Read The Child Online

Authors: Sarah Schulman

Tags: #Gay & Lesbian, #Literature & Fiction, #Fiction, #Gay, #Lesbian, #United States, #Genre Fiction, #Lgbt, #Gay Fiction, #Lesbian Fiction

The Child (9 page)

Wisotscky got beady-eyed now. A fanatic. Stew definitely had to be fearful, to watch his step.
“No, thank you.”
If Wisotscky was disappointed, he hid it.
“What do you want to be when you grow up, Stew?”
The thing about Wisotscky that was bugging Stew the most was the way he kept saying his name. Stew. Stew. Stoooooooo. Oooooooooo.
“I want to work in computers.”
“You like computers.”
“How are you doing in school?”
“You got to stay in school to get a good job. Get your own place.”
That was the giveaway that Wisotscky was on
side. Everyone wanted Stew out of the house; they were all in it together. But he knew he had nowhere to go. He knew he would starve and have to peddle his ass and get AIDS. If they kicked him out, he was dead.
“I don’t want my own place.”
No one was going to talk Stew into that. He’d get his own place, eventually. But he needed his parents. His father and mother could stop acting that way. If Wisotscky would tell them to.
“Calm down. Take it easy on your parents and then they’ll calm down, too. I’m sure your father cares about you. I’ve seen a lot of fathers, and yours really loves you.”
“Are you sure?”
“Stew.” Stoooooooooooo. “Fathers aren’t perfect and they make mistakes, but you have to be able to forgive him.”
Stew rethought the situation. Maybe Wisotscky could be won over. This was Stew’s only chance. He would just explain it to Wisotscky really clearly, and then the guy would help him. He would tell Stew’s father to lay off.
“I do forgive him. And each time I forgive him, I hope he’ll never do it again. But he always does. He doesn’t care that I forgave him, because he thinks he didn’t do anything wrong in the first place. In fact, he’s mad that I forgave him. Then he does it again, anyway, so forgiving him doesn’t change anything.”
Stew felt good. He’d said it right.
“Look, Stew, you’ve had a bad experience. Everyone is upset. I can see that you’re a good kid. You don’t need to be in a juvenile home. Just go back with your parents and try to control your behavior. I know that seems hard, but it’s easier than you think. If you ever feel out of control, stop by to see me and we’ll take care of it.”
Wisotscky got up and opened the door. He sent Stew a calculated fatherly smile and then called out into the waiting room.
Stew was relaxing. Maybe this guy would actually help him.
“Mr. and Mrs. Mulcahey. You can come in now.”
Stew felt hope.
Brigid popped her head through the office door. Stew could tell she wanted Wisotscky to think she was afraid to come in. Her whole
life was one big pretend.
“My husband is at the 7-Eleven making phone calls. My daughter had to pick up her son.”
“Well, please have a seat in my office and we’ll wait for him together.”
Brigid came in and sat. They all looked at one another.
“Excuse me.” Wisotscky got up to go to the bathroom, while the mother and son waited for Marty to get back from talking on the phone. It was like home.
This is her chance
, Stew thought.
She can tell me right now that she knows this is wrong. Go ahead, Mom. Please, Mom, go ahead
His mother was thinking. But about what? Was she thinking about apologizing? She looked at Stew.
“I’ve got to get Daddy to stop at the mall on the way home or we won’t have enough chicken, but he won’t want to.”
Stew started cleaning his nails.
“I remember the time the four of us went to the beach when you were little. We had a great family back then.”
Stew leaned away from her, balancing his chair against the fake wood-paneled walls. The pain he felt was inexpressible. What is fake wood made of anyway?
“Daddy is too harsh on you, but he’s not going to change. You are the child, you should be more flexible. I never spoke to my parents like that.”
He looked up at the broken panels on the ceiling. There probably was asbestos up there.
“Why is this happening to me?” Brigid asked Stew. “No one helps me. Everything is always about someone else’s problems.”
She looked like she was about to cry. “I have problems, too.” She sniffed back her tears. He knew then that she was in control. “The day you were born was the happiest day of my life.”
Stew felt a knife through his heart. She could feel that way again, right now, if she only wanted to.
Marty returned from the 7-Eleven. He stood in the doorway, panting for effect until Wisotscky came back from the john. He wanted the doctor to see how hard he’d tried to get back there on time.
“I gotta go,” he told Wisotscky. “I got two customers waiting to meet me at the shop. I have to earn a living. Who do you think is paying for all this? I’m paying.”
“Mr. Mulcahey, sit down for just a minute. My services are free of charge. This is a required part of the intake. I know that you care and you want things to be better. Five minutes is worth it if things get better.”
“I want things to be better.” Marty finally took a seat. “I got fifteen minutes. I got more.”
“Good. Do you love your son?”
“Of course,” Marty said. “He’s my kid. Every father loves his son.”
Stew felt dead. He knew it wasn’t true.
“Your son is agitated,” Wisotscky whispered, like he was letting Marty in on the secret of the Vatican archive. “He needs a little calm and understanding.”
“Okay,” Marty nodded, unsure. “I understand.”
“Why don’t you do something fatherly with him, like have lunch together every Wednesday? Something regular and consistent?”
“Sure,” Marty said, relieved. “I can do that.” He smiled. He’d
gotten off easy and he knew it.
“All right,” Wisotscky said, victorious. “Here’s my card. Call me anytime.”
Brigid and Marty stood up to leave. Wisotscky stood, too. He was tired and wanted to go home and smoke a joint. All the adults were standing, finishing, but Stew couldn’t move. He was so disappointed. That should have been the greatest moment of his life—when someone would help him. But what did happen? Nothing.
Fists balled up, staring at the floor. How could this be? He had no reason to get up. He couldn’t believe how he’d just been so brilliantly fucked over. He pressed his fists against his temples to keep from crying, but the movement was more dramatic than crying. He couldn’t protect himself from being upset, and he knew that made him worse in their eyes. He knew it. It was a trap and they’d caught him. He started crying.
The Mulcaheys looked at each other. They were embarrassed in front of the doctor.
Stew was shaking his head.

