International Writers Magazine : Life Fiction
Eric V. Neagu
be," said the woman with that same confidence that had made
the doctor question himself on previous visits.
"Mrs. Fletcher, I, I," he stammered, a reaction to both
her statement and to her new position, once again on the examining
table. The doctor collected himself, smiled, and said, "I assure
you, the tests are positive. We should just monitor this, and then..."
"Cant be. Check again," she replied, hiking up the
gown and repositioning her feet back into the stirrups.
Dr. Thompson had
been her doctor for fifteen years. In that time, she had been his favorite
and most irritating patient. Those years had taught him what to say.
"Well, if you dont believe the results I can simply go over
them with Sara. Shell make sure you follow up." He gently
tapped her feet out of the stirrups.
After years of alarms, some false, some real, she knew his tap and smile
meant all efforts at undermining Dr. Thompson had failed. Moreover,
it meant his diagnosis was secure and his prescription, whether diet,
exercise, sleep, or medication, would be the correct one. In any case,
as a mother she felt commentary was necessary.
"Always the same thing. Threats! I should find a new doctor, thats
what I need to do," Mrs. Fletcher replied. The genuine fear of
Sara, her daughter, discovering she had been anything but pure left
her threat sounding as hollow as the doctors.
Sara had been rapidly flipping through a magazine in the doctors
lobby for nearly an hour. Occasionally, she checked her watch and then
checked her watch against the wall clock. Sara was sure her mother would
never understand. "Never is a big word," Jeff
had said. He was almost always correct, but then he had never met Saras
The first ten years of life had been fine and typical for Sara. A father,
a mother, a home, all taken care of. The prescribed paths were followed
until one day her father fell from the equation. This, too, would have
been fine in the end. In her childhood, Sara had been strong-willed
and resilient. Back then she could have handled the loss without scars,
without connecting the present to the future. Her mother was not as
brave. That was all B.C., Before Church.
Once the great hole of her husbands death opened, Mrs. Fletcher
filled it with prayer, Jesus, and the First Congregational Church of
Our Lord. By age eleven, Sara, who had never been inside a churchMr.
Fletcher had been a Jeffersonian skepticbecame a passively unwilling,
though regular, fixture at Sunday services, as well as Wednesday Bible
study. Saras participation in church activities would not end
until the day she set foot on the state college campus.
When Mrs. Fletcher entered Dr. Thompsons lobby with the uncomfortable
new truth, Sara greeted her mother with a weak smile, avoiding eye contact.
Her mother was not, as everyone could see, all that old. But when Sara
or anyone else looked at the woman, they could see the years constricting
around her mothers personality, aging the behavior, if not the
body. So when Mrs. Fletcher appeared, walking with her legs slightly
too far apart and body hunched, Sara did not react. She simply took
her mothers discomfort as a sign not to get into anything immediately,
if at all that weekend. Maybe another weekend would work better. Of
course, Jeff would not buy that argument.
"Howd it go?" Sara asked in the car.
"Fine," responded Mrs. Fletcher, with unusual coolness. Sara
wondered if she suspected something.
"The doctor seemed concerned. Anything we need to worry about?"
Since leaving home, Sara had a constant fear of losing her mother to
cancer. One parent had been one too many, already. As a result, she
had driven her mother to almost all doctor appointments whenever possible.
"No, no. There are some things children and parents dont
share, thats all."
There are some things daughters do not share, too, Sara thought. Maybe
this would be fine. "Oh, so nothings wrong," Sara nervously
tried to end the conversation. This not sharing note was a good one
to end on.
Mrs. Fletcher caught herself. Remembering Saras "unique sensitivity,"
she interpreted Saras comment as anxiety, excessive concern, her
"unique sensitivity." Mrs. Fletcher stopped the conversation
as casually as she could. "Oh, honey," she strained a laugh,
"Getting old isnt always fun. If Dr. Thompson wants to monitor
two more things Ill have to move into his office just for the
upkeep. Lets get going, shall we?"
"Um, sure. Should we get something to eat on the way?" asked
Sara, trying to sound normal, unsuspicious.
