The Pregnant Widows Club, a novena, Chaptella 8

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The toll

Iridella's supervisor, the compassionate bitch, came back from the lady's room, curious at the missing preggos. She found the redheaded one in the wheelchair even more curious until she saw the ID badge clipped to the lapel of her Harris tweed running jacket.

"You know Iridella?"

Dr. Spleen jerked a bit, coming out of her reverie. She adjusted her glasses and stared at the fake blonde with the tattooed eye makeup before her. "Who are you?"

"I'm her work supervisor, Jeanne-Lorraine Montpelier."

"Oh, sorry," she extended a hand. "I was contemplating her case."

J.L. shook the hand and settled back on her plastic seat in the corner. "And? Do we know anything? Definite, I mean."

Dr. Spleen shook her head. "No. We are just guessing."

J.L. shook her head. "I don't know how long she was lying there before someone found her. The inmate in the next cell said that she was laughing and then crying and sometimes both before no noise was heard. Then someone noticed her almost under her desk, her legs sprawled and drool sliding out of her half-smiling mouth. The nurse said her pulse was erratic but she didn't seem to be in serious distress. When she called the firm's on-call doctor, he seemed to be very concerned about her nail beds and scholera. Then he ordered that 911 be called."

Dr. Spleen sat up in her wheelchair. "Ah. When you get a chance, have the firm's physician call me. That might be important."

"I will. I've got to go out for a cigarette soon. I'll call then."

"What are you smoking?"


"Filtered or otherwise."


"I used to like those, and Gitanes."

"Too strong for me. Tastes like a tailpipe."

"I can't smoke anymore."

"I can see."

"Did you quit when you were preggers?"

"How did you know I was a mom?"

"We can tell, can't we, hmm?"

"Yeah, I'm sorry, I guess we can. I did all kinds stupid things when I was carrying my three. Bang, bang, bang, they came. Three years of maternity clothes in the early seventies. That made it easy. I wore granny dresses to work... I even had the glasses. I wore Birkies or Earth shoes and no one said a word. If I wore that stuff to the job today, everyone would think I was wearing pyjamas..."

"I hadn't thought of that. I haven't seen a granny dress or a pair of Earth shoes in years."

"Oh, I've still got mine. They haven't fit for a while, somehow I got taller before I hit my thirties and my feet got longer."

"How fascinating. Any epilepsy in your family?"

"Sure. I've got a mild sort myself. Hasn't bothered me much since I was twelve or so. How did you know?"

"The height and foot thing. That's a signal. You need to get a full physical once a year. There might be a recurrence waiting for you."

"Thanks. I'll do that. What about you? You're getting a bit up there for pumping out a unit. How are you doing?"

"Seven and a half months along. None of the problems I had fifteen years ago."

"How does your husband feel about it?"

"None too happy. I just finished divorcing him. He and the teenager are off to enjoy each other without being disturbed by a new baby. What about you? What were your's like?"

"The first one was an adventure, the second a chance to see if it would be any different, and the third was just something to ge through. I had the other two kids to take care of at the same time, you see. Just like an old time mommy. After the third one fell out at a friend's wedding reception, I settled in to just trying to get enough sleep not to kill the whole lot."

"I can't imagine what it would be like being a multiple offender. I could barely handle the one and I'm considering retiring to deal with this one."

"But, you're a doctor. Surely you can handle anything?"

"I'm more of a glorified counselor with a string of letters after her name. I mean, does any of your power at your work carry over into your personal life?"


"Do you remember the doctors or the nurses saying anything about what she will need or how long they think...?"

"Not really. Normal reactions, unremarkable tests, she's breathing on her own, pulse irratic... drooling an smiling and just simply not awake. Does that make any sense?"
"Actually, it does. It's being awake that doesn't."
"Humans are an unnatural mammal. They move too slowly to survive the hunt or to kill prey. They spend too little time searching for food. They submit themselves to stresses and strains that would cause a normal mammal to run and hide until it all went away. They wake up at odd hours, stay awake way longer than they should, and they den so far away from their packmates that they almost never get to have their heart and respiration adjusted to the pack's. There is no real reason, as a mammal, why all humans don't just collapse into a deep sleep and drool happily until they die. And some days, they way things are, I think it would be a miracle if some of them could, without a big hoo-ha and the government whining about epidemics. The economy and terrorism and education and patriotism and femiminism and all that rot mean nothing when most of the world is sick because it cannot function as it was meant to, but is forced to pretend to be an animal that cannot rationally exist on this planet."

