Khong Ke by Chris Drabick 

Chris Drabick toiled for years in retail management and as a rock critic, writing for the Cleveland Free Times, Under the Radar magazine and Pitchfork, among others. Then he remembered he wanted to write books when he grew up. He is a 2013 graduate of the NEOMFA, and his short stories have appeared in Prick of the Spindle Volume 3 as well as Eunioa Review, and he recently published a Creative Non-Fiction essay in Stoneboat. He resides in a sort of large old house on a tree-lined street in west Akron with his wife Alison, their son Augie, three cats, and a large vinyl collection.

Dazed and half-asleep, I put my arm across the bed where Gordon should’ve been. I screamed, probably waking the Kowalskis. He was there.

Sort of.

***

The first day was the roughest. Every time I looked at Gordon, the miniaturized version of his Merchant Marines tattoo on his right bicep looked back at me. I had nothing with which to care for a baby. The Internet and next-day shipping took care of the bulk, but that still left twenty-four hours with no diapers, no formula, nothing with which to transport Gordon outside of the apartment or clothes to shield him from the winter winds. I turned the heat way up and cried a lot. Gordon echoed. I tried to slowly pour skim milk down his throat, but he spit most of it out. I feared he might dehydrate. I was afraid to look in his eyes.

***

I missed a few days of work. I claimed diarrhea when I spoke to my boss, and she didn’t question it. That’s the brilliance of the diarrhea excuse; no one expects someone to admit the runs if it isn’t true. The shipments arrived early in the afternoon, and I spent a day getting Gordon clothed, fed and washed. I was surprised at how quickly I learned most of it. By the third day, I’d secured day care, but still hadn’t looked in his eyes.

***

I didn’t really have anyone to talk to about what was happening, so I confided in Sandra, my co-worker.

“Are you gonna, you know, have sex with him?”

I gave her a sideways glance. “There are a million other logistical problems to consider.” Among these were explaining his absence to his family, friends, and law firm. He had no birth certificate other than the one that aged him forty-three. Also, there was the fact that he couldn’t speak.

Sandra took my hand. “I didn’t mean to go there. That was stupid. Of course there’s lots more to worry about.”

I shook my head. “It’s okay. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t wondering about that, too.”

“How do you think this happened?”

I shrugged my shoulders. But I had a pretty good idea.

***

His name was Dr. Lu’u. His office was in Mott Haven, where I’d never been apart from soon after moving to town and getting lost trying to see a Yankees game. I hadn’t been on the 6 in at least a decade.

I was desperate. We’d been trying to get pregnant for over three years. We’d run through every other expensive and invasive option that we could think of. Gordon did his best to remain positive, but as he was lukewarm about having a child to begin with, his resolve was waning. He didn’t even accompany me to my last unsuccessful visit with a conventional specialist, the one that brought me to Dr. Lu’u.

He looked like a Vietnamese Charlie Chan. I realize that sounds offensive, and I wish there was some other way I could describe him.

“You’re here for fertility?” Unexpectedly, his voice had a Midwestern lilt, his “you’re” and “for” rhyming with her. “Where are you from?”

“I was born in a village called Kang Sao Dau, but my parents moved to Muncie when I was an infant.”

“Indiana?”

He nodded but didn’t smile.

“Ball State.”

He nodded again. “David Letterman’s alma mater.” He sighed.

“Can you lay back on the table, please?”

He didn’t ask me to undress. He looked me up and down, waved his hands over my inhospitable womb, and chanted a few words in what I assumed were his parents’ native tongue but I thought it sounded more like Ukrainian for whatever reason.

He kept his hands in front of me, not touching my Tory Burch dress, waving them a little, right over left. He nodded slowly and blinked. “That’s all.” I was confused. “What do you mean, that’s all? You didn’t do anything.”

“You have the power. That’s what you came for, right? Don’t be so cynical. That’s all. You’re done.”

Up to that point, I’d been poked and prodded, scraped and speculumed, but I still wasn’t pregnant. If anything, I should’ve been skeptical about conventional approaches. Maybe Charlie Chan was on to something.

I hopped off the table. I felt lightheaded. “Thanks, I guess.”

“Don’t mention it. Really. Don’t mention it. The girl out front will take your payment.”