They drove and neither noticed the other. Mrs. Fletcher rubbed her knuckles
across her lips, while gazing out of the car window. Sara pulled her
long auburn hair, absentmindedly checking for split-ends.
Since her fathers death Sara had been as good a daughter as a
widowed mother could want. Just a child at the time, she quickly learned
to cook, clean, and do all of the yard work, including the gutters.
Taking care of her mother never felt like a burden. It was just something
that had to be done.
After two years of college, she still kept an eye on her mother, while
somehow maintaining a social life, academics, and a part time job. Saras
concern for her mother was as strong as Mrs. Fletchers concern
for her daughter. Had it not been for Saras own problem, she typically
would have been worried much more about her mother that day. As it was,
each woman was preoccupied with independent secrets and how to keep
Mrs. Fletcher looked out of the window, hoping for some sign, something
to tell her this could not be happening. She remembered the doctors
voice just when he said, "Sexual transmission is the most common
way." And then her own voice when she replied, "Cant
be. I assure you I have not been with a man since Hal."
"The tests, the sores, and the discomfort, they all add up. Im
afraid this is common enough. We just need to monitor it." Monitor
it, she thought to herself. What does that mean? What does monitoring
mean? Will I need to wear special underpants? Will I need a special
mirror for down there?
"What exactly are we discussing here?" she asked.
"Look Mrs. Fletcher, I admit it is unusual for a woman of your
age to come down with something like this. Its a tricky virus,
though. You may have contracted it years ago and its just appearing
"For the first time?" she said too loudly.
This was her one reminder in years that there had been a past before
Hal. She felt the church had taken care of her sins. In truth, as Mrs.
Fletcher was discovering, she had simply stopped thinking about them.
"Yes, for the first time," the doctor stated flatly. "Dont
be too concerned. We just need to make sure you dont miss any
checkups. These things seldom become cancerous." Mrs. Fletcher
sank into herself, morbid fear, "cancer," the girls
worst word. She knew Saras fear better than Sara. "Unique
"The girl cannot know. You must never let her know," she implored.
Raised eyebrow, "Lets just make sure we monitor things and
itll be our secret."
Sara had experienced panic attacks her first year in college. They were
nothing terrible, just some reactions to a new life without ground,
being away from home, the rigors of the workload, etc. There were only
three of them, but each left an indelible impression on her behavior,
her mother called it "unique sensitivity."
Since then, with the slightest sense of anxiety Sara immediately sought
relief. If the feeling had something to do with school, she studied
harder. If it involved a person, she avoided or confronted them, accordingly.
But this new anxiety, the reason for her visit, this was not as easy
to resolve. Although his arguments made sense, she could not agree with
Jeff when he said, "Itll be fine. Shes your mother."
Reflecting on her current predicament, the anxiety steadily swelled.
Mother and daughter turned down Franklin Boulevard and drove by the
ice cream stand. Not much had been said, and neither had yet looked
the other in the eyes. Had it not been for a sudden and pleasant memory,
nothing might have happened.
Mrs. Fletcher recalled her husband, her daughter, and a picture taken
with ice cream smeared on faces. The picture was taken next to the fountain
in the park across the street. Mrs. Fletcher had smeared the ice cream
and then ran far enough to snap the picture before Sara and Hal retaliated
by pinning her to the ground, dripping melted ice cream onto her hair.
"Fletcher Ice Cream Torture," Hal called it. They all laughed.
That was two days before his diagnosis.
Mrs. Fletcher asked, "Do you remember the Ice Cream Torture?
Your father thought it was the funniest thing he had ever done."
Before Sara answered, a sharp pain returned Mrs. Fletcher to her body.
Mrs. Fletcher rubbed her knuckles across her lips and ground her bottom
into her seat. Sara did not respond. The grinding did nothing to help.
She needed to stand, to let the perspiration evaporate. Things were
flaring. She needed to stand, to get out of the car immediately. Attempting,
but failing, to hide her urgency, she asked Sara, "Should we get
Sara asked, confused, "Ice cream?" This was a good sign for
Sara. Although her mother could be intimidating, especially to boys,
she could also be spontaneous and fun.
