Monday, October 29, 2012

A Visit to the Doctor. WHITE TRASH IN THE SNOW Chapter 52, 53 and 54

 Dr. Abigail Barten-Curtain's return appearance! ( Dr.ABC the GP played an important role in Chapter 4.)
 And it's also time for another piece of the Kenneth Krebs/Rachael Saplin history. If you want to review who Dr. Krebs is, take another look at Chapter 11 (that chapter has one of my favorite lines of the entire book).

To newer readers  of "White Trash in the Snow" -  these characters are not real, this is a work of fiction, and any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.  It is an original work, written by Allison, and published for the first time anywhere on the blog The Palin Place. All rights reserved.

Happy reading!
By Allison

“Thanks for coming with me.”  Cristol Saplin alias Joy Sherman was holding tightly onto Wrangler’s arm as they went across the snow-packed parking lot. On this early December afternoon the sun had set, and circles of light unevenly spotlighted the cars behind the doctor’s office building. She tread carefully looking out for patches of ice, lifting her eyes occasionally to see if anyone was watching.
“Do you see Mom’s car anywhere?”
“No, but we’re  early.”  He hoped Mrs. S wasn’t going to let Cristol down again. “Maybe she got a call at the last minute from the Vice President.” That was how Rachael explained not making it to Cristol’s first check up four weeks previous. That was a stupid alibi, he thought. Like the Vice President of the United States would know her. Mrs. S really is delusional.
The night before, Wrangler and his dad had met at the diner for dinner and during the conversation Kevin said, “She’s got a man’s job and it’s gettin’ to her. Women can’t deal with stress. So she think’s she’s getting’ calls from the White House, huh? Oh yeah, it’s getting to her. Delusional, that’s what she is.” He stabbed a big forkful of meatloaf. Using the heavy laden fork as a pointer he gestured to his son, “Be careful and don’t get her pissed at you. It’s a dangerous mix she’s walking around with – power, delusion, female hormones, and a nice ass. Know what I’m sayin’ son? Don’t strike a match too close to that fuse – a lot of people would get hurt in that explosion..”
He put the food into his mouth and Wrangler nodded.