You, you, you, you, you, you
The adults swayed awkwardly, waiting for him to be done.
Outside there was a familiar beauty of early evening as Eva and Hockey, familiarly, went off to their most comfortable spot. They shared a sentimentality for greasy diners. In part because they were still Americans at heart, but also because red pleather booths reminded these pals of their disco youths right after law school, getting breakfast at five a.m. with the ones they adored. And no matter how silly or expensive the West Village became, the diners never seemed to suffer.
It was that time of night when the most hardworking were still getting off the subway in their suits and briefcases, while the leisure class were already having cocktails after relaxing days at the gym and advanced yoga.
What should I eat?
was a thought Eva and Hockey shared as they slid into their awaiting slots, surrounded by streaky mirrors and depressed lonely waiters, yearning for their mothers in Albania.
Hockey’s food was determined by whatever medication he was on that week, and Eva’s by her desire to never see Dr. Pollack again.
“I’d like something with a lot of lard,” Hockey told the waiter. “What have you got?” He’d been home alone, infusing for hours, fantasizing about this moment and saying this line.
“Onion rings?” the waiter suggested brightly.
“Yeah!” One more decision out of the way. Hockey took out his pillbox. It was as unobtrusive as a piano case. “And a side of bacon. Better deep-fry that.”
“And you, Miss?”
“Uhhhh, I’ll have a turkey on rye with no mayo, and lettuce, and an herbal tea. Yuck, that sounds awful.”
“Why not have a cappuccino?” the waiter offered, having done so well with the onion rings. He wanted to be meaningful in someone’s life. “It tastes better.”
“Uhh, do you have no-fat milk?”
“We have two percent.”
“I’ll take the tea.” Then she could see how hurt he was. “I have cystic breasts, you understand.”
“Yeah, yeah.” The waiter was sad again and slunk off to the kitchen. Eva suddenly remembered those big, white radishes waiting at home on that lovely plate.
“So.” Hockey tapped himself on the chest. “They want to take out my Hickman catheter.”
“What would you get instead?”
“Well.” He scratched his chest now. “I’m going to sit in the doctor’s office for six hours once a week and get one big fat infusion there instead of every night at home alone for four hours.”
“How great,” Eva smiled. “What’s if for?”
“So that I don’t go blind. Yeah, it’ll be great. Then after a while I won’t need those long infusions at all. I’ll take pills … or implants or something. Whatever’s on the pipeline.”
“Will the hole close up?”
“Yeah, there will be a scar.”
“I’m sorry.” The waiter was back now. He seemed devastated. “We’re all out of turkey. We have ham or tuna fish salad.”
“No way,” Eva lurched. “Oh shit. How about a green salad? Do you have any? Of course you do.”
She felt panicked about Hockey’s endless suffering. She searched
up and down the menu, past drawings of the Acropolis, looking for something that had no fat. For years and years she had calmly taken in his most horrific daily life. How, if
was the one to get sick, she knew for a fact that he would not reciprocate. Could not, would not–which it was remained unclear. That’s how it went with these kinds of relationships–the forever ill sour to the experience of the new arrivals. They’re still here, after all, so it must be no big deal. She resolved to eat anything, no matter how tasteless and vile, in order to never ever have breast cysts again and never ever see Dr. Abraham Pollack and attempt to never be the sick one in the room.
