Wonder 18

Mae

1807

I can still beat Charlie at chess, even if I play the black side. I’ve got a feeling, though, that this won’t last for long. The other day, he asked if he could borrow BCO, and I can see that he’s already playing some of those openings.

1801

“Are there such things as professional chess players?” he asked me.

“Yeah, not many,” I replied, “but a few. You gotta be world class to make a living, and it’s a tough life, but it can be done.”

1806

Over the board, he fell right into my trap.

“You also gotta learn to keep your queen protected!” I chuckled.

1805

He thought for a while, and then captured my bishop with his rook, initiating an exchange that would give him a slight plus.

1802

“Not bad, Charlie!” I said. “How’d you find that exchange?”

“Thinking of futebol,” he said. “Think I could be a professional futebol player like Pai was?”

1803

Beryl was playing the guitar, and I thought how neat it would be if Charlie were a professional musician. He’s nearly mastered the violin, and he’s already started composing on it. I can see that he loves it. I wondered why he didn’t think of becoming a professional musician.

1804

He was still analyzing chess positions when Berry and I took our supper out at the patio table.

“Ever thought of becoming a musician?” I asked Charlie.

“What, like a fiddle player?” he said.

“Well, that. Or a concert master for a symphony. Or a composer, conductor, or member of a quartet. Or maybe a solo violinist.”

1808

After supper we sat down to another game of chess. I had white this time.

“You know, Mae,” Charlie said, “the thing about music is that I love it. It’s where I go that’s all mine and I can do when I want. What if I had to play and I didn’t want to? What if it became work?”

Knowing how my attitude towards my writing shifts when I’m writing for publication as opposed to when I’m just writing for me, I had to admit Charlie had a point.

1809

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Wonder 17

Mae

Charlie came home from school wearing the craziest outfit. When he gets home, he has this thing he does: he stands at the entrance to our front yard, closes his eyes, and swings his arms.

I asked him once what he was doing.

“Getting home,” he said. I think he means that he’s letting go of all that happened at school so that he’s ready for the next thing.

So there he was, standing out front in his new pirate outfit that I have no idea where he got or what it means.

1701

“I had a good day at school, Mae,” he told me when we sat down for supper.

“What was so good about it, Charlie?” I asked him.

1706

“Three guesses,” he said. “What could be the best thing that could happen at school?”

1707

I thought about his crazy costume. “Are you in a play?”

“Bong! That’s wrong. Guess again.”

1705

“Um. Did your team win at kickball?”

1704

“No. That’s two wrong guesses. You only get one more.”

“Or what?”

1711

He thought for a moment.

“Or you won’t have guessed what might be the single most importantest thing ever to happen to me at school.”

1710

“One more guess, huh? Ok. Did you do well in school today?” I ventured.

“You’re getting warmer.”

“Did you get your term grades?”

“You’re getting hot.”

“Did you earn an A, Charlie?”

1708

“Bingo!” he said. “So that’s why I’m dressed up like a scurvy nave. All us A kids got to go through the big costume chest and choose. Maria chose a princess suit. Of course! And Samantha also chose a pirate outfit, like me. But mine’s the only one with the red vest. Hers is yellow.”

I chuckled. “That’s a crazy custom!” But I was happy. Some things at Charlie’s school they do right, and letting the kids choose their own costume after a success is right up there with the best traditions, I thought.

1709

“Can I go outside?” Charlie asked when we finished supper.

“Of course.”

He left on his pirate costume and ran outdoors. After I washed up the dishes, I saw him lying on the ground with his little pony beside him, pointing at the purple and orange clouds of sunset.

1702

He was still out there when the moon rose, playing his fiddle like a boy on a pirate ship.

Oh! These magic moments! Savor, savor. Turn around twice, and he’ll be grown up.

1703

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Wonder 16

Mae

“Chazzie’s teacher called,” Beryl said. “They’re wanting to test him again.”

“Why?”

“Because he’s so smart but his grades don’t reflect it.”

1602

“That’s so ridiculous,” I said. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t gotten into this program with Charlie. I know I felt I needed the prenatal care, but what if I actually didn’t need it? Now, the program administrators feel like they’ve got a right to our lives.

I’ve had good luck holding off the testing so far, but I realize that when Charlie moves up to secondary school, we’ll probably have to accept the full range of intelligence and physical fitness tests. Part of life. I guess, if we’re not completely cut off from the rest of society, there will be parts of it that we need to comply with, even if we don’t agree with it.

