Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye Page 3

He was silent for a minute. Then he said quietly, "And what if you found out she was a cheap whore working the Boston streets?"

Natalie felt as if he had slapped her. "You're rotten," she said.

"No, I'm not. I care about you, Nat. Listen, what a person is has nothing to do with where they come from, not with what body they come from."

"That's not true."

Paul sighed. "Natalie, do you remember Brenda whats-her-name, the girl who dropped out of school in tenth grade?"

Natalie looked at him. "Yes," she said. "She flunked every course, even cooking. But she had that nice smile. I remember her smile, always kind of dumb and puzzled and scared. Lonely. Why?"

"Well, Brenda works down at the fish factory now. She still has that same smile—lonely, dumb. Maybe that's why, the loneliness, the dumbness. Brenda goes to bed with anyone who smiles back and buys her two beers."


"So. Suppose I went down to the waterfront after I leave here tonight, bought Brenda a couple of beers, and screwed her."


"I'm not going to, Nat. But I could. Half the guys in the senior class have. Now, suppose I did, and suppose Brenda became pregnant, with my child. She wouldn't even know it was mine. It could be anyone's. Suppose she gave birth to that child, out of her skinny, scared, borderline-retarded body. Do you think that baby would have anything to do with me?"

"Yes," said Natalie. "It might have your eyes. Your intelligence. It would be very much a part of you."

"Well, that's bullshit, Nat," Paul said angrily. "I don't believe that. It would be a baby, that's all. Probably sickly. Born by mistake, because someone was horny and had a couple of bucks to spend on beer. 'Heritage' is a meaningless word."

"Let me ask you something, Paul. Do you think that I could have been born to a prostitute—or, as you put it, a cheap whore working the Boston streets? Or to some vacant-brained person like Brenda?"

He looked away, out of the car window, across the lawn, and didn't answer.

"Do you?" she asked again.

"No," he said, finally.

"Well, I don't either, damn it. I think that somewhere there is a dark-haired woman who, for whatever reasons, gave birth to a baby girl whom she couldn't keep. And that she still thinks about it, and wonders where that baby is. Where I am. And I'm going to find her, Paul. I have a right to."

She kissed him quickly and got out of the car. He started the engine, and called to her. "Nat?"

"What?" She went to the window on his side.

"Don't hurt your parents."

She stood there silently, hugging her arms around her in the spring night breeze. "I already have," she said. "I wish that weren't part of it." Then she turned and ran across the lawn to the porch, as he backed his car from the driveway and headed home.


"NATALIE," said her father. "We haven't just forgotten about it. Your mother and I have talked and talked."

"Why haven't you talked to me?"

"We will, Natalie. Give us time. It's not an easy thing."

"It isn't for me, either."

"I know, sweetheart," he said. "Just give us some more time." He hugged her.

I love this man, she thought. My father. Why isn't that enough?


NANCY CAME into her room and closed the door.

"Nat," she asked, "what's with you and the rents?"

Natalie groaned. "Nancy, why do you have to talk in that ridiculous super-teen-ager-abbreviated way? The word is 'Parents.'"

Nancy grinned. "Okay. What's with you and the parents?

Natalie was brushing her hair. "What do you mean?" she asked.

"Hey, let me fool with your hair, okay? How are you going to wear it at graduation?" Nancy took the brush, collected her sister's heavy dark hair in her hands, and made a chignon on the top of Natalie's head. "Hey, not bad. Not bad."

Natalie looked in the mirror as Nancy held the mound of hair carefully in place. "Yeah, I kind of like that, Nance. But it wouldn't work. I have to wear one of those stupid flat hats at graduation. Move it down a little."

Nancy rearranged the bundle of hair lower, at Natalie's neck. It made her look older, more sophisticated. They stared at their paired images in the mirror. Nancy's hair was light, curly, and short: the kind of hair that always looked the same, no matter how she tried to re-do it. She pouted at herself, making her dimples appear, and she crossed her eyes and giggled. Then she released Natalie's hair so that it fell thick and straight again. "You're so lucky," she said to her sister.

I wish people would stop telling me I'm lucky, thought Natalie. Or else that I would feel lucky, or that I believed being lucky is a good thing.

"I drank two beers at Karen's party Saturday night," confided Nancy. "Then I threw up."

"Taught you a lesson," said Natalie.

"Yeah. Taught me to get to the bathroom faster. I threw up on their kitchen floor. It was gross. No one would help me clean it up."

"Dad has told you a hundred times that if you're going to drink, at least drink very slowly. Space it out. How fast did you drink two beers?"

"About five minutes. It was a contest. I won. But the win was declared illegal because I threw up."

"Did you tell Dad?"

Nancy laughed. "I didn't have to. He was up when I came home. He said my face was the color of Furacin Gauze. What color is Furacin Gauze?"