Wrangler didn’t usually come along with Cristol on her monthly appointments with Doctor Abigail Barton-Curtain. Dr. ABC was the Saplin family physician and Cristol had known her for years. But  Wrangler hadn’t met her before, and he didn’t like doctors, so this was a very generous thing he was doing. Besides, under the circumstances, this was kind of embarrassing. Wrangler wasn’t only taking Cristol to the appointment, he was going to go with her into the examination room!
Dr. ABC was all business at the beginning of the exam. She checked  blood pressure “That’s fine. Let’s check your weight.”  Cristol grimaced at the heavy cylinder when the doctor slid it along the bar.
 “Don’t look,” she said to Wrangler.
“No problem,” he answered. The truth was, he was texting with Dan and trying to ignore everyone and everything in the room.
Pounds recorded to the fraction, the doctor asked Cristol to lay down. She put some clear slippery looking stuff on Cristol’s belly and then ran a handheld machine over it, stopping and pressing gently. A rhythmic sound came from the little machine. Suddenly Wrangler was completely engaged. His eyes widened. He knew he was hearing his baby’s heartbeat. It was fast and strong. With a finger he brushed  a tear away from one eye, then he looked at Cristol and smiled. She smiled back. Wrangler thought she had never looked prettier.
“Okay, let me help you sit up.” Dr. Barten-Curtain took Cristol’s elbow and helped her raise back up. Cristol was amused watching Wrangler’s face. He looked stoned, and she giggled, knowing that things were going to get even more interesting. This was the day they would see their baby for the first time. Today she was having an ultrasound.
“The technician is waiting for you in the suites across the hall. You are the last patient today, so there won’t be anyone else in the waiting room. You two are in for a special experience. Relax and take your time in there. You are the last appointment, there’s no reason to rush.“
She turned to Wrangler and put out her hand. “It was nice to meet you Mr. Strauss.”  He weakly shook her hand, then chastised himself for being such a wuss. “Damn, now she’ll think I’m just a kid.”
Dr. Barton-Curtain turned to Cristol. With a friendly handshake she said, “Tell your mom I said ‘hi’.” She picked up the forms she had been writing on and quickly left the room.
“How are you feeling?” Wrangler asked.
“Fine,” she put her feet into paper slippers as she talked, “Ha, ha! You looked stoned when you heard the heartbeat. Cool, huh?”
Wrangler smiled his lopsided smile, remembering the sound from minutes before. There was a lump in his throat and he didn’t trust his voice at that moment so he just nodded. He was feeling very tender toward her. As she started for the door he reached out to open it and held it as she went through. Then he hurried to get the door across the hall and held that one, too. He was in awe of her.
The plump older woman behind the desk acted as if she knew them, even though they had never been there before. “Hey darlings, I’ve been waiting for you. Shifts are over, so it’s just me you’ll be seeing here this evening. I’m your technician, Esther.”
Esther was a grandmotherly looking woman that didn’t seem one bit ashamed of her crooked teeth. Her smile was wide and near-permanent as far as Cristol could tell, and Cristol liked her immediately. 
While she answered personal questions, Cristol mentally tallied up signs of age and tried to guess Esther’s age. The eyes crinkled behind reading glasses, she had age spots on her cheeks and on her hands, and along with the wrinkles in her neck Cristol was pretty sure Esther could tell you about seeing the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan show, which happened to be the day Rachael Louise Heat was born. She was old
