Ten-Cent Tarot: Trip to the Bank

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Hopes and Dreams Citywide Sperm Bank sat happily on the first floor of a glass, steel, and concrete high rise in the financial district. Calliope was always glad for an excuse to visit to that end of the city, for it stood at the far west border. Beyond stretched steep rocky hills extending all the way to the sea.

This was a reconnaissance trip, Calliope reminded herself as she strode towards the entrance. Find out the possibilities, establish a few contacts, open doors, only, and don’t close a single one, not yet.

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Before making the trip, she’d had to decide if she would, indeed, take the case. Some mysteries were better left unsolved, and it took some reflection to conclude that this might not be one of them.

She reviewed her consultation with Aadhya. She’d found the young woman endearing: Cat-ears, Dashiki top, earnest brown eyes–she was just the kind of person that Calliope would drop everything for in her rush to help.

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But locating the anonymous sperm donor who was the biological father of her nine-year-old daughter? She wasn’t sure, at first, that she’d wanted to poke that rat’s nest.

“I’m not asking for Shanaya,” Aadhya had said. “She’s doing great. It’s almost like it doesn’t register with her that she doesn’t have a dad in her life. But I’m asking for me.”

“Do you want a relationship?” Calliope had asked.

“Oh, heavens, no,” Aadhya replied. “That’s why I went that route, to avoid all that. I just… I just wonder. Shanaya is such a mystery. The way she cocks her head when she laughs. The way she won’t stop asking questions until she gets an answer that satisfies her. The way she’s so good at math. I suck at math.”

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“And you want to know where all that comes from?”

“Exactly!”

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“Be careful what you wish for,” Calliope warned. “I am good at finding things out. Suppose I do find out who the anonymous donor was. Suppose we get a name. An address. Will you really be ready to know this? What if you don’t like the guy?”

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“What if I do?” Aadhya laughed. “That’s what I’m worried about! I’ve made it this far without being with a guy. But what if I meet him, and we somehow hit it off? What if he likes me? What if, by some miracle, I like him? Oh, Lordy! That’s what scares me!”

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“It’s a possibility,” Calliope admitted, “especially if all of these intriguing qualities of your daughter’s can be traced back to him.”

“But what if I can also trace all her bad habits back to him, hmm?” Aadhya asked. “Do you think he picks his nose?”

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Her attitude had been sensible enough that Calliope decided to risk it. After all, the cards showed that discovery, in this case, wouldn’t bring disaster. And even if complications did arise, Calliope was prepared to be there to help resolve them.

It’s a simple matter of reconnaissance, she reminded herself.

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The receptionist listened carefully when Calliope explained why she was there.

“All your client needs to do is fill out this form,” she said. “We’ve also got it online, http://www.hope.net/yourdream. This won’t reveal the donor’s actual identity, if he opted for anonymity, but we can give her a detailed genetic report. It will show everything you get in, say, an Ancestry.com report: ethnicity, race, and so on, plus whatever shows up in your basic medical DNA report, markers for cancers, Alzheimer’s, and so on. It’s useful stuff. Most of our customers find that it satisfies their basic needs and curiosity.”

“But no names?”

“Not if the donor signed up to be anonymous. We take privacy very seriously.”

It was something to go on. Calliope figured that the generic report, while interesting, wouldn’t be completely satisfactory to Aadhya, but it was a start. Surely they had full genetic profiles available, and with access to the computer system, there was no telling what might be discovered.

When she left the building, walking through the cold evening to the plaza, a savory, spicy scent of tamari, ginger, and water chestnuts pierced the fog to greet her. She followed the aroma to a food stall.

“Don,” she said, greeting the vendor, a friend of hers, “what delectable dishes are you serving?”

“This ramen?” he asked. “It’s the best in town. Want a bowl?”

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He dished her up a steaming serving.

There is an indescribable delight to sitting with a hot bowl of fragrant soup and noodles on a cold night, watching the steam rise to join the mist.

“Eat up, Miss Twisp!” Don called. “I want that soup gone by the time I get there! Slurp! Slurp!

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His shift ended fifteen minutes later, and she had, indeed, finished her soup by then. He joined her at the table.

“I saw you leaving Hope and Dreams,” he said, “if you don’t mind my saying. What brings you to a place like that?”

“Nothing personal,” she said.

