I wonder, Sarah thought, what it’s like to be a mother. She, stunning and youthful, rubbed her bulging belly under the pink maxi dress – one size above – and looked out to the cul-de-sac where the neighborhood children ran after each other, their eyes wide and mouths open. The sun was almost out of sight over the hill behind the freshly-sodded Pedigree house when the bluish LED lamp turned on and birthed shadows from bushes. Summer nights brought a certain kind of leisure in Missouri. It wasn’t like visiting Uncle B in Washington D.C. where you can walk around Wisconsin Avenue to keep yourself amused. No, there in the suburbs, you go out and sit on your porch.
Billy Conrad liked to sit on his porch too. His house was on the end of the street overlooking the main road. Sometimes, Sarah would take a walk to the top of the neighborhood where he lived. She would see him sitting on his rocking chair, hands greasy, gulping a tall boy of Nattie Light. If he didn’t see the kids playing down in the cul-de-sac, he would take out his ‘68 Charger (or his ’72 Roadrunner or his ’69 Camaro) and gun it down the street. Sarah called the police department and complained – and so did many of the parents. One time, she even confronted him while he was working on a radiator. “Excuse me,” she said, “but there are children in this neighborhood. We don’t want them getting hurt.” Billy laughed. “I’m sorry misses, but fast cars are made for driving.” The neighbors didn’t talk to him much.
After the darkness drove the children inside for the night, Sarah entered the kitchen and reached for her prenatal vitamins in the cabinet above the microwave. There was a letter on the counter; Kyle must have placed it there when he got home from work. He went to the bank about an hour ago, and should return anytime soon. There wasn’t a return address on the envelope. Sarah tore the taped flap in subdued anticipation. Inside, there was a single loose-leaf piece of paper – still with the broken frills on the left edge. Sarah recognized the handwriting as her Uncle B’s. Her uncle informed her that he opened a separate bank account to help with groceries and food for the new arrival. He also wrote down his address on the letter for future correspondence. I did this, he wrote, so no one at the post office could see it on the envelope. At the end of the message, he wrote, in all capital letters: BURN THIS LETTER AND THE ENVELOPE WHEN FINISHED. LOVE YOU. B. Sarah placed the letter on the table, shook her head and smiled.
Uncle B was a retired CIA agent who won $300,000 in the lottery six months ago. Sarah didn’t think that her paranoid uncle would think to share his winnings with her. When Uncle B worked for the government, he talked about retiring late in life and using his savings to buy a boat and fish for bass on the Meramec. He previously lived in Washington D.C., but recently moved out in Union to get away from headquarters. The last time Sarah visited him was four years back when he received an award from the agency in D.C. She didn’t see him much, but she talked to him often. Uncle B said he would like to see her as soon as she got situated in the new house. He didn’t like to spoil new beginnings. Sarah crumpled the letter and envelope into little paper orbs and placed them in the trashcan.
“What a change of heart, Rorschach,” Sarah said, as she looked over to the living-room carpet, where a tabby pumped his paws and kneaded, languid from evening trickery.
Sarah heard the garage open and looked at her watch. Kyle walked through the back door and looked tired. “How did it go?” Sarah asked.
“It went alright,” Kyle said as he opened a sac and scooped grounds of coffee into the French-press while he filled up the kettle. Sarah could smell the earthy scent of Arabica as it circulated around the living room.
“I’m surprised it took that long.”
“I guess we will have to get used to it. We are going to have at least eighteen years to test our patience. What’s a little financial planning?” Kyle said as he turned from the stove and looked at Sarah with a kind expression and winked. Dimples appeared at the corners of his lips. His smile reminded Sarah of why she married him. She pressed her head firmly into the head of the recliner and her hair pressed outward; her bangs were a fortress.
“We’ve been married two-and-a-half years now. I think I can handle it,” Sarah said and laughed. Rorschach looked up from the beige pool of synthetic fibers and stared.
