This week’s Storytime is another entry from Fait Accompli. New vocabulary term for the Broken Generation: “volunteering a baby” means serving as a gestational surrogate. The POV character is Claudia Bowen again, and this time we’ll also meet her mother, Edith.
“It’s almost 12:35,” was the greeting from my mother when I met her for lunch that day.
“I have a clock on the phone, Mom,” I said as I took my seat.
“We agreed to meet at 12:15,” she said.
Though I can’t imagine growing up with a better mother than Edith Bowen, the fact remained that her privilege was showing.
“I escaped from work as soon as I could,” I replied with a shrug from behind the menu. Before she could make another pouty-face about my lousy manners, I went on, “Raped women aren’t aware of your scheduling needs.”
“Oh, fine,” my mom answered. She hated when I got smart with her in a nice restaurant. In the middle of a crowd of hoi polloi she could deal with it, but these were our people here. “How are you?”
“Good. Can’t tell you about work, but I had a nice little chat with Mrs. Epstein this morning.” By some miracle I had gone that long without my parents finding out about my open-window policy, and I intended to maintain the status quo.
“That’s nice. How are your friends?”
“My friends abide as usual. Did I tell you about Shea?”
“No, what about her?”
“She’s volunteering another baby.”
“How many is this one?”
“This is her fourth. She says she and Breckin’ll finish building their house on the fees for this one, and then I won’t be their neighbor. I’ll miss them, but it’ll be another year or so before they move.”
“Then perhaps they’ll have one or two of their own?”
“I’m sure they will, but she’ll need to recover.”
“How about your other friends?”
“I saw the usual gang at the dojo last week, and they all seemed okay. What’s this about?”
“Is anyone bothering you, darling?”
“No more than usual. Mom, why are you so concerned about my friends all of a sudden?” Then my phone rang. “Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I muttered while digging it out of my pocket, assuming it was someone from work. “It’s Alex, he can wait,” I said and refused the call from my older brother. “As I was saying, Mom, why the third degree?”
“Claudia, have you heard about all these women who keep getting kidnapped?”
“Kidnappings do happen. It’s not a recent phenomenon.” Then my phone chimed a new message. It was Alex again: “sis pick up da effin phone”
“Who is it now?”
“Alex really wants my attention.” Sure enough, the phone rang again within seconds. “This had better be good.” I accepted the call. “Hey bro, what do you want?”
“Don’t you fucking tell me you’re at work, Claudia, I know you’re lunching at some swanky restaurant. What’s around, Squid? Whale?”
He was speaking in the code we used to be discreet around our parents. I knew well enough not to look directly at Mom when I answered. “Yeah, Squid.” That meant I was with our mother. “Why?”
“I have news about Charlie.” That meant our younger brother, Sam. “This is a big deal, so stay calm.”
“Okay, what about Charlie?”
“He has a lesson next Tuesday, and he’s asking us to attend!” A lesson meant a date.
“What’s the subject?”
“Immigration, specializing in Moldova, with a double major in dentistry!” He made Moldovan dentistry sound so exciting.
That part of the code, he was just making up on the spot. I assumed that Sam’s date was a DO from Moldova, though the dentistry part was ambiguous. Did they meet at the dentist’s office, perhaps? “Sounds fascinating. And you’re saying he wants us to be there?”
“Yep, he’s getting so confident with the subject he’s ready to let us sit in on a lecture! Can you believe it?”
“Just barely. When is this lesson, anyway?”
“Can you make it after work?”
“Sure, where is it?”
“I’ll send you an email with the lesson plan.”
“You couldn’t just send me an email in the first place?”
“Don’t get all cavalier with me, Claudia, this is news that merits voice time!”
“And it’s awesome, but I’m also trying to enjoy face time with Mom, so if there’s nothing else?”
“No, that’s all, now tell Mom I love her and enjoy your conspicuous consumption lunch!”
“Right. Sorry about that, Mom, Alex sends his love.”
“What’s this about ‘squid’?” she demanded.
“Can a girl discuss sushi with her brother? Lay off.”
Mom gave me that narrow-eyed sidelong glare that meant she wasn’t convinced I wasn’t full of shit. “Right. Who’s Charlie?”
