My first night back at work I received a balloon-a-gram. From “a secret admirer” I accepted eighteen red and white helium filled balloons. I couldn’t imagine from whom I might have gotten this surprise, but it set the pace for an interesting evening. The Pub was busy, and Davis was helping out. Davis, or Davy as we called him, was a short, feisty fellow with an eccentric sense of humor and a hearty laugh. I had endured whipped cream on the telephone receiver, cellophane stretched tightly over wine glasses and neatly trimmed at the rim, squirting pens, and other pranks, but his big heart outweighed the antics of this good-natured fellow.
“Who sent you the balloons?” Davy must have asked me eighteen times, once for each floating sphere?
“Secret admirer.” I reiterated, to which he responded,
As the Pub gradually activated, and folks drifted in, Davy became more and more curious. An absolutely lovely lady with golden hair fixed in French braids entered and sat at a table.
“Maybe it was her?” Davy questioned with a discreet motion in her direction.
“That’s Kim. She works at the Blue Moon Café.”
“You know her?” he looked surprised. “Then, maybe it is her!”
“I suppose it’s possible.” I mused covetously. “That would be sweet.”
“I think it is. Look, she is alone.” Davy grinned.
Kim noticed that we were looking in her direction and talking like shy, young boys. She smiled and waved tactfully.
“See!” He responded.” His curiosity was stimulated. “I’ll find out.”
Davy took a single balloon from the bunch and approached the table where Kim was glancing at the menu. He chatted with her for a brief minute, tied the balloon to the back of her chair, and returned with his report. She was not responsible for the balloon bouquet hovering above the bar. Kim was waiting for a friend.
Della and Sharon entered and took a booth. Without hesitation Davy inquired about them. Could it be possible that the two of them had sent the balloons? After all, they were red and white, he pondered. Why not black and white I submitted. Too obvious, he assumed, and took two of the inflatables, one of each color to the table. I could see them giggle. They were both from the theatre center where they were aspiring actresses. Both were pretty, but not star material, I deduced, as they winked at Davy while he fastened the balloons to their booth.
Next entered a couple of rugby players that frequented the establishment, followed by an attractive, mature lady, well refined in posture and dress. She looked lonely, and bewildered, as if wondering if she had chosen an appropriate location for a quiet cocktail. I greeted her as she sat at the bar, not far from the door – in case she needed to make a quick escape. She ordered Bombay martini, and I watched as she maneuvered the slippery olive into her mouth. Perhaps it is she, I thought. No, it was not, but she was flattered she informed me with an alluring smile. Well, most unfortunate, I pouted mutely as I attached a passionate red balloon to her bar stool.
“I know who it is!” Davy poked me as I was building a Crown Old Fashioned. “It’s Mike.” He chortled and flipped a sprinkle of water from his hands in my direction.
Mike worked for the daily newspaper. He was a petite, young man with an animated attraction for the artistic and the masculine. He was a well-liked regular at the King Street Pub, and quite a patron of the arts. Through his attendance pubsters were likely to meet various local celebrities.
“I don’t think so.” I declared to Davy.
“Yeah, I think we have solved the mystery!” He teased me, then proceeded to take two balloons to Mikes table and tie them to his chair. Mike winked at me and shrugged his shoulders as if he too would like to know who the secret admirer was. Davy returned to inform me that it was not Mike – he would have chosen baby blue balloons for me.
As the night progressed, by eleven-o-clock, there were balloons tied to chairs throughout the room. Only three were left for me at the bar – two white and one red. I looked out at the cheery group of folks. Thirteen balloons were floating like question marks above ladies of interest, and two above the robust man with a baby face that had joined Mike. The sight was warmly humorous, and rather convivial. I chuckled to myself, as another addition to the evening entered and selected a stool at the bar near the wait station.
“Well, hello there.” Rachael said with somewhat of a confused smile after a quick glance of the panorama within the Pub.
My heart fluttered nervously. I wasn’t sure if I was happy to see her or not. I felt hesitancy, a reluctance to move too close. Perhaps it was a disinclination to move forward too quickly. I recalled her sensual simplicity, her down home charm, my fantasies of becoming entwined in her long hair, and the wedding gone awry.
“Hello Rachael .” I replied timidly. “Welcome back from the pristine mountains and waters.”
“Welcome back to you as well. Are you having a little party here tonight?” Rachael quickly looked about.”
“Oh, no.” Was my meager reply, and then I told her about the balloons and the card from a secret admirer.
“You don’t know from whom?” She tilted her head a little with a slight gleam in her eye.
I had to step away for a few minutes and attend to business. Davy promptly juxtaposed himself to me with an astute smirk.
