When she brought in the last bag of groceries, she popped open a diet drink and unbuttoned the top two buttons of her blouse.
Al pulled his undershirt, nearly transparent with sweat, down over his belly, in deference to decency. The hair on his belly was black in sweatcurls. His trousers were rolled up over his bony knees.
They have been married long enough that they had become furniture to each other, like a sofa or bridge table.
“Matthew is visiting this week.”
“Oh yeah? I didn’t know.” He opened up the fridge and yanked back the tab on a cool one.
“It’s been what? A year?”
He shuffled out of the kitchen and back to the TV to catch the final three innings.
Mary was 52; Al, 59. Matthew was 25, but still in school, working on his second masters degree. The first, in Media, had proved useless.
Now, he was in engineering. “Still avoiding a job,” thought Al.
The Braves were hopeless in the ninth. Philly was leading by seven runs and Atlanta had only the bottom of the order. It was a time Al could be reflective; the game was going nowhere, so his brain wandered.
“Who’s he seeing now?”
“Yeah. Who’s he going out with?”
“He’s been living with the same girl for three years. Remember? The little Oriental girl.”
“Oh, yeah. He still with her?”
“Quiet, isn’t she?”
“I thought she talked a lot.”
“Oh, yeah. Ran her mouth on about Japan or someplace.”
“She’s from Thailand.”
“He bringing her along?”
“I guess so.”
“Don’t like that.”
Pinch hitter made it to second, but a freak bounce led to a 6-4-3 double play and the post game was a pitcher. Al hated pitchers. They talked too much.
“Damn candy ass,” he yelled.
“Oh.” Mary assumed this was an opinion about the girl. She didn’t quite understand, but let it pass.
In actuality, Elizabeth, the Asian girlfriend, was a graduate student, too. In English literature. Four point Oh. She was small. She did have dark hair. And her almond eyes were brown as basketballs. She was from San Diego.
“They’re coming Saturday.”
“No, I mean morning or afternoon?”
“Afternoon, I guess. It’s a six hour drive.”
“No, I mean why are they coming?”
“Matthew said it was a surprise.”
“I hate surprises.”
“I know. I told Matthew you hate surprises and all he said was, ‘Then, he’ll really love this one.’”
“Atlanta’s gonna play the Mets.” He put down the tube guide and wondered if it would be a good game and whether he’d have to miss it.
Saturday came and it rained in Georgia. TBS ran a Rory Calhoun movie and Matthew and Elizabeth didn’t show up till dinnertime.
Their silver VW bug with one orange fender had broken down in Lincoln and they had had to wait several hours for a mechanic to change a fan belt. They looked quite happy. Al was suspicious.
After settling down and having lemonades served by Mary, Al began the inquisition.
“So how’s school?”
“You gonna finish this year?”
“Probably. Really all I have left is my thesis.”
“What about Kwan Lee?”
“Elizabeth? She’ll be done in December, if she stays on.”
“You still living together?”
“Atlanta rained out.”
“Ball game. Rained out.”
“Waited for you instead.”
“Sorry, Dad. It’s an old car.”
“Why don’t you get a new one?”
“We will, when we have to.”
“Does it keep breaking down?”
“It’s been good.”
“So, how’s it go?”
“It goes fine, Dad.”
“No, I mean between you. How’s it go between you two?”
“Real good. That’s one of the things I wanted to talk about this weekend.”
“Oh. Good. Glad to hear it. Things are good between Mom and me, too.”
Mom and Elizabeth were in the kitchen getting supper ready. Pot roast; mashed potatoes; boiled carrots; a jello salad; gravy.
“Can’t afford a roast much anymore, but we thought you and Matthew coming was kind of special.”
“That’s very thoughtful.” Elizabeth and Matthew were vegetarians. A little fish now and then.
Her nose is really quite small, Mary thought.
“Really flat chested, isn’t she?”
“She’s just fine, Dad.”
“Another evening with the folks.”
“Don’t be sarcastic, Matty.”
“I can’t help it. They’re so narrow minded, you’d never believe Dad used to teach at the university.”
“Your mom was real nice.”
“Especially the pot roast.”
“At least there were plenty of carrots.”
“Warning: Bacon for breakfast.”
“It’s OK, I brought the rice bran.”
“They drive me nuts. Did you notice they never talk about anything?”
“What do you want them to talk about?”
“Anything except the damn roast or the ball game. You know, even when Dad taught history, he never talked about it at home. It was, like, just a day’s work for him.”
