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No Baby

Avoiding the child.

When she was four, Rhonda would ask her mother for a bowl of water and a paintbrush, then go outside, paint the front door with water, wait for it to dry, and paint it again.

When we'd lived together for two months, she suddenly said, "I think we could have wonderful babies." I excused myself, got up, went to the bathroom, checked that she was up to date on the pill, pretended to pee, then came back to the living room.

"What did you mean, 'we could have wonderful babies.'"

She wiggled in her chair. "Don't you think?"

"Nope. Not at all. Don't want 'em."

"What should I do, then? I want some."

"You'll need another guy. I'll still hang out."

"Come on."

"Being a kid is shit; I don't want to perpetuate it."

"You turned out okay. I've seen you handle puppies. You'd be a good dad."

"We had different experiences. You painted the door."

"I liked painting the door. I want a little boy. Little boys are exciting."

"No little boys."

"Not even one?"

"Rhonda, since I was fifteen I've considered getting a vasectomy, just to better my odds of never being a Dad. Plants die in my hands; what makes you think I'd do better with a baby?"

"I'll give you a vasectomy." She came over and sat on my lap, pushing my book out of my hands. "Come on. They could have your eyes and my legs."

"And hopefully other parts, too. This is not a fun conversation." I kissed her. "No kids."

She frowned. "Okay. No kids."

"What else can we talk about?"

"Not sex," she said.

"Great literature."

"Boring," she said.

"Radioisotopes?"

"Which are?"

"I don't know. Sounds cool."

"Tell me a story?"

"What kind?"

"When you were a kid."

"All right," I said. I thought for a moment. "When I was ten my mother brought me to a Borough Council meeting in West Chester. She wanted me to have a political education. I didn't understand any of it. She was fighting for civil rights. I knew she was important in the town but I didn't know why.

"It went on for a while and all at once my mother got up and started screaming at the council. I don't remember what she said, but she ended it by yelling, 'you don't understand, you don't know how much I love you, I love all of you.' Then she ran out of the room.

"The door slammed behind her. Everyone just stared at me. An old woman wearing green turned to another woman and muttered, 'what a crazy bitch.' I got up and walked out, trying to be invisible.

"She wasn't in the parking lot. It took about twenty minutes, but I found her behind a tree, crying.

"So she hugs me, and says, 'Paul, I need you to help me. I need you to go back in there and get my purse.'"

"I was scared, but I did it. The door creaked; everyone turned around. I walked in, got the purse, and ran back out before the door could close all the way.

"So we drove home, and she said, 'You were very brave. Please don't tell your father about this,' and she put her hand on my knee."

It was quiet. Rhonda looked at me with pity. "That happen a lot?"

"Sure. That's Mom. She did that as a career."

"And that's why no babies?"

I shook my head. "A little more complicated. But in any case, I'm good for babies at zero."

Rhonda cocked her head. "I guess that's acceptable, at least in the short term. Should I get off your lap?"

"Yep, you're killing me," I said, and she shifted off my lap and stood up.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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