Laura found a baby on the street and her mom’s letting her keep it. It’s not fair because Laura gets everything she wants and I’ve wanted a baby for a lot longer than she has. That’s why I told her she should let me keep it, but she said no, finder’s keepers, or some such. I told her fine, she could keep the baby, but I got to name her. Laura said I could name my own baby, but I don’t have my own baby, which is the exact problem I’m discussing right now.
Laura’s mom said, here’s how it works. She said babies have mothers and fathers. That’s why her mother made the condition. The condition was that Laura could keep the baby, but only if she chose a boy to be the father. A father Laura’s mother approved. Laura doesn’t even like boys and that’s why I said to pick me, but her mom said, no. Her mom said I’m not a boy and fathers are boys. Laura told her, she said, but I don’t like boys, I want Sarah. Her mom said no; her mom said Laura wasn’t old enough to know whether she liked boys or if she liked girls and if, when she grew up and decided she liked girls, then that would be a conversation they could have then, but for now, Laura’s mom told her, she liked boys and she needed to pick one and that was the end of the discussion. Because she’s the mom, that’s why.
And that’s when Laura went and picked Pete Derry, which was the exact wrong choice. Pete Derry doesn’t even like babies or girls. He likes Little League and video games and he isn’t even good about sharing because he never gives me a turn at anything. Pete Derry doesn’t even like his own baby brother! Laura said that was different because that baby was a brother and this baby was a daughter, and those are not the same things. Pete didn’t want to be the baby’s dad, but his father said he had to. He said, it’s the right thing to do.
Laura told me all this a week after she found the baby. We had a play date, which had to be at her house now. She was a mother and Pete Derry was a father and they got to name their baby and I got nothing. Not even the middle name. Not even an initial. Pete Derry’s dad said he had to marry Laura now that they had a baby, but Pete didn’t want to. His mom said he didn’t have a choice; he had to be responsible. Pete’s mom gave him her mother’s antique ring and said he had to engage it to Laura, and even though she didn’t like it because it was too big and looked like Barbie’s beauty pageant crown, she had to wear it. She had to wear that old lady ring until they got married. Then I don’t know what.
Maybe she has to give it back.
Laura’s mother went overboard with the wedding – that’s what my own mother said. She said, no one throws theme weddings anymore. Theme weddings are tacky. That’s what my mom said, which insulted my stepfather because he said, we had a theme wedding, and my mom said, that’s different. Ed asked, how so, how’s it different? Which was when my mom looked at him like he was thick and dense. Because we’re us and they’re them, that’s how so, is what my mom told Ed. That seemed about right to Ed and so it seemed about right to me. My mom leaned over the kitchen counter and took the cigarette from Ed’s mouth and made it her own. On the couch she unbuttoned the top of her jeans. She can never breathe when she sits because her clothes are too small. She wears them this way on purpose. That’s the way Ed likes it, she told me once, laughing. I laughed too because I knew I was supposed to, but I still don’t know why it’s funny. My mom can’t breathe in the clothes she wears, but she won’t buy bigger ones. Otherwise, Ed will probably divorce.
I looked everywhere for my own baby. I looked in bathroom stalls and in empty classrooms. I climbed on the cinder blocks behind school to look in the dumpster. I opened the lockers in the girls’ locker room and looked in the sports closet. I even looked under the seats on the school bus. I looked on the street too, of course, but that’s where Laura found hers.
Pete had to miss Little League and he was mad about that, but it wasn’t a choice, his father said, he had to be at his own wedding. He has a baby now; his whole life is different. Everything is going to change. Pete said he didn’t want his whole life to change and his dad said, well, you should have thought about that before.
Kids weren’t invited to the wedding, which was exactly unfair. That’s how I thought it. We’re their friends, I told my mother. Doesn’t matter, she said. Kids are a nuisance at weddings, and everyone knows it. Let the adults have some fun for once. Can’t you kids ever just give us one night off? They had never asked for one night off. If they had gone and asked it, I would’ve given it, but they never did and now they went and complained about it.
Laura showed me her wedding dress, which was her mother’s and even though it was too long, her mother wouldn’t let her shorten it. I wasn’t at the wedding, but I have imagination enough to know it looked funny. My mother will let me shorten hers, I know it. They put the baby in a bassinette between them and the priest said all the things and they repeated them and gave each other more rings and said I do, but they wouldn’t kiss. That’s where they drew the line. I would have drawn the line at Pete Derry.