Paolo dropped by just about the time we were expecting Charlie to get home from school. While I fixed snack, he and Berry sat in the kitchen and talked.

“The administration of the test of the intelligence is the awesome idea!” Paolo said. “O menino, he is the genius. This I know. It is from the mother of him. Mae, she is the genius, and so the son of her will be the genius, too. This is the biology.”

I shuddered a little. Labels. Charlie is a boy. That’s plenty.

1601

Paolo looked out the window at 3:15.

“Ah! The boy genius is at the home!” he said, and he went outside to greet his son.

1605

I watched him encourage Charlie. Sometimes, Charlie gets this look like he doesn’t really agree with what you’re saying, but he wants to be nice and go along with it. That’s how he looked then.

1604

Then I could see that he was raising objections with his dad. He doesn’t do that often, only when he feels he has a definite point to make. I wondered what they were talking about.

1603

Paolo left when Charlie pulled out his homework.

1610

“How was school, Spud?” I asked when I saw that Charlie had finished his schoolwork.

“It was great, Mae!” he said. “We’re learning about angles and stuff in math. I like it because I know how to kick better in futebol and where to stand when I’m goalie.”

1606

We went swimming before supper, while Berry cooked up spaghetti.

Charlie and I raced. I won when we swam backstroke or freestyle, but he actually beat me when we swam breaststroke. He’s very fast, and he’s got a great kick. I guess having an athlete for a dad has given him physical strength, agility, and fast motor connections. I hope he keeps up with sports as he gets older.

“Did you learn anything today?” Berry asked him over supper.

“Sure,” he said. “Did you?”

Beryl thought for a moment. “I did,” she said. “I learned that when we’ve discovered characteristics that we love in one person, we will often look for those same characteristics in others.”

Charlie thought for a moment. “You mean the way I try to find how other kids are artists like you?” he asked.

“Just so,” she replied.

1609

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Wonder 1

0101

What a day. I started by setting the kitchen on fire. I woke up starving–I guess playing the closet game so hard with Paolo can do that.

Maybe I should’ve waited for Berry to make breakfast, since I was too hungry to concentrate. But it was just scrambled eggs! Who starts a kitchen fire scrambling eggs? I guess I do.

0102

We put it out. Beryl’s awesome with a fire extinguisher.

“Man,” she said after the smoke subsided. “We girls rock.”

0104

Lucky Charms never smelled so good. Before I finished my cereal, Paolo called.

“Let me take you someplace special, my little foreign delight,” he said.

0105

I was so surprised when I showed up at the address he gave me, and it was a sexual and reproductive health clinic in a neighboring town.

“I know our adventure had you worried with fear and concern,” he said. We went inside and took the tests, both of us. I was sort of touched, and sort of freaked out. We both came out clean–nothing to worry about. Except, his other partners. I tried not to think about that.

“Oh, it is nothing,” he said afterwards. “This is a regular club activity. We come here every month or sooner. Make sure everything is hunkey-dokey.”

For a split-second, I felt relieved. Then I thought about all his partners’ partners, and their partners, and their partners’ partners. I doubt that all of Windenburg gets tested every month.

0106

I decided to stuff my worries–at least for the moment. When I’d reviewed my history, I realized that last night had been my first time unprotected ever. Ever. And I liked it. It was thrilling, really. I loved closing my eyes and imagining those microscopic tadpoles racing towards the sea anemone. Here’s to the fastest and strongest! And then, when it gets there, the sea anemone wraps her tentacles around it and closes in upon it. It’s all so oceanic! And to think that that was what it all led up to–I just found it thrilling.

Before we left the clinic, I got a text message from Marcus, saying the club was meeting, so we went directly there.

I was still drawn in by the thrill.

“Remember!” said Marcus, glaring at us. “We are all about sharing.”

But Paolo and I didn’t even register what he said.

“Closet?” I whispered.

“Race you there, my little Maserati!” said Paolo.

0107

“I did not bring the protection for us,” said Paolo.

“Good,” I said. “We both got clean tests, right?” And we fell into the closet.

0108

We must have made noise. OK. I know we did. The doors were shaking–and that’s not even mentioning the half of it.

Jade and some woman I’d never met were standing there smiling when we came out. So much for not having a reputation in this new city.