“A friend of ours who wants to see us Tuesday evening.”
“Okay then. As I was saying, have you heard about these women who are kidnapped and later turn up pregnant?”
That was a very tactful description of the crimes. “Of course I’ve heard about them. We call them ARCs at work.”
“You mean you’ve gotten a case in your department? What does ARC mean?”
“It means Abduction Rape Conception, and if there had been a case within fifty miles of DC, you would have heard about it. We just talk about the cases happening elsewhere.”
“I read about the cases happening elsewhere, too, and these poor girls remind me so much of you. Aren’t you worried?”
“You mean, that an ARC might be done on me?” I scoffed. “Not hardly.”
“Why are you so sure about that? You have everything in common with those women.”
What she meant was that all the ARC victims were single, childless women in their early 30s who lived alone. “Except I don’t live where they do.”
“But the cases are popping up all over the country.”
There had been eighteen ARCs up to that point, and I could name all the states where they’d taken place. If you gave me a little time to think, I could name the states in chronological order. “They’re popping up all over the Bible Belt and other Freak States, where chicks like me aren’t welcome.”
“‘Freak States’?” She looked at me like it was my privilege showing.
“I’m sure it sounds bigoted of me to say it, but you know it’s Gilead Territory out there. These are the places where men read The Handmaid’s Tale and say, ‘now there’s an idea!’ I wouldn’t want to visit those areas even if there were no ARCs.”
“You’re calling them the Freak States.”
“And the Bible Belt, yeah. Would you want to live out there?”
“That’s not the point.”
“Thanks for answering my question, Mom.”
“You can’t honestly think the abductions are all unrelated. The women’s reports are much too similar.”
Just then the waiter arrived and began listing off the daily specials.
“All due respect, my dear,” Mom interrupted him, “I’m Mrs. Bowen; the chef knows I know what you serve here. I’ll start off with the tomato bisque.”
“I’ll have the French onion to start,” I ordered.
Duly chastised, the waiter muttered a couple of monosyllabic Anglo-Saxon words as he turned away from our table with our menus in hand.
“Of course I’ve noticed that the reports are awfully similar,” I said, returning to our conversation, “and I’m sure it’s an organized effort, I just think it’s organized by the type of people who wouldn’t be caught dead near a Coastal Elite city.”
“What, they’re only kidnapping and forcibly impregnating women in the Freak States, so it doesn’t bother you?”
“Don’t try to paint me with that brush, Mom, of course it bothers me. I’m just not worried about it happening around here. Besides,” I snickered, “I’d like to see some kidnapper try to put his hands on me.”
“All those women in the Freak States are also skilled at self-defense. Their abductors shot them with tranquilizers to control them.”
“Is this your idea of a pleasant lunchtime conversation, Mom? Of course I know about the tranquilizers!”
“And you’re being awfully nonchalant about what’s being done to these women.”
“Maybe I just don’t want to be a social worker outside of work? Ever think of that?”
“No one is asking you to be a social worker right now, Claudia, I just want to discuss current events with you!”
“Yeah, and I discuss the same events at DSS an average of about 3 times per day.”
“So I care about the same things as your co-workers, but I’m not asking you to be a social worker with me!”
“And you complain about me being argumentative,” I muttered. “I’m just the daughter you raised.”
Mom scoffed at that. “I do not answer the phone with ‘Hey, bro, what do you want?’ in polite company.”
“I am totally the daughter you raised.”
“Cuttin’ it kind of fine, Claudie,” said my boss, Joy Harrison, as I passed her office that afternoon.
“Is my 2:00 waiting?”
“No, but she’ll be here any minute.”
“You’re welcome to chew my mother out for how much of my time she takes.”
“That’ll be your job, baby.”
“Chew out my own mother, haha. You’re so funny, Joy.”
“Just try to get back from lunch sooner, is all.”
“Yeah, I gotcha. Listen, before I man my station, has anyone reported another ARC?”
“Not since we discussed it yesterday.”
“Nothing showed up on Google?”
“Same old. Why, did you hear of a new one?”
“Nope, just checking.”
The truth was, I was afraid Mom would get way too excited if I let her see how much the ARCs worried me.