A short story by M. C. Wallace
That evening at dinner she and Nick were discussing their days over baked salmon and glazed baby carrots. “So Terence decides to put the tarantula in Fred’s top desk drawer,” Nick says, relating a prank one of his office colleaguesplayed upon another, “but does Fred come back? OH NO! No, Cyndi comes over because she needs the CD and starts to carefully lift the papers and files, looking for it and trying not to upset all his work.” “You guys are BAD!” “I wanted to warn her but Jack grabs me from behind and has me in a headlock! Cyndi thinks well it’s gotta be IN his desk so naturally she opens the top drawer.” “I cannot BELIEVE you guys!” Therese mugged. ” Wait! It gets better! She’s daintily picking through the drawer and NEVER sees the tarantula! Instead she stands up, turns around and sits back AGAINST THE DRAWER!! ” “Oh my Lord! That poor girl!” Therese said, starting to laugh as she knew what was coming. “And the spider…” “That would be a massive YES! It crawls up the back of her sweater and just stops in the middle of her back!” Nick’s gasping for air at this but offers nothing further. “And?” she asks. “Whatta you mean ‘and’?” Nick repeats, stymied by her question. “AND what happened next?” Nick is now looking back with a confused expression of ‘are you serious?’ “Nothing.” “Nothing?” Therese asked in consternation. “You guys just let her walk around that way? With this huge arachnid on her back?” “What should we have done?” Nick asks. Therese is leering at him, utterly dumbstruck at his benighted response. “Well, I suppose I could have brought it home to you.” He’s now looking at her with a decidedly ‘guess what’ expression. “OH, you…did…NOT! You DIDN’T! NICK! SO HELP ME, if YOU brought…ohmygod! NICK! So help me…if that THING is…where izzit?!!” “Where is what?” Nick asks innocently. “Hon? What’re you talking about?” “Oh don’t you give me THAT tone of voice,” Therese ordered, her composure beginning to give way to giggles. “Where IZ DA PIDEY?!!” “Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet,” he began, “eating her curds and whey, Along came a spider and sat down beside her, and she ate him too!” Therese lost her composure, snorting as she laughed. “STOPPIT!! DON’T YOU START!!” Whoops. To late. Nick reached under the table a little too slowly, and Therese, trying to get a grip, saw him and began to hyperventilate. “No! NICK, no!” “No what?” he asked, and pulled out a black velvet box. ‘What?’ Therese thought. Her laughter started to abate as she considered the trifle sitting to the right of the flowers. She looked over at her husband and drew in a hesitant breath. Excited, she reached over and snatched the box, pulling it back to open it very slowly. Inside was a diamond ring, but not just any diamond, this one was set on a full replica of her great grandmother’s Victorian full digit ring. The filigree which was the distinctive trademark of the piece was solid twenty-four carat gold, each of its twelve swirls set with a full carat super white diamond. On the six small swirls were half carat tanzanites of a deep violet-blue hue. As Therese calmed down from the gasp she emitted upon seeing the box’s contents, she gingerly reached inside to get the ring. Just then a fuzzy one inch black footie with two clips on the end popped out to touch her index finger. Mystified, Therese kind of smiled in amusement, wondering what Nick was up to, not connecting the dots. “What’s…?” But Nick just looked back at her in expectation. Now, it’s a rare thing for a man to giggle, but when one does it is truly something to behold. For Nick it started softly at the back of his throat. Then his shoulders got involved. It was at this point that a second foot came out of the top of the black velvet box to touch the ring. Therese’s eyes slowly began to grow wide, then wider still. Here is where Nick’s giggle shifted into overdrive and became somewhat gutteral and throaty as he closed his eyes, then wheezed for greater emphasis. Therese was now backing away from the table though still seated, a third footie exposing itself and wanting in on the action. If one listened closely a low level scream could begin to be perceived. Nick had now dropped his head, his hands flopping at his sides as his laughter began to thieve the air from his lungs. Therese took a tableknife and tried to flick the box off the table altogether. But, it was obstinate and would not be moved. However, the critter inside would. It now emerged in its entirety! Ta-da! It’s the TARANTULA! From Nick’s office story! Now isn’t that something? Boy, was Therese surprised! Nick had his head on the table, his fist pounding it on one side, his other hand hanging limply at his side. What he didnt see was his wife approaching with the koati mundi. And if there’s one thing Nick hates, it’s the koati mundi! Thing is, the koati mundi just loves Nick to death, and particularly loves to sit on his lap (or back) (or head) and emit a somewhat foul odor. This is the koati mundi’s way of claiming ownership. And, as a side benefit, it also like to eat tarantulas. Ah, me,– karma is….
