Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life. Rowena Deals With Life, Part 3

Rowena Looks At Pictures

Fiction by S. D. Youngren



Rowena forgot all about Lorraine's return until she rounded the corner. A banner reading “Welcome Back!” stretched diagonally over the desks on the left side; a second banner printed with “Congratulations!” spanned the right. Balloons hung in random bunches, under one of which Molly carefully cut a large sheet cake into squares.

“Looks good,” Rowena told her. “Is she here yet?”

“Not yet.” Molly lifted her cake knife out of the way so Rowena could see. “It kind of ruins it, cutting it up first,” she said. Rowena looked at the pink lettering; in between the grid of cut marks the cake proclaimed, “It's a Girl!” “On the other hand, we're ‘wasting enough time on this as it is.’” She looked around as she spoke; the words were obviously Eloise's. “I bet if she'd had a baby . . .”

“God forbid,” Rowena said. “What flavor, orange?”

“Lorraine's favorite. Orange cake, white icing, pink lettering and rosebuds, green leaves—this is gonna be colorful.” She brought the knife carefully between the “l” and the exclamation point.

“Hey! Cake!” The knife slipped a gash in the frosting. Molly put the knife carefully down and turned as if to beat the troublemaker senseless. Leslie Campbell retreated in haste.

“He would get here early, for once,” Rowena said. “Need any help?”

“Thanks; you could set out the plates and things—that box there.” Rowena found packages of paper plates, cups, napkins, and plastic forks; she was just setting the napkins out in a fan when Eloise came by.

“You have two minutes to get to your desk and be ready to work,” Eloise snapped. Rowena slipped away as Eloise began some kind of argument with Molly over the frosting. There were, Rowena reflected, worse things than actual work.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

“How's McAllister?” Rowena asked.

“She's just the sweetest thing,” Lorraine said. “I've got some pictures here. Pass 'em around.” Rowena took the pictures—a thick stack already—and studied the top photo, of a newborn apparently asleep. She did look sweet. “Don't get cake on them,” Lorraine said.

“I won't.”

“So how's the new mom?” asked Berna, approaching.

“Wonderful. Rowena's got some pictures there. Maybe we should divide these up; let me see.” She took the pictures back and returned the top layer to Rowena. “We'll call that Group A, and this can be Group B—you take it, Molly—Berna, have Group C, and I guess Marjorie can start with Group D. Keep track of which pictures you've seen and don't get them out of order and for goodness sakes make sure your hands are clean and don't spill anything.” Rowena looked up and met Molly's eyes; Molly looked from Rowena to the ceiling.

“What did you say the kid's name is?” Leslie asked. The men in the office tended to stay just long enough to get some cake and a cup of punch, but Leslie of course hung around the women.

“McAllister MacMillan—MacMillan's my maiden name—McAllister MacMillan Pescatti, a girl, six pounds twelve ounces, 4:17 PM, Tuesday the—”

“McAllister?” Leslie said. “What kind of a name is that for a girl?”

“What kind of a name is ‘Leslie’ for a boy?” asked Berna. When the news had first reached Rorschach & Schmed, Berna had told Rowena that “McAllister” was a “stupidass yuppie gimmick name,” but Leslie didn't know that. He grumbled under his breath and slunk back a few steps.

“It's very modern, and we like it.” Lorraine sounded surly, but only for a moment. “We want her to get ahead. She can shorten it to ‘Allis’ if she wants, but now we're mostly calling her Macky.”

“Macky,” muttered Tom, departing with his cake. Rowena wished he would take Leslie with him. In the picture she now studied, Macky lay next to a stuffed rabbit. So far Rowena had seen Macky with the rabbit, a bear, a dog, a cat, a bird, a unicorn, and a frog. So many soft furry things.

“Which is that?” Lorraine asked; when Rowena showed her, she launched into a detailed description of who the rabbit had come from and what sort of noise Macky had made when . . .

“So how's motherhood treating you?” Sara asked.

Rowena looked at her watch and excused herself. Lorraine let her take the “A” photos with her.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

“There's such a thing,” said Marjorie, “as making too much of a fuss.”

Really?” asked Rowena. Marjorie was the soap-opera devotee, after all.

