Chapter Four, Part One
“Margaret—earth to Margaret! Where did you go?” I snapped back to earth to find my friend, Jenna, staring expectantly at me. My two other friends, Belinda and Caryn, were staring as well. I had lunch with them one Saturday a month, and this was it. I hadn’t wanted to go, but I knew I’d catch serious hell from them if I didn’t. We’d been friends since college, but maybe it was time to loosen the apron strings. I didn’t find them nearly as entertaining as I had when we were in school. It had been two weeks since I found out I was pregnant, and I hadn’t heard from the Father in nearly a week.
“Honestly, Mags, you were a million light-years away.” Belinda looked at me from under her lashes, fluffing her blond curls with her other hand. She was the stunner of the group with her Barbie-doll figure and plump, full lips, and she knew it. So even though she was ostensibly talking to me, she was playing to the table of appreciative yuppies who were ogling her quite openly. Ah, the refined crowd of TGIF—what could possibly be better? It hadn’t been my choice to come here, but I had been outvoted three to one.
“Girl, you’ve been out of it all day. Spill.” Jenna snapped her fingers at me. She was the ‘hip’ one with her mod cut and Macy clothes. Too bad her features were equine-like, similar to those of Princess Anne. Or was it Margaret? Whichever was the horsey-one. Still, it didn’t stop her from getting laid which went to show that if you had a great bod and money, you only needed a passable face.
“There must be a new man in your life,” Caryn said, nodding her head knowingly. She was Asian like me, but Japanese rather than Taiwanese. I didn’t hold her tiny figure against her as she didn’t act like your typical Japanese American Princess. She was tough as nails, and she had a black belt in taekwondo. Any guy who thought he could mess with her usually ended up with a black eye or crushed testicles.
“No,” I said, sipping at my margarita. Damned if I was going to give up alcohol before it was strictly necessary. “I just, uh, it’s a work thing. One of my kids is in trouble. You know, the usual.” I sent a silent apology to my students who’d been unusually good this past week. My slander meant that one of them would be out of control this week; I was resigned to it.
“Uh, huh.” Belinda nodded her head, cutting her eyes to the yuppies who were still eyeing her. “I’m with Caryn. There’s a boy involved. Who is he?” The three of them turned their attention to me, which was a bit disconcerting.
I hadn’t told them about being pregnant yet because what the fuck could I say? The Lord, our Father, decided that I should be the next Mother of God? Oh, and it’s a girl, but He promised not to kill her this time around? It sounded crazy to my ears, and I’d met Him, so I knew they wouldn’t believe me. I half-expected God to come down out of the sky as was His wont, but He didn’t. Briefly, I wondered what’d happened to Him, but I had more important things to consider. Like what to tell the three stooges looking at me so avidly. I knew that nothing less than an epic romance would satisfy this trio, but I didn’t want to lie. I felt as if I had no choice, however, so I gave it the old college try.
“It was just a fling,” I said slowly, feeling my way through the story. “You know, one of those go to the bar, take him home and kick him out the next morning stories.” Since they were all well-versed in one-night stands, they nodded sympathetically. “I thought he might call again, but well, you know.” I might as well make myself look like an ass in the story because it would be more believable then. Who hadn’t wanted that special guy to call? Who didn’t hope beyond reasonable hope that he would call, even as the days passed? The three of them nodded, looking like a Greek chorus in an Euripides’ tragedy. “You know how guys are. He said he’d call. Well, he didn’t.”
“Men!” Belinda said brightly, smiling at her fan club. “Who needs them?”
“You do, judging by the way you’re working those aging frat boys,” Caryn retorted, her eyes bright. She was on her third margarita, which only increased her outspokenness. Unlike most Asians, she didn’t turn red when she drank—she just got louder.
“Moi?” Belinda said, fluttering her fingertips. “This chicken salad is delicious.” She took a dainty bite, careful not to smudge her lipstick. I didn’t know how she could tell if it was delicious or not as she ate more air than food with each bite.
The three of them continued their bantering, forgetting about my—made up—problem. I sipped at my drink, savoring each mouthful. I knew that as soon as I started to show, I couldn’t drink in public without getting tons of grief from the rabid people who disapproved of pregnant women drinking. I bit into my buffalo burger, but it was ashes in my mouth. I still couldn’t believe that I was pregnant, and I didn’t know what to do about it. Sooner or later, I was going to have to come up with a cover story as to how I got pregnant. I didn’t know if God wanted me to tell people the truth or not, but I would prefer not having to reveal that little nugget of information until it was time for His great plan. I didn’t want little Gwen—I refused to call her the Goddess of Mercy—being constantly ridiculed or persecuted from the day she was born.
“Guan-Yin,” a voice boomed in my head. “Her name is Guan-Yin.”
“God, is that you?” I asked silently, furious that He’d interfere with my life in this way. It didn’t sound like God, but what the fuck did I know?
