Excerpt from Fortunate Son by Walter Mosley, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Fortunate Son

by Walter Mosley

Fortunate Son
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2006, 320 pages
    Aug 2007, 336 pages

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Print Excerpt

THOMAS BEERMAN was born with a hole in his lung. Because of this birth defect, he spent the first six months of his life in the intensive care unit at Helmutt-Briggs, a hospital in West Los Angeles. The doctors told his mother, Branwyn, that most likely he would not survive.

"Newborns with this kind of disorder, removed from the physical love of their mothers, often wither," kind-eyed Dr. Mason Settler told her.

So she came to the hospital every day after work and watched over her son from six to eleven. She couldn’t touch him because he was kept in a glass-enclosed, germ-free environment. But they stared into each other’s eyes for hours every day.

Branwyn would read to the little boy and talk to him through the night after her shift at Ethel’s Florist Shop.

“I know you must wonder why it’s always me here and never your father," Branwyn said to her son one Thursday evening. “Elton has a lot of good qualities, but bein’ a father is not one of them. He left me for one of my girlfriends less than a month after we found out I was having you. He told me that he’d stay if I decided not to have the baby. But Elton had the choice to be with me or not and you didn’t. I couldn’t ask you if you minded if I didn’t have you and if you didn’t have a life to live. No sunshine or sandy beaches. You don’t even know what a sandy beach is. So I told Elton he could leave if he wanted to but I was havin’ my baby.

“May Fine said that she’d be happy to be childless with a man like Elton. You know, your father is a good-looking man. He’s got big muscles and a nice smile."

Branwyn smiled at Baby Thomas, who was then four months old. He grinned within his bubble and reached out, touching his mother’s image in the glass.

“But you know," Branwyn continued, “May is gonna want a baby one day, and when she does, Elton and his good looks will be gone. And then she’ll be worse off than me. It’s like my mother said, ‘That Elton’s a heartbreak waitin’ to happen.’

“So he’s not here, and he probably won’t be comin’ around either. But that doesn’t matter, Tommy, because I will be with you through thick and thin, rain and shine."

Branwyn brought children’s books and read and sang to Thomas even when he was asleep and didn’t seem to know she was there.

DR. MINAS NOLAN was a heart surgeon who had temporary offices across the hall from the intensive care unit where Thomas and his mother spent that half year. Nolan was a widower, young and hale. A week after Thomas was delivered, Dr. Nolan’s wife, Joanne, had borne them a son. She died of complications thirty-six hours later. His son, Eric, came out weighing twelve pounds and twelve ounces, with a thick mane of blond hair, and arms and legs flailing. One of the nurses had commented that it was as if Eric had drained all of the life out of his mother from the inside, and by the time he was born, she was all used up.

Dr. Nolan often worked until eleven at night, when the ICU nurse on duty was forced by hospital regulations to ask Miss Beerman to leave. Branwyn always hesitated. She would have happily spent the whole night sleeping in a chair next to her baby. Then in the morning she could be the first thing he saw.

One evening, noticing the new mother linger at the unit door, Minas offered to walk Branwyn to her car.

“Oh, I don’t have a car, Doctor," she said. “I get the bus down on Olympic." The dark-skinned Negro woman had a beautiful smile and nearly transparent gray eyes.

“Well, then let me drive you," the doctor offered.

Copyright © 2006 by Walter Mosley

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