“I know,” she said. “How about a salad with no cheese, no meat, no mayonnaise anything? What kind of dressing do you have?”
“Why don’t you have a tofu salad?” Hockey suggested.
“I can’t. Tofu has fat. Can you believe it?” Anyway, she knew they didn’t have tofu in Greek diners. They had feta.
“Are you sure?” He was seriously wondering.
“I saw it on a package at the health food store.”
The waiter felt suicidal. He was saving up to buy a house back home. But rent here was so expensive and the subway fare alone stole his dreams away.
“We have vinaigrette, French, ranch, blue cheese, and creamy garlic.”
“Nothing without oil?”
The waiter shrugged and looked up, begging for pity.
“Okay, I’ll just have lettuce and tomato with vinegar. Thank you.” Eva handed back the menu, exhausted. “Hockey, I want to ask you something. When you go to the doctor.…”
“Eva Krasner!”
An overwhelmed, middle-aged woman dragged two antsy kids
over to their table. It was Sylvia, a former lawyer friend turned wife and mother. Eva hadn’t seen her in so long. She looked good with brown hair, but tired.
“These are my children. I can’t believe you’ve never met them. This is my son, Jehosophat. He’s seven. And this is my daughter, Diogenes. She’s five.”
“Who are they named after?” Hockey asked obediently.
“My husband’s parents, Jean and David. How are you, Eva? Still at the legal clinic, fighting the good fight?”
“Well….” Which explanation should she offer? The long one focusing on her own inadequacy, or just the short, sweet facts of the matter? “Actually, we got defunded.”
A shroud draped over Sylvia’s face. She still pretended that her retreat from the workforce was temporary, and that all the needy people and on-the-brink institutions she’d been part of would be fine without her until she returned. The news of their demise sealed her fate as a true bourgeoise who now gave nothing back, and probably never would again. She wasn’t ready to believe that about herself. She was shocked.
“Really?” Her facial muscles showed her concern and panic, while her eyes shifted around to watch the kids. “I thought you’d never give up.”
There it was again, the thing that had been worrying Eva for months. Had she really
given up?
Or had she simply exhausted every legal, social, political strategy possible until she was defeated by the new era of selfishness?
“I tried my best,” she said.
“What a shame.”
Eva was ashamed, for that was the real truth. She
tried her
best, and her best had failed. There was, in the universe, an extant best that would not have failed, but it wasn’t hers. This was the problem. She had to be better. Somehow she had to undo all the fear and limitation and become a person who, next time, saves the clinic. Or the day.
“What are
doing, Sylvia?”
“Mommy, let’s go!”
Sylvia hung on to the moving children like Hercules wrestling the bull.
“Everything’s great, with the kids and all.
One minute, Jehosophat!
We did kids things today. I’m taking them home from tae kwon do. Hey, congratulations!”
“For what?”
“Your sister’s baby. Close call, huh? It was touch and go there for a while.”
“It was?”
“All those thousands and thousands of dollars on fertility drugs,” Sylvia clucked. “Enough to save the clinic, probably.” She laughed. “I thought they’d have to go to China. All that expense.”

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