I had been so darkly preoccupied with the drowning at the Chattering Teeth, I actually had not noticed any increase in the size of Marylyn’s breasts. So I just sat there inertly, except for rapidly blinking eyelids, and speechless with my mouth hanging open as if I was a recent victim of a frontal lobotomy. I felt blood rushing to my head but it seemed like it was getting blocked in the web of veins around my temples and unable to reach my brain.
“Hey,” said Marylyn, laughing nervously, “snap out of it! Are you going to examine me?”
“Um… what? Yes… I… yes, of course,” I stammered, trying to shake my head clear. “Let’s go.” She stood up, came behind the desk, took my limp hand in hers and led me to the examination room adjacent to the office. I lifted the back of the examination bed to a 45 degree angle and gestured at it. She lay back, lifted her dress up around her waist, pulled off her stockings and panties and handed them to me with a wink and a smile. As I pulled the stirrups out from the foot of the bed and placed her feet in them, I tried to give her a stern, disapproving look which only succeeded in making her laugh. Sighing, I went to the sink and washed my hands with antibacterial soap. I snapped a rubber glove over my right hand and applied some lubricating gel to my index and middle fingers.
“Are you serious?” asked Marylyn, incredulous and rolling her eyes.
“Listen,” I said irritably, “you asked to see me as your patient so I am going to examine you as your doctor. Okay?”
“You’re right. I’m sorry,” she said.
“Good,” I said, taking a deep breath and slowly easing my fingers into her vagina. She arched her back and bit down on her lower lip, suppressing a moan. There had certainly been no need for the gel as she was clearly aroused. I pushed in deeper until I found the cervix. It was not where it normally would be. It had risen higher and was significantly softer than normal. How could I have not noticed this before? I thought, as wave after wave of panic crashed through me, jarring the very marrow of my bones. I felt as though it was 30 years ago all over again; it was the exact same feeling of abject terror I had experienced after I had examined the dean’s daughter and discovered her pregnant. My fingers slid out and I pulled off the glove with a shaking left hand and threw it in the waste container. Marylyn stared at me intently, the skin stretched tightly across her fine features in anticipation, as I slumped into a chair beside the examination bed and rubbed my temples.
“Well?” she demanded. “You look like you’re watching a horror movie for Christ’s sake!”
“We’ll do the blood work, of course, but I can assure you, Marylyn, that you are quite pregnant. You can get up and put your clothes back on now.”
“Oh, oh, oh!” she cried excitedly, clapping her fingertips.
“I gather by that reaction you intend to keep it?” I asked anxiously.
“What?” she asked darkly, all the gaiety evaporating from her face in an instant.
“What I mean,” I said tentatively, “is that I guess this is what you really want?”
“Well, I didn’t plan it,” she said peevishly, “but now that it’s happened, of course I want it. Why would I ever want to… want to… you know – THAT?! This baby is ours. WE made it together. Damn it, how could you even think it?!”
“Yes, you know – about that,” I said as I felt my anger rising to hers. “I had assumed that a sexually active woman in her thirties would be using some kind of protection.”
“Have you completely lost your mind?!” she shouted. “How could a man your age – a doctor – an obstetrician – possibly make such an assumption?! Did you never once think to just ask me?! And ‘sexually active woman in her thirties’?! Really?! The only person I’ve been with since Paul is YOU!!!”
I sighed, stood up and walked over to the window. It was so cold outside and humid enough inside that almost the entire window was painted with elaborate patterns of ice crystals that looked like long, slender fern leaves being blown around in a swirling wind. “Ice flowers,” I muttered as my distorted reflection stared back at me ghoulishly. I noticed there was still a smudge where the insect had crashed into the glass last summer and caused me to botch Claudia’s amniocentesis. I wondered if it had died because it was not paying attention to where it was going or because it had been deceived by the window. In either case, the ambit of the consequences of its flight had been remarkably wide and catastrophic. I thought about my life and all of the careless mistakes I had made. I realized that I never look out for where I am going and I too, whenever I crash, don’t get killed like the insect; I survive intact, cover my tracks and run, leaving behind the damage I have caused for other people to clean up.
I turned away from the window and walked over to Marylyn. She stood by the doorway, head bowed, sniffling and angrily wiping her eyes with the back of her sleeve. I stroked her black hair back behind her ears and lifted her chin with the heel of my palm so that she faced me. Her rainy eyes were red and puffy and brimming with tears. Her lower lip trembled slightly. “I’m sorry”, I said in all sincerity. “Really. I am just so shocked and… well, scared.”
“Why are you scared?” she said, taking my hand and searching my face.
