This is another early story, written around ’04 or ’05. I was still heavily under the influence of Raymond Carver, and of course I had to give an amateurish try at capturing what he had in his best stories.
I Want to Have a Great Human Being
By R. Cypress
I had only been there for about twenty minutes and was just starting to get comfortable when the question came.
“Vivian, when are you Ed going to have a baby?” It was Sherri asking the same damn question again. Every time we sat down together she brought out that question, and I never knew what to do with it. Even with Ed sitting next to me answering the question still wasn’t easy. I just gave her the same line I used every time. “We’re still feeling unsure about having a baby, Sherri.”
Sherri had invited the two of us over for Thanksgiving dinner. Mary was also there. I knew both of them from work; we all worked at the same law firm. I had known both women for several years. Mary and I never grew close, but Sherri and I had instantly hit it off. At that time, I felt like our relationship had changed. She was more distant than she was before. Every since she found out John, her ex-husband, was cheating on her she had changed. It seemed like she used up all the emotional strength she had in her, just to push herself to actually divorce him. For a person who liked to let a lot of things slide by and is too forgiving, I know it was hard for her to go through with the divorce.
We were all sitting around Sherri’s living room drinking coffee. Ed, Mary and I were all seated on the couch with Sherri in the armchair to our right.
“In a couple of months you’ll be thirty-five Vivian,” Sherri said “Your baby having days are rapidly declining.”
She always went on this way. It was her same old harass-Vivian-about-having-a-baby routine. Ed was present this time, so she did not ask me the usual personal questions about him. She was constantly questioning me about Ed’s ‘little soldiers” and if we were doing it right, as if two people in their mid-thirties don’t know how to have sex. I always told her I wasn’t sure if I wanted to have baby and that was the truth. There are just too many things that could go wrong, I told her. She thought I was talking about the pregnancy, but I meant the whole package you get with creating another human being. Every since we had gotten married, which I am proud to say was ten years ago, Ed and I had put careful consideration into having a baby. He always said he was ready to have one, but he didn’t want to put any pressure on me. Whenever I felt mentally ready to have a baby, he would also be ready.
I don’t think Sherri understood this. She didn’t understand my fear of things turning out wrong. Despite her age, I still don’t think she understands the seriousness of bringing another human being into the world. She only talked about the beauty there was in giving birth. I know that giving birth is a special experience for a woman, but I just can’t help but see the ugly side of it. The ugly side would be the uncertain future for both the parents and the child.
Mary finally changed the subject. She asked how Sherri’s children were doing. Shane, her oldest son, was out of the house at that time.
“He’s been suspended from school for spitting at one of his teachers,” she said. She didn’t seem to want to explain the situation any further. Her youngest son, Matt, was upstairs in his room. She called for him to come down to speak to us. As soon as he came down, Mary began to talk about how much he had grown since the last time she saw him. Matt, who was twelve, was a shy and quiet kid who spoke in a whisper when he said his hellos. After he greeted us and answered Mary’s questions about school, his mom dismissed him and he went straight back to his room.
“He’s such a sweet child,” Mary said “Very nice and quiet.
“Smart too,” Sherri said “He’s made principal’s list all on his last couple of report cards.”
“He’s twelve, right?” Mary asked.
Sherri nodded. “He’ll be thirteen in January.”
“Isn’t Shane’s birthday also in January?”
“Yes, he’ll be seventeen.”
“They sure have grown up fast.” It was the only comment I could think of adding into the conversation.
“So, Mary,” Sherri said with hesitation “How are things?”
“They’re okay. They could be better of course.” Mary started fidgeting around a little bit. “I spoke with Albert a couple of days ago. He’s still writing the letters to her. I beg him to stop every time I see him, but he keeps saying that they’re getting married.”
A couple of years ago, Mary’s son, Albert, had been caught having sex with the girl who lived next door. He was seventeen at the time, and she was only eleven. They say it was consensual, but I’m still not to sure. Either way, a law was broken and Albert was committed to a mental healthcare center after being found mentally unstable. He had made it up in his mind that the two of them were going to get married. At the time, he even told his mom that he had given the girl drugs that would make her start the menstrual cycle early, that way she could get pregnant and they could start a family. This was one of those events that everyone in the neighborhood seemed to know about. Mary was so ashamed and embarrassed by what her son did that she had practically locked herself in the house for almost a whole year, only coming out for work and necessary errands. It didn’t help that her husband left her a couple of months after their son was sent to a mental hospital. It was whole year before she could finally look at her son in person without breaking down. Even then she was still uncomfortable with talking about him.