“Her.” He affirmed. “She’s your secret admirer.” He was not questioning this time.
“I don’t know.” was my sincere answer.
As I prepared some cocktails and a couple of sandwiches, Davy talked to Rachael . Suddenly I noticed that he was tying the remaining three balloons to her stool back, and trying to nod surreptitiously at me.
“Well, Rachael , did Gerald ever regain his composure? Is Becca an honest woman now?” I had returned to chat with her.
“No. He cowered out of the whole situation. It caused quite a commotion, and was uncomfortable, to say the least.” She stroked her long hair and I briefly stalled as a stray heartbeat skipped down my nervous system into my libido. “It’s a good thing that you didn’t take me up on my offer to join us that night. There was a lot of anger and confusion. Gerald left the group for another part of town with his best man, and I understand that they got quite drunk. Becca cried and drank herself to sleep. It was quite a mess.”
“By the way, thank you for the floating bouquet.” I steered the subject away from the connubial catastrophe. “I am quite fond of balloons. They are happy things, don’t you think? It was you?”
“Me? Perhaps you have solved the mystery; perhaps not. Surely you have a secret admirer floating about somewhere. However, it doesn’t look as if you’ve gotten many.”
“It has been fun sharing their pleasure.” I was attempting to justify the dispersal of the fun filled helium flowers. I was sure that Rachael was intelligent enough to see that the ladies were favored.
“Well,” I stuttered at first. “Secret admiration knows no gender, now does it?” then grinned defiantly. “There is certainly no beauty in a bunch of balloons in a crowded café if horded greedily by a curmudgeonly old mixologist.”
Last call drew near, as Rachael and I chatted intermittently throughout the night. As people gradually left, they took their balloon with them, thanking me and hoping that I would find out who my admirer was. I would reply with a slightly embarrassed thank you, me too, and Davy would chuckle each time.
“Good night, Mark. If you don’t find your secret admirer, don’t hesitate to give me a call.” Mike said with flirtatious humor as he left clinging to his floating orbs. “Good night Rachael .” He laughed, and the Pub was left with only Davy, Rachael , and myself. Davy quickly completed his closing duties and eagerly excused himself. I turned out the lights, and nervously made myself a cocktail, as I looked at Rachael sitting in the soft, neon glow.
“Will you have dinner with me soon?” I couldn’t stop myself from completing the sentence.
“I would like that very much.” She accepted, and we made arrangements.
I closed the store, saw Rachael to her car, and then walked reflectively to my home. My track record with the ladies over the last several years had been a measure of failure. I was hesitant to rush into another complicated, wrenching relationship. I released the remaining balloons into the dark sky of the night, and they ascended into the unknown.
Ankh was on the porch to meet me. I welcomed my comrade with open arms. He and I had become best friends. He knew when I was ill, or depressed, or happy. Ankh had become quite accurate at reading my moods, and very perceptive in his chosen affections. I held him closely for a moment, understanding that I had long ago qualified for his uncompromising companionship.
“Let’s go for a walk.” I suggested.
It was not uncommon when I returned home late at night, that Ankh and I would walk around the cul-de-sac together. He would lead the way and I would follow, as he explored, and revealed some of his special spots. I, of course, could only walk the outer perimeter of his route, as he traversed porch railings, marked doorways, dug in flower gardens, crawled through holes in fences, strutted down the street and back, around to the back yard of my duplex to the tracks, and then return to our door. We would then have a bite to eat, tell each other bedtime stories about our adventurous day, and share the bed for sleep, perchance to dream. I told him that I was enamored by yet another woman, but that I would not allow whatever happened to take precedence over our companionship. He told me that he had caught a bird, and that whenever I wanted it, it was on the back steps. We snuggled, purring, and fell into deep sleep.
Sunday precedes Monday. The sun conveys the day, and bequeaths the night. Time is a continuum. Rachael and I became lovers. We went out for dinner and wine. We stayed in for popcorn and a rented movie. She helped me move to a new apartment. I helped her move when she purchased a condo. We would socialize with her sister and brother-in-law. She would invite me to attend events with her beloved, young niece. I met her parents while they were visiting from New York. She went with me at times when I visited my mother. We discussed the theological variations between her Jewish heritage and my intrinsic search for communion with Christ. There was no anger, or jealousy. Our highs and lows did not peak into periods of euphoric bliss, or plunge into the depths of neurotic despair. We became friends, yet I discerned a small crack in our foundation. In my heart I knew that Rachael wanted more than a man in her life. Veiled from conscious conversation, but naked within her eyes, she nursed a child yet conceived.
