Robert Joe Stout’s books include The Blood of the Serpent: Mexican Lives, “a rich chorus of voices, which produce not a song but an energetic discussion and argument about the soul of Mexico,” according to Publishers’ Weekly; Why Immigrants Come to America, the novels Miss Sally and Running Out the Hurt, and the poetry volume A Perfect Pitch. A graduate of Mexico City College (now the Universidad de las Americas) he has won national journalism awards for spot news writing and his fiction and poetry have been anthologized in a variety of publications, including New Southern Poets and Southwest.
A Big and Wonderful Now
That Alison went alone to the women’s health center and told Yoshio afterwards shoved something unwanted into their relationship. Not that the relationship was clearly defined: Neither he nor she had given it a name or described themselves as belonging to it. Something sparked between them when they were introduced by a mutual friend and they made excuses to see each other afterwards. Yoshio went to hear her sing with a little jazz group entertaining in a hangout near the university campus; she made a point to be near the finish line when he completed the lake-to-lake half-marathon a week later. Conversations led to a dinner date and the dinner date to a night—and many nights afterwards—in her little north Austin rental. They became an “item,” happily involved in each other’s presence. Then despite their precautions, Alison missed her period. The visit to the women’s health center confirmed that she was pregnant.
And not for the first time. Alison’s daughter Lisa was eleven; Yoshio’s seven-year-old son lived in San Antonio with his ex-wife. He and Alison talked about their kids but not about a kid-to-be. That is until Alison, in her flat Midwestern way, confirmed, “Well the news is yes, I’m pregnant.”
Yoshio responded, slowly, by embracing her and received a cold and rather rigid response.
“So, what do we do?”
We. A term they used frequently in conjunction with meals, weekend trips, dancing. This was different. “So what do we do?” Alison repeated and Yoshio, instinctively, “What do you want to do?”
“Me? So it’s up to me?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You sure as shit did.”
Invariably that’s how their arguments began. And invariably Yoshio, the serious one, professional, security coordinator for the city of Austin’s government employees, reframed whatever they were arguing about to give Alison space to win small victories or gracefully give in. But having a baby—or getting an abortion—wasn’t about small victories and graciously giving in. Either way it was a life-changing event, one that could have disastrous consequences for their undefined relationship.
Yoshio didn’t like disastrous consequences—he’d seen too many of them—so he cajoled, “I asked because ultimately you have the right to choose. It’s your body—”
“That’s a cop out.”
“No. I want to be part of the decision. But I want to make sure that what we decide is best for you.”
“What if there’s no ‘best’?”
“In any situation there are better choices and choices not so good. We didn’t expect this but we have to deal with it. Decide—”
“Don’t lecture me! I’m not seventeen!”
“So what do we do?”
The retort flashing across Alison’s broad features made her recognize that he was repeating her phrase. Jerk! The word, mouthed but not audible, culminated in a snort of laughter. Head averted she groped for his embrace.
“We could go make love. I sure as hell can’t get more pregnant than I already am.”
Yoshio knew he had to be careful. Alison was the best thing that had happened to him since the initial months of his first marriage and he didn’t want to make a mistake. He knew it always was possible to make a mistake but he hated mistakes made out of stupidity, lack of investigation, lack of honesty.
Alison, instinctive, flippant, spontaneous and sometimes irrational, had retreated into exaggerated bluster to cover her evasions but hormonal changes already taking effect made her edgy, cross, inappropriately exuberant. Carefully Yoshio listed points he needed to make and noted them in his pocket agenda. Sunday’s was:
“It’s time to tell Lisa.”
“Tell her what?”
“That you’re pregnant.”
“That we don’t know what to do about it?”
“That we’re trying to decide and want her input.”
“It might help.”
“Shit!” But with a you’re probably right sigh. “I’ll—we’ll,” she amended, “do it.”
Without looking up from her cell phone, “So you decided to tell me,” Lisa winced in her pre-teen that’s-all-we’re-having-for-dinner worldliness.
“It was that obvious?”
“Either that or the two of you were planning to assassinate Obama.”
Yoshio laughed. Alison cursed. Then grimaced, “So how many others know?”
None of them had that answer.
Next on Yoshio’s agenda was consulting a marriage and family therapist.
“So she can tell us what to do?”
“It’s a way of processing. A third party asking questions, sifting answers that we’re stumbling over.”