In the right mood, the spontaneous Amanda Fletcher could be almost childlike.
When they went to Disneyworld she rode all of the rides. In Hawaii she
hula danced. Sara even vaguely recalled skinny-dipping on a childhood
camping trip. But then there was the other mother; the one who prays
twice daily, attends church, the one whose main concern was protecting
her daughter. That Mrs. Fletcher is the person Sara lived with the second
half of her young life.
On the plane ride home from Hawaii, Sara leaned over to get a book from
her bag. The man sitting next to Sara happened to glance down just as
her shirt pulled out in the back, exposing her underpants. Before Sara
realized what had happened, Mrs. Fletcher slapped the boy in the face.
Another time, after a rather dramatic admission by Sara that she had,
indeed, kissed her prom date, the mother drove to the boys house
and had the poor boy tested for venereal disease. Such was the other
mother Sara knew.
Sara felt lighter at her mothers suggestion. Looking at her mothers
face for the first time that afternoon, Sara noticed beads of sweat
on her mothers upper lip. "Looks like you need two scoops,"
she laughed weakly. Things might work out. Maybe Jeff was right.
Mother and daughter stood at the end of a lengthy line, just beyond
the canopy that extended from the service window. They were nearly in
the street. Sara did not notice the unusual stance her mother assumed,
one foot in the gutter and one foot on the curb. She failed to notice
anything about her mother just then, because of a white convertible.
Out of the convertible, carrying a small tow-headed boy walked Macy
Sams. Saras "unique sensitivity" suddenly weighed heavily.
Macy knew things. Sara worried that her secret would come out far earlier
and with less tact than intended. Macy was born a Texan, which meant
she had an inherently loud voice and big mouth. Loose lips sink ships,
Sara reminded herself.
Macy was Saras oldest, but not best, friend. In the third grade
Macys family moved from Texas to Indiana. The young girl immediately
befriended Sara, who thought Macys southern accent was endearing
and comical. They were close on and off until Sara went to college and
Macy met Tom Sams.
In their town, a pattern existed for girls who never left. Macy followed
it. She married Tom, even though she was only twenty and he was thirty-five.
Macy quit her career, such as it was, and became pregnant within the
first year of marriage. Tom, Jr., Macys child, was old enough
now to know ice cream when he saw it and obnoxious enough to demand
Although Macy had a son and a husband, she still had some growing up
to do, as evidenced by the previous weekend. That weekend Macy dropped
the boy off at her own mothers house for Friday and Saturday night.
"Cant be a mom all of the time," she would say as she
kissed the boy goodbye and headed to visit Sara at college.
Partying had never been an interest of Saras. So when Macy arrived
Sara offered several alternatives. "We could go to a movie,"
she suggested as Macy changed into a halter-top with a floral pattern
and checked herself in a mirror.
Macys expression soured, ignoring Sara she asked, "Do you
have a water bra I can borrow?" Embarrassed, Sara emerged from
her closet with the article in hand. It was then that she resigned herself
to the evening and Macys energy.
That night Macy would not meet Jeff. That night Sara and Macy started
out with two beers at a small party in a neighbors apartment.
From there they went dancing. A boy approached Macy from behind. Macy
grabbed him by the hips and ground hers into his. It would be noon the
next day before Sara would see Macy again.
Exhausted but cheerful, Macy appeared at Saras apartment; she
showered, applied make-up and hairspray, and quickly erased all traces
of fatigue. "Lunch? Im buying!" Macy twanged loudly.
They dined at Saras favorite lunch spot, where they sat beneath
a large umbrella on the patio.
The girls ate and gossiped about the night before. Macy talked, Sara
listened; no details were spared, "I was fine with everything through
the sex. But then I got up to go to the bathroom. It was disgusting.
Shaving clippings everywhere, and yellow stains in the toilet and on
the seat!" said Macy. Sara knew married Macys behavior was
wrong, but whats done was done and who was she to cast the first
stone. She had her own secrets to keep.