Mary had started discussing how Albert had decided to shave his whole body, when the front door opened. It was Shane. When he walked in the whole mood of the room seemed to change in an instant. He had walked into the room with force. No one was really happy to see him. He gave an unfriendly wave to us, and I could tell that he was planning to go straight upstairs to his room without saying a word; however, his mom stopped him.
“Shane, say hello to our company.”
“Hello,” he said in a tone that made it known that he didn’t care to be around us.
“Shane, look how big you’ve gotten!” Mary exclaimed then turned to Sherri. “He’s so handsome also. I bet he gets a lot of attention from the girls at school
“Yeah,” he said with a grin. “I got a couple of chicks lined up. You know how it goes. Of course, all the girls I mess with are within the legal age limit.”
He was looking out the window that was behind us when he said it, but we all knew whom the last comment was directed towards and what it meant.
I could see actually see Mary’s left eye start to twitch a little from the insult that had just been hurled at her.
“So, Shane, do you play any sports?” Ed asked trying to help the situation.
“No, Mr. Lake, I don’t play any sports,” Shane answered with a bit of aggressiveness in his voice.
“What’s that smell?” I asked after the slight scent of cigarette smoke came to me. “It smells like smoke.” Seconds after making the comment, I realized that I had just done something I hadn’t meant to do. I had just called Shane out.
“Shane, I hope you haven’t been smoking,” Sherri said, trying to sound firm.
“No ma’am. I smell like cigarette smoke because I was at Keith’s house and his parents smoke.” He glared at me after smoothly telling this lie. I’m sure his mom knew it was a lie, but as usual she let him go about his business.
We all turned our attention to the television and no one really took notice of Shane walking slowly behind us. After a couple of minutes he announced that he was going upstairs. His mom nodded with her eyes fixed on the television. Then I felt it. Something wet had hit me on the back of my head. I didn’t see him do it, but I was certain that he had spit on me. The little son of bitch had just spit on me. No one else saw it, not even me. He must have done it silently, because I didn’t even hear a sound come from him. I felt the back of my head. He hadn’t spit that much, but there was definitely some wetness there. By the time I had turned around to look at him, he was already on his way towards the stairs.
After an advertisement for some new raunchy TV show, the two other women started talking about how bad television had gotten. While they were talking, Ed leaned over and whispered in my ear.
“I saw Shane a couple of months ago hanging out in front of McDonalds with some girl. Do you know what he did when I walked over and said hello to him?”
“Did he spit on you?” I asked.
“No,” Ed said. “He growled out me. He even showed me his teeth. The same way a dog does when they’re warning someone to back off.”
This didn’t surprise me.
Sherri stood up to go into the kitchen to make the final preparations to the Thanksgiving meal she was cooking. After she got up, she called for Shane to come downstairs.
“Why?” he asked, yelling down the steps.
“So you can entertain our company,” Sherri yelled back.
“Sherri, he doesn’t have to come down here. We’re doing just fine without him.”
That was the nice way of saying what I truly felt about him coming back down here.
“Vivian, I’m trying to teach him to be hospitable.” She went to yelling back up the stairs. She tried to sound dominant but was failing miserably. Unfortunately, Shane did agree to come back down. After Vivian left to go into the kitchen, he walked downstairs with both hands down in the front of his pants. He was scratching himself as if his private area was suffering from the itch from hell. He was doing this right there in front of us all. After getting to the bottom of the stairs and joining the rest of us, he stood there contently scratching his private parts while staring at the television. When he finally did remove his hands from his pants, he came back up with several strands of pubic hair on his fingers, which he casually flicked to the ground.
I turned my head in disgust to face the television again. A commercial for the Oprah Winfrey Show was on. The next episode of Oprah was going to be about teenagers who were gay and how their parents were dealing with it. From all the crying I was seeing, it seemed like it was a hard issue for the parents to deal with. As the highlights of the show were going on, Shane positioned himself in front of me, blocking the television screen from my vision.
“Oprah Winfrey,” he said directing his attention towards the television. “Hey Oprah, how about my nuts in your mouth.”
He started to laugh.
One of the last clips of the commercial showed a teenage boy talking about having homosexual fantasies. When the commercial was over, Shane turned towards the three of us on the couch.
“You guys want to know something?” he asked seriously. So seriously that I actually sat up and prepared for a real confession from a truly disturbed young man.
“Sometimes I have homosexual fantasies,” he said.
Then it came.
“I fantasize about bashing in the heads of every stupid faggot I meet,” he said with a wide grin. Then he imitated the sound of a drum playing, as if he were a late night talk show host who had just told a great joke. I think I actually started the motion of getting up to choke him, because I suddenly found Ed’s hand on my shoulder with pressure as if he were trying to contain me.