“Show some respect. This is Zeke. God left me in charge until—” Zeke cut off his sentence abruptly, leaving me hanging.
“Until what, Zeke? And does being in charge mean being able to enter anybody’s mind whenever you damn well want to?”
“No, only yours. You are the chosen one,” Zeke sneered. I had the feeling that he’d objected to God’s choice of vessel for the new savior, but probably not too vociferously. I couldn’t really complain as I wasn’t too sanguine about it myself. Still, I was miffed that Zeke so obviously looked down on me without really knowing me.
“I’ll put Guan-Yin on her birth certificate, but I’m calling her Gwen.”
“That’s enough, Zeke. I’ll take it from here.” Ah, the dulcet tones of the Lord Almighty. He was back from whence He came.
“Look, God. I’m not used to having You in my head yet, let alone Mr. Bearer of Doom and Gloom.” It was strange to be talking to Him in my head while simultaneously acting as normally as possible for my friends. “Please, this is too much. Talking to me in public. What next?”
“Zeke can be a bit zealous,” God replied, ignoring my latter sentence. “I don’t mind if you call her Gwen. In fact, it’s best she be as much like any other child until the time is right.” I refused to ask right for what because I didn’t want to give Him the satisfaction of being able to tell me that I didn’t need to know yet. “Listen, I’ll leave you alone for now, but I must talk to you soon.” With that, He was gone, and my friends hadn’t even noticed that I’d been gone as well. They were yapping about whatever it was they always yapped about, and it was getting on my nerves.
“Look, I’m out of here,” I said, standing up abruptly. I couldn’t deal with my friends’ superficiality after talking to God in my head.
“What’s the problem, Mags?” Belinda asked, still batting her eyelashes at the ogling boys. I barely refrained a sigh of impatience as I watched her. Yes, she had been homecoming queen back in high school, but those days were long gone. It was time for her to start acting like a grownup, for God’s sake. “The afternoon is young. We’re just starting to have fun. You can’t leave now.”
“I’m just tired of this bullshit, you know?” I said loudly, pushing my chair in with more force than necessary. “There are more important things in life than men, Belinda. Maybe it’s time you figured that out.” I stormed away, irrationally pissed off.
“What’s her problem?” I heard Belinda asking the other women. “Is she on the rag or what?” I almost laughed out loud at how far off the mark she was. It didn’t seem worth my time to correct her, however, so I just left the restaurant in a huff.
“That was quite the little snit you had,” God said, materializing in my passenger’s seat as I sped home. This time, He was in all silver, which looked good on Him. Silver eyes were spooky, however, so I was glad I had to keep my eyes on the road.
“Don’t you ever get tired of doing that?” I asked, not even flinching this time. “Can anybody else see you? Or do I look as if I’m talking to myself?”
“No and no. Yes. In that order.” God laughed silently, changing colors as He did. Silver to gold to copper to bronze and back to silver. He was making me dizzy, but I couldn’t escape his glow.
“Where the fuck were You that You had to put Mr. Grim in charge?” I didn’t know why I was being so nasty to Him, but it felt good.
“It’s none of your business where I was.” God settled on silver again as He evaded my question.
“OK, what are You doing here?” I thought that was a reasonable question.
“Just wanted to touch bases. Haven’t talked to you in a week. How are you holding up?” Was He pulling out a cigarette? No, it was a emery board. Was he going to file His nails? Apparently so.
“I’m fine.” I stifle the impulse to ask Him again where He’d been because I had the feeling He didn’t like repetition.
“I also wanted to tell you that no, I don’t want anyone else to know for now to know who you are, so whatever you have to tell people is fine with Me.” God buffed His nails carefully. I never thought of God as a dandy, but He certainly cared a great deal about His looks.
“You’re advocating lying?” I wanted to make sure I had the ground rules right. “I can say whatever I want?”
“Not lying,” God admonished me, putting the emery board away. Where, I didn’t know, but it disappeared from view. “Not telling the complete truth. Say it was a one-night stand. Say you have no intention of dating the father. It’s the truth, isn’t it?”
“It’s a lie,” I exclaimed, conveniently forgetting that I’d told a whopper to my friends not twenty minutes ago. “The truth is that the Lord Almighty decided to knock me up for whatever inane reasons a mere mortal cannot fathom. The only reason I don’t want to tell people that is because they’ll throw me in an insane asylum.”
“Edward and Wendy need to know because they are the ones supporting you. Anybody else is irrelevant.” It took me a minute to digest the names. Ned hated being called Edward! Then, “What about my mother? What am I going to tell her?” More to the point, was I going to have to eat crow because I was pregnant like she wanted? “She will not be happy there is no father, but she will accept it. Eventually. After a lot of yelling. She doesn’t need to know the truth yet.”
