The homey aroma of smoky bacon and blueberry waffles failed to provide
its usual comfort this Saturday morning.
"At some point, we've got to let it go. You know that. We can't keep
going to doctor after doctor, indefinitely. They've all told us the
same thing." Sam reached for his wife's hand but Lynn pulled back and
let it nestle in her lap like a frightened bird.
"Why can't we keep trying? Why give up? None of those doctors said it's
impossible, just unlikely, we…"
"Lynn, please. Read the brochures from the adoption agency. Just read
them. Of course we'll keep trying--without the 'specialists' help. Let
God's will be done." He scraped the chair back from the table
and took his syrup-smeared plate to the sink, careful not to let their
eyes meet to avoid further bruising one another with the anger and disappointment
in them. Running one hand over his few remaining biscuit-colored strands
of hair, his other hand closed the garage door softly behind him. With
deliberate concentration he tucked away the morning's conversation into
the crowded little cupboard in the back of his mind and fastened the
Almost seven years later, Lynn remembered every detail of that weekend
and the days which followed. Funny how you can remember odd moments,
but other things--important things--you can't recall no matter how hard
you try. She remembered sitting in the den that night watching the moon
from the bay window. How strange the moon had looked, like a lone eye
staring down on the shapes and movements of things scurrying and gliding
and undulating, as if Cyclops were peering under the surface of the
sea to observe life teeming in the deep dark of that world. Lynn remembered
imagining the clouds floating across the moon as flimsy surreal shapes
shading that eye, then unraveling to let it stare again, as if the invisible
hand of Dali was painting then un-painting the scene.
She'd been glad Sam had gone to the conference that weekend. The house
rested quietly without his hoots hurled at some TV sports play or humming
over his students' papers as he graded them. She enjoyed sitting still
in the comfortable over-stuffed chair, listening to the sounds of night
fill the room. After a while she'd moved to the kitchen to fix a cup
of tea and noticed Sam had left the phone book out. She'd been about
to put it away when the idea sprang into her mind like a crouching animal:
sperm banks. Clean white banks with vault after vault filled with glass
tube cradles holding microscopic babies waiting to be. She flipped through
the Yellow Pages: speech pathologists…speedometers…sperm banks.
She wrote down a couple of phone numbers to call Monday morning. While
brushing her auburn curls as she got ready for bed, Lynn thought of
the old music box in the would-be nursery. Her bare feet lightly slapped
the hardwood floor of the hallway. After holding the hand-painted box
for a moment she wiped the dust from it with her nightgown sleeve before
winding it and setting it back on the nightstand. "Twinkle, twinkle,
little star..." followed her back to the bedroom.
Monday she spoke with a pleasant woman who encouraged her to make an
appointment. Lynn remembered entering the door of Evergreen Cryonics
on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, walking past an island of potted plants
to the receptionist's desk. Rather than sterile all-white everything,
as she had pictured it, the clinic was decorated in a soothing and tasteful
soft peach. A row of matching chairs lined both sides of the room. Banal
but color-coordinated prints dotted the walls. Vaguely familiar instrumental
pop music discretely filled the air, completing the artificial sense
of warmth. She had talked with someone. She'd filled out papers and
signed documents. The next day she'd made an appointment with a new
OB-GYN doctor so Sam wouldn't know.
Here Lynn's memory became fragmented. Bits and pieces of the next few
months littered her mind like photos or buttons fallen out of a scrapbook.
Her stomach began to swell. Sam's shoulders squared up a little and
the lines in his forehead smoothed out. They laughed and read a book
of baby names. They argued. "Moses? Jeremiah? Sam, this kid is going
to have to actually live with this name--have other kids yell it on
"So 'Maribelle' is a good choice? Isn't that a cow's name? How about
They bought another baby name book. They repainted the nursery and scoured
eBay for antique baby furniture and researched educational toys. While
looking through old family photo albums, they discovered to their delight
that both their grandmothers' middle names were Anna. The baby name
book was wedged onto the shelf among other forgotten books. Anna was
born at dawn, a blazing tangerine dawn.
A month later, Lynn climbed the rickety pull-down ladder to the attic.
She rummaged through its boxes and bins for the old hand-carved Lebanon
cedar box. Resting in its wine-colored velvet lining were all her dearest
treasures. How long it had been since the cedar box had been excavated
from the dust and cobwebs and opened to let all the memories fly up
around her like lavender-scented butterflies. Ah, there was the ribbon.
Lynn lifted it gently and examined its antique satin blueness trimmed
with Irish lace.
A warming sadness flowed through her as she remembered her grandmother's
Irish voice telling her, "You must wear this ribbon in your hair on
your wedding day. I wore it on mine and your mother wore it on hers.
'Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue'--you'll
have three of them in the one." Then she'd laughed and even her laughter
seemed to have the prancing Irish accent. Lynn gingerly tucked the ribbon
into her sweater pocket, set the cedar box carefully on top of an old
dresser and climbed back down the attic ladder. Not only would Anna
wear this ribbon on her wedding day, but the auburn curls she was sure
to have, once her little bald head sprouted, would be graced as often
as possible by its unique cornflower hue.
Though Anna's auburn curls turned out to be a straight and silky waterfall
of black, the ribbon held it in a cornflower bow. Lynn's mind replayed
all these things as if they were captured on video.
Reni Thibodeaux's long arms banded together a cylinder of several two-by-two
boards and set them on the workshop table. He glanced up at the doghouse
drawing tacked to the corkboard. "Four, halved in graduated length for
the arched door. No five," he said.
Lucy, Reni's English setter, assumed she was being spoken to and trotted
obediently over to the table. Reni hammered a cross nail into the top
corner of the back portion of the doghouse. Lucy placed a paw on Reni's
foot to let him know she was there, awaiting his command.
"Get out," Reni mumbled, shaking the paw off his foot. He leaned the
side wall up against the back wall, placing a joining nail into position.
Lucy stood on her hind legs, paws on the table. Still only ten months
old, she had a puppy's curiosity.
Reni's hand swung around fast and hard to knock the dog off the table.
The hammer struck the dog with a muffled smack. For a moment, Reni stared
down in surprise at the form lying on the cement floor, a small rivulet
of blood trickling from the dent in its temple. Lucy's eyes were open,
shocked wide from the half second of pain and fear, her tongue frozen
to the roof of her mouth forming the yelp she had no time to release.
Grabbing her tail, he dragged her out of the workshop, over the gravel
walkway, and across the yard to the woods behind his house. With an
upward jerk of the dog's tail he lifted her over the small mound of
leaves and twigs that lay rotting on the edge of his property, then
tugged the dog across the brambled skirt of the woods. Once he'd gotten
her a few feet in he dropped the tail and went back to his workshop
to clean off the hammer. He washed his hands in the stained sink, then
re-measured the doghouse doorway. If I glue stones to the bottom
half, I could make this into an English Tudor replica. He smiled
at this idea, pleased with his creativity. He leaned against the table
to give free reign to his artistic imagination. Windows! How many
doghouses have windows? This is the one I'll show Milo, this and the
one with the kicky rainbow stripes. After tossing around many other
interesting ideas, he took the drawing down from the corkboard to make
Latté spillage in the saucer reached dangerous levels as Reni's long
spidery legs continued to jiggle nervously under the small round café
table. He checked his watch, gritting his teeth against its stubborn
expression of fact: 4:13. Milo had promised. He had bloody promised
to be here no later than 3:45. Breathe, he instructed himself.
He ran his boney fingers across his lacquered black hair, tightening
the ponytail clasp, as he vacuumed in coffee-scented air through flared
nostrils. Reni then smoothed a crease in the sleeve of his shirt, once
again feeling pleasure at its cool silkiness, its perfect shade of dusk
violet. Oh god, no! He almost shrieked. He stared at a chip in
the mauve polish of his left thumbnail. Everything must be perfect.
I must be perfect. Breathe, breathe. He uncrossed his legs, centered
himself in the chair. Do not panic. Milo will be here, there's been
traffic or something. Milo will suppose I'm only 33 or so. Reni
resisted the urge to check his reflection in the spoon on the table
to reaffirm his conceit that he looked ten years younger than his age.
Thirty three is not too old to become the next great designer.
He relaxed slightly as he pictured swarms of cat-clawed women and perspiring
men feverish to pay obscene amounts of money to have their Affenpinschers
and Ibizan Hounds snoozing snugly inside a lavish doggy manse bearing
his florid signature. Surely Milo will want to invest in this venture.
"Renaud Thibodeaux! How are you, man?"
Jerked out of his reverie by the sound of his name, Reni looked with
horror at the balding, dreadfully flannelled man grinning at him. "I
was just on my way to pick up something for my daughter's birthday and
saw you sitting in here. What's it been--seven, eight years? How's your
This couldn't be happening. Reni stared at Sam Abrams, his father's
former neighbor. "Dad died last year." This wasn't true, but Reni hoped
the awkward news would cause him to hurry on his way. Instead, Sam began
comforting Reni with anecdotal reminisces. A bloody eulogy for my
not-dead father, no Milo, and… Reni's mounting tension dissolved
into relief as he recognized the luck in Milo being a no-show. To have
Milo see him talking with Flannel Man would not work in his favor. Image
is everything. He smiled politely as Sam laughed at some apparently
hilarious saying of his father's. Was his father really that funny?
