"I assume from this the kid is simpatico?"
"Muy simpática. Honestly, Champ, a puppy who wandered out in front of a truck. Bright, sweet, helpless -- born yesterday."
"Not like us," said Marlene.
"No, not like us, but the last time I looked, poor judgment wasn't a hanging offense."
"How did the baby die?"
"Good question, and one the state never bothered to ask very seriously. The autopsy was a total botch. From what it looks like now, the poor thing never lived. Sarah was eclamptic and in convulsions during delivery. The boy said the baby was blue and never moved, didn't cry, didn't seem to be breathing, so the stupe bagged it and tossed it in the Dumpster. All he had to do was call 911 and yell for help."
"Why didn't he?"
"Oh, well, therein hangs the tale. All of this, the whole sad mess, came about because Sarah Goldfarb didn't want to tell her mommy she was knocked up."
"Don't tell me! She was hoping it would go away by itself."
"That, too. Her story is, she didn't know she was that pregnant. She had a medical exam a few months before and the doc didn't find any pregnancy, even though in fact she was six months gone by then, and also she was spotting, and she figured, 'Oh, my period, hallelujah!' So when she went into that motel, she thought she was at the most sixteen weeks gone. She thought she was having a miscarriage."
"Shans, excuse me, but that's somewhat hard to believe. She was full term and she didn't know? Nobody noticed?"
"Champ, I got photos -- she never showed during her pregnancy. And I got a sheaf of clippings like this" -- Shanahan held up her hand, the fingers stretched as if to grasp a Manhattan phone book -- "about girls delivering babies no one knew they were carrying. They sit on the toilet, they think it was something they ate, and then splash, wah! wah! It makes you want to cry. And this kid, Sarah -- all right, from a middle-class family, educated and all, but emotionally? I don't know: seven years old, eight? You have to see it to believe it. The kid was preeclamptic and suffering for months and wouldn't go to a doctor because she always went to the doctor with Mommy, and even if she went herself, she figured her mom would somehow find out and she was more afraid of her mom finding out than she was about maybe dying."
Marlene drained her glass and was motioning for a third when her friend said, "Whoa! I got to be at Penn Station in forty minutes. If I have another, I'll end up in Disneyland."
"Don't be silly! We'll get shit-faced and you can stay over at our place. We'll scandalize the children."
"Honestly, I wish I could, but I have pleadings in the morning and this judge is a bear. Another time, huh?"
A hurried exchange of addresses and phone numbers, hugs and kisses, and then Marlene watched her friend depart in a cab. She stood there on Lexington for a while watching the cab disappear into the traffic. Then she walked slowly west on 91st to where her car, an elderly orange Volvo DL, was parked. Marlene had a sticker on her window announcing that she was a retired NYPD officer, a gift from one of her numerous pals on the job, which protected her from being ticketed for any but the most flagrant parking violations. The school, she saw, was dark and deserted now.
A deep grunt sounded from the backseat, and she felt hot, damp breath on her neck at she settled into the driver's seat. In her rearview she met the red eyes of an immense black Neapolitan mastiff.
She started the car and said, "Yes, I was longer than I planned, Sweety, but I met my old best friend from high school." Growl, low. "Oh, you're my best friend now, Sweets, but that was then. It was extremely pleasant. It made me feel like a real person, a respectable Sacred Heart alumna. It struck me that nearly all of my most intimate recent pals are people who have for various reasons killed other people. Birds of a feather, right? But I'm tired, Sweets. Of the life. I think I want a different life."
Copyright © 2000 by Robert K. Tannenbaum
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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