“I got a letter from my uncle today.”
Kyle took out a mug from the cabinet. “So that’s who sent it. I should’ve known. I keep expecting him to send some sort of microscopic microphone to spy on us.”
“He probably already has,” Sarah said jokingly as she opened the compartment under the coffee table, “I found out that my uncle can help us out with the baby. Uncle B said he would open up a separate bank account for us.” Sarah took out baby blue nail polish from the cosmetics box. “It’s going to help out a lot especially since I haven’t had any luck finding a teaching job ever since we moved."
“That’s very kind of him,” Kyle said, pouring the steaming water into the press.
Sarah felt a sudden rise of uneasiness. She looked down at her fingernails. “All I know is that things are going to work out. We’ve wanted this for a while now. It would be a pretty sick joke if something held us back now.” Sarah blew on her fingers and the polish clotted.
Kyle said seriously, “I don’t think anything can hold us back.” He pressed down the plunger and noted the peculiar color of the coffee.
Kyle took his steaming mug and went to his office to research a case summary. After her nails dried, Sarah did some of the chores downstairs – vacuumed, emptied the trashcans and wheeled out the receptacle, and fed Rorschach. Then, she went upstairs to look at (baby’s name’s) room. It seemed like there wasn’t a day that passed that Sarah didn’t spend time in it. Paint buckets with dried paint around the rims lined along the wall. It’s almost time, Sarah thought as she looked at the half-blue room.
The April moon was out and powdered the rooftops with a mix of white and blackish-blue. Children left tricycles and balls in the grass. Sarah and Kyle cuddled and laughed on the couch while they watched Look Who’s Talking. Sarah loved watching old(er) movies. Kyle never watched anything except the Discovery Channel and reality court shows, and Sarah was surprised to find that he didn’t watch lots of the things kids of that age grew up with. Sarah kissed Kyle’s cheek when there was a light knuckling at the front door.
Kyle looked over. “Did you hear that?” Then, after a few seconds, the doorbell rang. Kyle walked to the door. Sarah looked questioningly down the hall toward the entrance. The moment the door opened – the moment when the humid air scurried through the crack, an unsteady male voice said “Hello Kyle.” Kyle turned on the porch light. “Hello Mr. Pedigree,” he said. The visitor had on a formal dinner coat, slick black shoes, and an unlit Cuban stogie between his dry lips.
“I’m sorry it’s late,” said Pedigree, “but we were wondering if you guys had any milk.”
Kyle rubbed the back of his head. “I think we have some. What’s the occasion?”
The gray-haired man on the porch appeared nervous when Kyle asked. “Martha wants to make pancakes for breakfast tomorrow and we just wanted to save some trouble of buying it in the morning. I figured a you youngins would still be awake doing something.” Mr. Pedigree guffawed and pat Jack on the shoulder.
The couple was fairly new to the neighborhood, but they met Mr. Pedigree and some of the other neighbors a couple times before. A month ago, when Sarah and Jack were outside unloading the U-Haul truck, Mr. Pedigree walked over from across the street, wearing a black stovepipe hat and holding a black cane with a metallic eagle head. He introduced himself and said that he stayed home and watched the stock market and his wife owned a small bakery off Manchester. The Pedigrees were well off, although certainly not upper class. Mr. Pedigree joked and said that his style made up for his money. Before he left, he curiously looked at Sarah’s belly and asked how long. “Seven months,” she said. Mr. Pedigree smiled like a mime and said, “Oh my,” and took out one of Rorschach’s mouse toys from a box on the driveway. A playful toss and an “Oh ho!” and the mouse jingled in the grass. Some of the neighborhood children – Nick Jackson, who lived next door to the Pedigrees, and Megan Carlyle who lived two doors over from Sarah and Kyle – told them about Mr. Pedigree’s strange behavior. Nick said he saw Mr. Pedigree digging through their trashcan late at night and Megan swore she heard him having a conversation with himself in the backyard. When the children told Sarah and Kyle about Mr. Pedigree’s behavior, the children’s parents laughed and shook their heads. “He’s eccentric,” they said, “but he’s not crazy.”