"Whatd you do?" asked Sara, who had never once gone
home with a boy from a party.
"I peed in a cup and left it in his sink. You couldnt pay
me to go in that nasty hole." They both laughed.
Macys stamina and sex-drive had been tempered somewhat by motherhood,
so the next night she agreed to stay in with Sara and rent a movie.
Everything worked out well from Saras perspective. Jeffs
rugby club had an away game that weekend, so there would be no need
to introduce him. The girls ordered pizza and settled in for a night
of bad romantic comedies and overeating.
An hour into the first movie the pizza guy pounded up the stairs. Macy
paused the movie and stood to pay him. While digging through her purse
she was surprised to hear the door open and see the pizza guy enter
without pizza. Not knowing how to react to a breaking and entering pizza-less
delivery, Macy threw, heaved, and chucked the contents of her purse
at him, shouting, "Pervert. Rapist. Go, go on and get." Two
tampons, a lipstick tube, a nail file, and a cell phone hit Jeff, who
had come home early to study for a test, before Sara could stop Macy.
The ice cream line inched forward and Sara recalled Macys reaction
when Sara explained Jeffs presence. Macy howled. Between laughter,
she labeled Sara with every ridiculous pornographic title she knew,
Good Girls Gone Wild! she found especially hilarious. But Sara Fletcher,
Real, Live, Slut! Macy decided was the best. All in good fun, thought
Sara, until Macy spoke her last words, "Wait until your mother
These last were the words she remembered the most, the words forcing
her to drive to her hometown that day. She would miss two of her favorite
classes to tell her mother the news. She did not sleep the night before
because of those words. Those were the words that echoed in her head
as Macy and her little boy approached the end of the ice cream line.
Dear Lord, Mrs. Fletcher thought, taking in her daughter in a moment
of clarity between pains, she looks just like me at that age. Watching
Sara examine strands of hair, Mrs. Fletcher thought the one sticking
point about the monitoring of the vagina was that if something actually
happened, if the body really developed cancer, Sara would find out about
her mothers past. "On the big things," she had always
told her daughter, "There can be no secrets." But this had
to remain a secret. Sara was still young, impressionable. What would
this say? What kind of role model, let alone Christian, was a mother
with this! What I wouldnt do to take back all those mistakes.
Theres a reason I worry about her. Girls as beautiful as Sara
are living, breathing semen targets. Dear Lord.
The sores flared once again, distracting her from all thought. Mrs.
Fletcher always wore cotton underpants a size too big, which meant there
was a lot of flesh on flesh and perspiration that irritated everything
in her current state. Spreading the legs ceased helping her situation.
She had to itch. So as subtly as she could, Mrs. Fletcher slipped a
hand into the front right pocket of her dress, working her way down,
down, down. She did not notice Macy approaching.
"Looky, looky whos here!" shouted Macy, hugging Mrs.
Fletcher from behind. Macy then embraced Sara, who, in her head, busily
chanted over and over, again and again, please dont mention Jeff.
Please dont mention Jeff. Please dont mention Jeff.
"Yall remember Tom, Jr.?" she said holding the small
boy by the shoulders. Embarrassed, he turned and leaned into his mothers
Things were going to be fine. Please dont mention Jeff. Please
dont mention Jeff, Sara repeated to herself.
Mrs. Fletcher attempted to make the itching finger, still a little too
deep in her pocket, appear normal. She could not. Macy being Macy, bent
toward Mrs. Fletcher and asked in a Texas whisper, "Ya got the
itching problem dont you. Dont you worry, we all get it,
For the first time Sara noticed her mothers itching. Briefly,
she reflected on the doctor visit, on the tension in the car, on her
mothers fidgeting. An idea formed in her mind, but Macys
quick mouth did not allow it to take shape.
"To what do we owe the pleasure?" Macy asked Sara. "You
never told me you were coming home this weekend. I would have dropped
Tom, Jr. off with Mama."
