Carol got aisle five that day. She hated aisle five. She was invisible in aisle five. Piles of discount items blocked everyone's view of her and you from them. Items simply slide down the conveyor belt and arrive for you to scan. Aisle five was also the first non-express checkout line. That meant for twelve hours old people were going to get on her line thinking it was an express line and she would have to explain, "No, that's the next one over." She might do this six times, it might as well have been six hundred.
This was particularly annoying for Carol because she regarded her job as having few saving graces, one of which being she didn’t have to talk much. Carol didn't like people and they didn't seem to like her much either. If it were up to her, she’d stock shelves all day. Darren wouldn’t let her stock shelves ever since he realized she was pregnant. He was terrified of a miscarriage happening on his watch. All he could imagine was a woman lifting a box of coffee or something - CLEAN UP AISLE EIGHT. So, for Carol, it was checkout, scanning bar codes all day like a goddamn robot.
She was seven months along. Seven months of pregnancy, six months of silence from the only person she actually wanted to share words with. Tim had been her boyfriend or whatever before the pregnancy. "Or whatever" was the label Carol tacked on to his title, because he never seemed to actually admit he was her boyfriend. He liked having sex with her. He liked that they could go places together.
He hated using condoms. He was clean, so what was the problem? He knew how to pull out.
Carol was on her break out behind the store. When she told him she was pregnant he rolled his eyes.
“No way.” He said shaking his head rapidly.
“Tim, I’m definitely pregnant, I’ve pee’d on like eight sticks.”
“Fuck, you have to get rid of it.”
“My mom would never let me get an abortion.”
“Fuck, she knows!?”
“Why would you tell her?”
“She knew something was wrong, she’s the one who made me take the test.”
“She knows it was me?”
“Yeah, obviously! How many guys do you think I...”
There was a long silence. Carol's break being over was Tim's out, “I…I gotta go.”
With that, he walked out from behind the back of the Shop 'N' Save and climbed in his parents’ ancient Nissan Altima. It started with a whinny before slowly carrying him out of the parking lot.
They hadn’t exchanged words since, he didn’t respond to a couple of texts. Radio silence.
The TV in Carol's parents house was always blaring. They only had the one TV - a monstrous 80" beast that hung on the living room wall. Carol's father was a rabid Panthers fan. When HD became the necessary standard in sports viewing. He decided it was time for an upgrade. In a fit of consumer ecstasy he wandered into the electronics store, pointed triumphantly at the device that would be the closest thing he had to a lover for next half decade and said, "That one!"
- Professional installation? YES!
- Five Year Guaranteed Warranty? Hell yeah!
- Layaway plan? - You bet!
As if to justify the exorbitant purchase, the television was always on. From 5:30 AM, when Doug got up to go to work, until 11:30PM when he went to bed the gigantic screen bathed the living room and part of the dining room and even a little bit of the front yard with a bluish light. It's viewer locked in repose in his chair. Motionless, rarely blinking, shallow breathing - these were the telltale signs he was in the zone.
Carol often found her father in this position when she got home from Shop 'N' Save. She usually found her mother at the kitchen table. The four foot diameter table sat in the corner of their kitchen. The beauty of electric ranges is that they lasted forever, same with linoleum. Whatever intrepid furniture company displayed this table back in the late 70's did so with four chairs in mind. They were round back chairs with an abundance of unnecessary wood to demonstrate craftsmanship. The table was up against the short wall of the kitchen so it only had chairs on three sides. The fourth chair, never having borne weight awaited its burden in the garage. That burden never came and the chair never moved forward in it's journey. The table wasn't especially heavy, but it's permanence against the wall gave it more weight. It served as the breakfast table, the dinner table for all but the most formal of occasions, and Betty's office. The nightly ritual, once the dishes had been cleared and dinner cleaned up, was for Betty to pull out her gigantic laptop, her notepad and a stack of mail rubber banded together. The mail hit the table with a thwack, the laptop roared to life, and the notepad had it's top sheet torn off. Betty might not have been born into the digital age, but she managed to find her way into using the commercial web for her purposes. The purported reason for the laptop and paper ritual was so Betty could take care of the bills and the associated paperwork. Betty could quote you every total and subtotal from the various vendors her household dealt with, the cable company, the water bill, the electric bill, the Visa Card, the Discover Card, Bank of America, ReadySteady Mortgage, and of course Triumphant Health. Betty made it a point to tell Carol at least once a week, that she was lucky "her little president" let her stay on their health coverage with the baby coming.
Betty always made it a point to sit at the end of the table with her back to the wall. This made it so the contents of her screen were known only to her. This helped her hide just how much of bill-paying time was actually spent surfing Facebook. Nightly, her mind would swim in the waters Zuckerberg filtered. The algorithm had found all of the ladies from her church group (their profile photos all featured their husbands), most of the girls she went to high school with (their profile photos usually featured their kids), and all of her family members (their profile photos often featured dogs). She basked in the glow of new babies and first communions. She scanned headlines.
- NYPD TO RAID HILLARY'S HOUSE
- PROOF - SANDY HOOK WAS A HOAX. OBAMA TO TAKE GUNS.
- MAN ABDUCTS GIRL IN SCHOOL BATHROOM
- BLM PROTESTORS HARASS WOMAN ON HER WAY TO CHURCH
She rarely commented but would click "like" enough to make sure the algorithm kept her pond stocked with these delectable little content snacks.
The fifteen minutes between 8:45PM and 9:00PM were the the worst for Carol. Physically it was the period between when she would walk in the front door, make her way to the kitchen, collect whatever leftovers had been saved for her, microwave them, pour a glass of ice tea and shame, and rapidly climb the short flight of stairs to her room. Spiritually it was fifteen minutes of silently expressed disappointment. Her father used to turn in his recliner and yell, "Hey Baby!" when she came in the front door. Once the pregnancy came, Carol would chirp, "Hey Dad," without turning back he would flatly answer, "Hey." Every monologue he'd given in the last seven months about being too old to look after babies and not wanting a bastard kid in his house emitted from the back of the chair like the pale light from the gigantic screen.
