“Yes. I’m eating all the time.”
“That’s fine. Just be sure you keep up your proteins and vitamin C. I’ll give you a handout when you leave today, and we can discuss it further.” She took off her stethoscope and consulted the file again, tapping the clipboard with her finger. “Blood pressure is fine, we’ve gotten the urine sample already. Is there anything you’d like to talk about? Or ask me?”
Scarlett shot me a look, but I didn’t say anything. I just turned the page, reading up on national politics, and pretended I wasn’t listening.
“Well,” Scarlett said quietly. “I have one. How bad does it hurt?”
“Does what hurt?”
“Delivery. When it comes. Is it really bad?”
Dr. Roberts smiled. “It depends on the situation, Scarlett, but I’d be lying if I said it was painless. It also depends on the course of childbirth you want to take. Some women prefer to go without drugs or medication; that’s called ‘natural childbirth.’ There are birthing classes you can take, which I will be happy to refer you to, that teach ways of breathing that can help with the delivery process.”
“But you’re saying it hurts.”
“I’m saying it depends,” Dr. Roberts said gently, “but honestly, yes, it hurts. But look at how many people have gone through it and lived to tell. We’re all here because of it. So it can’t be that bad. Right?”
“Right,” Scarlett said glumly, putting her hand on her stomach.
“You’re gonna need major drugs,” I said as we left, climbing into the car en route to our Saturday twelve-to-six shifts at Milton’s. I was driving, and she settled into the passenger seat, sighing. I said, “They should just totally knock you out. Like with a baseball bat.”
“I know,” she said, “but that’s bad for the baby.”
“No, the drugs. I think I should take a birthing class or something. Learn how to breathe.”
“Yeah, or something like that.” She shuffled through the handouts the doctor had given us, packets and brochures, all with happy pregnant women on their covers. “Maybe Marion could go with me.”
“I’m sure she would,” I said. “Then she’d get to be there when it came. That would be cool.”
“I don’t know. She’s still talking about adoption like it’s for sure going to happen. She’s already contacted an agency and everything.”
“She’ll come around.”
“I think she’s saying the same thing about me.” We pulled into Milton’s parking lot, already packed with Saturday shoppers. “Sooner or later, one of us will have to back down.”
Later that afternoon, after what seemed like thousands of screaming children and gallons of milk, hundreds of bananas and Diet Coke two-liters, I looked down my line and saw my mother. She was reading Good Housekeeping, a bottle of wine tucked under one arm, and when she saw me she waved, smiling. My mother still got some small thrill at seeing me at work.
“Hi there,” she said cheerfully when she got to the front of the line, plunking the bottle down in front of me.
“Hi,” I said, scanning it and hitting the total button.
“What time do you get off tonight?”
“Six.” Behind me I could hear Scarlett arguing with some man over the price of grapes. “It’s seven eighty-nine.”
“Let’s go out for dinner,” she said, handing me a ten. “My treat.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m real tired.”
“I want to talk to you,” she said. My line was still long, people shifting impatiently. Like me, they had no time for my mother’s maneuvering. “I’ll pick you up.”
“But, Mom,” I said as she grabbed her wine and change from my hands and started toward the door. “I don’t—”
“I’ll see you at six,” she called out cheerfully, and left me stuck there face to face with a fat man buying two boxes of Super Snax and a bottle of Old English. Lately to get to me she’d had to hit hard and fast, rushing me, then tackling to the ground. For the rest of the afternoon, all I could think about was what she had planned, what trick was up her sleeve.
She picked me up at six, waiting in the loading zone with the engine running. When I got in the car, she looked over at me and smiled, genuinely happy, and I felt a pang of guilt for all the dreading I’d been doing all afternoon.
We went to a little Italian place by our house, with checkered tablecloths and a pizza buffet. After a half a slice of pepperoni and some small talk about Milton’s and school, she leaned across the table and said, “I want to talk to you about Macon.”
The way she said it you’d think she knew him, that they were friends. “Macon.”
“Yes.” She took a sip of her drink. “To be honest, Halley, I’m not happy with this relationship.”
Well, I thought, you’re not in it. But I didn’t say anything. I could tell already this wasn’t going to be a discussion, a dialog, or anything involving my opinion. I was an expert at my mother. I knew her faces, her tones of voice, could translate the hidden, complex meanings of each of her sighs.
“Now,” she began, and I could tell she’d worked on this, planned every word, probably even outlined it on a legal pad for her book, “since you’ve been hanging around with Macon you’ve gotten caught skipping school, broken your curfew, and your attitude is always confrontational and difficult. Honestly, I don’t even recognize you anymore.”
I didn’t say anything and just picked at my pizza. I was losing my appetite, fast. She kept on; she was on a roll.
“Your appearance has changed.” Her voice was so loud, and I sunk lower in my seat; this wasn’t the place for this, which was exactly why she’d picked it. “You smell like cigarettes when you come home, you’re listless and distracted. You never talk about school with us anymore. You’re distant.”
Distant. If she couldn’t keep me under her thumb, I was far away.
“These are all warning signs,” she went on. “I tell parents to watch out for them every day.”
“I’m not doing anything,” I said. “I was only twenty minutes late, Mom.”
“That’s not the issue here, and you know it.” She got quiet as the waiter came by with more bread, then lowered her voice and continued. “He’s not good for you.”