A Big Oak
Tiny shards of gravel crunched under Maggie’s tires. James had offered to close, even though it had been her turn. She wondered if he understood the depth of her gratitude. Maggie rejoiced that she could now spend the night with her very swollen feet elevated on a stack of her grandmother’s needlepointed pillows. A night without dodging questions, without mopping the floors, without washing glasses, without pondering each moment of her twenty-two years on earth as she shoved cans of Coors deep into a drop cooler. A night without cutting people off, without taking keys, without calling sisters or mothers or girlfriends or wives to come pick up the soaks they were forced to love.
On this particular evening, James had, in all likelihood, offered to close because Maggie’s least favorite regulars—Brett, Chase and Mack—had invented a drinking game to guess who the baby’s father was.
“You always liked history class, didn’t you, Mags?” Brett said, leaning towards her, a wad of Copenhagen partially obstructing his speech. “Mr. Reynolds?”
“If I’m not going to tell you, what is the purpose of the game?” Maggie asked, her voice void of its usual “tip me” tint.
Chase and Mack slid onto the black barstools, having returned from a prolonged smoke in which they had admired the former’s gaudy, lime-green truck. It had been purchased that morning, Chase informed Maggie, and it was absolutely unnecessary, Maggie informed herself. Mack—practically a cartoon in his sweat-rimmed trucker’s hat and pilled camouflage hoodie—shrugged, leered, and laughed. “I’ll tell you how the game works, Mags.” He paused, hiccupping.“We guess, we drink!”
They drank a lot.
Turning into the driveway, her belly nearly reaching the steering wheel, Maggie forced the three drunk men, the carpet riddled with crumbs, the leaky liquor spouts, and every other detail of the bar from her mind. The porch of her grandmother’s little cabin was illuminated. A lighthouse.
Exiting the car, she began her waddle to the house. Her stomach seemed to expand with each step. “A little longer,” she said, rubbing it.
Maggie unlocked the solid oak door, its chipped lilac paint invoking a sense of calm. Shutting it behind her, she began the slow bend down, hand on her belly, attempting to slide off her work shoes. She erupted in pain.
It was unyielding and it was relentless and it was happening. Her right shoe barely off, she stumbled to Gran’s bedroom.
She was in bed and, despite Maggie’s shaking, took over a minute to rise. It became very clear that the cocktail of pain meds would prevent Gran from driving for several hours.
“Are you okay, Maggie?” she said, dazed, rubbing her cloudy eyes.
“Yes, let’s go, I’m going to grab the phone.” She stopped, exhaling daggers before continuing. “I can try and drive but let’s hope the ambulance isn’t busy.”
Another contraction crashed into her as the periwinkle kitchen phone connected to Betsy Phillips, the town’s night-time 911 operator. “Jack has the bus on another call, Maggie,” she said nonchalantly, smacking her ever-present cinnamon gum. “Let me see if someone from the clinic is awake and would wanna come out there.” Wetness dripped down Maggie’s legs.
“Yeah, okay,” she said, staying on the line and breathing deeply as Gran, slowly departing from delirium, stroked her hair.
Nearly as suddenly as the first contraction had hit her, Maggie sensed that Betsy was going to ask who the father was. It prickled the air and her stomach clenched, as if the baby itself wanted the town to mind its own business. Gran left Maggie’s side, gradually picking up speed. She began boiling water and grabbing clean towels. The kitchen smelled like lavender.
Betsy was going to ask if anything else needed to be said.
“Is everything okay where Jack is?” Maggie blurted, because hearing about a small town seizure or a farm-kid getting his stomach pumped would be preferable to this judgmental static.
Betsy smacked her gum. “I don’t think he made it in time, poor guy, he’ll be mad at himself for not driving faster. Drunk driver with two passengers, though, I bet they were gone before we even got the call. Not a car he recognizes—must be out-of-towners. A huge, bright green truck. Drove right into a big oak.”