“Yeah, we usually stay up pretty late,” Kyle said, an effort to keep the conversation going.
Sarah went to the door and there was a patter from the bottom of her furry white slippers. “Hello Mr. Pedigree,” she said.
Mr. Pedigree looked at her bulge and his eyes were owl eyes. “Great Scotts,” he said. “The little guy is almost here!” He balled his fists and brought them toward his chest and shook with excitement. Sarah and Kyle laughed. “Well, we have milk,” said Kyle. “You’re in luck.”
Sarah went to the refrigerator and came back with Vitamin D milk.
“Thank you. We don’t need that much,” Mr. Pedigree said. “I will return it to you soon.”
Mr. Pedigree walked two steps and then quickly turned around. “Say, will you guys be home tomorrow evening?”
“Well, I’ll be home all day except for my check-up at ten,” Sarah said. “One of the perks of a future stay-at-home mom. Kyle has court at four, so he shouldn’t be home later than six.
“Great. Martha gets off work early in the afternoon. Bakery hours,” Mr. Pedigree said. “You guys should come over tomorrow. Seven o’clock? Nothing big, just dinner.”
“We’d love to,” Jack said.
Then, he said quietly – almost to himself, “Martha better get started on those pancakes.” Realizing that Sarah and Kyle heard him, Mr. Pedigree’s mouth tightened as if he said something he shouldn’t.
“I thought you said you were making those for –“
“Breakfast. Yes. Do forgive me, it is rather late for an old man,” said Mr. Pedigree.
As Mr. Pedigree walked back to his house, he took out a butane lighter from his jacket pocket and the smoke from his cigar looked like cirrus clouds rising heavenward. He stood outside his front porch to finish his cigar before he went inside. He heard a strange guttural sound from the backyard. There was a small patch of trees that opened up into a small pond. From amongst the frogs the sound came, and Mr. Pedigree quickly forgot about it in a sudden wave of excitement. The shower! When he finished and extinguished what was left, Mr. Pedigree put the milk in the refrigerator and went upstairs.
Martha was sitting in bed, her gray brows creased in concentration. A notebook sat in her lap and her pen twitched between her fingers. Mr. Pedigree took off his jacket, hung it from a hanger, and placed it in the closet.
“You’re up late,” he said.
“Did you get the milk, Paul?”
“Sure did.” he said. “It felt so sneaky borrowing ingredients from the victim.”
Martha laughed. “Well, I’m glad we got some because if we plan on having the cake for tomorrow – “
Mr. Pedigree gasped. “They can come, Martha! It will be delightful for them. I remember when our old neighbors from Clayton surprised us when Maddie was born. It created excitement."
Martha yawned and nodded. “I thought that I could make several layers with blueberries. We can make it a boy theme.”
“That would be good.”
“I can get it started when I head to the bakery in the morning.”
“I’ll be in charge of the festivities,” said Mr. Pedigree.
Martha turned off the light. “There’s so much to do tomorrow,” Mr. Pedigree said.
Twenty-five minutes later, when Martha was on the edge of consciousness, Mr. Pedigree, fully awake, said, “Oh! We should see if the neighbors can come! And family – they need to see their families!”
“Just go to sleep, Paul,” Martha said. But Mr. Pedigree couldn’t go to sleep.
The sky was overcast and the moon looked like a headlight behind the clouds when Mr. Pedigree stepped outside in a black robe and loafers. The neighborhood was quiet except for chirps and croaks. He saw Rorschach standing by the mailbox – rubbing his caramel face into the pole. “Hey kitty kitty,” Mr. Pedigree said.
