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Penny

A young man contemplates joining the ranks of fatherhood.

No babies. Ever. It is a strictly enforced, no exception policy I have put into place. Everyone I know told me that it was a foolish policy to implement. One day, they insisted, I would change my mind and have at least one child. Parents, grandparents, friends, and ex-girlfriends all were intent on derailing my drive and motivation to keep this resolution alive. This policy was put into place when I had the sage wisdom and benefit of thirteen years of living. Now, at the much wiser age of twenty-seven, I find myself considering a repeal of the No Babies law. To help you understand why this is such a monumental decision, I think it’s important to take you through my history with the law.

The only exposure I tend to have to small children, be they toddlers or infants, occurs in restaurants. I often become confused in restaurants. I feel a persistent thud, thud, thud from the back of the booth in the Mexican restaurant, and begin to think that the jumping bean thing is real. I later discover a precocious five-year-old boy pretending his side of the booth is a trampoline. Or, I’ll be in a Memphis barbeque place and worry that the high-pitched squeal is the sound of my dinner meeting its demise. Turns out, it’s just a baby with parents too poor to afford a sitter. They have also apparently gone deaf, since they fail to notice their child screaming louder than the collective sold out audience of a horror movie. Then there is what I call the ape children. The ones who run about the restaurant throwing fits and food, bouncing from location to location like some exotic Amazonian monkey. These experiences only serve to reinforce the need for the No Babies rule. Although the parents of these children have apparently lost their dignity and care, I know that I would be mortified and thus can not let bad children happen to me.

The only previous time in my life I have considered a repeal of the No Babies rule occurred in college. I was in my local supermarket buying beer underage and a woman was there with her child, who predictably was throwing a fit. I kept looking at her and the child, then tried to ignore them, only to look at them again as a tantrum continued and the child grew louder and louder. The more I looked at the woman, the more I saw how a child can affect you. She was clearly a soccer mom in her mid-thirties, but the bags under her eyes and stress lines on her face made her appear much older. The somewhat disheveled blonde hair was pulled back in a sad pony tail. You could tell there was a point in her life where she took pride in her looks, but these days were now gone; her care evaporating when her husband put the child who enslaves her coming out of her vagina on YouTube for every family member and close friend and worldwide stranger to see. Her clothes, her ragged features, the look in her eyes all seemed to plead silently to God to end her life. She was waiting for the lightning to mercifully strike her down at any moment, hopefully before she had to crawl into the unstylish minivan one more fucking time.

I scolded the woman: “Do you mind controlling your damn kid? He’s extremely annoying and you ought to do something about it.”

For a brief second, the soccer mom glared at me and I braced myself for a fight. Only, she didn’t fight me. She relaxed her stare and calmly told me, “One day, you’re going to have a child of your own and you’ll understand. You will know how hurtful what you just said was.”

I was taken aback. Normally, my bravado would have me inform the woman of my etched-in-stone No Babies law, but something about the desperateness in her voice and the earnest look on her face made me feel as if this defeated-looking woman may be some kind of prophet. From that point forward, I resolved that should this prophet be correct, then I would make a kid with the same kind of determination and effort that I tended to put into everything, the proverbial 110 percent. So, for the next four years I practiced making a child with a woman as many times as possible.

Shortly after graduating college, I attended a friend’s wedding. Also in attendance was another friend who had been unfortunate enough to meet a loser, have too much to drink, and nine months later ended up with a permanent souvenir from a night that she’ll never remember. This “friend” insisted that I hold her child for a moment while she took a call on her cell phone. I took Accident (name changed to protect his privacy) and held him at arms-length with a hand on each side of his pudgy torso.

I was more scared than I had ever been as I held Accident; he staring blankly at me and I doing the same back at him. I had heard that all kids have bodily fluids that can spew forth from their mouths at any second. I was fearful that Accident could at any moment turn into a human volcano, erupting bile and other substances all over my suit. The staring contest continued for a few more minutes and then the blank stare on Accident’s face turned into more of a grimace, followed quickly by a quizzical look that seemed to indicate he was trying to figure out what just happened.

I knew immediately what had happened from the smell and the sudden sag in Accident’s pants. The little shit had just shit himself while I was holding him. “Take him back! Take him back now,” I screamed.

“What the hell is the matter with you,” asked my “friend.”

“He just shit himself! While I was holding him! He effectively shit in my hands!”

“Oh my God! You’re a bigger baby than he is. It’s just poop. Everybody does it. Besides, it didn’t get on you!”