The line moved around their little group. It was a hot day and the women
appeared more interested in talking than in ice cream. The boy worked
his way around his mother and hid behind her skirt. Sara kept up the
mantra, even while talking. Please dont mention Jeff.
"Well, I just realized I hadnt been home in a few weeks,
and I thought I could catch up with everyone. I was going to call you
about getting together, but mom had this appointment."
"Catch up?" asked Macy, genuinely confused. "Whats
happened since last weekend?"
That was it. Sara had opened the door an unfortunate crack, and Macy
was going to blow it off the hinges. Macy did not do it deliberately,
of course. Deliberation was not something Macy, Sara thought, was particularly
strong in. Please dont mention Jeff. Please dont mention
Mrs. Fletchers fingers were working their way deeper into her
pockets. The boy watched the perspiration forming on the old womans
forehead and chest. Slowly, she bent further over, opening her neckline
more and more, and bulging the dress at the waist. It was not a full
bend, just enough to push out the front of the dress and hide her wandering
I will forgive her if she says anything. She is my oldest friend and
I will forgive her, but I hope she says nothing, thought Sara. Sara
felt her chest constrict. Her shoulders hunched. Unique sensitivity.
With exuberant hand gestures and big voice Macy spoke. "He didnt?"
asked Macy. "Oh
God! Did he ask the question?"
Macy said, holding both hands to her heart.
Sara did not respond immediately. Her bearings were gone. The word "Jeff"
had not yet come from Macys mouth, but "He" was a close
second. There were few things that caught her mothers attention,
Sara knew, like Saras love life. It was the reason for the tact,
for the diplomacy, and for the fundamental fear that had guided her
surprise visit that day. All the tact and diplomacy had left, leaving
only fear behind. Mrs. Fletcher stopped itching, and with no subtlety,
withdrew her hands from the deep.
Sara said nothing, which Macy took as an affirmation. "Oh,"
she squealed putting one arm around Mrs. Fletcher and one around Sara,
pulling them together in a hug. The small boy was caught in the middle.
"Oh, you must be so happy. When is the date?" She pulled apart,
"I can help you with all of the arrangements." Macy turned
to Mrs. Fletcher, "You will just love Jeff. He is such a babydoll."
For the first time in two days Mrs. Fletcher noticed no irritation or
itching. The hot poker flashes were completely absent. Everything below
the waist relaxed, as everything above it tensed. Her face reddened
with anger and confusion when she asked Sara, "Who
On the way home they were once again silent, though it was no longer
from anger or discomfort. The fury had been worked through in the ice
cream line. Then, when the manager asked them to take their disagreement
elsewhere, the anger continued to be worked through in the small park
across the street. Some children inadvertently learned the word "Slut"
from Mrs. Fletcher, before their mothers emptied the playground.
During the battle Sara discovered a resolve that had been hidden deep
somewhere. She was angry with her mother. Moreover, she was upset with
herself. She knew how important school was and how, even after her fathers
death, her mother made sure there was money for college. Nevertheless,
Sara held her ground after admitting the boy had moved in. For each
argument against, she simply replied, sometimes loudly, sometimes not
so loud, "I love him, mother."
Her stoic "I love him, mother," reminded Mrs. Fletcher of
Hals quiet resolve. She had never seen him in Sara, but there
he was. Stoicism had been a powerful tool for Hal and it was equally
powerful for Sara. In the face of it, the shock gradually eroded and
Mrs. Fletcher approached the problem more civilly.
"My Lord in Heaven," began some persuasive and legitimate
arguments against living with this Jeff boy. "My Lord in Heaven,
a live-in boyfriend isnt the same as a roommate. A roommate cant
just walk away from the rent."
Sara knew that was not true. She had already protected herself against
that, "Mother, he pays rent and signed the lease."
"My Lord in Heaven, you have top grades. Its difficult to
maintain top grades with boys distracting you."
"He has better grades than me and in a harder major. We study together
all the time, mother."
Mrs. Fletcher saved her least favorite argument for last. Not because
she believed Sara would not be careful. It was because, if anything,
that day had proved to her no amount of caution could prevent everything.