The baby shower went well and Honoria had been the one to gift her with the bassinette for which she’d hoped. Karen and Ginny had stayed after to clean up and told Therese they’d help put her things in the car for her when Nick came to pick her up at five. Finally at home, Therese sank onto the sofa next to Nick and the two were content for the first half hour to just relax and contemplate the fire, watching it’s flames burn orange, then red. It was nearly eight when Therese brought up the subject of the cradle. “I’ve something I’d like to show you,” she said softly. “Hon, I think you’re a little too far along for that right now. We’ll just have to be patient and keep ourselves…” “Oh, stop, you silly!” she chided. “I’m not talking about that! Honestly! Is that the only thing you think about?” “I can remember when it was the only th…” “Enough!” she insisted. “What did we know when we first started? We were just a couple of young kids with raging hormones! We didn’t even know each other’s peccadillos.” “Well, I know I didn’t know about your armadillos,” Nick teased. “Rusty is not an armadillo!” Therese pouted. “He’s been with me since I graduated high school. And he’s very loyal. If you’d give him a chance you’d find he’s…” “Real good to eat,” Nick chuckled. Therese was mortified at this suggestion and poked him hard in the ribs, then started to tickle him. “Oh! No! Now hold it! Hold it! Oo! Oh! No, no! Oo!” “Serves you right! Keep up that kind of talk and he sleeps with us tonight,” she laughed. “Oh, now wait a minute!” Nick protested. “That’s not fair!” “That’s not fair?” she mimicked. “But eating him is fair? I think not!” “He’d be fine parboiled,” Nick offered with a playful jab at her tummy.” “Hey, watch it, squirrel monkey!” Therese warned, “That’s all baby now.” “Lord, I can’t wait!” Nick said with a heavy sigh. “What’re we looking at now? Twelve days?” “Yep, twelve days. But I could go early. All the women on my mom’s side went early,” she said. “How early?” Nick asked. “Some by as much as a month,” she replied. “Others more like two weeks to ten days.” “Well, I’m just as happy to wait full term so all the finishing touches can be put on his brain, ” Nick declared succinctly. “No sense in rushing things.” “You know, I have been feeling those Braxton-Hicks contractions for about a month and a half now,” Therese mentioned by way of reflection. “Yeah,” Nick said, “but the doc said those aren’t real. They’re just like practice sessions.” “Hon, they’re not practice. They’re my body’s way of conditioning itself for the real thing,” she contradicted. “Same thing.” “Is not!” “Is so.” “It is NOT!” “Is so.” “Would you plea…” He’d cut her off in mid sentence to give her a much needed kiss. She always did love it when he teased her, because he always had a kiss waiting for her somewhere along the way. The logs in the fire shifted, begging for adjustment. His sigh signaled bedtime was nigh upon them. She took his hint to heart and stood to go upstairs, knowing he’d take care of the fire, check the doors and be right up.