“That’s not fair. She’s devoted to You. If anybody should know, it’s her.” I risked a glance at God who was flashing colors again. He really had a hard-on for attention, I’ll say that much for Him.
“I get bored,” He explained, stopping the lightshow. “As for your mother, go ahead and tell her if you want. She won’t believe you.”
“She would if You—” I broke off what I was about to say because the look on His face was fearsome.
“You do not tell Me what to do,” He thundered. I winced as He nearly broke my eardrums. I didn’t understand why He was so upset this time as I’d been barking orders at Him from day one. “Because it was cute in the beginning. It’s getting old now. I am your Lord and Creator—I will not tolerate disobedience!”
“I thought we had freewill,” I said softly. It was unnerving, to say the least, to be on the receiving end of God’s wrath, and I kept an eye out for Zeke who was apt to show up at any minute to take me away.
“I told you, I will not kill you while you are pregnant with My child,” God said coldly. A disturbing thought came to me—did that mean He was going to kill me once I had given birth? Once I was expendable? “No, I have no wish to harm you at all. After all, you are—”
“The Mother of God,” I said impatiently. “Yes, yes, I know. Then why are You getting so pissed?”
“You do not seem to understand that We have very little time before—well, before you have to do what you need to do. You are taking this way too lightly.”
“Fuck You, I’m not,” I retorted, turning the car hard. I was rewarded by the honking of horns around me, but I was too upset to care. “All I’m asking is what I should tell my mother. Just because You have an agenda doesn’t mean I should just fuck up all my loved ones on Your behalf. Isn’t that what the crazy people do?”
“OK, OK,” God said, trying to cool down. “Your mother. Well, all she needs to know right now is that you’re pregnant. Like I said, she won’t be happy about there not being a father, but she will eventually accept it. At some point, she will need to know the real identity of the child, but that’s not for some time yet.”
“Can I ask You one more question?” I said, keeping my voice even. I didn’t wait for Him to respond before continuing. “Is it going to be obvious that this kid is something special? Because I’ll tell You right now, I don’t think I could handle a perfect child.”
“She is My child,” God said simply. “Of course she’ll be perfect. And you can handle it just fine.” His confidence aside, I didn’t think I had the ability to tolerate perfection. I wasn’t too patient with huge fuckups, either, but I preferred the latter to the former—as evidence in my last few relationships. “Really, Margaret. You’ll make a terrific mother.” I didn’t think the Holy One did drugs, but not for the first time did I wonder what He was imbibing. How could the One who created me know so little about me? Oh, I knew He’d say that He knew me better than I knew myself, but I didn’t buy it.
“You do know I have tattoos, right?” I asked suddenly. “And a pierced navel. And I sleep with women. Doesn’t any of this put You off Your feed? I mean, You’re opening Yourself to a shit-load of questions and angry followers by making me the new Mother of God.”
“That’s the point,” God said impatiently, drumming His fingers against the dashboard. “The people in your country are enjoying prosperity like none have before and yet, it’s not enough for them.” He shook His head, honestly perplexed by this dichotomy. “They need to see—”
“What about people in other countries?” I asked, interrupting His flow. Oh, I knew I should be more reverent as He was the Creator, but I didn’t have it in me. The principal of my elementary school despaired because nothing he threatened made me behave. The only person I feared was my mother, and I managed to hide that from her. Most of the time. “Don’t they count? This is a shitty idea.”
“It will work,” God said cryptically, holding His cards closely to His chest.
“Look, I don’t mean to be rude, but can You leave? I’m really tired.” For some reason, being in His presence exhausted me. It made Ned damn near giddy, but I just wanted to sleep.
“It’s because of the pressure,” God explained. His eyes lit up as He expounded on, incredibly, the science of what it took for Him to appear before me. Why it had to be different for me, I didn’t understand. Nor did I much care. I just wanted Him out of my car. Other drivers were looking at me strangely because I looked as if I were having a conversation with myself. Except I was no longer talking. My teeth were clenched too tightly for me to get any words out.
“Please leave,” I said wearily when God took a break from His indecipherable recitation. Now, if He had wanted to expound on the theories of why Henry James was such a shit, well, I’d be down with that.
“I’ll be in touch.” God disappeared before I could answer. It became increasingly clear that He liked to have the last word. Of course, given that He was the Master Designer of everything, He had an unfair advantage.
I sighed and managed to make it home in one piece. When I got there, I checked my cell phone and answering machine for messages. I kept my phone off when I was driving as I didn’t need anything distracting me. Yes, God sitting in my passenger’s seat qualified as a major distraction, but I didn’t think He’d allow anything bad to happen to me physically as long as I was carrying His baby. That stopped me. That meant I couldn’t die while being pregnant with the spawn of God. In other words, I was invincible. I wondered if I had enough nerve to test that theory, say, by jumping off the Stone Arch Bridge. I pushed the thought out of my mind and listened to my messages. There was one from Caryn telling me she had my back. I erased it as I was thinking of letting go of that particular group of friend.