Shane finally took a seat in the armchair his mother was in before and started reading a magazine that was on the coffee table. Mary looked like she was fed up with being around him. I felt the same way. Ed was the only one who was willing to try breaking through the wall that was now set up.
“Shane, how’s school going for you?”
“Why isn’t your cup on a coaster, Mr. Lake?”
I looked down at Ed’s coffee mug. He had placed it on magazine instead of a coaster. He picked it up and put it on one like everyone else’s and gave Shane a smile. Shane didn’t smile back. He wasn’t even looking up. His eyes had been focused on the magazine the whole time. When his eyes did come off the magazine he was reading they went straight to the stain the coffee mug had left on the magazine and then right back to what he was reading.
“So that’s how much you respect us,” Shane mumbled loud enough for all of us to hear him.
A few minutes later Ed’s cell phone rang. He was being called to hospital. They needed more staff members. He apologized to everyone for having to leave so sudden. Sherri told him he would have to come by another time to taste her cooking at its best.
“Well, I guess I’ll see you around,” he said to Shane as he prepared to leave.
“Goodbye, Mr. Lake,” Shane said coldly. Ed gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder.
“I didn’t say to put your hands on me, Mr. Lake,” he said in the same cold manner. His eyes were still on the magazine.
“Right,” Ed said.
We kissed goodbye and then he was gone.
We all sat in silence until the food was ready. During our wait, Matt came back downstairs. While he was walking towards the kitchen Shane grabbed him, slammed him on the ground, sat on his face and went back to reading the magazine. He stayed there for nearly a minute as Matt struggled to get free.
The food was good. It was probably the best thing about my visit. While we were eating, Shane started talking to Mary.
“So how’s Albert doing, Mary?”
“He’s doing fine, Shane.”
“Is he still trying to bang that little girl or what?”
“Shane, just eat your food please.” his mother interrupted him.
Shane complied. A couple minutes of silence went by, before Mary excused herself to the bathroom. She was going there to cry. Sherri went to check on her a couple of minutes. What he had just done didn’t seem to bother Shane at all. After his mom left, he started telling me about how a kid he once knew had committed suicide.
“He did it right in front of parents,” he said. He just walked into their room while they were sleeping. Woke them up, told them to go fuck themselves, and then blew his brains out all over them with a shotgun.”
He seemed to be entertained by what this kid had done.
“What did the parents do?” I asked.
“They were pissed,” he said “The kid completely fucked up their bed sheets. They were exquisitely woven tapestry design bed sheets. Very expensive. You can’t get blood stains out of that kind of material.”
“I’m sure that’s just a rumor,” I told him. “Nobody would react that way after seeing their child do that.”
He just shrugged. “If that’s what you want to tell yourself.”
By the time I go back home, Ed was already back from the hospital and lying on the bed. I went to lie next to him. He eyes were fixed on the ceiling. I could tell he was having deep thoughts about something. I asked why they needed him at the hospital. He said that it had gotten busy, and they needed help with all the patients coming in. He ended up taking care of a woman who had suffered from serious injuries from a car accident. Then he explained how the woman had put her four-year-old daughter in the front passenger seat. She was killed on impact. The woman had been crying hysterically when she was arrived at the hospital. There were hundred of stories like it.
Ed dozed off a little after telling me about what happened. I just lay there with thoughts circling around my mind. I thought about the women that Ed had taken care of in the hospital. I wondered how it felt to know that your recklessness had just caused your child their life. What if I did something like that? How could I handle knowing I was responsible for the death of my child?
I’ve decided that I don’t want to just have a baby. I want to have a great human being. I want things to go right, but so many things can go wrong. What if I had a teenager who blows their brains all over me out of hatred? I don’t imagine my child every hating me, but that’s a risk that has to be considered. What about the kids on Oprah? Would I be disappointed if my child was gay? Right now I say no, but how would I really feel if it did happen? Would they be happy with their sexuality or would they be tortured by it? I don’t want to have another Albert or a ten-year-old girl who is sexually molested. Can you really be certain that your child is protected from stuff like that happening? How would I have reacted if I was Mary? I’m sure she didn’t see anything like that coming when Albert was a newborn. None of them every see it coming or even consider it a possibility. I don’t know what I would do if my child turned out like Shane. I wonder if Sherri every regrets having him now that he has turned out the way he is. He could always change for the better. Or he could get much worse. Was the pain of childbearing really worth it all? Things could always go well. If I did decide to create another human being, maybe they would become that great person I envision.
You just never really know.