“Now, you two, this is going to be something you will always remember. Together we are going to glimpse a miracle. I’ve been doing these for over thirty years, and I still consider it a privilege to be sharing this moment with each and every mom, or mom and dad, that I see.  So let’s get started. I’m knowing you didn’t come to hear me flap my gums, you came to see the show.
Just then there was a knock on the door. “Excuse me kids, I thought we were alone. I’ll be right back.”  Esther opened the door, but instead of stepping outside, Governor Saplin took a step in. “Sorry, I’m late, I had a last minute-”
Esther blocked Rachael from fully coming in. Handling aggressive relatives and significant others was a normal part of her work life. She knew what to do. “Just a minute. The patient has the right to privacy. I’ll check and see if the young lady wants you to come in or if she prefers you to wait in the waiting room.” Esther was no push over.
Cristol spoke up,“It’s okay Esther. That’s my mom. I want her here.”
Esther stepped aside. “Then come right in, and have a seat over there by that nice young man. We were just getting started.” 
It was amazing. Neither Cristol nor Wrangler had expected to be so completely awed by the procedure. But they were. Rachael thought she knew what to expect, yet, it was a thrill to her, too.
“Well, looky there Mom and Dad, your little guy is kicking up a storm.” Esther moved the apparatus a bit and then said, “Yup, he may be on the tiny side, but he’s active.”
“A boy?” Wrangler asked.
“A boy?” Cristol echoed.
“Oh, pay no never mind to me, I call every fetus a ‘he’ even if I don’t see boy parts. You know, kids. I can’t tell you if I saw them parts unless you asked me to. Some folks like to be surprised.”
“But we want to know!” said Cristol, and Wrangler nodded.
“Okay, then, look right there. That’s a penis. She could tell Wrangler was pleased. “You look happy about that.” The parents-to-be nodded, but neither could take their eyes off the screen.
“So, how far along is she? Can you tell ?’  Rachael didn’t care if this baby had a dick or not, Tad would adjust if it was a girl. He always had. What  she wanted to know was how to time the press release announcing the “adoption” she was determined to have.
It wasn’t Esther’s job to calculate due dates, and she could get in trouble, so over the years she’d become clever with subtle ways to give clues to patients without exceeding her authority. “Well, the doctor is the one who’s going to officially make that determination, but I’m thinking this little tyke could be one of those special people that only comes along every four years.”
Every four years! Is she talking about the presidential election?   Rachael’s imagination went wild. Is she some kind of political plant?  Does she know this baby could mess up my chances to be Steve McElwain’s running mate? Is she connected to the CCC?  Who is this ugly old woman, anyway?
Esther was having fun. She gave out another clue. “I don’t often  LEAP to conclusions, but YEAR 2008 is going to be unusual for all of you.”
“I get it,” Cristol called out. “Leap year! February 29th !”  She looked pleased with herself and looked from Wrangler to her mom for approval. Then, something dawned on her, “Whoa, that’s kind of early,” she said.
“Too early,” Rachael was again thinking of the timing of primary races and the timing of her adoption announcement.
 “Too early for what? Babies don’t come on our time schedules. We adjust to theirs,” Esther chided the governor.
“Wow. That’s why I’m so big.” Cristol was processing the news quickly. It was good news. It meant she’d be back into her regular clothes sooner, back to her classes, back to her friends, and ready for summer days and swimming and waterskiing, and…
“You aren’t really big for being this far along. The baby is on the smaller side of normal…normal is a range…” the technician’s voice trailed off.