My “friend” was correct, everyone does go poop. However, most people have the common decency not to do it while in the embrace of another. Most people have manners and do that on a toilet, behind closed doors. My “friend” acted as if it was no big deal and hence that ended our friendship. Clearly, you will agree that I was in the right to be alarmed and disgusted. Poop is nasty. It is sticky, squishy, and smelly. It is covered in germs and it is simply not acceptable to occur outside of a bathroom. That is why you have to move to another state and change your name when you do it in your pants in front of others. This incident did nothing but solidify my resolve regarding the No Babies rule.

Several years went by after the poop incident, and I found myself attending my own wedding. My wife is very kind, patient, loving and beautiful. She is also never late. She is especially never late for events that happen quite regularly and consistently, such as family reunions, meetings, church and a certain appointment each month set in stone by Mother Nature herself.

Apparently, my wife is not infallible and shortly after we got married she wound up being late for that most important of monthly appointments. I was beside myself as I sat on the bed pleading with God while she peed on a stick. I was annoyed for several reasons, perhaps the least of which was her currently urinating on something that cost as much as a new Lexus. After she was done, and after she washed her hands thoroughly, we sat on the bed hugging each other as we waited several minutes for the results.

The instructions told us a “-” meant that she was not pregnant, a “+” meant that she was pregnant. We sat there chanting neg-a-tive!, neg-a-tive!, neg-a-tive! until finally the egg timer chimed and we knew the results were ready. We approached the stick as if it were a sleeping grizzly we were about to poke. We saw: ÷

“What the fuck does that mean?!” I exclaimed.

“I don’t know. The instructions say it should be a – or a +”

“What the fuck does a division sign mean?! We’re not having half of a kid are we?! Why isn’t it a – or +? It’s a fucking EPT. That stands for ERROR PROOF TEST!”

“Stop being an idiot. It means we need to go get another test and try again.”

“What the fuck?! Can’t we just have half a kid? It will be cheaper!”

As we waited on the new test, I was scared for my wife. I knew nothing about child birth. Every time I thought about it, my mind drifted instantly to the movie Alien. I couldn’t help but picture my wife lying there dead in the hospital, the creature having just torn through her abdomen spewing acid and about to kill the rest of us. Looking back on that tense day, I am glad that the – finally appeared on the damn stick. However, I don’t think it would have necessarily been a complete disaster if it had been positive. I have been thinking about this mostly while working recently.

I am surrounded by idiots at work. The productivity train is constantly derailed by staff that can’t think and follow directions, obstreperous opposing counsel on small cases, and clients who are often ungrateful and insist on arguing my legal education against their Judge Judy law. Engrish is the national language of the law firm, and Google and Wikipedia are the worst things to ever happen to an attorney-client relationship.

I feel trapped at work. Several of my co-workers do not. They get to miss work or leave early for their child to attend some event like a school play or football practice. I envy them for this, and have repeatedly begged them to let me substitute parent one night. They always decline, citing the belief that their child would be disappointed if I went in their place. I find this to be a bullshit excuse for several reasons. First, their kids must learn about disappointment because life is full of it. The forty pounds I’ve gained since college and getting married are proof of this. Second, I know this is bullshit because I know they want to leave work early just as badly as I want to. Their kids, as wretched as they are, are better than the mountain of paperwork on their desks. Third, their kids will not be disappointed because of my substitution, they will rather be disappointed because nobody showed up at all considering my first and only stop after leaving the office will be a bar.

I didn’t want to have my own kid, but nobody else would let me use theirs. It was a dilemma I could not solve. Luckily, some washed up actor helped me solve it one night while watching television. As it turns out, I can have my own third world child anytime I want for just pennies a day. The child would send me monthly updates, but I would never have to actually meet him or her. In exchange for the pocket change I dig out of the cushions, the child will get rice and clothes. It was a perfect arrangement, and I immediately told my wife of my plan.

“It’ll be perfect honey, I can get out of work but we won’t actually have to have a child living with us.”

“You’re an idiot. That will never work.”

“Yes, it will. If just pennies a day can give the kid food, shelter and clothing, a couple extra bucks a month can surely get it a computer that can be hooked up to Skype. We can even be fashionable like Brad and Angelina, and the rest of Hollywood and get us a little Asian baby.”

“No! What is wrong with you?”

“Please! Think of the pride we would feel watching little Xing Zao stitch together her first pair of Nikes in the factory!”

“No! You’re horrible! Besides, I would never name my kid something like Xing Zao anyway.”

“Oh, come on! I’m sure for a few extra pennies a day they will let us name her whatever we want. We can call her Penny!”

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than storiesspace.com with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

Copyright © This work has been copyrighted upon its publication by Michael S. Rothrock. All rights reserved. The complete work, nor any portion thereof, may not be reprinted, reproduced, redistributed, or republished without the express written consent of the copyright holder. Violators may be subject to a legal mess.

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