0109

I didn’t care. It was just too wonderful. Paolo! Man! Paolo running free! I loved the feeling. I didn’t care who knew.

This next test I took came out positive. And this positive result thrills me. It still does.

What a surprise my feelings are! I am so happy. Is this what I wanted all along? Is this what all that riskiness was about?

0110

I went down to tell Paolo. How would he take it? It’s not like I knew him well enough to predict his response.

0111

I didn’t know what words to use, so I just blurted it out.

0112

I had no idea how he would respond.

0113

While I was waiting for a response–any response–I realized I was ready for anything. I could handle this.

I’m having this baby. I don’t care if he tries to persuade me not to. I don’t care if he freaks out and runs. I really don’t care about him all that much actually–I mean, I don’t even know him well enough to care. But I care fiercely and ferociously about this baby. This baby is coming into this world, and I’m the mother.

0114

He just looked at me. I can’t read his face yet. I don’t know him well enough. Was that disdain? Anger? Fear? Resentment? Bluffing?

0115

He burst out laughing–genuine, positive, “life is great” laughter. He clapped. He actually applauded the news.

0116

I guess he’s not upset.

0117

Then I got worried. Oh, God. What if he proposes? What if he asks me to be his girlfriend? What if he expects to move in?

I mean, he’s the father. He can definitely be part of his child’s life, of course. And maybe I’ll even want to keep playing closet games with him now and then–with protection, of course. But I’m not anybody’s girlfriend, and I’m sure as heck not anybody’s wife.

I decided to let him know right then, right there. I just didn’t want him to have any expectations or feel under any kind of obligation.

His smile got even bigger.

0118

“You see?” he said. “I knew we were the match made in the heaven! It’s the unmatch match, my little foreign darling. I want to no such conniptions as you describe. We are the two hearts of the same half.”

0119

Walking home, I felt that everyone knew I was pregnant with Paolo Rocca’s baby. And I didn’t care. I won’t be his wife. I’m sure not his girlfriend. But I am happy for the world to know that I am the mother of his baby.

0120

A baby!

I really thought before we moved here that it would never happen. How could it? I’ve always known I didn’t want to marry. Four years–that’s max for me for a relationship, and even that nearly sucked the soul out of me. I’d given up on the whole idea. But Paolo–he’s changed that. I’ve got it all! I’ve got a baby, without having to be somebody’s wife!

0121

Beryl was out for a walk when I got home. I saw her when she returned. She was standing at the edge of our yard, facing the setting sun. Oh, Berry! I could hardly wait to tell her!

0122

She didn’t say what some sisters might say. She didn’t ask who was the dad or how did it happen so soon, or how did I even have a chance to make a baby when we’d only been here two days.

She just took me in her arms and whispered, “Oh, Mae! You know I’ve always wanted to be an aunt. Thank you.”

0123

She was still saying thank you to the moon and the stars when my hormones did a flip and sent my stomach reeling.

0124

The hormones are really kind of a trip. One moment I’m cracking up at cartoons on TV.

0125

The next moment, I’m freaking out about not having health insurance. Then, I’m remembering Mom and Dad aren’t around, and the baby won’t know its grandparents. Then, I’m feeling worry and doubt.

0126

But I love it. If I just watch it, it’s like a weird internal amusement park–the merry go-round with cotton candy, the roller coaster with hot dogs and mustard, the Ferris wheel with popcorn. Ugh, crap. Why did I have to write about food?

And now, I’m starving again! It really is a trip.

0128

I told Beryl I was worried about not having health insurance.

“I’m taking this seriously, Berry,” I said. “I’m not young. I may not yet be high-risk, but I’m not low-risk, either. I need prenatal care, and we can’t afford it. I’m not even sure we can pay our bills next month.”

Beryl told me about this program. It’s for heterosexual couples, really–in fact, creepily enough, most of them are matched by the government. (Forgive me while I gross out for a minute.) But they take care of everything. You’ve just got to make sure your kid’s given every chance to excel. Which, of course, Beryl and I would do. It goes without saying.

0129

“Look,” she said, “You’ve got a perfect trump card. It’s called equity. It’s just not equitable for only couples to qualify, right? An aunt and a mom should be just as viable as a dad and a mom, right?”

0130

She had a really good point.

“If anybody can persuade them,” she said, “you can. I know your legal mind. You can persuade anybody of anything–especially when you’ve got fairness on your side.”

0131

I applied that night. I wrote a logical, well-supported letter, citing precedence, policy, and law. We haven’t heard back yet, but I’m hopeful. If we get accepted, I can rest easy. We’ll have the best prenatal care available, free of charge.

0127

I also sent an email message to Marcus, Eva, Jade, and Paolo.

I quit the club.

I’m going to be a mom. I’m not some young kid who can run around doing foolish unprotected things with any old unprotected fool. I’ve responsibilities now for all of us living under our sweet little roof. I am going to be a mom.

0132

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Wonder: Prelude

00a101

Thank heavens. The test came out negative. I am not ready to become a mom. At least not yet. At least, not entirely. I still remember that feeling of bliss that raced through me when I thought I might be pregnant. But maybe that was the afterglow. Paolo is pretty incredible.

What an eventful day! Our first day in Windenburg. It didn’t take long for me and my sister Beryl to decide what we wanted to do with our inheritance. It wasn’t much, but if we pooled together what we got, we’d have just enough to buy this little cottage we found in downtown Windenburg.

Beryl had been wanting to move there forever, for her art. And me, I just wanted to start something new. It had taken forever for our parents’ estate to be settled. All those long battles. All that paperwork, which was even worse! And all those meetings with attorneys. I’d had it.

Since I was in between relationships–and in between jobs–it was the perfect time for me to start fresh, too.

Beryl was outside painting that first morning, when I returned from my first walk in the neighborhood. She’d dragged up an old easel that she found in the basement and had already started on a fresh canvas.

00a114

I feel really happy that we chose to live downtown. It’s where all the hip people live. They’re younger than us, but our lifestyles fit right in. Beryl and I, we sort of made a pact when we were kids that we’d never officially grow up. It works for us.

00a113

Eva, one of our neighbors, was telling us about her club.

“We dance! We sing. We share everything,” she said. “It’s for free spirits! Like you sisters! You should join, we would love to have you!”

“I am not so much a joiner,” said Berry. “I just can’t really find time to get together, know what I mean? Besides, I’d probably bore you talking about indigo and vermilion pigments.”

00a112

But I was eager to join. I like Eva, Jade, and Marcus. And from what they said, Paolo sounded cool, too.

He is. Very. I found out that night when the club met up at a dance hall a few blocks away.

00a111

Paolo came on strong from the start. There’s just something about him that gets to me.

00a110

00a109

I have never, not even in college, moved so fast with anybody. But this is Windenburg, and I’m in the spot after my old life has ended and before my new one has begun, and I really only wanted to have fun.

00a108

“Look and see if anybody’s out there,” I said to Paolo before we headed out of the closet. I didn’t want to start here with a reputation.

“It’s clear,” he said. “There is no one to witness our naughty escapades, my little foreign conquest.”

00a107

I could barely stand. Seriously. Paolo. Granted, I’ve never done it in a closet before, but still. Never have I experienced anything even close. Paolo.

00a106

Then I remembered: dang. I’d forgotten all about using protection. How could I be so stupid? STDs? Pregnancy? What was I thinking? I wasn’t thinking. I am way too old to be so stupid. My only excuse was that it had been a while since I hadn’t been in a regular relationship. But that’s a lame excuse. I have no excuse. At my age–what was I thinking?

00a105

As I ran home, though, I kept wondering: what if I had gotten pregnant? Would that be so terrible? I’ve always liked kids. It’s getting to the point in my life where I need to do this soon, if I’m going to do it all. What else am I doing with my life? Why not raise a little kid? And it’s not like I’d have to get together with Paolo. I’ve got Berry. My sister and I could do an awesome job raising a child. And that’s when the feeling of bliss rose up.

Now that I think about it, it was afterglow. That’s all. I should’ve recognized it. It’s just that it’s been a while.

00a104

Beryl was washing dishes when I got home. She didn’t even pause to say hi or ask about the evening. She’s got this thing she does where everything is “mindfulness practice.” I’ve grown used to it. That’s my sister.

00a103

I had my own mindfulness practice as I walked into the bathroom to use the pregnancy test. Each step, I felt the weight of consequences descend. Would I be allowed to get by with this? Or, what if I were pregnant, after all? Would it really bring this secret happiness that I feel pulling at me?

00a102

The test was negative. I was relived. Overjoyed! And yet, there in the shadow of my heart, I felt the smallest hint of disappointment. Beryl really would make an incredible aunt.

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