“She-Ra, are you there? It’s me, He-Man. I need your presence tonight, if you can make it. I know it’s short notice, but the parents are having some sort of spur-of-the-moment get-together. They would love to see you again.” It was Ned, of course, and his voice was less-than-chipper. I decided to call him back right away.
“What’s up, Ned?” I asked, my voice curious. It wasn’t often that I heard Ned sound down as he made it his life’s goal to be upbeat. I’d only seen him cry twice, and I didn’t like thinking of either time as both involved the death of a beloved.
“My parents, they, uh, they think you and I are engaged they invited five of their nearest and dearest couple friends to celebrate I need you there when I tell them the truth.” Ned said it all in one breath which indicated how serious the situation really was.
“Wait, back that pony up. Start from the beginning,” I demanded. I wasn’t thinking very clearly thanks to the unexpected guest earlier in my car, so I needed to have things spelled out for me.
It turned out that the last time he saw his parents, they were pressing him for more information about us. Ned hemmed and hawed as he normally did, even though he had God’s dictum in his head. He wasn’t really listening as he had done this song and dance with his parents countless times before. However, he caught the tail end of his mother saying something about how glad she was that Ned and I had finally gotten engaged. What? It seemed as if Ned had answered in the positive when his mother asked if he’d proposed yet, something he hadn’t heard. Before he knew it, his parents were congratulating him, his mother with tears in her eyes. He was an only child, which made it even more difficult for him because if he didn’t marry, that would be the end of the bloodline.
“You’re going to tell them in front of their friends?” I squeaked, my voice an octave higher. Even God wouldn’t have scripted it this way.
“Um, no. I planned on going early and telling them before their friends get there.” Ned correctly interpreted my silence as he added, “I know, I know, but there is no good time to tell them.”
“Maybe you should tell them after,” I said tentatively. “Then they could tell their friends later on that I dumped you. I could be the bad guy.” I warmed to my theme as I loved being the heavy. “I could be the woman who done her man wrong!”
“I don’t know,” Ned said, his voice wavering. “I just want to get it over with.” His voice was plaintive, and I felt for him. I let him know that whatever he wanted, I was there for him. He said he’d let me know when he came to pick me up in two hours.
Two hours! That meant I had to rush to get ready. He may say that it’s spur-of-the-moment, but I knew the Changs. Everybody would be dressed to the gills, trying their best to outdo each other. My mother went to the same church, but she didn’t hang in the same circles because she didn’t truck with that flashy nonsense. I hung up on Ned and ran to my room to see what I had to wear. Since it was a night thing, that meant floor-length. His father was super-rich as well as super-religious, and that meant black-tie. Since I rarely did these kind of events, I relied on Ned to find me the proper clothing on consignment or from a thrift store. As he had an uncanny eye for what was flattering coupled with a flair for spotting a bargain, I had four dresses that would fit right in at his parents’ place.
I pulled out all four and looked them over critically. None of them were sleeveless as I had a ring of fire and thorns tattoo encircling my left forearm and another tattoo encircling my right upper arm. It was difficult to describe, but basically it was a band of water on one side and fire on the other with a yin-yang as the pendant. It was gorgeous, but not to be shown at this dinner party. At least I’d be well-fed. Mr. Chang’s chef had studied at Le Cordon Bleu in France before emigrating to the United States. How he ended up in Minnesota, I couldn’t tell you, but I was happy to eat his food.
I settled on the maroon affair with the gossamer sleeves of a blood red. It dipped modestly in the front and fell to my calves after nipping in at the waist. I noted that I wouldn’t be able to wear this dress much longer, but I looked damned good in it. I twisted my hair in a modified French twist before pulling a few wisps down around my face. In deference to the Changs, I put on some MAC lipstick and blush, not to mention a trace of mascara. That was as far as I would go, however, and I finished the look by adding gold drop earrings, a gold bracelet, and a gold Taiwanese charm. I could hardly believe my eyes when I looked in the mirror. I looked like fucking Cinderella. I only wished I had a Prince(ss) to sweep me off my feet.
“Let’s do this thing,” I muttered, stomping into the living room. I hadn’t put on my gold three-inch heels yet because I knew I’d be in hell the minute I slipped those babies on. Sure, they were gold and looked killer on me—another Ned find—but I hated heels even more than I hated makeup. I watched the Food Network to whet my appetite. Those wacky Iron Chefs were on, and it was the cutie Japanese chef who had a restaurant in New York. He wasn’t my favorite, but he was easy on the eyes. I immersed myself in the world of sole until the doorbell rang. I clicked off the television, grabbed my gold clutch purse, slipped my feet into my heels, and went to meet my doom.