Familiar Birds (Continued)

by Karen Joy Fowler

The year I turned fifteen was the only year Daisy ever came to stay with us. She came just after Christmas, just about the time she started showing. She refused to say who the father was, but probably some tourist boy, her parents guessed, because of the timing. It was a thing that happened to the local girls, though they’d certainly never expected their Daisy.

Her father thought it might be a boy in her class, because suddenly she was throwing a fit about going to school. They had just about had it with her. Clara would never, they assured my parents. Your Clara is too smart for this.

My parents immediately offered our home: they loved Daisy. So now it was my bedroom we shared and I went off to class each morning, but she stayed behind, promising everyone she would make it up in summer school. She settled onto our living room couch and did nothing but watch television and get bigger.

By this time Daisy and I had wearied of our hostilities. We still didn’t like each other, but the whole thing was pasted over with a thin politeness. I was trying to be a better person in general. It has never come naturally, but I do try.

The first night before we went to sleep, Daisy told me how much the baby’s father loved her. He was, she said, a really, really good–looking guy who wanted to marry her. But she wasn’t sure it was in her best interest.

She was the one who’d advised him to stay away, keep his mouth shut and she made me promise that, if a boy ever called for her, I would say he had the wrong number. Right now he was probably searching high and low for her, and she wasn’t sure her brothers could be trusted not to say where she was.

A little while later we learned that the baby was a boy. That night I woke and heard her crying. I pretended to sleep until the crying got so loud I was sure I was supposed to hear it.

What’s wrong? I asked.

She told me that, back when she’d first thought she might be pregnant, she’d tried to get rid of the baby with the Mormon tea. She was crying so hard,at first I could barely understand her.

There’d been no time to dry the leaves which is maybe why it hadn’t worked. But the tea had made her throw up and ever since, she was afraid she might have hurt the baby. The Hutchings didn’t believe in abortion. Daisy had no one but me to tell and I wasn’t to say a word to anyone though, she said, when the baby was born with no hands or no brain everyone would figure it out.

I was surprised to be confided in and I said what I hoped was the right thing, that I was sure everything would be okay, but how could I know? Things were already not okay.

The Hutchings didn’t believe in abortion nor would they let Daisy raise her own child. The baby was already promised to a family in the city, a Beck and Melody Marshke. The Marshkes called twice a week to see how Daisy was feeling, make sure she was eating fresh vegetables, red meats. Organic milk. Of course, no alcohol. No smoking.

"Daisy wants to keep her baby," I told my mother. Daisy had, in fact, said this once (but only once.) Mostly I thought she should want to keep him. "I don’t see why it’s not up to her."

"Daisy doesn’t know what raising a child involves. She’s still a child herself. She’s a smart girl with a bright future ahead. Her parents want her to have her own childhood before she’s saddled with her own children." And then, running out of clichés, "you could be nicer to her," my mother said, when it seemed to me I had been nothing but nice.

But maybe not. Daisy and my mother were thick as thieves now and I never cared for that. They commiserated over the apparently perfectly natural horrors of exhaustion, insomnia, nausea, hormonal upsets, acne, swollen breasts. Pregnancy had become Daisy’s new expertise, the new thing she knew all about and me nothing. "You can’t even imagine," she would say to me. "You’re so lucky not to even know." Once again nature and Daisy had managed to one–up me.

The baby arrived in early May. I had to go to school as usual and when I came home, things still hadn’t finished. The Hutchings had driven over, eighty the whole way, Norma told us, but there turned out to be plenty of time. Daisy was in labor for thirty–four hours.

Mother came home twice to eat and then went straight back to the hospital. By the time the baby arrived, everyone was exhausted. Mother called to give us the news. "A big healthy boy," she said. "Just beautiful! Perfect in every detail."

His parents took him away. Daisy’s parents took her home.

 * *  * *

For a long time I carried the Marshke’s address in my coat pocket. I’d gotten it off the internet, nothing simpler, and I knew how to get there — the 42 bus and then a transfer to the 18. The thought that I could go any time was a good one, though I never did.

Which is why I wonder now about every boy I see, every boy of a certain age. There they are, two of them, three of them, they’re eight years old, they’re ten, now they’re fifteen and flocking to the mall where they bum cigarettes off strangers and brag loudly about how fucked up they got the night before. Sometimes I wonder where their mothers are.

When she was still at our house, when she was still pregnant, it was my job to get Daisy to her appointments with the obstetrician. My mother couldn’t bear to think of her, poor pregnant country girl, on the bus by herself. What if she missed her stop? What if we lost her somehow in the big city? I only thought of this later, that perhaps she was afraid Daisy would run away.

To get to the bus stop, Daisy and I walked across a park with pigeons and sparrows and crows. There were bushes with a kind of berry Daisy said they also had in the country. The berries fall off in the autumn and ferment on the ground, Daisy told me. The birds eat the berries and get drunk. They keel over. When they try to fly, they can’t go in a straight line, can’t gain any altitude. She was worried, Daisy said, about all those drunken birds in the city. She was afraid they’d fly into the street, get hit by cars.

What do you call someone you have so much history with but never liked? Not friend, exactly. I expect you call them family. Sometimes I imagine phoning Daisy, though we haven’t spoken in many years and my mother told me I was never to mention the baby to her again, that we were putting that behind us.

But I think Daisy would want to hear that he’s all right. You didn’t have to worry, I might say. We city kids can take care of ourselves. In the summer, with my windows open, I hear their voices rising. Sometimes it seems to me that all the boys are Daisy’s, that the streets and parks and malls are filled with Daisy’s sons.