He continued walking toward the end of the neighborhood. Questions exploded in his mind. Should I hire a caterer? What wine should I buy? If the neighbors attend, should he have them park up the street so that Sarah and Kyle won’t notice? He stopped before Shettler road, which ran perpendicular to the neighborhood street, and turned back. He heard a crunch of a can and saw Billy on his rocking chair. “Mr. Conrad! Great night for beer, eh?” Billy opened up another can, and lit a Marlboro Menthol.
“What are you doing tomorrow evening around seven o’clock?” asked Mr. Pedigree.
“The same thing I do every night,” said Billy as he leaned forward to get a closer look of the ridiculous character that stood at the end of his driveway.
“Well, if you find yourself bored, I am having a surprise party for Sarah and Jack. They are the new couple that live down the street. They are about to have their first child.”
Billy brushed his brown hair away from his eyes with a greasy hand. “I know who they are.” His response had a slight tone of agitation.
“Well,” Mr. Pedigree said, “you should come. It will be so much fun! I think I am going to buy fireworks.”
Billy grunted and Mr. Pedigree nodded politely before walking back toward his house, whistling the piano riff from “What’d I say.”
Rorschach sat near the pond behind the Pedigree house and looked out over algae and lilly pads. Coyotes howled in the woods and fireflies sparked over the greenish water. The once overcast sky now revealed patches of clarity, and specks of stars peeked through tree branches. Rorschach perked up his ears and turned toward the back patio, where Mr. Pedigree smoked a cigar – still in his robe and slippers – and muttered to himself about preparations. The frog in Rorschach’s mouth kicked his slimy legs and tried to release himself from the grip of fate.
The next morning, Mr. Pedigree’s Chrysler 300 drove west on highway 44. Every now and then, after he turned off the highway toward Union, he pulled over and looked at the directions scratched on the back of Uncle B’s crumpled letter. He saw a clan of leather bikers turn into the FLEA M RK T parking lot. Venders left their unattended wares covered with tarpaulin and they looked covered bodies from where Mr. Pedigree calculated his turns.
He eventually found his location. Uncle B lived in a mid-sized ranch with an in-ground pool in the back and a fishing boat hitched to his Ford Raptor in the driveway. The housing sat on a lot of about three acres, and there was a target set up behind the large open land behind the pool. When Mr. Pedigree parked on the side of the road near the driveway, he saw two white-tailed deer grazing in the backyard. Mr. Pedigree went up to the door and lifted the iron knocker when he heard a voice from the garage, “Who are you?”
Mr. Pedigree turned and saw a late-middle-aged man with light Levis and a lumberjack flannel shirt. Uncle B walked around toward the front of the porch and Mr. Pedigree noticed a revolver holstered to his belt.
“You must be Sarah’s uncle,” said Mr. Pedigree.
“How did you find me?” Uncle B said.
“I saw Sarah the other day and asked for your address,” Mr. Pedigree said. “The reason why I came was to ask –“
“Who is Sarah and how do you know her?” Uncle B’s eyes were slitted searchlights.
“She and Jack live across the street. She said you were her uncle. God, if she is playing a trick on me, she is going to get it,” Mr. Pedigree said with a grin.
“Spread your arms,” Uncle B said.
“Oh! Is this a game?” Mr. Pedigree asked.
After Uncle B made sure Mr. Pedigree was not wearing any cameras or microphones, Mr. Pedigree told Uncle B about the surprise party for Sarah and Jack. He told them about the cake and the fireworks and all the neighbors that might attend and even his daughter was coming in from Florissant. Uncle B said that this would be a good opportunity to finally go and see the new house. He agreed to come.
After Mr. Pedigree left, Uncle B made a phone call. No one was home, so he left a voicemail. “Why in the world would you give that crazy son-of-a-bitch my address? Love you.”
