Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Friday, May 30, 2003

A Distant Rumble

A Distant Rumble
So we’re driving back from my neice’s First Communion, our VW Bug charging down Interstate 96, swerving to avoid the giant potholes, and I’m brooding about a price tag.

I’d accidentally left it attached to little Charlotte’s present. Which, of course, my sister noticed, tugging it out from behind the tiny crucifix. Which was bad enough, but what was worse was that wasn’t even the real price. So now what, I asked Ron. What should I do?

Ron was too busy dodging semi-trucks and giant Imperial Cruiser SUVs to answer, so I gave up and closed my eyes, hoping for a light doze. I rarely slept in moving cars, but we had a three-hour drive ahead and it was better than gnawing further on Christine’s Religious Gift Bone.

“Wake up, Chris, we’re home,” Ron said.

I blinked and sat up in amazement. How could I have slept, for three hours, in a rattling VW on Michigan’s tragically neglected highways? But it was true, I had slept, not a light doze but a deep, profound slumber that left slashing creases in my sundress and puddles of drool on the passenger window.

“That was some nap,” Ron said, tugging my stiff limbs out of the car. “You slept through three near-accidents, two construction zones -- even a stop at McDonald’s. You even snored.”

“I’m still tired,” I said thickly, staggering into our rented condo. Ron deposited me on the couch and stalked off disgustedly to take off his tie.

I lay quietly, listening to Fridge chirp a cheery hello. Our refrigerator used to be a typical appliance, actually one of our better ones, not prone to desperate gurglings like the dishwasher or frenzied escape attempts like our clothes dryer.

But recently Fridge had begun to assert its personality. Maybe it was upset that we’d been eating more canned than frozen food recently. It began by humming irritably, then started clearing its throat suggestively. Now it screeched like a hysterical bird, demanding attention at intervals throughout the day. I tried to quiet it through brutish treatment, shaking it and slamming its doors. It retreated into frightened silence for a time, eventually recovering to chirp again, often at 3 a.m.

“Call Dennis,” said Ron, when I complained. Ron worked insane hours launching a brand-new weekly newspaper and rarely heard Fridge. Dennis was our landlord and, I suspect, a participant in the Federal Witness Protection program. Ron had seen him once, myself not at all. He rarely answered phone calls, and his McMansion outside Ann Arbor was always dark and quiet. If it weren’t for the cashed rent checks, I’d doubt his very existence.

Sighing, I hauled myself off the couch and glared resentfully at Fridge, making sure to slam the refrigerator doors after I pulled out a Hostess Ding Dong, a bowl of vanilla pudding and half a chicken.

“What’s this?” Ron asked, staring as I added a jar of cashews and a bag of Doritos.

“Just a snack,” I mumbled, tearing off a chicken wing. “Do we have any ice cream?”

Ron just shook his head, grabbed a handful of cashews and headed to the couch to wade through the Sunday papers. I polished off my feast and lurched over to join him.

“Ron, I think I might be pregnant,” I said.

He put down the sports section and looked at me wearily. “Christine, it’s been a long day.”

“No, seriously,” I said. “Fatigue, increased appetite, mood swings. This could be it.”

Ron was unimpressed. “So you freak out over nothing, take long naps and eat like a horse. What else is new?" He peered at me suspiciously. “Have you been on that weird baby site again?”

Uh-oh, busted. The newest addition to my list of Internet favorites was a scary site called Its perky pink-and-blue home page featured articles on everything from fertility aids to kindergarten placement tests. Its ominous fertility stats for my age group (I was nearly 35) nearly drove me into a frenzy. Ron quickly vetoed any weird drugstore kits, so I’d secretly determined my “Magic Week” using the site’s dandy calculator.

“I’m telling you, I have this feeling,” I said.

A week later, I triumphantly waved a little white stick at Ron when he walked through the door Friday night. “See?” I crowed. “See that pink line?”

Ron’s forehead crinkled. “It’s not very dark.”

“What do you want, neon lights? This is it!”

“Go see the doctor,” Ron said, shaking the stick and peering again.

I knew then that Ron was taking this seriously, because he hated our doctor.. The man was just plain weird. We'd found him during a desperate 20-minute search through our insurance directory when I caught a scary flu virus last fall.

“I wouldn’t trust that man to take my pulse,” I said. “What other proof do you need? The line is pink!”

“It’s fading.”

“Well, quit messing with it.”

In the end I did go to Doc Weirdo, who was actually having one of his normal days. The results of his test sent me to Ron’s office on deadline day, three hours before his newspaper went to press. I charged into his office, shut the door and handed him a crinkled yellow sheet.

“See?” I said, folding my arms.

He scanned the sheet. “You had a retinal scan?”

“No, look further down, where the box is checked. See? Positive.”

Ron looked up from the flimsy paper and smiled. I bit my lip, trying not to cry.

“Yes, Chris, I see.” His eyes were wet and shiny. “I see.”


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