“You know, despite all the babies I have delivered in my life, even when I was young I could never really grasp the idea of being a father myself. When Leah discovered she couldn’t have children, it was almost a relief. Through my life, I feel I haven’t done such a great job of taking care of myself or my patients – never mind taking care of a child. It sometimes feels like everything I touch goes bad or goes away… in the end. I feel like… like… I cause damage.”
“I don’t know why you are saying these things. Everyone in Herring’s Jaw admires and respects you. Don’t you know that? You took such good care of me when I was with Paul. You saved my life when I was on trial. You have been so kind and decent to me. And I’m still here. Why can’t you see that you ARE a good man and a good doctor? Can’t you see how much I love you?” she asked, blinking up at me earnestly.
I took her in my arms and held her tight. Little did she know I had Claudia and Brody’s murdered baby in the deep freeze. Little did she know that I often went down to the basement to look at it, and sometimes even held it, late at night when she was obliviously sleeping in our bed upstairs. “I will do my very best to be a good father,” I whispered in her ear. “But remember I am old. In a couple of years I will be sixty. I could very well be dead before the kid finishes high school.”
“Don’t be silly,” she whispered breathlessly back in my ear. “You are so fit and strong.”
“Let’s get out of here,” I said impulsively. “I don’t have any more appointments today – just paperwork that can always wait.”
“Okay!” she said, smiling happily. “Let me buy you a drink at ‘Tiff’s’. You sure look like you could use one.”
She was not wrong. We shrugged into our heavy winter coats and picked our way down the ice-glazed street to ‘Tiff’s’, a significantly more upscale bar than ‘The Harlot’s Bed’, located less than a block from my office. I gripped Marylyn’s hand with added protectiveness, already fearful for the safety of the blob of cells growing inside her. It was so cold that, in the few minutes it took to walk to the bar, the mucus in my nose had begun to freeze and beads of ice were settling on my eyelashes.
“Hello! Hello, you two!” cried Tiff, the portly good-natured owner who I had always liked, through the warmth, soft light, laughter and cheerful music that greeted us as we flung open the door and trudged inside, stamping our feet. “Come and warm up by the fire – this one’s just opened up,” she said, gesturing towards an empty table-for-two close to an enormous hearth where a mountain of logs popped and belched orange sparks through long tongues of flame. “What can I get for you?”
I drank beer thirstily while Marylyn stuck to tea despite my telling her that moderate drinking during pregnancy poses no threat to the health of an unborn child. For the next hour or so, she chattered merrily about motherhood and did not seem to notice that I was mostly unresponsive as I stared at the fire and brooded. “We should probably think about heading home,” she said, having concluded something about pacifiers that I had not been listening to. “You have to drive.”
“Yes,” I said. “Let’s go. I’ll fix something for us to eat from the deep freeze.”
Soon afterwards, we were driving along the snaking road that skirts Ragged Lake towards my house. The bouncing high beams cast their glare over the ice storm’s devastation of broken trees and fallen branches that littered either side of the road. Not for the first time, I was reminded of the haunting, grainy images of World War I battlefields which, for reasons I cannot explain, I find fascinatingly beautiful. Less than a kilometer from my driveway, a strange movement distracted my attention out of the driver’s side window. Turning to look, I gasped as I saw Leah swinging by the neck from a snapped off tree branch, weeping and holding out an aborted foetus – it’s coal black eyes boring into me in cold damnation. I slammed on the brakes, just as the car hit a patch of black ice and went into a spin that I could not control. Marylyn’s screams were cut short when the side of the car collided violently, the passenger door collapsing inwards with a sickening crunch, with the shattered base of a thick tree trunk. Twisted metal and glass sailed through the frost-pricked air; through the mists of losing consciousness just before everything went black on final impact.
To be continued…
Part I is available at: https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/06/30/deep-freeze-part-i/
Part II is available at: https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/07/11/deep-freeze-part-ii/
Part III is available at: https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/07/21/deep-freeze-part-iii/
Part IV is available at: https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/07/23/deep-freeze-part-iv/
Part V is available at: https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/08/06/deep-freeze-part-v/
Part VI is available at: https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/08/14/deep-freeze-part-vi/
Part VII is available at: https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/08/26/deep-freeze-part-vii/
Part VIII is available at https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/08/30/deep-freeze-part-viii/
Part IX is available at https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/09/11/deep-freeze-part-iv-2/
Part X is available at https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/09/19/deep-freeze-part-x/
Part XI is available at https://requiemforthedamned.com/2013/09/25/deep-freeze-part-xi/