“Maybe it was.”
“News says the weather is clearing in Atlanta and tomorrow is a doubleheader. We won’t be able to get much explained between innings.”
“We can talk to your mom and she can tell him.”
“Probably have to do that.”
He looked long at her belly. A faint stripe of pigment made a line just to the left of her navel and extended down about four inches.
Al was out buying a newspaper. Elizabeth was still asleep.
“There are several things we needed to talk about, Mom.”
“Maybe we should wait for your father…”
“The ball game. Besides, he may not take our news too well. We thought it best if you told him.”
“This sounds serious.”
“Elizabeth and I are moving to South Dakota.”
“We’ll miss you, but that doesn’t sound so awful.”
“She’s got a job at the Indian school on a reservation.”
“You mean Indians?”
“What about you?”
“I’ll be raising the kid, mostly.”
“Yeah. Elizabeth is pregnant.”
“You going to get married?”
“No more than we already are.”
“What about the baby?”
“He’ll do fine.”
Al pulled into the driveway and swung out the big door on the Olds. He didn’t have a paper. He swept into the kitchen like a big drop of sweat steaming down a face.
“All gone. It’s hot out there already.”
“Matthew says he and Elizabeth are going to have a baby.”
“Oh, shit. What are you doing now, kid?”
“We decided to try an experiment, Dad.”
“Since when is having a baby an experiment?”
“I thought it always was.”
“A genetic experiment? You and Kwan Lee?”
“Well, not quite, Dad. I’m not the father; not biologically, anyway.”
Al hated knuckleballs. Just pitch’em straight down the plate. Your best stuff. A knuckler is cheating.
“Elizabeth and I have done a lot of heavy thinking…”
“That’s thinking with rocks in your head?”
“…Thinking about the state of the world and all. We wanted to do something or try something.”
“You mean besides being a vegetarian and saving the lives of countless cows?”
“Yes, Dad. Seriously.”
“But what about the child?” Mary asked.
“I don’t understand. What do you mean?”
“What about the poor child? Why are you experimenting on a poor child?”
“It’s no more than you two did with me.”
Al scraped his fingertips over his stubble. “OK, then, who’s the father.”
“He’s a man we both know at school, a doctoral student from Lagos.”
“Lagos? Where’s that?”
A look of recognition brought a ghost of a smile to Al’s face. Then a second look of recognition brought the ghost to its knees.
“Nigeria,” he whispered.
“Nigeria?” Mary had a blank look on her face.
“Yeah, Mom. His name is Mbwengwe and he’s black.”
“How? … black?”
“His skin is that sort of purplish black; real deep.”
“All his people are like that.”
“No, I mean, why is he the… I mean… I don’t understand.”
“Elizabeth and I have been thinking, like I said, and we, well, we’re not so sure about the viability of white European culture.”
“Yeah. We think logic is a dead issue and …”
“What’s that got to do with having a kid? You’re not making sense. I think I need to sit down.”
“OK, Mom. Like European culture is based, we think, on yes/no categories, you know, the basis of logic. A thing is either A or Not A. And what has this thinking led us to? Digital watches and thermonuclear bombs; acid rain and Third World starvation…”
“Yeah, you know. Ethiopia and all.”
“Look, son,” Al chimed in, “Europe did OK by itself. I wouldn’t want no juju man shaking a rattle over my pneumonia.”
“Why not? If it worked.”
“Worked? How could it?”
”Well, maybe not for you, but if you believed it, it would.”
“I don’t believe.”
“Yeah, sure. But Elizabeth and I were thinking how about combining the best of all world cultures. She’s mostly Japanese…”
“I thought she was Thai.”
“She was born in Thailand. Her folks were from Osaka. Mbwengwe is African and black. I would be the nurturing father and white and European; and we would live with the Indians where all the kid’s playmates would be Indian.”
Mary’s face never got back its expression. She was trying to take all this in and it was overflowing like a faucet forgotten over a bathtub. Mary’s floor was flooded.
Elizabeth had heard the last of this conversation standing by the kitchen door.
“But you haven’t heard the best part yet,” she said.
Mary wondered what could be better.
“When we get to the reservation, we have it all arranged so that Matty will have another baby with an Indian.”
“Yeah, Mom. We don’t know her name yet, but it’s all planned out.”
“You’ve both gone crackers,” Al chimed in. “Why are you doing this to yourselves? Why are you doing this to your kids?”