“She'd better watch out or her husband is gonna get jealous,” Marjorie continued. “Happens all the time. Look at Clarissa.”

“Clarissa?”

Clarissa. On All My Hospitals.” Marjorie gave her a “don't you know anything?” look. “He divorced her. And her sister-in-law framed her for the theft of Kirstie's diamond necklace so she went to jail and lost custody of the baby too. So then the ghost of—”

“Marjorie, really. I don't think those shows are good for you.”

“Yes, Mom,” said Marjorie. She started shuffling the papers on her desk. “You've been hanging around Eloise too long.”

“Who hasn't?” Berna asked, sweeping by. Rowena went back to work and, eventually, so did Marjorie.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

“I've committed heresy,” said Berna. “I told Lorraine I wasn't especially planning to have kids.”

“Uh-oh,” said Rowena.

“You?”

“I'm planning not to discuss it with fanatics,” Rowena told her. “I don't really want to get pestered for continual updates.”

“Wise move.”

“So what did Lorraine say?”

“Very little, after the initial outburst. She may never speak to me again.” Berna took the top baby photo from the stack on Rowena's desk and studied it. “I told her I like other people's kids okay but I'm not responsible enough to have any myself.” She dropped the photo back onto the pile.

“And that didn't win you any points for conscience, huh?”

“Cute kid,” said Gina, with a smile. She carried an armful of papers and did not stop to talk.

“You get the feeling we're in the Out group?” Berna asked Rowena. “That nobody with kids is gonna talk to us—except Lorraine—until this blows over?”

“Don't you think you're—”

One mother is enough. I already have one mother to run my life—actually, my mom, my grandma, my aunts—”

“Yeah, I noticed.”

“And now Lorraine too. I swear—”

“C'mon,” said Rowena. “Something important has happened to her. You can't expect—”

“Who says I can't? She came over and hung around my desk pestering me about all this—”

“The nerve,” said Rowena, in her best deadpan.

“God knows if anybody here is going to get any work done today.”

“Berna—”

“That woman,” proclaimed Berna, “is going to drive me nuts.”

“Look at me,” said Sara. Rowena hadn't known she was there. “I have to listen to all this unmitigated domestic bliss and everything and it's only been three weeks since Wayne left me.”

“No sensitivity at all,” Berna said.

“She gets to play Earth Mother and go dump the kid in daycare,” complained Janet. “You can't do both without losing something.”

“I don't think she knows what she's getting into,” said Sara. “She never does.”

“And what about overpopulation?” demanded Carla.

“It's not the kid that bothers me; it's the attitude,” Sara said. “I mean, I'd like to have one too, but—”

“Telling us what to do,” grumbled Berna.

“She's as bad as Monica,” Marjorie began, but Berna interrupted her.

“Marjorie, this had better be a real person for once.”

Marjorie began bickering back at Berna; Rowena wondered why these things always seemed to go on around her desk. She was considering putting her head down to see if they got the hint when she spotted help—of a sort.

“Eloise,” she said.

Everyone scattered.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

“How's it going?” Molly asked, handing Rowena a sheaf of papers.

“Not too bad,” Rowena replied. She looked up. Molly was still standing there.

“Something wrong?”

Molly flipped through Rowena's phone numbers, but didn't seem to be reading them. “Post-natal depression,” she said. “Very common in childless women my age. You know how long Jay and I have been trying?”

“I'm sorry,” Rowena began, but Molly interrupted her.

“I'm thirty-eight now,” she said. “Thirty-eight.

“Have you—I feel so stupid asking this, but have you guys been to a doctor? I mean, I'm not—”

“I know, I know; I just need to let off steam.” Molly stuck her hands into her blazer pockets. She did not look thirty-eight. “They can't find anything wrong. They keep telling me you can try too hard—you've heard that?—damn right I'm trying; after ten years you either give up or you try.” Her hands, still in her pockets, made a restless movement. “What about you?” Rowena almost jumped. “You want a kid?”

“Not—right away.”

“You worry about it—that you'll end up like me?”

Rowena fiddled with her eraser. “I can think of worse people,” she said. “But—that way—yeah, sometimes. You hear so much about it and everything—how common it is—” She couldn't bring herself to say “infertility” to Molly; it sounded so permanent.

