Thou Shalt Not Kill
by Cappy Hall Rearick
Sprawled in six inches of warm tub water, Clarissa studied her belly as it rose and fell above the water line. Seeing it with a critical eye, it reminded her of a dolphin, shiny white and shaped like a torpedo. She wondered if what was inside of her had taken on the form of a real baby yet or if still looked like pictures of a fetus she found in her biology book: a dolphin curled around and shaped like a six.
She lifted her left foot, wrapped two toes around the faucet and turned on the hot water. She slid even further down in the tub, not caring whether her hair got Dial Soup wet or not. Her eyes were closed as her body eased deeper and deeper until her ears were completely underwater and successfully snuffed out Reba McEntire’s voice, the only CD her mother ever played.
Nineteen-years-old, unmarried and five months pregnant with a dolphin looking fetus curled into a six and sleeping inside my used-to-be size six body. Shit.
With her eyes and ears closed to the world, Clarissa wished for a nightmare. She could handle a nightmare easy. All she would need to do is jump out of bed, turn on the light and wait until her heart stopped whacking on her chest like a mutating alien high on speed. She could go back to sleep and dream something nice, then wake up to eggs and bacon and grits in the morning instead of puking her guts out in the bathroom hoping to God nobody could hear her.
With a nightmare, she wouldn’t need to pretend that everything was all right when she was pretty sure nothing would ever be right again. At breakfast she could tell her mother, “I had the worst dream of my entire life last night. Scared me so bad I like to never got back to sleep.”
“Oh, nightmares ain’t nothing to be scared of,” her mother would say in her very best mother-voice. “If you didn’t stay up half the night looking at all ‘em horror shows on TV, you wouldn’t have nightmares. And you oughta quit eating junk food so late at night, Clarissa. Indigestion guarantees a bad night’s sleep.”
Clarissa though about what her mama would say if she told her that she was having something, but it wasn’t a nightmare at all. Just like Coca Cola it was the real thing.
Her mama would deny it. She would say, “You cain’t be pregnant. Good Gawd awmighty, Clarissa. Nobody gets pregnant these days. Ain’t you ever heard of the pill?” Then she would start to bawl. “What did you have to go and do that for? I reckon you’re going to say it was my fault. I couldn’t help it if I had to go out to work. I shoulda sent you to live with your grandmother after your daddy run off the way he done.”
After she got all of that out of her system, plus saying over and over that she was too young to be a granny, she would go right back to not wanting to look at the raw truth.
“You gotta be mistaken, Clarissa,” she would say. “I bet you ain’t even done one of them pregnancy tests from the drug store. I’m gonna take you right down to Dr. Raiford’s office and he’ll tell you that missing a period at your age don’t mean squat. Your hormones is just messed up a little bit, honey. That’s all. I’m gon’ go call him right this minute.”
It would not dawn on her mother to ask who the father was or just how many periods had gone missing. She wouldn’t think about that until Dr. Raiford told her that Clarissa had already been in to see him two months before and that there was not a snowball’s chance that her hormones “was just messed up a little bit.”
That’s how it would go, Clarissa thought. If there was one person she could predict, it was her mother.
That is why she lay submerged that morning with her eyes closed and her ears hearing nothing but the stream of hot water filling up the tub. That is why she was taking a bath instead of taking up money at the Quick Stop Convenience Store where she worked as a cashier. And that is why she had lied to Evelyn, the manager of the Quick Stop, about coming down with a stomach virus. She told her mother the same thing.
Neither of the women gave her any argument. In fact, Evelyn had been solicitous, offering to bring her homemade soup for lunch if she felt up to eating anything. She told her to stay at home until she was all better. “You want to be sure and kill that nasty old bug, Hon,” Evelyn told her. “Don’t want to spread that thing around.”
Everyone she knew had been overly-sweet to her ever since Johnny Carr’s Reserve Unit left for Afghanistan two months back and she was left her high and dry. She hadn’t had a chance to tell him about the baby before he was deployed. After that, all he could do was carry on about how he was going over there to kill him some Taliban S.O.B.’s. Besides, at the time, she had still been hoping that her periods were just messed up a little bit.
