The Second Child
by Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz
I'm truly surprised when Kenny tells me that his girlfriend Angela is pregnant - again. But what did I expect? That they learned the first time? And how could they when my paycheck bought formula, diapers, paid the rent. When it was my schedule that accommodated well-baby checkups, vaccinations, ear infections. And they could go at one another deep in the night, no fear of waking a young child, because the crib was not in his bedroom.
I shake my head and clear the table of our breakfast dishes. At the sink, I stare out the window.
“What do you want me to say, Kenny?” I look at him. “Congratulations?”
Kenny shrugs, slouches in the chair. He stretches one leg out and crosses his arms against his chest.
“How far along?”
“You'll have to ask her.” With that he rises and goes down the hall to his bedroom.
I glance at the clock. There's no time to fix Angela something decent. I pull out a box of the most nutritional cereal and leave it on the table.
I go to Kenny's room. I can hear them talking, though I can't make out anything they're saying. I knock.
Their silence is sudden.
“I need the baby,” I say.
After a few moments, the door eases open and Angela appears with a lighter version of herself in her arms.
“I didn't have time to fix her hair,” Angela says, plucking at the curls atop her daughter's head.
“She's okay,” I say, reaching for the child, although before I drop her off at the day care, I'll run a comb through it, try to capture as much as I can in rubber bands. “How're you feeling?” I ask.
Angela turns away.
“Eat before you go to school.”
Angela turns back to me, though she doesn't meet my eyes. “I will,” she murmurs.
I glance over at Kenny who's stuffing books into a backpack.
“Get to school on time.”
“We will,” he tells me.
There is something I feel I must say although words don't seem to come. Kathleen starts running her pudgy fingers through my hair. “Well,” I say, finally, “you two have a nice day.”
I'm not at work an hour when the high school nurse calls. Angela's sick. I'm not her mother, but am listed as her guardian.
I sign in at the office, head down the hall to the nurse's office, Through the glass pane facing the hall, I see the nurse at her desk, can see Angela's body from the knees down on the examination table in the secondary room.
The nurse looks up when I walk in.
“I'm here for Angela.”
The nurse rises. “She's been throwing up,” she explains as we enter the other room.
“She's pregnant,” I tell her.
“They almost always are.”
What does she mean - Black girls or teenagers?
Angela sits up with the nurse's assistance. I want to reach out to her but I do nothing. Although she has given me my first grandchild and soon, my second, although she lives in my house, eats the dinners I prepare and leaves her dirty underwear for me to wash, I find it's hard for us to talk.
We enter the hall, heading to the office to sign her out. Angela creeps along, her arms tight around her middle.
At the car, on the passenger's side as I insert the key into the door, I say, “I should probably leave a message for Kenny so he's not worried.”
Angela leaning against the car looks at me, surprised. “He's . . . not there,” she tells me.
“What do you mean?”
Angela looks across the schoolyard. “He's working,” she says finally.
Confusion sparks sudden anger in me. I'm about to snap at her, insist she tell me what I do not know, but I don't want to aggravate her further. Still I ask, “There's no need to contact him?”
Angela assures me that Kenny will have her when he comes home.
Not satisfied, but little I can do, I nod and help her into the car.
When we get to the house, I get her on the couch because it's closest, plastic bucket beside her. I call my job to say I won't be returning today.
Late afternoon, I wake Angela for lunch - broth from the chicken noodle soup.
As I'm adjusting cushions and bed pillows, she gives me nervous glances. Finally she tells me, “We're moving. Kenny's working so we can have a place of our own.”
I place a towel on her lap, balance the food tray on it. “Two kids taking care of two kids,” I mutter. “I'm sure that's going to work out real well.” I punch the pillows around her. “Tell me about the job.”
Angela stares into the bowl of soup, the spoon circling through it. “He has enough credits to
graduate. Kenny decided to work instead.” She looks up at me. “He wants to pay you back for everything.”
I shake my head. “He can't have that much money.”
Angela shrugs. “That's what Kenny told me.”
I don't know what to say. I'm angry but I'm sure there's something else, something more, underneath that I don't want to face. My mind tries to put it together. “So you come home after school, he gets Kathleen before I get here and I'm none the wiser?”
Angela nods. “He didn't know how to tell you.”
Well, I guess we'll talk now, won't we?”
And then, as if cued, Kenny walks into the house, Kathleen in his arms.
“Home from work, I see.”
Kenny's eyes widen. He closes the door. He glances at Angela, doesn't look at me. He puts Kathleen into the playpen. Straightening, he takes a breath.
I feel something in my heart ache not to be released, and my breath holds as my son steps toward me, approaching me as a man.
Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz is a fiction writer and poet. She is currently working on several chapbooks and a novel. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more about Gwen in our interview.