“I’m stumbling over,” Alison corrected but admitted she was a tumble of doubts, wishes and fear and agreed to a consultation.
The therapist, a pudgy fiftyish pipe smoker with an affable countenance but grumpy voice: “You’ve talked about it with each other? And these conversations? Can you describe them?”
They could and couldn’t. And they could and couldn’t articulate how either decision would affect them. Yoshio, carefully, explained that his main concern was for Alison, what either decision would mean to her.
“How can I know? There’s too many if’s! Twenty more years as a single mother?”
“We’d be togeth—”
“What if you leave me? What if he’s ugly? What if—?”
She stopped abruptly. “Well,” she turned to face Yoshio. “Japanese-Norwegian?”
“She could be devastatingly beautiful,” he replied.
Not that the decision was airtight. Alison fretted; Yoshio gritted his teeth. The future that for years had been short-term stretched towards eternity. “It’s not what either of us imagined,” he confided and Alison hiccupped, “What did we imagine?” When he didn’t answer, “Making love again tomorrow”—that and only that. A big and wonderful now! Now the present was a mere particle, incidental. Everything was future, exaggerated as the end of the first trimester passed and the decision became irrevocable. “Don’t expect me to babysit!” Lisa warned. Then, “It’ll be nice to have something besides stupid adults around the house.”
The house. They would need something larger than Alison’s little rental. A three-bedroom apartment. Yoshio calculated its impact. Despite a good salary and job security he’d be paying child support for ten more years. Travel, restaurant meals, spontaneous gifts would diminish. Alison fretted and pulled away. Arguments flared. Finally after cabernet sauvignon on lawn chairs in the little backyard, “You’re about to leave me, aren’t you?” Alison pouted.
“No, I want to be with you. For a long time.” Although it was two weeks before the date he’d marked on his agenda, “There’s something we need to talk about. Consider.”
Her what? was a mere whisper.
“What?” voice running up scales to a high b-flat.
“I want you to marry me.”
Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Inward gasps directed to herself not him. “Yos-Yoshi…” she spluttered, “I, I, but—” Her toe caught the leg of the lawn chair as she lunged to her feet and she stumbled, the wine from her glass gushing across Yoshio’s face. “No!” she wailed, lips twisted downwards and tears filling her eyes. “I, I, I…” Yoshio, laughing, daubed his cheeks, wiped his glasses and beckoned for her embrace. She stumbled into his grasp, spluttered coughing interrupting her attempt to laugh. Head against his neck she wiped her tears on the short sleeve of her dark cotton blouse and panted, “Okay, okay, Iloveyou, yes, but jesus it’s, I mean, so frigging much, a baby, marriage, I never—I mean, it’s, it’s—”
“Scary,” he finished for her.
“Shit yes. Yoshi, I don’t, see, we—we’re not talking tomorrow, next week, this is long-term stuff, I can’t even pict—”
“Maybe the therapist?”
“Shit! He’s not involved! This is me, you, the rest of our lives!”
Yoshio nodded. He’d already calculated the odds: Marriage gave a sort of stability—fragile perhaps, disruptive perhaps, but identity, a base. Remaining single with two kids to support: Intolerable. And detrimental to a career: Divorce and child support is one thing, divorce and support for two from different mothers indicated emotional instability. Emotionally unstable Yoshio was not.
“Besides there’s Lisa!”
“I could be a good fath—.”
“Yeah but she—!”
“We should ask her.”
Ohshit! He heard under her breath. And I haven’t said yes for Christ’s sake! But she assented—because, he knew, she’d put consideration for Lisa on the table and couldn’t back down.
Thumb running images across her cell phone screen Lisa listened to her mother’s abrupt and he’s talking I mean, wants us to get married… and shrugged.
“Should be better’n you going it alone.”
“Could you stand me as a father?” Yoshio interrupted what he could see was going to be Alison’s retaliatory thrust.
Thumb still moving, “Could be worse,” Lisa shrugged. Then, peering directly at Yoshi, “I just hope I do so well when it comes to having a man.” A quick glance at Alison, then back to the cell phone, “And if I do, unlike my mom, I’m going to realize how frigging lucky I am.”
She slammed the cell phone cover closed.
“Now any idea which of you is fixing supper? I’m hungry.”
“We’re ordering pizza,” Yoshio confirmed. “And maybe champagne for three.”