Laura’s mom bought them an apartment and Pete’s mom furnished it, but Laura’s mom said leather couches and candelabras weren’t appropriate for children and made her send it all back and she had to absorb the cost of something or whatever and some such. Pete’s mom told everyone that Laura’s mom had no class. My mom laughed when she told Ed. They agreed about the leather couch and said Pete’s mom didn’t know the first thing about children. Also, it’s true that Laura’s mom has no class. My mom told me that one night while I was brushing my teeth.
Pete wanted the baby to be a boy, but Laura said, it’s a girl and you can’t change that. Pete asked, can we call her Doug? Laura said, no. How about Clyde? Laura said, no - Candelabra. That was her name. Pete didn’t like that name but Laura said it sounded beautiful to her and she found the baby and he didn’t have any choice. Pete called her Doug when Laura wasn’t around. I even heard it myself. Pete said it would be funny to teach the baby all the wrong things. Pete said, what if we told her a baseball was a piano and a hat was a fish? Laura told Pete he didn’t know the first thing about raising babies.
Laura’s mom told her that good mothers took care of their babies and didn’t go back to school to finish third grade and Laura said, well what about fathers? Laura’s mother said, Pete has to get a job. Pete didn’t want to get a job but that was his tough luck because he was married now, with a child, and someone had to support the family. It was the right thing to do, Pete’s mother told him and then she typed up a resume. She said lying wasn’t proper but if it’s for a good cause it’s okay. This is what she said when she made up all those resume jobs.
At dinner, I told my mom it wasn’t fair. Laura got everything and I got nothing and my stepfather Ed said, what about food poisoning? You got that once. Which was supposed to be funny, although it was not. He laughed out loud anyway. Ed always laughs out loud at his own jokes. Trust me, you don’t want a baby. They’re nothing but trouble, my mother said. I told her, you had me. I was a baby! My point exactly, is what she had to say about that. I looked at Ed and he shrugged. He never knows what to do with my mom. Neither do I.
Pete had trouble getting a job. It’s a bad economy, Pete’s dad told him, but Pete didn’t know what that meant. Neither did Laura. Neither did I. People are getting laid off left and right, Pete’s dad told him, but Pete didn’t know what that meant. Should have thought of that before you had a baby, Pete’s dad told him. Maybe this will teach you a little something about responsibility. Pete’s father sat in his green armchair reading the paper and circling jobs. His mother made more coffee because it was going to be a long day. His dad told him, that’s what happens when you grow up too fast. Pete said he didn’t grow up and his dad said he was acting like a child, and Pete said, I am a child! Then Pete’s dad lowered his newspaper, shook his head and said, looks like someone’s having trouble growing up.
That’s when Pete stormed out of the house and went back to his own apartment where Laura was drawing a wall mural with crayons and the baby was sleeping or pretending to sleep. He looked at the baby in the crib and said to Laura, let’s sell the baby. You can’t sell a baby, Laura told him.
You can sell anything, he said.
Try it then, you’ll see.
Pete sat on the end of the bed. Laura went back to drawing on the wall.
So are we selling the baby, or not?
Not, Laura said. I like her.
I want a divorce.
You can’t have one.
Because I don’t want one. Besides, I don’t know how to do that.
Our parents will do it for us, Pete told her.
No. We’re not getting a divorce. I like being married.
I don’t, Pete said.
Well that’s too bad for you, Laura told him.
I went over to Laura’s after school when Pete wasn’t home and she gave me a snack because she was a mom. The snack was a grape soda which is my least favorite flavor of soda. I drank it anyway to be polite. Laura complained that having a baby made it hard to get anything done. This made me really mad and I wanted to put my two fingers in my mouth and suck on them, but I am trying to quit. She said that babies are a lot of work and by 3 o’ clock, she still hasn’t gotten to the breakfast dishes! She didn’t even appreciate the good things she had right in front of her face. If I had a baby I wouldn’t complain at all, not even once. She said she liked having a husband, though Pete wasn’t good at telling her she was pretty or saying he was sorry.
I asked my mom, where do people meet husbands anyway and she told me, bars. Bars or gas stations. Why, she asked laughing right at my face, you in the market? I didn’t know what that meant so I didn’t answer. My mom met Ed at Ralph’s Fillin’, a gas station, right past Grinder’s. I didn’t know how to get to any bars, but I knew how to get to Ralph’s. I didn’t tell Laura or Ed or anyone. I wanted it to be a surprise. I’d go to Ralph’s Fillin’ and get a husband. I was going to pick a better one than Pete Derry, and Laura would be jealous. Mine would tell me I was pretty. He’d say it all the time. Plus, he’d never forget something as important as putting the seat down. When I brought him home, my parents would tell me that since I was married, we needed to get a baby. Then they’d help us find one.