“You’ll end up just like your father!” Oh, I had heard it often as a young boy. I was building a plywood rocket ship in which to explore the universe, and Pappy was Flash Gordon. I was wearing a golden armor and wielding the sword of justice against criminal windmills, and as I looked up at Pappy towering above me, Sir Uck Uck was leading the charge. I was standing in the hot, dusty town of Lordsburg with the Ringo kid, and Pappy had carved the small pine pistol that sat loosely in my holster. I was an inexperienced dreamer, a youthful manifestation of Buck Star – all the illusionary roles of the heroic figures of life. There was, however, one momentous difference between my father and I. It was an immanent difference of which only I was aware, and then only through vague, surrealistic comprehension. Buck Star… never swayed Fought as a father, because Star never had, or wanted children! I have always understood that I would never be a father.
Although Rachael was contemporary and unbiased, I could see the aura of tradition that surrounded her. Sometimes late at night, while lying in her bed, I could hear the echo of the second hand from the Star of David clock on her dresser. Tick, tock, tick, tock roared the biological clock. But, her bed was warm and comfortable, and her friendship was genuine. I was content with the status quo and had complacently removed my name from any agenda that fate may have marked on the calendar. However, comfort is a poor impetus for the idealist, and complacency does not inspire the artist. I could only roll over and cover my head from the resounding tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock. And October followed September.
“I’m pregnant.” Rachael announced, in a cautiously inaudible tone.
“I’m pregnant.” She spoke up.
Immediate confusion rushed through me with incomprehensible force. My heart choked with apprehension. My response was weak and irresolute. I would need some time alone. I needed to clear my head and give the matter some thought. Although my psyche had not formatted this scenario, my decision had been born years ago. I could not be a father.
“I will abide by whatever you decide.” Rachael courageously declared in a meek tone of voice.
“I don’t know what to do.” I lied, not to her, rather to myself. “I need to give this some thought.”
Rachael took several days off from work and went to Puerto Vallarta to listen to the ocean and contemplate her dilemma. I sat at home and contemplated my dilemma. It must surely have been a devastating blow to her when she realized that we did not share a common dilemma – and in Puerto Vallarta, we were not sharing a lonely stretch of beach.
As I assisted in catering a private function for a large insurance firm, I looked out from the fortieth floor of the Sylvan Building at the microcosm below. Thousands of tiny lives zipping to and fro, and struggling with the viability of their aspirations, some with meager survival alone. How many of these miniscule beings believe in God? How many have communion? Who among them has transcended ego and id, and can identify the alpha and omega. At what ubiquitous point on the Mandela is Man able to determine the rationale of the gods? Except for empirical awareness, from a great height above these microscopic masses may well resemble frenzied spermatozoa seeking gestation.
I longed for the garden of ignorance, not the responsibilities of knowledge. For more than three decades I had not seen nor heard from my father, from whom my quixotic bloodline had passed. I was a bartender in his mid-forties, satisfied with indolent achievements of fragmented faith – a day without submitting to temptation, a finished painting, a partially returned prayer, a new guitar lick, a day without a drink, or another vagabond step into my oblivious future without stumbling. I did not see godliness in my reproduction. I saw only weakness and failure.
One sperm out of hundreds of millions reaches its destination. When the Ovum was fertilized, was my desultory DNA then rewritten in the book of life? When the blastocyst attached itself to endometrium did my vagrant spirit gain foundation? When the embryo resembled a tadpole, was it a king or a queen, or the larva of a gypsy soul? At five weeks when a distinctly reptilian aspect is visible, is there temptation? When the face becomes mammalian, somewhat pig-like, has gluttony begun? When the embryo becomes a fetus and its face looks human, is it the face of God, or Man? It was the presence of weakness and failure in my life that molded my final decision to abort.
Abortion is a great debate in this day and time. It seems a question of chronology – when does human personhood begin. Then, a question of reason – why? To this day I do not know what God would have me be. I cannot, therefore, imagine to comprehend the what, where, when, and why of His master plan. Furthermore, I am well aware that a man’s decision is only input. It is the woman’s body that must host the embryonic journey, and it is she that must ultimately choose the course of action. The man is not privy to that moment of communion between Female and her God. Rachael did not have to hear my stammering analysis. It was blatantly obvious that I was an emotional risk as a father, and an impending connubial disaster. I cannot tell you why she decided. In my heart I believe that she wanted to proceed with motherhood. She chose to abort. I owe her a profound apology for my pathetic lack of fortitude, and I often envision a little girl next to me on the sofa as I read the stories of Pooh.
“Daddy.” The absent child looks up at me and speaks. “I love you.”
“I love you too.” The echo of my words returns hollow.