“I need just a few more minutes here, then we’ll be through.”  Something had changed. the older woman now spoke with a matter-of-fact cadence that caused Rachael to stop calculating how close the birth would be to upcoming presidential primary caucuses.  She noticed with slight alarm that Esther’s smile had disappeared.
Frowning slightly, Esther looked at the screen intently. Rachael watched, and the frown continued when the older woman’s eyes moved, first to look at Cristol, then Wrangler, then at the screen again.
“What is it?”  Rachael whispered.
“Just making sure the doctor has all the pictures she needs.”  The technician’s voice and diction were formal and sterile.
The room no longer hosted a party for the special guest. The joviality had disappeared This was a clinic and there was no mistaking it for anything else. Rachael remembered another time in a similar setting when she had been the one with the swollen belly. A time before Cristol was even born. A sad, sad time. The time she found out her womb had become a tomb. She shivered and tried to shake the sense of gloom that came out of the mist of her memories.“Will the doctor call me tomorrow?”
“No ma’m.  The doctor will be calling the young lady.”
“But, I’m the governor!” she began and then stopped. Even she recognized this was not the time to play that card.  “I’m her mother. I want to have the results so I can help her.”  Help Cristol with what was unclear.
“As governor, you should be aware of HIPAA laws.”  Rachael gave the woman one of her fiercest bulldog imitations while she dealt with her cognitive dissonance. She was the law, how could this woman say no to her?  Rachael wondered who Tad would have to go to in order to get this woman fired.  She’d get him started tomorrow.
“Federal law prevents our giving any personal medical information to anyone other than the patient unless there are signed waivers.”
“Shoot, is that all?  I sign papers all day. Bring me those waivers and I’ll sign right now.”
“No, Governor, it’s not your signature that we need. It would be Ms. Sherman’s. She has a constitutional right to privacy. We are required to keep what goes on here confidential. And we would even if it wasn’t the law. This is about your daughter’s body, her baby, and her choices. We respect that and will give her privacy.”  Rachael reddened. Wrangler’s and Cristol’s eyes widened. Wrangler put his hand over his mouth to hide his smile.  Cristol gave his other hand a light slap.
“Well I certainly have a great respect for our founding fathers.”  Rachael was as confused as she was confusing. Esther had no idea what Governor Saplin was talking about.
 “Cristol, you be sure you sign one of those before you leave.” She was so flustered she had forgotten to use the pseudonym. Rachael glanced down at one of the two Blackberries in her hands and excused herself. “I’ve got a call I have to take. I’ll see you two at home.” She almost ran out the door.
Everyone was quiet for a few beats. Cristol Joy was the first to speak. “So our little one is, umm…is, like, one in a million?” The mother-to-be beamed as she pulled her eyes away from the screen for a moment to look at the technician. 
“Oh yes, Honey, he’s a rare little guy.” The odds, she knew, were maybe one in 1,500 – something like that.  She would stay obtuse, no need to tip them off to the gravity of what she had seen. They’ll find out soon enough, she thought. Esther’s lips stretched to close over her generous teeth, and she smiled a sad smile.
She shut the equipment down, and led Cristol back through the maze of hallways to the dressing room where she’d left her clothes.
“After you are dressed, Ms. Sherman, you and the young man can let yourselves out.  Your doctor’s office will call you in a few days.”
Before she went back down the hall to finish up paperwork, Ester made sure they knew how to find their way out and she gave them some final wishes and instructions. “Good luck to you kids. You be good to each other, you hear?”