Reni had heard from his father's tight lips only criticism and seen
in his eyes only disdainful resignation at his son's failures. As Sam
continued reminiscing, Reni remembered his years of struggling--the
years of waiting tables, making regular deposits at the sperm bank,
clerking the tie counter at Feldman's--the résumé of the dreamer or
the loser, depending on whether it was being reviewed by him or his
After segueing from Reni's father to his own joyous experience of fatherhood,
then circling back to his immediate mission to find a gift for his daughter's
sixth birthday, Sam finally came to the end of his recitations and left.
Reni maneuvered his way through the crowded clutter of tables while
fishing for his cell phone.
Wait--had Sam said "daughter's birthday"? Reni hurried out the
door, quickly gaining on Sam whose stocky form was already halfway down
"Sam!" he called to the flannelled back. Sam turned around and waited
for him. "Sam, do you have anything in mind for your daughter's gift?
I mean, most children that age--you said she is six, right?--most kids
love puppies. Have you thought about giving her a puppy? You see, I
make doghouses--design lovely little homes for them, if you might like
something like that."
Sam couldn't help but smile at the eagerness in Reni's face. Why not,
he thought. Why not surprise Anna and Lynn, too. "No, I haven't come
up with any ideas so far, but yours sounds interesting. Give me your
phone number and I'll look into the puppy thing and give you a call."
Two weeks later, Sam waited until he saw Reni's silver van ringed with
dark tinted windows drive slowly down the maple-lined suburban street
and pull into his driveway before calling Lynn and Anna into the living
room. "We have a visitor you'll want to meet, ladies." He opened the
door to Reni's tentative knock and made introductions.
Anna looked at her father with anticipation. She felt the air vibrating
with excitement. Reni stared at her unusually long legs as she jumped
up and down and clapped her hands. "What is it Daddy? Do you have a
present for me?"
"A present? Why, is this a holiday?"
"Yes," she nearly screamed. "It's a holiday, it's my birthday!"
"Oh, that's right, I remember now. Let's see, Reni, is there anything
in your van that might interest Miss Anna?"
Reni smiled at the pretty child. "I don't know, should we go have a
look?" He took the girl's hand and led her out the door. Sam winked
at Lynn as they followed. Slowly, theatrically, Reni unlocked the rear
van doors before dramatically flinging them open to reveal a charming
miniature house with its roof opening out on hinges like the lid of
a treasure chest. Inside this house wiggled a small puppy of no obvious
breed. As the child squealed and squeezed the puppy, Reni directed Sam
and Lynn's attention to the finer points of the hand-crafted doghouse.
Nothing worthy of remembering happened these days. A thick hush like
an empty church filled the house, a hush never disturbed by conversation.
A word now and then, possibly a sentence or two necessary to take care
of daily business, would pass between them. They were polite, considerate
toward one another. But conversation? No, nothing like that. They declined
the well-meaning invitations and thanked those expressing sympathy.
They stopped the newspaper delivery to keep their eyes from landing
on the mines of news, now embedded on back pages, that said police still
had no suspects in the murder of six-year-old Anna Abrams, but the investigation
would continue. Wrapped in the gauzy silence, Lynn poured eggs beaten
into pale yellow foam over wilted mushrooms and scallions, and blended
tomatoes and bell pepper for their juice. Sam graded his papers, giving
his students too much credit for the slightest effort and scantiest
of answers. They're doing the best they can, he told himself.
When he forced himself to make a corrective mark, he used a kind and
affirming green pen. Never, never could he mar the pure white papers
with slashes of red.
A year--or was it two?--passed. At breakfast Sam mentioned a film he
thought they might enjoy seeing that weekend. Lynn hoped the film would
be better than the director's last one. They discussed its flaws in
"Would you pick up the dry-cleaning on your way home?" Lynn asked.
Sam nodded. In town he ran into Reni Thibodeaux coming out the hardware
store and they talked briefly. Reni was on his way to a meeting. His
custom doghouse business had taken off and he was considering opening
an outlet in another town. As Reni turned and headed briskly toward
the corner, Sam noticed his ponytail had grown into a long black braid
down his back, a lacy blue ribbon woven between the braids. Geez,
does that look silly, he grinned. Braids and ribbons on a grown
man, he gave a little snort. What a character. He walked to the
other corner and crossed the street to the drycleaners, making a mental
note to tell Lynn about seeing Reni. She'll get a kick out of his
foo-foo hairdo. He fished in his pocket for the dry-cleaning receipt,
then handed it to the clerk.
Stephanie Decker has a B.A. in English with a Writing minor from Portland
State University, and has received ‘first place’ awards for her fiction
and poetry. She recently published in Gloom Cupboard and Sangam
magazines. Stephanie lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest.