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TALES OF THE TOWN: Part 19

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In the Age of Trump, Dr. Wu Wanders the Streets

Danny was feeling justifiably annoyed.

His life had sucked lately. First there was the mugging, from the effects of which he still occasionally had dizzy spells and headaches. Then there was the incident with the tent and the theft of his and Cindy’s belongings. At Creava, he’d hit multiple snags writing “Game of Bones.” And now, he was dealing with a pregnant girlfriend.

He and Cindy had taken the lease on the Castro Valley bungalow. They went to Home Depot and Bed Bath & Beyond and shopped for homely items: toilet paper, vacuum cleaner bags, a dishrack, toothpaste, towels, deodorant. Cindy bought a nosegay of roses and white lilies for the kitchen table. They stocked up on provisions at Safeway; Danny picked up a bottle of Prosecco, to toast their new life.

“And the new life inside me,” Cindy reminded him.

Danny had mixed feelings about that, but he knew that now was not the time to express them. “To the new life inside you,” he repeated.

“Our baby.”

He wasn’t ready to have a child. Not even close. Money was tight. Time was tight. He was naturally or instinctively set against the notion of having children, at least during this phase of his life. But then, he would look at Cindy, and she seemed so ecstatic at being pregnant, as though her entire life until now had been merely a series of steps preparatory to being a mom. He did not want to rob her of that joy; he did not want to have a child; he was caught in a dilemma.

For herself, Cindy had no doubts about the rightness of this step. In a way it filled the vacuum caused by her leaving her parents’ home and the rift that had created between them. She was normally a family-oriented person; Chinese culture in particular is close-knit and discourages arguments and separation. The troubles with her parents had caused her grave doubt and sadness. Now, having a baby growing inside her compensated to a great extent for that pain. She had lost one family; she would gain another, transferring the devotional side of her nature from Dr. and Mrs. Wu to the developing child and, of course, to Danny.

She lay in bed that night, awake as Danny slept beside her, thinking about her baby and talking to it. “Are you a little girl or a little boy?” she asked, cupping her abdomen in her palms and imagining vibrations passing to the fetus and from it to her mind. She didn’t care about the child’s sex. As an only daughter, she had often wished she’d had siblings, brothers and sisters in whom to confide, with whom to play and share privacies, comrades to be with instead of the alone-ness that actually had marked her youth. She told herself that this baby would be merely the first she’d have with Danny.

In this hopeful and expansive mood, she emailed her mother a few days later.

“Dear mom, I hope you and daddy are well. Danny and I are living in a little house in Castro Valley. There’s a garden. I’m going to plant tomatoes, peas and zucchini this weekend. Danny sends his”—at first, she wrote “love,” then deleted it and substituted the less emotional “regards.” “I know that you’ve been hurt by what has happened. I have been, too. But you must know that I love Danny. I hope that someday you can love him too and accept him into our family. Oh, and there’s one more thing. I’m pregnant. You’re going to be a grandma. Love, Cindy”

When Gladys Wu read this, she felt like breaking down into tears, but oddly, a cold stolidity overtook her. Her eyes stung, but remained dry. She re-read the words on her computer: “I’m pregnant.” And again. “I’m pregnant.” They refused to register. Her little girl—the pudgy six-year old who loved pinafores and Justin Timberlake, who made cupcakes in the kitchen and went to church festivals, who climbed the plum tree in the backyard and collected beetles—how could this child be with child?

She would have to tell her husband. Edwin, she knew, would explode. He had a temper, the infamous Wu rage that often boiled just below the surface. He was meticulous, precise, orderly in his habits—this made him a good physician and administrator. But he also possessed a judgmental streak that sometimes alarmed her. Once, finding a small encampment of three tents only a block from their home, the Doctor had gone ballistic, calling the police, the Mayor’s office, his city council member, demanding the eyesore be removed. It was.

He came home from work that evening, in a sour mood. He often was silent and bitter after a long day at Kaiser. He seldom told her any details; she stopped asking. His complaints all melted into each other: one patient was eating herself to death, another refused to take her medications, a third was addicted to drugs, a fourth sexually promiscuous, a fifth unwashed and malodorous, a sixth hypochondriacal. etc. etc. All of his patients irritated him. And yet, his performance reviews always spoke glowingly of his diagnostic skills, his bedside manner. He scored highly in patient evaluations. It took all of his carefully-controlled skills to hide the rage inside.

The had dinner, then coffee. Dr. Wu allowed himself a rare second brandy. The night was cold; he lit a fire, then set himself down in his armchair, with the day’s Chronicle. Mrs. Wu saw no point in beating around the bush.

“Edwin,” she began, “our daughter is pregnant.”

They fought that night, bitterly. In short: Mrs. Wu was sympathetic, Dr. Wu outraged. He would cut her out of his will, out of his life. She would reach out to her only daughter, inside whose womb lived her coming grandchild. Dr. Wu said no: no contact, no sympathy, they would just have to learn to be without her and consider themselves childless; anyway, they could get a dog. Mrs. Wu was appalled. This is our daughter! This is our grandchild! He: “I have no daughter.” He flung the Chronicle into the flames, as if by incinerating it he was obliterating the irritant in his own life. The paper flared in a burst of orange and gold.

He slept fitfully in the guest bedroom that night. About 2 a.m., tormented, his mind racing, he slipped into a sweatsuit and sneakers, and drove the Volvo with no particular destination in mind, just away, south and west, finding himself on the 980, then the Nimitz, getting off at Jack London Square. He parked in the deserted produce district. The streets were empty at this hour, except for the occasional shopping cart person, his life’s possessions heaped inside. Some of these people snarled when they saw him. As the eastern sky began to glow with dawn Dr. Wu wandered on foot, over railway tracks, under the freeway, past the clotted miasma of dirty tents mashed into each other, piles of rotting garbage, rats underfoot, squirmings and incoherent mumblings issuing from dark shadows, a Boschian dystopia of mayhem and insanity. Dr. Wu realized, on some feeble, semi-conscious level, that it was crazy to blame these lost souls for his problems. And yet, in the Age of Trump, he did.

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