"I really wanna beer," said J.L.

"So do I," said Dr. Spleen.

“So, you’re saying that almost everything we do goes against the grain of the way the body was supposed to function? That, if the human instinctual brain was allowed to do it’s job in every person on the planet, that everything we know would just go away and we would descend to the level of wolves or bonomos or even cats and dogs? Society and government would disappear, clothing and fashion and shoe stores, churches and schools and amusement parks? That sounds like a good reason to curl up and drool until you die to me. Aren’t we supposed to be a “higher animal”? Aren’t we supposed to be the pinnacle of evolution and social progress? Isn’t all our industry and research doing something grand and uplifting?”

“Iridella said she wrote ad copy to sell feminine sanitary products.”


“What was it you said about grand and uplifting?”

“We try to help liberate women...”

“To do what? Anything that their ancestors couldn’t do three hundred years ago? Women have been dealing with their periods for hundreds of thousands of years. It is part of what makes them women. Sanitizing their remarkability, their smell, their monthly difference from men and pre-menstrual and post-menopausal females is a theft of their identity.”

“I could really use a beer.”

“So, you don’t think about any of these things?”

“Only after the third beer. Then I have this sudden urge to kick off my pumps and stockings, put on the old trainers I keep in my bag, go to the lady’s and wipe all my warpaint off with some KFC hand wipes and put on some flavored lip balm. I go back to my place at the table and enjoy the feeling of the air conditioning on my bare face and I feel naked as I wiggle my bare toes in my unwashed sneakers. After a few more beers and shot of tequila, I catch a ride home and then lay naked on my message table watching old TV shows from the DVD changer on the flat screen embedded in the ceiling. Sometimes my husband comes along and gives me a sponge bath or a tongue bath and we end up in our bed, sleeping soundly, aroused but too tired to do anything about it. After several weeks of this, one morning he or I will decide to call the masseuse. After she does both of us, we will take a shower and fall into bed for most of an afternoon and release most of the tensions. Then we call in sick and sleep for most of the next day and a half. It’s better than a vacation.”

“Does he drink?”

“No, he plays handball.”

“I fail to see the connection.”

“So do I, but at least it’s not golf. When you play handball, there is little possibility of an affair.”

“I wished I’d known that ten years ago.”


“I thought I was having an affair with my handball trainer.”

“I didn’t know there was such a thing.”

“Maybe there isn’t, but it sure was fun for a month or so.”

“Did your husband find out?”

“It was his idea.”

“Now I really need a beer. What was he like?”

“A little shorter than me and a little smaller than my husband. I could toss him around. He was quieter and slower and his skin was like a sausage. He always kept his eyes open. He thought foot message was an artful form of foreplay. I had no reason to disagree. When he got really excited, his ears would turn red. I used that to my advantage more than once.”

J.L. seemed to blush beneath her makeup. “Umm. Hmm. Did he do anything for you?”

“Not really. But that wasn’t necessary. I was in control and there was nothing at stake, so I just enjoyed pulling his strings. Then, when my husband made it out of the hospital, I tried some new things on him. He was so happy that he sent the fellow a Christmas card. We still get one back from him every year, with pictures of his new family. He got acquainted with one of my receptionists, a martial arts fanatic who didn’t shave. They hit it off real fast and just before she quit, she came and thanked me. I didn’t ask why.”

“You make me sick.”

“I know the feeling. You never had an affair?”

“No, but I had an express mail delivery fellow who liked to brush against me. I used to look forward to that because it gave me an excuse to pinch him.”

“What about your husband?”

“About six times over the last twenty-two years. Mostly passing flings with co-workers and people around the club. No scandals and no diseases. Eventually, he would tell me, we would fight, and then makeup. To tell you the truth, there were times that I was glad he had someone else. It took the pressure off me. I even tried to set him up once or twice with people from my office.”

“So, what do you do for fun?”

“I have a friend who has a junkyard. I go out and pound things with a sledgehammer.”

“That is good. That is very good. Very healthy.”


“Absolutely. More people should try that. Good thinking on your part.”

“It was my friend who suggested it. Do you suppose we can see Iridella? Can we do her any good by visiting her?”

“It can’t hurt to ask. We haven’t heard anything for a bit and I told that priest to kick some butts. I guess I’ll have to get out of this wheelchair and go throw my weight around. Why don’t you go make that call to your company physician?”

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