"Sort of vomity yellow."

"I figured. I don't know how you stand working in his office. Yuck."

"I used to be grossed out, sometimes. But you get used to it. And Dad's good to work for. He told me when I started that I would have to look at everything. Not to turn away. If you have to faint or throw up, he said, go in another room and do it. But don't avoid anything, because you're going to have to see it all, someday. It's part of what life is, he said. And if I really wanted to be a doctor, I would have to learn to deal with all of it."

"Did you, ever? Faint, or throw up?"

"No. I cried, once."


"Well, it's kind of a long story. It was early last summer. One of those days when the office had been filled with people all day long. It was about five o'clock, and there were still patients in most of the examining rooms, waiting. The receptionist was getting one phone call after another. Dad and the nurse were in one of the examining rooms, and I was in the lab washing instruments, when the receptionist came in, all hassled, and said she absolutely had to go to the bathroom, and could I please sit at her desk for a few minutes.

"So I took her place, and the minute she was gone, a young couple came running into the office, holding a baby wrapped in a blanket. The mother was screaming something about the baby, and the father was talking, trying to explain, and they handed it to me and said, 'Do something!' They just shoved it into my arms, both of them talking and crying.

"Well, I ran down the hall with the baby. The parents came behind me, and Dad's office door was open. I told them to go in there and sit down. Then I banged on the door of the room where Dad was with a patient, and told him to come to the third examining room right away, and I took the baby in there and laid it on the table. Dad came right behind me, but I knew the baby was dead before he got there. It was just—well, it was dead, that's all.

"He began doing things very fast, but then he just slowed down and stopped and looked very tired. He said the baby had been dead for several hours, and asked me where the parents were, and if they had said anything.

"I told him they were waiting in his office, that they had just screamed at me something about the baby not waking up from his nap, and when they went in to get him, he was this way, all still and pale. Dad took the little nightgown and shirt off the baby, and examined him very carefully, but there wasn't a mark on him.

"Finally, Dad said, 'Natalie, this looks like a case of what we call Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. There's no explanation for it; it just happens, and for some reason it happens mostly to male infants this age. There will have to be an autopsy, of course. I can't do anything for this baby. But the parents need me, and I'm going to have to go to be with them, now.'

"Then he saw that I had started to cry. He became very stern. He said, 'Stop it, Natalie. Stop it, right now.' He told me again that he was going to the parents, and that he wanted me to stay with the baby. He told me to dress it carefully, and to comb its hair, so that when its parents saw it, it wouldn't be lying naked on an examining table like a medical specimen.

"Then he left me there. I stopped crying. I made a fresh diaper out of an examining room towel, because his diaper was wet. I pinned it on with the pins from his wet diaper, little pins with blue plastic tops shaped like ducks' heads. I put on his little undershirt, and the blue and white checked nightie he'd been wearing. I washed his face. Then I combed his hair. He had dark hair, and I combed it the way I thought his mother probably did, so that it curled at the top of his head. And—you want to know something crazy, Nance?"

Nancy nodded.

"I talked to him while I was doing it. He just seemed so alone, lying there, all still that way. I said, 'You're a lovely little boy. You didn't have a very long life, but I bet it was a good one. I bet you smiled at your mother when she rocked you. Now I want you to look very beautiful when your mom and dad say goodbye to you.' And I curled his hair around my fingers, so that he did, he looked beautiful.

"After a while Dad came in, with the parents, and I left them there. Dad had called the hospital, and someone came to pick them up. They went out of the back door. The father was carrying the baby's body.

"Dad came into the lab where I was, and took me into his office, and closed the door. 'Now,' he said, 'cry.' And I did. I sobbed and sobbed, and he sat there with his arms around me. And when finally I stopped crying and blew my nose, he said, 'Natalie, you are going to be a very good doctor someday.'"

Nancy sat silently, staring at her sister. "I couldn't have done it, Nat. I couldn't even have looked at a dead baby."

"Yes, you could," said Natalie. "You can do anything, if you have to."

"Only knock off the booze, okay?"

Nancy grinned. "You sound like Mom."

"Look," said Natalie. "You asked what was with me and the—ah, the rents? Read this, and tell me how you feel."

She gave Nancy the sheet of paper from the desk drawer. Nancy curled up in the wicker chair and read it over.

"I think," she said slowly, when she'd finished, "that if it were me, I wouldn't care one way or another. But I think also that it isn't me, it's you. If it means that much to you, I'll help you however I can."

"Thanks, Nance. I think it's something I have to do alone. But I'm glad you understand."

"There's one thing I can do," Nancy said.


"I'll talk to Mom and Dad."


BECKY AND GRETCHEN knocked on the back door and came into the kitchen as Natalie was having a Saturday morning cup of coffee with her mother. The kitchen sink was filled with bright yellow dandelion blossoms.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

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