It was eleven-thirty in the morning when Sarah returned from her appointment with the doctor. He gave her good news, and everything looked normal. Once Sarah returned home, she wheeled the empty trash bin from the street corner to the garage. She noticed that Mr. Pedigree’s car wasn’t in the driveway, which was odd because he always did his investments in the morning. Checking the answering machine never occurred to her, although she did take her vitamins and brewed some tea. While the bluish flame fingers warmed the kettle, she had to go upstairs to look at the room. Just had to. It was going to happen – the child was going to happen. The doctor said so. It was Sarah’s dream ever since she first watched The Lion King as a little girl. Her cub was almost here, and the world would be his. She would teach him all about the great circle and the way things work. When she was still alive, before the cancer, Sarah’s mother told her that the one thing she didn’t regret was having her as a child. Her mother didn’t even regret marrying that horrible excuse for a husband or those thousands of cigarettes. She imagined her boy with his mama’s bangs and his daddy’s smile clinging to Kyle’s leg as he worked in his study. Ever since Sarah learned about the parental impact of a children’s mind, she was ready. The shadeless windows offered glimpses of the outside world and Sarah looked out and saw the toyless lawns and went downstairs to watch the tea.
Kyle came home around six – six thirteen exactly – and Sarah was upstairs straitening her blonde hair. The two of them haven’t had much time to go out lately – especially because of Kyle’s long hours. This dinner at the Pedigree house was a rare double date for Sarah and Kyle.
Kyle took off his shoes, stretched his toes, and combed his hair. “Hey Sarah,” he said. “Are you getting ready?” He barely heard her reply.
As he make himself a whiskey sour in the kitchen, he saw Rorschach pawing at the back sliding-glass door. “Someone wants to come in,” Kyle said in that kiddy voice of his. Kyle opened the door and saw red splotches trailing off into the grass.
At 7:02, Kyle locked the front door of the house before they walked across the street to the Pedigrees. The sun was a giant grapefruit overlooking the earth. The neighborhood was strangely uneventful; children weren’t out playing. None of the neighbors sat on their porches either – not even Billy Conrad.
After Kyle and Sarah knocked at the door and were called to the backyard by a shout from Mr. Pedigree, they were greeted by a surprise from the neighbors. The Jacksons were there and so were the Carlyles. The Pedigree’s daughter, Maddie, also came to help out with the preparations. Uncle B was there too and Sarah couldn’t believe it. He told her that he parked his truck down the street so she wouldn’t get suspicious. It worked.
Martha brought out the green bean casserole and the steaks with mashed potatoes along with paper plates and everyone except Uncle B laughed as Mr. Pedigree told jokes over the croaking frogs and rowdy children. Blue balloons bobbed in the gentle breeze and the silver streamers twinkled like an old man’s eye. Mr. Pedigree brought out four bottles of cabernet and the adults talked while the children wrestled in the grass as the moon started to show. “Tonight’s the Night” played from a portable stereo. Everyone was smiling and telling Kyle and Sarah about the excitement they had just before they had their first child. Kyle placed his hand on Sarah’s thigh and she met him with a squeeze. Eventually, the toads bounding through the grass distracted the children, and they started to chase after them. Sarah stood up in the middle of the conversation and said, “He’s kicking! He’s kicking!” The neighbors cheered and Mr. Pedigree lifted up his cigar and glass of wine made a toast. Every face grinned.
After everyone finished dinner and thanked Martha for the delectable meal, Mr. Pedigree suddenly jumped from his chair and almost fell over in his drunkenness. “Wait! Wait!” he shouted and his face went into a playful frown, “I almost forgot the pièce de résistance! Cue the music!” Everyone went silent, not knowing who was in charge of changing the music. Mr. Pedigree realized that he didn’t elect an official music-changer, and he wobbled to the radio to change the CD. The sustained notes from the 1812 Overture filled the backyard while Mr. Pedigree took out fireworks from a plastic bag hidden behind the steps to the sliding glass door. “What a kook,” Uncle B mumbled.