“David Letterman is a creep, you know.”

Dr. Lu’u nodded. “Muncie does strange things to people.”

***

Sandra had many questions, but I didn’t mind. Talking about it made me think it could be possible to accept it.

“How does he know Morse Code?”

“From the Merchant Marine Academy. They all had to learn it. I’ve been studying on breaks and at night. It’s not as easy as you’d think.”

“It’s a small miracle, though.”

It occurred to me that this was often how babies born to women in their forties were regarded. “A miracle?” I shook my head. “I don’t know.”

“What about diapers?”

“He has his mental faculties. We had to buy one of those training potties. He’s a little small for it, and I have to keep him propped up, but it works.”

Sandra crinkled her nose. “I think I might rather change his diaper.”

I started to cry.

She reached for my face. “Oh, hey, I’m sorry.” She wiped away a tear. “Have you tried to go see the doctor again?”

My voice cracked. “Of course I have.” I swallowed. “The building is there, but it’s not the same. There’s no doctor’s offices, only a tattoo parlor and an ice cream shop that looks like it went out of business during the Clinton administration.”

“What about the guy who recommended Dr. Lu’u in the first place?”

“I called him. He said he’d never heard of him. He didn’t even remember having the conversation with me.”

***

In those desperate moments, spread-eagled in stirrups from Jackson Beach to Crown Heights, I said I wanted a baby no matter what. No matter what. Those words rang in my ears as I mixed some organic formula for my husband.

He was teething. He was doing his best to remain stoic, but I could tell it was very painful.

“Let’s get something in your tummy.” I was pretty sure I hadn’t used the word tummy very often in my adult life.

I sat him on my lap and brought the bottle to his lips. He took a few sips and brought his right arm up to push it away. “C’mon, you have to be hungry.” He’d been fussy since I picked him up from day care.

The phone rang. I let the machine pick up. It was Gordon’s mother. Her calls were becoming more frequent over the past ten days, and I’d run out of excuses about why he couldn’t come to the phone. My life was all excuses.

Gordon looked in my eyes and began signaling. He said, “ITS OK.”

I shook my head.

He said, “IT WILL WORK.”

***

St. Joseph’s was the nearest designated safe haven. I walked through the front doors with Gordon and went to the front counter.

“I have a Baby Moses.”

The woman nodded and then picked up the phone. She spoke quietly into it. I couldn’t hear what she said. “Have a seat. Someone will be with you in a moment.

I found an empty area and sat on a couch. Gordon looked at me. He said, “I LOVE YOU.”

I stroked his little head. “I love you, too. I’m so sorry. This is all my fault.”

Gordon said, “NO.” p>A door slid open. Dr. Lu’u walked through. He went to the counter. The woman pointed to Gordon and me.

He handed me a pamphlet. “There is a questionnaire on the last page. Please fill it out and drop it in any mailbox. The postage is paid. It details baby’s medical history.” He reached for Gordon with both arms.

I passed my husband to him. I did it fast. Ripped it off like a Band-Aid. “I need a place to go. I can’t stay here. Is Muncie nice this time of year?”

Dr. Lu’u looked confused. “I’m sorry?”

“Muncie? Indiana? Where you’re from.”

He shook his head and furrowed his brow. “You must have me confused with someone else.”

I looked at Gordon. He said, “ITS OK.”

“You don’t remember me? From your office? You told me you were born in Kang Sao Dau.”

“Again, I’m sorry. My family is from Khong Ke.”

Gordon began to cry.

Dr. Lu’u took a step away. “It’s best we take baby into the hospital now.”

Gordon said, “DONT LOK BAK.”

I said, “David Letterman?”

“I really must go.” He looked at Gordon. “Would you like to say goodbye?”

Gordon said, “NO DONT LOK BAK.”

I shook my head meekly. “I already have.”

***

I gave all the baby stuff to Sandra, whose cousin was expecting. I tried my best to explain to her what happened and why, but I could sense her judging me. Anyone would, I suppose. I don’t blame her. I wasn’t angry.

Muncie is alright, I guess. It’s nice and quiet in the summer, once most of the students have gone. I work, I eat, I sleep.

I watch David Letterman.

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