.
Written for the A to Z Challenge. This year, I’m getting a head start on planning my novel for NaNoWriMo. prologues, character sketches, outlines, and in the case of this post, backstories. Stick around as I try to figure out what the heck I’m going to write in November!