Before the pregnancy, Betty would ask the standard suite of questions: How was the store today? How was Tim? Are you going out tonight?
After the pregnancy, a different sort of silent tension took hold in the kitchen. It was silence so thick it was hard to move through the kitchen. Carol felt like she was moving through a crowded bus full of people who hated her every time she entered the pale yellow heart of the house. Each passenger on this bus was a collection of her mother's sharpened words.
"This is why you shouldn't have sex when you're not married."
"Don't you dare kill that baby."
"I'm surprised, you just gained so much weight last year."
"School doesn't matter anymore, you need to be a mother to that baby."
That night the tension was too thick. There was something rattling Betty. Carol didn't know what it was, but she knew that look on her mom's face. Betty was red, her eyes were locked on the screen. Her pen wasn't in her hand. She was furious. Carol knew the only way out was through. She needed to face whatever this was.
Carol moved into the kitchen. There was no plate made for her, just a crock pot sitting on the counter. She started to scoop the stew into a bowl.
"Are you going to do this?" Betty's voice was low and threatening. Carol turned and found the screen of her mother's laptop blaring: TRUMP SPEAKS TRUTH: BABIES RIPPED OUT IN NINTH MONTH.
Carol's vision blurred, tears flooded her eyes. A cascade of pain filled her body. Carol always advocated for the legality of abortion within the walls of her parents' house. Her vocalizing these beliefs seemed to coincide directly with her stopping going to church. Carol saw this as a liberal awakening, Betty saw it as betrayal.
Carol's belief was rooted in her experiences in high school watching girls have abortions and moving on with their lives and watching girls force themselves to go forward with their pregnancy only to have their lives ruined.
But believing in a legal option isn't the same as wanting to execute that decision yourself. While it was true her mom would have never forgiven her for getting an abortion, that's wasn't what was driving Carol. She just knew that it wasn't going to be her choice. She was 24 years old and still living with her parents. She was still at the grocery store. She was in every way stuck in the arrested development of a small suburban town. While an unwanted pregnancy is just another suburban cliche, Carol felt it was something else. She felt it was the beginning of her adulthood. Having a child depend on her was going to propel her forward. She was tired of coasting. She was ready for forward momentum, maybe this baby would be that catalyst. So, no, she wasn't aborting this pregnancy.
"Mom, you went to the sonogram with me. We watched the baby move. Do you really think?"
Conversations in Carol's house were always at minimum three way affairs. The two people talking were persistently interrupted by the TV in the living room. The TV blared Trump's voice, "Babies are being ripped out in the ninth month!" Then a talking head jumped in, "Is this an accurate statement?"
Carol started to cry. Her mother sat stock still. She didn't want to approach, not yet. "It's not even true!" Carol screamed. "You can't even DO THAT!" before she started to crumble. Her enlarged abdomen wouldn't let her curl so instead she sort of slid down the cabinets, until she was on the floor.
"I saw him today." "Tim?" "Yeah."
There was a long pause, the silence filled with the sounds of channel surfing.
Carol continued, "He just came walking up. Fucking strolled down aisle five, him and Steve. Beer and chips. Mom, he treated me like I was nothing. Like I was just a checkout girl and he was just buying beer. He barely looked at me. It's his baby, and he doesn't fucking care..." Carol trailed off as she started to cry.
The TV screamed as Doug made his way back around the horn to CNN. "Is Trump anti-women? More when we get back." Then a commercial for Cialis.
Carol's mother stood up. She moved across the kitchen and ladled some of the contents of the slow cooker into a bowl.
"Come sit, you have to eat something. You have to stay strong for your little boy."
The signs pointed Carol to the exit for I95. The driving was changing from open US interstate to commuter highway as she made her way through the DC / Baltimore area. Brian let out the squeal of a three week old in his rear facing car seat, strapped into the back of the car. He would never know his father, but he would know the back seat of that car. He spent his first six years riding around Philadelphia's suburbs in that car.
That car was his mother's moving van, her business vehicle, and for one very long four day weekend their apartment. Brian never knew his dad, because the only thing Tim had ever given his son was a means of escape.
That night in the kitchen after the crying, Carol enacted her escape plan. She'd saved fifteen-thousand dollars over the last three years, for what she didn't know at the time. She had enough money to escape, what she didn't have was a means to do so.
If Tim wasn't going to acknowledge her, he was going to help her get away. She illuminated her phone.
You're going to give me your car.
WTF no I'm not
If you don't give me the car then when this baby is born, I'm going to sue you for paternity and you can spend the next eighteen years giving me half of everything you make.
That's so fucked up.
The next day, the Altima was parked in the lot of Shop 'N' Save. Tim handed her the keys over the register of aisle twelve. "Where are you going?" he asked. "Does it matter?"
Those were the last three words Carol spoke to Tim. She spent the next few weeks packing the essentials, gathering up baby presents and renting an apartment. She settled on Philadelphia, close enough, far enough. Big enough to find a community, but not gentrified enough to keep her out.
Her parents met baby Brian. Betty was full of "God Bless" and "so precious." Doug held his grandson and smiled. He didn't like how this boy came into the world, but blood is blood. Betty learned of Carol's plans to move out in the hospital, she disapproved silently. She insisted that Carol come home for a baptism. Carol agreed.
Carol pulled over at one of I95's many rest stops and climbed in the back seat to feed Brian. She looked down at his pale white skin and newborn-blue eyes and she smiled.