“I didn’t think so. I mean, I didn’t mean to imply it would have anything to do with you, at your… Ummm… with you.”

“It’s a case.”

“That’s what I was wondering,” he said. “Do you take cases like that?”

“Like what, Donny-boy?” Darren, a mutual friend, joined them. “You’re looking dashing, Calliope,” he said.

“I was just asking if Calliope took paternity cases,” Don said.

“What do you want to get mixed up in something like that for?” Darren asked. “I thought you and your lady friends were careful.”

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“Hell, yeah,” said Don. “Extra careful. As in extra-strength careful, if you get my drift.”

Then ensued a string of off-color jokes, and Calliope excused herself for the long walk home.

Back in her apartment, Calliope was still thinking about Don’s question before the conversation had been hijacked. Did he have a paternity case he wanted her to take on? If so, was he hoping he would or would not be the father?

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Don had always seemed to her to be the type of man who didn’t want to be tied down. He was friendly and charming, certainly, but universally so. She recalled the afternoon when she’d met him. He and one of his house-mates approached Calliope and Aadhya as they strolled through the square outside Calliope’s building. She hadn’t been certain, but it had seemed that Don had flirted with her. Don! Young enough to be her grandnephew. At the very least, he’d complemented her style in voice with a suggestive undertone. Maybe that was his normal tone of voice. Aadhya had been none-too-impressed. She made a snide remark after he left.

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“Think we exist for the sole purpose of providing eye-candy, men like that,” she’d said. “I’ve got news for them. The world is not their candy bowl!”

But Calliope hadn’t minded. He’d noticed her, at least, which was a rare occurrence, and even if he had been fresh, he’d been polite and charming, too.

When Calliope dropped by Aadhya’s to tell her about the Paternal Genetic Report Request form that she could fill out, if she chose, Aadhya was just on her way out.

“My shift at the bar is about to start,” she said, hurriedly, “Can you give me the details later?”

“Bye, Mom!” Shanaya called.

“Who is staying with Shanaya?” Calliope asked.

“Oh,” said Aadhya, “she stays alone. Geeta lives across the hall, you know. She’ll look in a few times. She’ll be all right.”

“I could stay,” said Calliope. “I’m already here. I’ve got nothing planned tonight.”

“Oh, would you?” Aadhya opened her mouth as if to protest, but then seemed to remember the time. She waved to them both as she rushed towards the elevator. “Be good, Shanay! I’ll see you at breakfast!”

Shanaya headed back to the computer without even greeting Calliope. The child’s concentration for her math game gave Calliope a chance to observe her.

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She was quick. While she played, she adjusted her strategy as the equations became increasingly complex. When the game began throwing basic algebraic problems at her, she missed a long string. Then she stopped, looked away from the computer, closed her eyes for a second, and dove right back in. This time, she earned a perfect score and advanced a level.

Calliope went into the kitchen to prepare a snack. The scent of cinnamon toast and warm honeyed soymilk made its way back to the bedroom, and Shanaya soon arrived in the kitchen.

“Is that for me?” she asked.

“For us both!” said Calliope. They sat together at the little kitchen table. Calliope asked her about the math problems, about how she figured out what the equations were asking for.

“I’d seen those kinds of formulas before,” she said, “in a book once. So I just closed my eyes to remember better. I can see it up here with my eyes closed,” she said, pointing to her forehead. “I’ve got a separate drawer for everything, so I just remember what drawer I put something in, and then I can take it out whenever I want.”

“I do that, too!” said Calliope, “only I think of it as file folders!”

After that, the crone and the scout became friends.

A few nights a week, when Aadhya had late shifts at the bar, Calliope came over to stay with the child.

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And some nights, Shanaya came over to Calliope’s. They lived in the same neighborhood, after all.

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Shanaya loved coming to Calliope’s. The apartment was full of color, plants, and little living friends: a rat in an over-sized habitat, cats and kittens with free run of the place, and angel-winged fish in a floor-to-ceiling tank.

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“What’s new with you?” Calliope would ask.

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Shanaya always had an eager answer.

“I bet you didn’t know I earned a new scouting badge!”

“I could’ve guessed.”

“But I bet you don’t know what for!”

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For the older woman, these evenings with Shanaya were a treat. Her friends her age were full of complaints. Her younger friends were filled with worry. But Shanaya–she and Shanaya seemed to be on the same page. Kindred spirits.