My mom has a lot of makeup and even a table where she sits and puts it on. I watch her sometimes before she gets ready for a date with Ed, so I know where to find everything. I even know all the spots on your face you’re supposed to color in, which is the exact thing I did. I love the bright colors and I put a lot of red on my lips and pink on my cheeks but I left out the eyes because that part is complicated. I sprayed her perfume on me, too, but the smell was too sweet so I washed it off. Even then, I could still smell it a little.
I wanted a husband like Ed, so I thought I would wear clothes that didn’t fit, just like my mom did. Pete Derry didn’t care what Laura wore which meant he was a bad husband. I dragged a bag of last year’s clothes from my closet into my parents’ room to get dressed. My mom and Ed had a lot of full-length mirrors in their bedroom. They even had a couple on their ceiling. I could see every part of myself in them. My shorts from last year were very tight and I couldn’t breathe so I unbuttoned the top button, but that didn’t help. I took the shorts off and tried on a skirt, which was better for breathing. The skirt was very short and you could see my underwear if I bent over even a tiny little bit. That meant it didn’t fit, so I kept it on. I put on my, “Treat Me Like a Princess” tee shirt which was too tight and when I pulled it down, it stopped right above my belly button so that my stomach showed. Everything was too small, except my shoes, which fit, but I didn’t think that would make a difference. Then I put my mom’s purse over my shoulder, the one with the gold chain, and put on a little more lipstick and felt ready to go.
Everyone was going to be so surprised, especially Laura. I couldn’t wait to see her face when she saw my husband. I couldn’t wait to hear her say, Pete doesn’t do any of those things for me. Or even, I wish I had a husband like yours. Then she’d know what it feels like to not have what she wanted.
My mom and Ed were in the living room playing video games on TV. It was 4 o’ clock and in two hours it would be dinner time. I wanted to tell them to make enough for four people, but then they would ask who number four was and I wanted it to be a secret, so I didn’t say anything. They didn’t see me leave the house, which gave me a real relief. I knew the gas station was to the left so I spread my hands out in front of me and when I saw the hand that made an L for left, that is the direction I turned. I must have looked really pretty because people in cars whistled and shouted at me on the highway as they passed. It was a long walk there. Usually we drove, so it was fast. I didn’t realize there would be such a big difference between driving and walking until I noticed how long it was taking. My legs were getting very tired and I wondered if Laura had ever come this far by herself. Probably not. She didn’t even have to go far to find that baby. It made me mad that she got everything she wanted. I couldn’t even get to Grinder’s without having to stop and rest, which is the exact thing I did.
I climbed up to the flat part of a big spray painted rock and sat, holding my mom’s purse on my lap, letting the gold chain dangle and bump against the side of my thigh. This kind of thing bothers my mom, but it didn’t bother me. A black car came fast and I lifted my chin to feel the wind splash against my ears and across my face as it passed. Ed told me that the world sounds closer when your eyes are closed. I closed my eyes and held them that way. The car sounded like it was running over my head and shivers sparkled up my skin. Behind me the sun was climbing down from the sky.
When I climbed down from the rock my stomach growled and a dizziness grew on the inside of my head. I knelt in the soil and piled rocks so that when I came back tomorrow I’d see how far I got. When I finished, I put the chain of my mom’s purse back over my shoulder and stood, holding my arms out in front of me and followed the L for left. I daydreamed while I walked which kept me company. I imagined my husband letting me name all our babies. We’d do grown-up things like make coffee and smoke cigarettes. He’d have a good job and for my birthday, he’d surprise me by re-decorating my bedroom. I reminded myself to start earlier than 4 o’clock tomorrow because I don’t like walking in the nighttime. Even though it was too dark to see very far, I worried killers could see me. I worried that the murderers who live behind trees in the woods saw through the night like daytime. I wished the sky’s lights would come on, just a little until I got home. On the other side of the road cars passed and cars passed, but on my side, one drove slow and I imagined he was making sure I didn’t get murdered. I saw a light in the distance which made a baby kick from inside my heart. Tiny ankle jabs that told me something was wrong. There was Grinder’s and beyond it, Ralph’s Fillin’. I felt numb like a dentist poured his tooth potion all over me. I kept walking because Ralph’s was getting closer. A car behind me was driving real slow. I figured he was running out of gas.
Then that car pulled up beside me. I stopped because the car stopped and the man driving leaned his body over the passenger seat, toward me. He asked me where I was going. I’m trying to get home, I told him, but you’re going the wrong way. He said not to worry about which was he was going. He said he’d take good care of me and he said to get my pretty self into his car because he wanted to make sure I got where I needed to go. He unlocked the passenger side door and opened it for me from the inside, which seemed like a real husbandly thing to do.