A May Flower
Published in Great South Bay Magazine July 2007
May, as pretty as a peony flower, was a bride from China at seventeen. Her first glimpse of New York fascinated her: endless traffic jams, skyscrapers teasing the clouds, and people with hair colors besides black. A place of volume and diversity, she thought. In Manhattan, she lived with her husband, Andy, and his widowed mother in a four-room apartment in Chinatown. In the first letter to her mother after her arrival, she wrote, “Andy is a great provider, but his mother barks like a watchdog. Don’t mention any of this in your reply because she might open my letters.”
At night in their bedroom, Andy covered her mouth with his big hand during intimacy. “Mother has been alone for twenty years,” he said. “We can’t show our happiness. She heard you a few times and said only loose women enjoy sex.” May was furious. She lay in the dark, listening to Andy’s snoring and the familiar rustling sound from his mother’s room behind the thin wall.
The next morning, Andy and May were up early, getting ready for work. A shredded duck omelet and a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice awaited Andy on the table. He kissed his mother for the breakfast, which she made special for him every morning. As May gobbled down her cereal, he handed her a piece of paper.
“Our address and the Union Health Center address,” he said. “Show it to the cab driver.”
May’s eyebrows locked, ignoring the cross-eyed stare of Andy’s mother. “I think it’s the cold that makes me weak. I’m only a few weeks late. Not too soon to get a pregnancy test?”
“Please go. Sorry I can’t take off this whole month,” said Andy. “But I am anxious to know if I’m going to be a father. Mind you, I’m twelve years older than you. I want to have a child soon.”
“I prefer to wait a few years before starting a family,” said May. “I want to continue working.”
“Wait?” Andy’s mother with tight lips chimed in. “For what? So you won’t spoil your figure with a bulging belly and get no attention from men?” She turned to Andy and said, “Didn’t I warn you not to marry someone so young and pretty?”
“Mother, don’t fret,” said Andy, reaching over to hug her.
May gazed at the woman. Old witch, she thought and then left the apartment with Andy.
The morning May went into labor, Andy received the telephone call at work. He immediately called his mother and gave money to the secretary to buy lunch for his colleagues to celebrate the coming birth of his child. He was on cloud nine when he entered the hospital, grateful for the new rule allowing fathers in the delivery room.
May started to feel the effect of the anesthesia. From the corner of her eyes, she saw Andy in a green hospital smock between the doctor and nurses. She lost consciousness as she felt the incredible pressure and tearing pain between her legs. Hours later she was awakened by loud noises and felt the heat on her face.
“How dare you? How dare you?” It was Andy, smacking her face with one hand and pulling her hair with the other.
Still under the influence of drugs, May was confused. She squinted at a bank of overhead fluorescents and then saw three men pulling Andy away. She drifted toward sleep. That evening the nurse handed her an infant to feed. “Congratulations,” she said with an uneasy smile. “Your son.”
One look at the pink face and blue eyes framed by a shock of blonde curves, May’s raised eyelids paralleled her eyebrows. “This is not my baby!” she said to the nurse. Then nostalgia rushed into her like a storm. She remembered as a child, she kept asking about the light haired man in the black-and-white picture hanging on the wall. “My Russian father, who was a minister in China,” her mother had said. And May would ask, “Where you and I don’t have his color and features?” Who knows? It’s nature’s work, her mom had explained.
May’s heart was throbbing. She couldn’t contain her excitement that genes skipping two generations had graced her infant son. She held the beautiful bundle as tight as she could, and he looked right at her as if to say, “I love you, my mommy!”
Next morning Andy’s mother saw the baby. At bedside, she spat on May, her facial muscle contracted, she wrinkled her nose and narrowed her eyes. “Slut! Disgraceful!” she yelled as she stormed out of the room.
Later that day Andy showed up with a social worker, who shoved a sheet of paper in front of May, which was a release to place the baby for adoption. Andy’s signature was already on in bold black ink. Are they crazy, May thought. Seeing May’s reaction, the social worker proceeded to tell her that it would be unfair for the baby if May would keep him, as it was her understanding that Andy wanted nothing to do with him. A lull set in. Then May asked the social worker for a private moment with Andy.
“Don’t you want to know why the baby looks the way he does?” May asked Andy.
“No!” exclaimed Andy, looking out the window. “Mother said you like to flirt. God knows how that baby came about.”
“Mother said what?” May cried. “Am I not your wife?”
“I’ll let you come home,” Andy went on. “But no baby. And you must promise to let Mother know where you are at all times from now on.”
Before that May was about to tell Andy about her Russian grandfather. But she changed her mind. Why bother? When there’s no trust in the relationship, what’s there left to say?
“You choose. Baby or us?” Andy persisted.
“I choose my son.” May turned her head away.
That was the last time May saw Andy. She knew, like those on that famous ship that bought the Pilgrims to America, in sight was a new beginning.