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“My mom told me you might be looking for my dad,” Shanaya said one day. “Is that true? And if so, what for? Do I need a dad?”

“Do you want a dad?”

“I don’t see what for,” said Shanaya. “I’m perfectly happy now, and if i’m perfectly happy now, why mess things up?”

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“That’s a good point.”

“My friends with dads are not always happy. So therefore, presence-of-father does not always equal happiness. So why?”

Calliope chuckled. She honestly didn’t know why, either. The search wasn’t for her. It obviously wasn’t for Shanaya, either. But she had to admit, the more she got to know Shanaya, the more she considered that, if indeed, many of Shanaya’s special qualities were inherited from her father, then maybe meeting this man wouldn’t be the worst possible thing. It might even be interesting.

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Summer House: Ch. 13

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I keep a fleet of second-hand bikes for the use of the other half of the duplex. Flat with wide country roads and little traffic, the island’s ideal for riding. Half an hour brings you to the other end, where the village sits, housing the ferry terminal, the library, the school, the Farmers’ Market plaza, and the best ice-cream parlor in the county. Two hours takes you around the island’s circumference.¬†Once Elise discovered the bikes, she and Bernard headed off on adventures many an afternoon.

One evening, she and Bernard arrived home from a trip to the library while her mother and I were finishing our test of pie-dough recipes.

“I think number three has the right amount of butter,” I said. “One was too moist, and two was too dry.”

“Three was flaky.”

“Just right.”

“Guess what!” Elise rushed in. “I’ve got a job! It pays ten dollars an HOUR! Ten! Ten hours, that’s one hundred dollars!”

“Excuse me,” said Sonya. “We didn’t talk about this. What’s the job?”

“It’s babysitting. There was a flier. I was looking at it, and I met the couple, and they liked me! They said I could have the job!”

She pulled the flier out of her pocket and spread it out on the table.

“Do you know these people?” Sonya asked me, pointing to the contact name on the flier.

They were neighbors, a summer family. I’d grown up with the man who was now the grandfather of the children needing a babysitter.

“Do they drink?” Sonya asked.

“Not to excess,” I said. “They’re good people. He’s an architect. She’s a doctor. The kids are cute. Very little.”

“They’re two and four,” said Elise. “You know I’m good with little kids.”

“I need to meet the parents,” Sonya said. “I’m glad you’re excited, but before it’s a done-deal, I need to meet them and give my approval.”

Sonya and Elise talked in low voices as they headed towards the kitchen door. “But it’s so much money,” I heard Elise say. “You know we need it.”

The next day, the kids headed off to pick blackberries while Sonya and I made jam. The Cottage Foods application had been processed, reviewed, and approved. The kitchen next door had passed its inspection, and Sonya and I both received our food handlers permits. We were in operation and busily preparing for Thursday’s market.

“I never thought I’d wish a child of mine to be less responsible,” Sonya said, passing me a jar to fill.

“You mean Elise?”

“Yeah. She’s just got it in her mind that she’s got to take on all our troubles. She’s the one who’s gonna rescue us.”

“She’s a good person.”

“She’s fifteen. She should be hording her money for the mall–or for i-tunes or something. Not planning how she’s gonna cover our grocery bills.”

We worked in silence. The windows fogged over with steam. After we’d jarred the batch, we walked out to the back porch with our tea.

“In some cultures, the eldest daughter typically helps out, financially and with domestic labor,” I said. “And think about my grandmother’s generation, too. That was the norm. I think a lot of strengths can be developed, self-esteem, included.”

“I appreciate your putting a positive spin on it,” Sonya said, “but that’s not really the point. The point is she’s got two parents, alive and capable. And we should be providing for her. That was the deal. I can’t help it if one of us reneged, and the other–that would be me–was totally unprepared. This all helps, the jam and all, don’t get me wrong. But the point is…”

She didn’t finish.

We sipped our tea, looking out at the clouds banking over the lighthouse, and I thought of all the ways she might finish her statement. The point was, they were in need. The point was, for whatever reason, the children’s father, Sonya’s husband, wasn’t meeting their financial needs. The point was, he wasn’t there, and for all knew, from all appearances, he wasn’t coming, and he hadn’t been in touch with them. The point was, this mother, these kids, were hurting.

That was, actually, the main point of it all.

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