“Don't wait too long,” said Molly. “You're young now, but you'd be surprised how fast you get old.”

“Molly—”

“You have a boyfriend, right?”

“Yes . . .”

“Don't let him tell you you've got another twenty years. When you feel you're ready—”

“I don't think he'd do that.” Rowena really couldn't picture Sammy brushing her off that way.

“That's good,” Molly said. “That's good he understands. You get old and your chances—not that mine were all that hot to begin with, apparently . . .” Molly lifted the stack of photos from Rowena's desk. “‘McAllister,’ indeed,” she said. “That's a Patricia if ever I saw one.” She replaced the photographs and left. Rowena sighed and pushed herself back in her chair. She wondered what sorts of names Sammy liked. She doubted he'd choose a name like “McAllister.”

Marjorie leaned over. “That happens all the time, too,” she whispered loudly, pointing at Molly's retreating back. She got up and strolled knowingly off to lunch.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

Lorraine dropped casually by half an hour later. “Are you done with the pictures? I have Set B here for you.”

“Um, sure.”

“These are up to Age 3 Weeks. Isn't she adorable?”

“Yes, she is. Listen, Lorraine—”

“Even Eloise says so.”

Eloise?

“Well, she didn't spend much time looking at them, but you know how busy she is. I showed her the ”C“ set, and so now I'll take her the A's—too bad everybody can't see them in order, but that would take so long.”

“Speaking of which—”

“I was in labor for twenty-two hours. Wracked with pain and—everything you've heard about how much it hurts is true. You can't imagine—”

“Actually, Lorraine, I'd rather not try just now.”

“But of course it's all worth it.” Lorraine sighed. “Look, I have a special one here; don't tell the guys about it.” She pulled an envelope from her jacket pocket. “Look. Here I am breastfeeding her.”

There was something about the baby's expression that Rowena found very appealing. But she couldn't help feeling it in questionable taste for Lorraine to go around showing such a picture to her coworkers, even just to her female coworkers.

“Nice,” she managed to say. The baby gazed back at her.

“I'm kind of afraid to show that one to Eloise,” Lorraine confessed. “Or Marjorie. But you're okay.”

“Thanks.” Was she going to show it to Molly? “Um, Lorraine—”

“Are you planning to have kids?” Lorraine asked. Rowena was saved by her telephone. By the time she hung up, Lorraine was gone. Rowena looked at the stack of photos and sighed. It would be nicer to see the real baby. She wondered whether Lorraine would ever get back to normal. She wondered whether she herself would be that kind of mother, some day.

Some day.

@>--->---          @>--->---          @>--->---

Rowena went to lunch with the “C” pictures—she'd already seen the D's—and the new mother picked them up when she returned. Rowena wondered whether Lorraine was getting any work done, especially as she insisted on explaining the first four or five pictures of every group. Finally, just as Rowena thought she'd seen everything, Lorraine handed her a new batch.

“David just dropped these by,” she said. “Straight from the photo lab. Look, isn't this adorable? The little girl next door gave Macky that rattle. That's her hand holding it. Her name's Justine. And there she is with Macky on her lap. And here—”

Rowena wondered how much you had to use a camera to wear it out. An awful lot, she suspected. She looked at her In box and sighed. She hoped the management would be understanding. At least she'd succeeded in using the pictures to fend off Leslie Campbell. But how to fend off Lorraine? This time she got to admire Macky's little bonnet with the ducks on it, and Macky's stuffed lobster, stuffed bee, and stuffed octopus. When Lorraine showed her a picture of herself with Macky in the park, in which Lorraine determined by use of a dandelion that Macky was going to like butter, Rowena suddenly felt very, very tired.

And she looked up to see Eloise approaching.

“Oh, Eloise!” cried Lorraine. “I've got a whole new batch of pictures for—”

Eloise turned quite suddenly and darted away. Rowena stared.

“I guess she doesn't like babies,” Lorraine sighed. “I should have known, really.”

Rowena looked at her. “Lorraine, have I ever shown you a picture of my dog?”

“No—I don't think so.”

Rowena nodded. “I'll bring some in,” she said. “Soon.”



_____________________________/


Next Story:
Rowena Visits With Her Dad

Rowena Deals With Life, Part 4

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