One-thirty. One-forty five. Two. Two-fifteen. Ow! That one was bad. Well, maybe not so bad. Two-thirty. Two-OWW! AAHH! Therese tried very hard to hold in her need to let out a scream. She didn’t want to wake Nick. Not yet. It was going to take a while, of that much which she was certain. She hadn’t gone early like her mom and sisters had. In her mind that could only mean she was taking after the women on her father’s side of the family. And she knew from talking to Aunt Vesta that all those women had a really rough time, one of them dying from complications before delivery was accomplished. ‘Yes, but that was back in 1913 for God’s sake! Nobody dies in childbirth anymore. At least not in the US,’ she tried to convince herself. “Oh, God Almighty!” she said aloud, waking Nick who at first wondered why the room was dark. Didn’t they have a fire going? Then, realizing they’d gone to bed, that must be Therese. Is she okay?! “Therese? You alright, Hon?!” he asked. “I’m fine,” she said, trying to soothe his concerns. “Nothing’s going to happen for a while yet.” “You sure? You sound like you’re in a lot of pain there,” Nick asked, genuinely worried she was bluffing. “I’m fine. Really, Hon. They’re really far apart and random. No real rhythm at all. Just really uncomfortable, that’s all,” Therese insisted. “Well, all right, for now,” he said, the caution in his tone all too perceptible. “But if this progresses we’re going to the hospital.” “There’s no point in…” “That’s final.” His tone was adamant. “We’re not taking any chances this time.” It was the afternoon of the following day when Therese called Karen and told her she needed her help right away, that she thought it was time, but couldn’t get all the things together that she wanted before she went to the hospital. Karen came over at once. She was there in less than five minutes and helping Therese into her car, asked why she and Nick hadn’t gotten all this together beforehand. Therese told her they had, but since time had kept ticking on Nick had decided to rewash everything since the clothes had been packed six weeks earlier and he wanted fresh duds to be ready for her and the new baby. As if there was an old baby. Don’t go there, Therese. Karen told her their first priority was to get her to the hospital, then once she was ensconced, she would come back and finish the laundry, pack the suitcase, retrieve the desired toiletries and books, together with the phone charger and two photos, and then return to the hospital. Done and done. Coming down to the emergency bay where she’d left Therese she asked one of the nurses if she could see Therese Quantrell. The nurse looked at the computer, then told Karen to ‘wait right there’ then rose and stepped away from the desk. When she returned some ten minutes later Karen had sat back down and so she signaled her, and Karen came right over. “She’s on the third floor in room 324,” the nurse stated. “Are you sure?” Karen asked, confused as to why they’d put a pregnant woman on an OR floor. “Shouldn’t she be on the Maternity floor?” The nurse drew her lips in and shook her head, then said, “I’m sorry. That’s all I know.” Karen didn’t like what was going on. Something didn’t feel right. She went at once to the elevators and waited. A small boy came up and stood beside her. Karen was aware she had company but at first paid no attention. When the elevator didn’t come immediately she anxiously pushed the button again. Then looking furtively around, noticed the young child standing close to her. “Oh. Well, hello. Shouldn’t you be with your Mommy?” At first he just looked up at Karen, then smiled rather readily, as if this were a matter of course for him. Then he finally responded. “My mother died when I was born,” he said, matter of factly. “Well then, who is here with you?” she pressed on. At this he looked deeply into her dark eyes with a kind of unswerving empathy. “Why I’m here with Therese, your friend,” he said, and Karen frowned in disbelief that she’d heard him correctly. “My friend? What do you know of my friend?” she replied with suspicion. “I know that she lost her child.” At this Karen felt a scream rising hard, fast and uncontrollably. She couldn’t contain it, and it came out in a horrid high timbre as she shrank away from the child in utter terror. One nurse, then a paramedic, then an EMT came quickly over to attend to her, but Karen was unhinged. They drew her away from the bank of elevators into an office which, for the moment, was uninhabited. Once they got her settled into a chair and soothed her continually until she quieted down, a doctor, having been dragged in by a male nurse, examined her and ordered an EKG, blood tests, a CAT scan of her brain and after a short conversation with her, prescribed an antipsychotic and a tranquilizer for ten days, with the proviso that she see her primary at the very next chance, and if necessary ask for an acute appointment. He had taken clear concise notes of everything she’d told him, and once she had agreed to being admitted solely for overnight observation, asked the other professionals and all bystanders about the small boy Karen had kept remarking about. None of them, not one, had seen anyone other than Karen, by the elevators, prancing about and insisting all had best beware of the elevators as they were conduits to hell. None of them saw any child anywhere around or near the elevators or near Karen. When these ‘facts’ were revealed to her the following morning she said that they must be mistaken. The boy most certainly was there, she’d taken notes from him. They were in her purse. This boy, she recounted, had not told her that all American Christians were going to hell and that they needed to bow to Lucifer if they wanted any kind of security in their lives. She told them that he’d come for her and her friend in room 324, to be some kind of assistance to her, the nature of which was never really revealed. Upon hearing their version of the previous night’s rantings, Karen returned a vacant look of incredulity. They were all mad, and lucky her! She was their patient! Oh Goody! With great composure and an even, steady tone of voice she politely requested if she could be brought a phone, since their wonderful new doctor had seen fit to destroy her Jane’s$2000.00 designer military Android model. He had then informed the doctors and feds in her room that the order for the new Android had been placed. The look of “Hey, now, waitaminute!!” on their faces was worth all the gold in Ft. Knox. Provided it was still there.