She dropped all religion and became fully mother.
"You know nothing of his past. Where hes been? Who,"
she paused, "has he been with."
In each instance Sara felt nothing, no anxiety, no concern for her mothers
reaction. Jeff had been right. In each instance, Sara said only, "I
love him, mother." Nothing Mrs. Fletcher said could work around
Saras resolve. The argument gradually ended.
The mother looked worn. Her color returned to normal and she sat in
defeat on a park bench. There had been no tears on either side, just
genuine concern from the mother, and genuine confidence in the decision
for the daughter. For the first time in her life, Sara had won an argument
with her mother.
Emotional discomfort capitulated to the physical discomfort erupting
in her body. In the car on the drive home, Mrs. Fletcher did not stew
or rethink the debate. By then, she had moved beyond this "Jeff"
person. Her own problem had returned and it was all she could do to
She tried to figure out just how this had happened to her. Saras
behavior could be and had been explained. "I love him, mother,"
was a response with no logical opposition. Additional prayer and a few
well-timed surprise visits would at least offer Sara some of the protection
a mother can give.
But the other, her own circumstance, was here to stay. How does a post-menopausal
sixty-year-old woman come down with this? Was it the facility in some
public place? No, she was a hoverer. She never sat on the seat. My Lord,
she debated, could it have been
? No, Hal never would have, never
would have done anything to hurt me. Of this last she was certain. Then
what? A memory, deeply buried, purposely forgotten, slowly surfaced.
Mrs. Fletcher remembered something she had not unearthed since long
before Saras existence, even before Hal entered her life. She
recalled a boy, Matthew, she had met in college. Unlike Saras
"Jeff" person, he did not live with her, exactly. Matthew
never signed a lease and never paid rent. Sara was smart for getting
these things out of Jeff. No, Matthew simply spent many, many nights
in Mrs. Fletchers apartment. He was not her first, only the first
who mattered. She did not want to recall him.
She remembered how her roommate, a high school friend not unlike Macy,
had hated him. The girls argued one night for two hours about him. Matthew
was polite, a good student, handsome, and neat, but her roommate, who
was a heavy girl, resented his nearly constant presence. The roommate
made it very difficult for Mrs. Fletcher to spend time with Matthew.
This created the first cracks in the relationship with the boy.
Nonetheless, she thought they would be married and everything would
turn out fine. But without a place to sustain them regularly, things
began to fall apart. As students, neither of them had much money to
go on dates and the house he rented was full of messy boys. The apartment
had been their salvation for the short months they were together. At
summer break they promised to see each other at least every other weekend.
They talked of getting an apartment together, of future plans, of marriage.
When Sara pulled onto her street, Mrs. Fletcher reflected on the last
time she had seen Matthew. He returned to school a much more earnest
boy. Neither of them had made the necessary effort over the summer to
keep the feelings alive. Within the first two weeks of the school year
they made a clean break of it. Mrs. Fletcher remembered laying in the
grass on a late summer night, wrapped in a blanket, her naked body against
his, agreeing things were not working out. She remembered how sad he
seemed and how they made love one last time. This was a memory Mrs.
Fletcher had submerged, along with the few other boys she had known,
the day she met Hal.
Sara stopped the car in the driveway, ready for another round of argument.
Her mother had been moving, rubbing her brow, perspiring again. This
could not be it, there would be more. Her mother, she was convinced,
was just taking a brief break from what would come.
Instead, Mrs. Fletcher sighed, too busy and tired by her own thoughts
and her own problems to continue the fight. Mrs. Fletcher was preoccupied,
wondering if that time all those years ago it was Matthew. Matthew,
Matt, Jeffrey, Jeff, she thought. Then she heard Dr. Thompsons
voice, "You may have contracted it years ago." And then she
heard Saras voice, "I love him, mother." Finally, she
felt the hot poker itching between her legs and walked, feet too far
apart, into the house.
© Eric Neagu
Eric has an M.A. from The University of Chicago His recent writing
credits include political commentary in The National Ledger.
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