Apr/May 2009  •   Fiction

Annunciation of the Baby Jesus One Block North of Riverfront Drive

by Ann Rosenquist Fee

Back when Cub Foods was still Randall's grocery and hardware store, and the downtown was dead on weekends except breakfast time at the Wagon Wheel Cafe, I walked around a lot. I'd stop at Randall's first for Camel Lights and sometimes peanut butter and an Exacto knife or light bulbs. Whatever I needed to fix what my landlord wouldn't. Then on down Riverfront to the Salvation Army Thrift Shop to check for new paperbacks and records. Then Wagon Wheel for coffee and eggs.

One wet March day, the checkout girl at Randall's, the one with blue eye shadow and acne, she said I was crazy to be out walking. She was right, but I was restless. Spring does that. I was ripe and ready, even though there was nothing to do, nothing open but those three places. No boyfriend but the guy I saw sometimes at the Laundromat who said he'd marry me if I ever needed him to, which I didn't. I told the checkout girl, that's right, I was crazy, and I slapped the fresh pack against my hand and pulled my baggy flannel tight and walked my skinny ass into the wind.

The Salvation Army sign said "Saturday Night Annunciation Day Feast," and I thought that was a nice thing for the Catholic homeless people if there were any. That's all I thought. Some nice soup supper to celebrate the day Mary accidentally got pregnant.

Right under the sign was a man I'd seen there lots of times. He worked the store, and he looked like he lived in the shelter. Young like me. Blue eyes that cut through his ratty haze of hair and the rain. His shirt was open and his hard chest was smooth. He smiled like he was the shit, like he knew what. The handsome homeless. The kind some girls might fuck under the river bridge, then walk away. Catch and release. No consequences.

But that's not what I did. All I did was walk up to the signpost where he was standing and offer him a Camel Light.

We walked across wet gravel to the brick wall, out of the wind. The smoke moved slower than you'd think. I remember that. Slow and heavy in thick circles around our heads. And I maybe should've left when he started talking crazy homeless talk. "Randall's got bought by Cub, corporate motherfuckers," he said. And then, "I see you sometimes, all pretty and fat pushing that stroller with your baby boy, that good baby boy."

I wasn't pretty, or fat, and I didn't have any baby. And I should have walked away, but I got warm next to him, really warm, and his voice made my legs heavy. It made me lift up from the inside, stretch and float. I blamed it on the spring and swayed in my flannel to the sound of his nonsense talk. His eyes burned like blue heat guns right through the smoke, right on my face, and normally I'd hate that, but I didn't mind. I let him look even with my eyes closed. I just let him look and felt my wet shiver go calm.

When I opened my eyes, he was gone. All I saw was the sun and that sign about the Annunciation Day Feast, and God, was I hungry. I was starving. I walked fast to Wagon Wheel and ordered way more than eggs—waffles, sausage, hash browns, tomato juice. I tried to forget his bare chest and the smoke and the way it felt to float, but he stuck around inside me. He showed up in my dreams. "That's a sweet boy you got," he'd say, and I'd wake up hushed, steady, hungry.

By the time summer came, I'd put on some weight. When my breasts strained against my t-shirt, they hurt. And I hadn't needed anything from the feminine products aisle at Randall's for I don't know how long. And I knew it couldn't be the case because there had been nobody, not even the guy at the Laundromat. I'd been way too tired for laundry.

At the end of June I walked fat and sweaty into Randall's and bought an EPT. The brand name, not the generic. To be sure. The checkout girl with the eye shadow and the acne, she said "God, I hope you're not pregnant." Which she'd never say if she'd gone through Cub Foods' corporate cashier training.

Which is what she did that December when Cub bought Randall's just like he'd said. December, which is also when I started pushing a baby stroller down to Wagon Wheel. Because when I pissed on that EPT stick, one line showed up and then two in a neat little cross. Two lines meant no such thing as no consequences with a man whose voice makes it warm and dry behind Salvation Army on a wet spring day.