“We’re doing it for the kids. We have it all worked out. It came to Elizabeth in a dream last year…”
“That’s right. I dreamed it on New Year’s Eve and it was so vivid, I knew it would have to come true…”
“And now it’s happening. But this is only the first part of the dream.”
“Maybe you should tell us the rest of it,” said Al. Up to now he had seen a smidgen of surreal truth in what Matthew had been saying. But this last was getting strange again. He wondered if he should tiptoe to the phone.
“According to the dream, my baby will be a boy, and Matthew’s will be a girl. They will both be beautiful.”
“We’re counting on that, with the expanded gene pool and all.”
“Yes, and the boy’s name will be Solar Wings and the girl’s name will be Hilda…”
“I know it sounds funny, but that’s what the dream said. Dreams can be funny.”
“Solar Wings and Hilda will grow up together on the reservation, learning all the ancient wisdom of the shamans.”
“And what about the wisdom of the Greeks?” asked Al. “Doesn’t he get any logic at all?”
“Yes, Matthew will tutor them in Western Philosophy.”
“Didn’t you get a ‘D’ in philosophy?” asked Mary.
“Yeah. But that was a difficult semester for me, with the drugs and all.”
“If I get the drift of your insanity,” Al said, “you will then marry off Moonbeam and Edna and their kid will be a kind of quadroon extraordinaire. Am I right?”
“Yes, Dad. Our grandchild will embody all the genetic and emotional wisdom of the planet.”
“This is quite a millennial dream you suffered.”
“But that’s not all, yet.”
“What could be next? The end of time?”
“No. The beginning of time, a new Time that will not be like the one we have now. The new one will not be able to be measured by timeclocks. There will be no more punchcards when the new Time begins.”
“And how long do we have to wait for this new Time?”
“A long time.”
“First Solar Wings and Hilda will grow up and get married. Then their child — the daughter of the four worlds — whose name will be Frem, will be made ready and the Star Father will arrive.”
“Star Father?” Al’s skin was beginning to get clammy.
Mary’s eyes were rolling in their orbits.
“According to my dream, an extraterrestrial being will arrive in a giant spacecraft made of a type of plastic unknown on Earth and he will be the product of genetic breeding on his planet.”
“What planet is that? Krypton?”
“I don’t know. The dream didn’t say. But it is a planet of peaceable warriors. The alien will be named Beltenamine and he will mate with Frem. The product of this union will be the new Time. Our greatgrandchild will be the new order of the universe. It’s really exciting, isn’t it?”
Mary was crying.
“No, Elizabeth. It’s nuts.” Al talked in a calm manner, not aggressively, just stating a rather obvious fact. “It’s nuts.”
“No it’s not. It’s real. I dreamed it.”
Matthew eyed his old man. “You had dreams when you were younger, didn’t you? What ever became of them? We intend to live ours out. That’s not nuts.”
“What were our dreams, Al?”
Al sat at the kitchen table, looking out at the trees. He cracked open a pecan, salted the meat, snapped his head and hand back and started chewing.
“Owning this house was one.”
“And now we own it.”
“Making full professor was one of mine.”
“But there’s nothing wrong with associate professor.”
“Nah, I guess not.”
“When I was 10, I wanted to be a ballerina.”
“But you’re tone deaf.”
“I said ‘ballerina,’ not ‘musician.’”
“But you gotta hear the music, don’tcha?”
“I can hear the beat just fine.”
“What happened, then?”
“Mama didn’t think it was a good idea and she refused to send me to dancing school.”
“She said I should get married like she did.”
“I married you, silly.”
“I mean, did you get married like she did?”
“What do you mean?”
“I remember your Mama as kind of bitter. She spent her whole life serving your old man.”
“He was very old fashioned, even for then.”
“So? Has your life been better?”
“Better than Mama’s?”
“I guess so. I don’t really know how happy she was. She never said.”
“What were their dreams?”
“I don’t know. Well, I guess Dad always wanted to be a missionary to China. Mama would have none of it. She liked being a minister’s wife; she liked the social role.”
“What was her dream?”
“I guess she just wanted a bigger church, a larger congregation.”
“My folks had a dream that I would go to college and get and education and a good job. I guess I made their dream come true.”
“Some dreams come true and others just never pan out.”
Al cracked another pecan. It was rotten inside.
“Just like these nuts,” he said.
“Yeah, I worry about Matthew and Elizabeth, too.”
“No, I mean the pecans.”