Will Gray shook off his polka dot umbrella and opened the café door. All the windows were steamed over by the hurried breath of scarf-ensconced souls, the chatter of cup on saucer producing a pleasant murmur of its own. The room was thick with comfort and rain-soaked laughter.
Will ordered a coffee and stationed himself in a booth to wait. He watched a couple argue gently over trivial matters (they would make love later that afternoon); baristas clumsily spilled drinks and burned metal jugs of milk (but this one here was a trained dancer); and Lucy Cadaver fell through the door like a pile of laundry (but in her arms, some bundle of the softest cloth).
“Oh, hello!” cried Lucy, doing her best Parker Posey. “So look what I found.”
At her breast-just a crumple of sleepy eyes and golden fleece hair-lay a baby.
Will nearly spilled his coffee on the changeling when Lucy slid in beside him, her fur coat buttoned up to the jaw.
“It’s fucking amazing to see you, Will.”
She kissed him sweetly on the cheek and rolled her eyes, as though to express exasperation at their busy lives. As though they were both executives on a 30-minute lunch, and not 20-something nobodies who were awash after the facile bonds of university had cracked, given way, and finally abandoned them to the forking rapids of time.
“Fuck me,” he stuttered. “What’s that?”
“A pigmy, Will, what’s it look like?”
“Lucy, be serious. Is that a baby?”
“I think so, yes. Wild, isn’t it?”
Will blinked. “But you did have an abortion; you were so upset.” Even as he said the word, his hand went protectively out to touch the child’s bootie.
“But not really, no.” Lucy stole some of his coffee, and slouched out of her fur. A cashmere scarf fell to the floor and was not retrieved.
Will thought how awful she was, the lies, the tearful stories she’d told him months ago, before flying away to school-of course, it hadn’t been school at all. Lucy had gone home. To decide for herself what to do.
“I couldn’t think here,” she said, brushing aside Will’s blank expression. “I had to shut you all up somehow. I’m sorry, Will-I am-but don’t you see? I couldn’t stand everyone’s PC compassion.
“But, to be honest,” here she raised the newborn up by the armpits for Will to inspect, “I am still mulling the matter over. Do you think post-natal abortion would be pushing it? Aren’t I just the worst underage mother you ever did see?”
“You silly bitch.”
And that made her face go red, though the grin was frozen in place. Was she longing for approval? Was she ashamed of her state? It was impossible to define the expression; but he felt its shaking strength. “Her name is Jane,” said Lucy.
“Hello, Jane.” And that was the moment. Will’s right index finger was gripped in the vice of Jane’s wrinkled hand; her eyes refused to meet his. She was fascinated by the movements of a ceiling fan.
A general anxiety seemed to lift (if only for the time being) and Will felt at once how large life was and how incomparably raw.
“She’s gorgeous,” he thought to himself. Out loud, he only muttered, “Squishy things, babies.”
“Not too ugly, eh? We’re gonna stay in Van, I’ve decided. Aren’t we, pumpkin pants? Yes we are!”
“Oh god, you do that voice.” Jane agreed with Will’s distaste for patronization and burped her milky disapproval onto her own front.
“I can’t believe you,” said Will. And it only occurred to him then to ask, “Where are you staying?”
“We were hoping to crash at yours. For a bit.”
“God, I’m homeless. Sorry, Jane,” he felt the fat baby’s belly with a careful hand.
“But that’s perfect!” Lucy slapped his shoulder. “Oh Will, let’s get a two bedroom then!” The rapid-fire series of revelations had set Will on edge; he sat up straight and took in the unlikely pair.
But what else did he have to do? Where else to go, but house-hunting, future-hunting, again? There was a sweet companionship, he found, in the mutual needs of lost people.
“I’m not baby-sitting,” said Will after some thought. “And I’ll bring men home whenever I want. And we will not be Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston in Object of My Affection. Deal?”
“Deal. Except for the baby-sitting.” She handed over Jane, who promptly vomited, ruining Will’s sweater.
Ten years later, long after Will and Lucy had moved apart again and were enmeshed in their own, private lives, this sweater would still be there, in the back of a closet, at Will’s condo. His boyfriend would complain about the ratty thing with the odd stain on its left shoulder. Twice Will would retrieve it from the garbage.
The sweater would lie there, 10 years on, neatly folded and smelling of time-a token, he supposed, for something he could not name.