She could picture Johnny Carr carrying on about killing Arabs. He called everybody in the Middle East Arabs.
“I’m gonna whup their greasy Arab asses, Baby. I cain’t hardly wait to shoot me a son of a bitch A-rab. I’ll shoot ‘em down like mad dogs ‘cause that’s just what they are. When I come back, I’m gonna be your hero.”
Johnny Carr was twenty-one years old when he said that. He had never been to college — almost didn’t make it out of high school — and like everybody else in town, he was high on the military. He honestly believed he would be the one to walk right up to the Taliban head honcho, blow him to kingdom come and instantly bring about world peace.
Three days after he got over there, Johnny Carr was dead.
He and Clarissa had been seriously going together for over a year, so as soon as word got around about Johnny Carr everybody cooked two of everything. They brought one to Johnny’s mama’s house and one to hers, as if Clarissa and Johnny Carr were husband and wife.
Clarissa’s mama said, “That’s right nice of people to do that, ittn’t it?”
Johnny Carr’s sister, Marleen, who had been friends with Clarissa since first grade, even came over to be with her.
“I just had to get away from there for a little while.” She looked about done in. “You don’t mind, do you?”
“Mind? Shoot, I don’t mind one bit. I was wondering if I should go over to your house. I guess your mama is ready for a strait jacket right about now, huh? I oughta go over there and talk to her but I don’t know what to say.”
Marleen had been crying. Clarissa could tell from looking at her puffy eyes, but she was dry-eyed when she said that her mama probably wouldn’t notice whether she came to see her or not. “She’s pretty tore up.”
The two of them went up to Clarissa’s room, closed the door, put on a Faith Hill CD and lit up a joint. They didn’t think anything else made a lick of sense.
Clarissa inhaled the weed deeply, counted to eighty-five and then let the smoke trickle out of her mouth. She watched Marleen do the same but either Marleen couldn’t hold it to eight-five or she counted faster than Clarissa. After two hits each, Clarissa surprised herself by saying: “I’m knocked up, Goddammit all to hell.” They just looked at each other after that for what seemed like an hour and a half.
Marleen squirmed in her seat. “You gonna get rid of it or what?”
“No! I could never do that. This is Johnny Carr’s baby. Johnny Carr might be dead but his baby lives inside of me and I won’t never have no abortion. No sirree. Johnny Carr will always live because of this baby. Why, it would be like killing him all over again if I was to get rid of it. I’m going to have this baby and it’ll be a boy and I’m going to name him Johnny Carr, Junior.”
Marleen tried to focus her eyes on her friend and then, as if it made perfect sense, she said, “But you can’t name it Johnny Carr, Junior, Clarissa, ‘cause y’all wadn’t never married.”
There was a long silence after that, while each young woman pondered how to get around the obvious problem of having a Johnny Carr, Junior when Johnny Carr, Senior was laid out down at the funeral parlor, what was left of him.
“I could say that we run off last summer and eloped.” Clarissa said aloud what she had been thinking about ever since she got the news that Johnny Carr was on his way home in a body bag. “I could say that and wouldn’t a soul know for sure whether we got married or not.”
“I would know, Clarissa and you cain’t ask me to lie for you. I won’t tell an out-out falsehood. Not for you or nobody. So don’t ask me to lie for you because I just cain’t.”
Marleen had gone and got herself born again last Fall at a tent revival where snakes were crawling all over people and men and women were trying to have a conversation with each other speaking in tongues. Since then, Marleen had a thing about sin and lying was a big biggie. Getting pregnant out of wedlock and having to have an abortion because the father of the baby was dead and fixing to get buried, now that was something she could deal with. Telling a little white lie so the baby would have a daddy was a no-no.
“You wouldn’t necessarily have to lie,” Clarissa shot back. “Just don’t say anything. Act like you’re hearing it for the first time and then keep your mouth shut. Marleen, I bet if Jesus was standing here in the room with us right now, he’d tell you the same thing. Just keep your mouth shut.”
“He certainly would not tell me that! There’s a name for what you’re talking about and it’s called the sin of omission. I would be just as guilty if I said nothing than if the lie come out of my own mouth, Clarissa. I couldn’t live with myself if I did that so don’t ask me.”