Watching the ultrasound had triggered old memories. Rachael drove home distracted by unpleasant emotions that accompanied the revisiting of another  time when her life was in chaos. She had been in her early twenties when, finding herself pregnant, Rachael had sprung the news on Tad as soon as he returned from that summer’s  fishing season. The two of them hustled into the town clerk’s office and two days later, they were man and wife. Just like the song’s lament “no wedding day smiles, no walk down the aisle.”
Rachael hates that song because it rubs against a raw spot deep inside her. She has lived with an open wound for nineteen years, and she knows it will be with her until she takes her last breath.
As they made plans to marry, there was no discussion about the baby’s paternity. Tad knew they had been separated for almost two months while he and other fishermen tried to make something out of a poor, but extended season.  Now, she said she was pregnant, and he assumed she was at least two months along and closing in on the end of the first trimester. There was nothing to discuss and no time to waste.
Before they marked a one year anniversary, he would look back and realize she’d never said “we’re having a baby” or “you’re going to be a father”  or anything else to indicate that the baby was his. He could remember exactly where they were and exactly what she said. “Tad, I’m pregnant.”  That was it. Three little words. Naturally, he had assumed she meant “with your child.”  In his mental replay, he heard his own three word response, “Let’s get married.”
They spent their first seventy two hours of wedded co-existance in a cheap motel, going out only to eat. Across the road, a diner offered breakfast for 99 cents including a  bottomless cup of coffee. Lunches and dinners were from the McDonalds drive-through menu. (Neither would disclose details about the “honeymoon”;  it would have contradicted the story Rachael was spinning that their elopement was very romantic and had been carefully planned.) When they returned, her sister Helen didn’t appreciate the assumption that it was okay for Tad to move into the apartment she and Rachael had been sharing. If you knocked on their door, it could have been answered by a blonde, a brunette, or a non-descript guy, but it was not a seventies sitcom. Not even close.
Two months before Field arrived, Rachael and Tad moved into an apartment that Rachael found for them. It was right next door to her high school heartthrob Kenneth Krebs. A few times a week, Tad would come home to find his wife next door “having coffee” while laundry piled up and dishes soaked in the sink. He hadn’t married a domestic goddess, that was clear.
But,Tad had no fear, no resentment. Yes, Kenneth had an education, a profession, and the blond haired blue eyed Scandinavian looks that turned Rachael’s head, but Tad had won her heart. She was carrying Tad’s baby. He could afford to be magnanimous now. He even agreed when Rachael suggested Kenneth be the baby’s godfather. What does it matter? he thought to himself. A godfather  is just a guy who stands at the baptismal font some Sunday morning. Tad wasn’t religious. He didn’t care who stood there with them. It’s not as if  he gets to play a real part in our kid’s life – we aren’t Italian.
Tad went along with Rachael when she told everybody the baby was due in late May, though, by his calculations, it should come at least two months “early.” No surprise to him, she “showed early” and when they went to Lamaze classes with other expectant parents whose babies were due in May, she was noticeably larger than all the rest. When April came, he was sure she’d go into labor at any moment. But, days and weeks went by.
By mid-April he worried constantly that something was wrong. How could she go this far past term? Was the baby okay? But when he tried to talk with her about it she became so emotional he feared that was bad for the baby, too, and he’d back off. On his own, he dealt with the possibility that he was not the only man Rachael had slept with over the summer.
Near the end of  April, Field was born. The proud parents presented their blond, blue-eyed eight pounder to family and friends as a “premee” who “surprised” them by arriving a month early. From the moment Rachael’s beautiful, fair haired son was cleaned up and placed in her arms, she knew her lies were exposed. She sobbed uncontrollably. Her mother saw the distress and  thought it was post-partum depression. Her father thought they were tears of joy. Tad assumed she was crying from exhaustion. And no one, absolutely no one commented on Field’s coloring or the timing of his arrival.  Rachael was fragile, and besides, it was nobody’s business.
Tad and Rachael took their son home and began their lives as parents. He returned to his two-week work rotation, she stayed home. One afternoon, quietly rocking the baby, she remembered a  book that was required reading when she was in the eighth grade, The Scarlett Letter. Later that day she took Field out in a stroller and headed for the library.  Checking out, she told the librarian, “I’m passionate about the classics.” And this time I’ll finish it, she thought. Maybe after that  I’ll read The Pearl. Didn’t even start that one. It was too darned hard. Suddenly, she came to her senses. Yeah, right, and I’m gonna start playin’ the flute again, too.   When she left the library she wheeled the stroller over to the book drop and set a new record for the shortest time a book was on loan. She wanted something to read, though, so on her way home, she picked up a copy of the National Enquierer.
Anyone who knew Kenneth, or, for that matter, Dr. Krebs Sr. and his wife, could easily see family resemblances in Field.  Surely Kenneth knew, and Tad too, but neither said a word.
Kenneth was a Christian and ashamed of his behavior that one summer. As a result, he was a godfather to his own son, a neighbor to his son’s mother, and equally as difficult, a sister in the Lord to his former lover. Rachael and Kenneth went to the same bible believing church. They were taught to confess sin in order for God to cleanse them. Yet, Rachael and Kenneth acted as if there were no such sin in their past. In fact, Tad feigned ignorance, too. The three of them did their individual best to deny the truth. “I never knew him” Rachael tried to tell herself when she and Tad would run into their neighbor.  “I never had sex with that woman”  Kenneth willed himself to write one hundred times on the blackboard in his head. And Tad would smile tightly, and think, “Kenneth Krebs is an impotent wimp.” Denial, denial, denial. And somewhere outside Azzolla, you could hear a cock crow.
When Field was a newborn, Tad “pondered in his heart” the shocking visual information that made no sense because he genuinely loved Rachael and accepted the child she gave him. Not being a fool, however, he began making plans to move away from the “perfect apartment” is wife selected for them only six months before, and relocate as far from Kenneth Krebs as possible. Tad told Rachael that even if they couldn’t build a new house, they could buy a starter home. Saying the sooner they moved, the happier they would be, he insisted and she agreed.
When Field was two months old, Tad and Rachael stunned friends and family with news of Rachael’s second pregnancy. Tad thought it was a wardrobe malfunction. Actually, Rachael had lied when she said she was taking birth control pills. For her own sake, she needed to give Tad another baby right away. Otherwise, her guilty conscience would have driven her insane.

With each mile the odometer registered, Rachael’s mood got bleaker and bleaker. She couldn’t help thinking about the nightmare of her own experience having an ultrasound all those years ago when she and Tad were first married.  Field was a few months old when she learned she was going to have another baby.  She had been thrilled. Pregnant twice within twelve months, just like her mother!
I wonder if Cristol will, also, too - Whoa! What am I thinking? She fully engaged the present as that thought struck her like a slap in the face. In fact, she struck her temple with the open palm of her right hand  as aloud she said. “Duh, Rachael, you retard!” Still voicing her thoughts, she said “ Got to warn Cristol about this!”
Adjusting her glasses and squinting to make out the turns in the dark road, she was briefly distracted by poor night vision and promised herself to find time to have her eyes checked. Then she began to compose what she would say to Cristol tonight. “Women in our family are very fertile. Don’t go thinkin’ your safe during post-partum, ‘cause you’re not. It’s not like that for us Heat women. We don’t even get a break when we’re breast feeding, so just be careful.”
Buck Heat had thought it was funny when it happened to Betty and then again to Rachael. “You’re just like me,” he’d quipped to Tad, “ when the oven’s been pre-heated, you pop in another bun.”
Rachael couldn’t stop fretting. It made for a long drive home. Oh man! If Cristol ignores my advice, the fairy godmother of babies will turn her into a pumpkin again before the calendar strikes twelve. For Rachael, a quick second pregnancy had been her plan. But Cristol wouldn’t want another baby so soon after delivering this one; she’d still be in High School. “Still,” Rachael told herself, still speaking out loud, “I  must remember to warn her.”
While Rachael and Tad struggled with day to day challenges of simultaneously being newlyweds and new parents, the second pregnancy was more or less an afterthought.  They assumed Rachael would have an easy pregnancy, as she had the first time, start showing in her fourth month, as she had before, maybe sooner, waddle around during months six, seven and eight, and be ginormous and cranky for four weeks leading up to delivery. Piece of cake, sort of.
When Rachael went for her three-month check up she walked into a nightmare. The doctor moved the monitor from location to location, concern showing on his face. At first he thought the battery might be low in the monitor, but after a nurse brought in a replacement and the room was as quiet as before, he said, “Let’s get an ultrasound.”
The  results were devastating. Rachael’s baby, Tad’s son, was not alive. Rachael didn’t cry. She was sure she had been punished, and she was going to take it the way she’d taken the switch as a naughty child - defiantly. When she was alone in her own car, she took it up with Him. “Why God?” she anguished. “Why did you take Tad’s son?” She had been sure it was a boy. A boy to make up for her transgressions. A boy that looked like Tad.
 “Sh---‘, she stopped mid-curse. “Crap!” the watered down version was not as satisfying. “I know, I know,”  she blew her nose. “You are punishing me.” Bible training and childlike faith had been part of Rachael’s life since she was two years old. Her mother had taken the Heat children to Sunday School every week. Hundreds of hours of Rachael’s childhood were spent in small rooms sitting on little wooden chairs listening to someone else’s mother tell bible stories. She could quote Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death.”  It was a rhetorical question -“Why?” – because she knew, absolutely knew that losing Tad’s baby was God’s way of punishing her.
With blurry eyes she drove to her mother’s house. Finally allowing herself to cry, she sobbed on and off for two hours. Her mother made a comment that the mountain of Kleenex on the kitchen table riveled the antler pile in the front yard. Rachael didn’t laugh, and Betty realized too late that joking about the remains of dead things would not make her daughter feel better.
Mrs. Heat was the first and only person to ever hear Rachael’s confession. It broke her mother’s heart and she said what she hoped was true and what she, herself, wanted to believe, that the Heavenly Father had dealt this punishment as a lesson. If Rachael learned her lesson, then she could ask forgiveness. She could also ask for another baby. Holding hands, they prayed.
This time, she wasn’t asking for a boy, that was God’s choice to make, all she asked was that she have a healthy baby and a healthy pregnancy. God answered her prayer in the autumn of the following year with the birth of Cristol Joy Sherman Saplin. The baby girl had eyes and lips that looked like Tad’s mother. Even so, Rachael thought she was exquisite.


Duncan said...

Thanks Allison, it gets better each week.

Anonymous said...

As Duncan said, "It gets better each week. Looking forward to the next installment. Just hope everyone votes and keep people like these out of office and soon to be just be cloudy memories.