“Oh shit.” Clarissa could think of no better word to express her true feelings at that moment. After a while they began talking about that heavy actress, Melissa McCarthy and the fat guy that plays her husband on TV. The subject of Johnny Carr Junior or Senior did not come up again. Clarissa decided to keep her business to herself from that point on.
Every day since, she drove her white Ford Fiesta — always buy American — down the street with her car radio turned real loud heedless of the stares she got from the older generation. She blasted out country music hoping to block any thoughts of a “delicate situation” creeping around into her head. Sometimes the music helped; other times, it just made her cry.
Nearly every store in Rose Hill, whether it was the IGA or the Tee-shirt shop on the corner, had do-it-yourself stickers and signs out in front that read, “God Bless Our Troops;” “Hurry Home, Boys;” “Support the USA” or something equally as pointless. Like the troops were going to hurry back to Rose Hill because the dry cleaners put out a sign telling him to do so?
The radio announcer was even worse. He’d play three in a row and then send an urgent bulletin to everybody within the sound of his voice to, “get out there and support our troops!”
There were yellow ribbons tied onto American flags and stuck on everything that even resembled a pole. People drove their cars around town sporting yellow plastic ribbons tied around door handles and on hood ornaments like they were a part of a never-ending parade.
Clarissa’s mother said, “It’s just like it was the first time our boys went to the Gulf. If we had gone on and killed that crazy Saddam then instead of waiting till now, none of this would be happening today. Shoot. It’s all politics. Everybody knows that.”
A woman in Rose Hill revived the petered out business she had going back in 1992. She sold hand-tied yellow ribbons with safety pins attached to the back for fifty-cents each. Remembering that she had made out pretty well that other time, she hiked the price to a buck and still couldn’t make them fast enough. Somebody asked her if the proceeds were going to help our boys and she said, “It’s gonna help me pay for the gas and oil in my car so I guess you could say it’s funding the war effort.” Her reasoning didn’t make a lick of sense to a soul but they kept right on buying her ribbons.
Clarissa was sick of the war being the only thing people wanted to talk about and she was tired of having to listen to the constant newsbreaks counting the latest body bags. They did that, she thought, right in the middle of a good TV show. She hated war.
She wished she had enough nerve to stand in the middle of the square and scream as loud as she could that “War kills people. War killed Johnny Carr and now Johnny Carr Junior ain’t got no daddy. What is so fucking great about a fucking war? Will somebody tell me that?”
Clarissa knew she would never do it, but lord how she wanted to. She would not do it because the town fathers would run her pregnant ass right out of town on the first Greyhound Bus that came down the road. Then where would she be?
She never figured on working at the Quick Stop Convenience Store in Rose Hill, Georgia, for the rest of her life. The only reason she took the job was so she could save up enough money to go to a community college that would prepare her for a decent job — a job that would take her somewhere, anywhere but Rose Hill.
The first paycheck she got from a decent job she would have spent on a used computer so that she could write her poetry. When her high school English teacher had read some of the poems she had written, she made it a point to encourage the girl to “do something with your gifts, child.”
Clarissa never forgot how good she felt after that. Somebody as smart as Mrs. Johnson had noticed her and had said her poems were very good. Mrs. Johnson felt that Clarissa had promise, that she was not just another piece of trailer park trash. She knew Clarissa would never be content to work at a convenience store or bagging groceries at the IGA.
Mrs. Johnson had said Clarissa was gifted and back then it was easy for the girl to believe it. But who can afford to have dreams, to tilt at windmills when you’re five moths pregnant with a baby who’s got no daddy?
Clarissa sighed, turned the hot water back on with her toes and felt her buoyant long hair tickle her shoulders as she dropped even deeper into the bathtub.
Cappy Hall Rearick is an award-winning short story writer and author of six published books and five successful columns. She is past president of the Southeastern Writers Association and has twice been nominated for the Georgia Author of the Year Award. Featured by the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop as Humor Writer of the Month, Rearick’s humor and short fiction is often featured in anthologies throughout the country, most recently in five Not Your Mother’s Book Anthologies. Originally from South Carolina, she lives with her husband in St. Simons Island, Georgia, and whenever possible at her second home in Saluda, North Carolina.