The Inconvenient Abigail Glade

The Inconvenient Abigail Glade

A Story by Stanley R. Teater
"

Life is full of unexpected surprises. Some good. Some bad.

"

When Alma Glade was newly-married her gynecologist told her she would never be able to have children. The doctor, who was expecting an explosion of tearful disappointment, was quite puzzled by her reaction. She accepted the news with just a nod and a slight shrug. There was no hint of anguish or remorse. Childlessness, it turned out, suited Alma and George Glade just fine. The mysterious thing that triggers the urge to reproduce, whether it’s an ancient instinct, a wrinkle in our DNA, or a strong hormonal cocktail, was missing in both of them. They were perfectly content to go through life as a barren couple. Then came the surprise. Shortly after her thirty-eighth birthday, Alma met with that same doctor and he said, after clearing his throat, "Well, it seems you're pregnant."  

At first she just sat there silently, studying his face, as though she was expecting a punch line. "You're sure?"

"Quite sure."

"But how can that be?" 

The doctor dropped his gaze to the lab report on the desk in front of him. “I hope this is good news.”

“But how can that be?” she repeated. “You were so sure. Decisions have been made. Lives have been planned based on the information you provided. I just don’t understand how a mistake like that could be made.”

“Sometimes,” the doctor said softly, “God likes to remind physicians that it is He, and not they, who can truly see into the future. This seems to have been one of those times.”    

“God?” Alma’s shoulders drooped as she sank back into her chair. “I see.”

“If, as it appears, this is actually unhappy news,” the doctor continued, “there is an option.”

"An option?" This conversation was taking place in the early fifties, a time when pregnant girls went away on "long vacations" with relatives and abortion was a dirty word whispered very softly in only the darkest of dark alleys.

"While I could never do such a procedure myself, of course, I do know people. Good people. Safe people. I could give you a phone number if you wish."

"Oh." Alma looked down at her hands which were tightly clasped in her lap. After a moment of intense concentration she sighed, then looked back at the doctor who squirmed in his chair, glanced over her shoulder, and stared longingly at something on the wall. It was a picture of a sailboat, his sailboat, its sails stretched taut by a strong wind on a dazzlingly beautiful day.

"No," Alma said, "that won't be necessary. And who knows, this improbable surprise might actually bring unexpected joy. Unlikely, I suppose, but possible. Dealing with a child will be inconvenient, but we will cope. Adjustments will be made.”  She rose and extended her hand to the doctor. He shook it. “I will, of course, be changing doctors.”    

And so began the life of Abigail Glade. Her parents thought of her as an odd turn of luck - neither good nor bad - just unexpected and unlikely, like tossing a coin on the table and having it come to rest standing on its edge.  Doctors George and Alma Glade were both college professors. He was a linguist who found great joy in the lilting nuances of language. She was a mathematician, precise, logical and unfailingly erudite in what she called "the magical surprises and haunting puzzles" hidden in numbers. They approached parenthood the way they would approach a doctoral thesis: they did exhaustive research. By the ninth month of Alma’s pregnancy they had written a thirty thousand word treatise, complete with footnotes, called The Rearing of (_________). While the dissertation had begun as a tool to help them cope with the day-to-day challenges of parenthood, the idea of actually publishing it eventually began to take shape. After all, they were certainly not the only novice parents searching for answers. Surely, others could benefit from the things they learned along the way.

Alma went into labor in the middle of the night during a blizzard. The roads were practically impassable, but after George’s tight-fisted slippery drive they reached the hospital. Abigail was born half an hour later. The birth was a simple one, without complications. “You’re a natural at this,” said the delivery room nurse as she wiped Alma’s face with a cool, damp cloth.

When they got home Alma carried Abigail into the den. Cradling her in her lap she picked up The Rearing of __________ and penciled in Abigail’s name on the title page. “Well,” she said to the sleeping baby, “the journey begins.”

Abigail Glade’s childhood was unusual. While other little girls whiled away the days with tiny tea sets and plastic dolls that cooed “Mama”, Abigail’s parents tried to organize and orchestrate her life. Each activity had a structure and a purpose.  George and Alma were convinced that with dedication, consistency, and an academic approach they could mold their daughter properly and avoid many of the heartaches and disappointments that seemed to plague most of the parents they knew. Abigail, however, was stubborn and usually restructured the activities to fit her own end, or just refused to take part at all.

Over the years Alma and George became more and more befuddled by their daughter. She was unpredictable and illogical and seemed to think, not sequentially, but rather haphazardly, her mind fluttering about like a butterfly, touching first here, then there, then back again. Her confused parents would turn again and again to The Rearing of Abigail. Sometimes they found answers. Usually they did not. Often they would scratch out whole sections, scribble revisions, or just put a large question mark in the margin.

When it was almost time for Abigail to start school her parents sat down and discussed whether or not she should be homeschooled.  It was a very brief discussion. The time requirements of homeschooling would greatly interfere with their careers. Also, their frustration at being unable to effectively and efficiently communicate with Abigail was growing rapidly, so they decided to entrust her formal education to the public school system. Let a trained professional do it, rather than two amateurs. They also discussed whether or not they should share the book with her. They decided not to. “After all,” offered Alma, “knowing that her life is being meticulously chronicled would almost certainly alter Abigail’s perception of the world and her place in it.”

“Indeed,” agreed her husband, “and that could severely tarnish the significance of the book and the validity of our research.”

And so The Rearing of Abigail was hidden in the locked drawer of a desk. It would be retrieved and additions/changes made only at night after Abigail was in bed. As the years passed life sometimes distracted the Glades and weeks might go by without any work being done on the book. But sooner or later an unusual event or minor calamity would occur and they would refocus their efforts.

One of those unusual events was the day eight-year old Abigail asked if she could invite a friend for a sleepover at their house. The Glades were uncomfortable with the idea of being responsible for someone else’s child but, reluctantly, they agreed. Until they asked Abigail what the child’s name was. It turned out to be Jacob. The event was noted in The Rearing of Abigail:


 “Had our first discussion with Abigail

about sex. We may have gone into too much

detail because she burst into tears and ran

from the room. We will have to revisit the

topic in a few years. Should probably reread

Podolsky’s Modern Sex Manual first.”

 

Not long after that Alma and George reexamined their approach to parenting. It seemed that the harder they worked at trying to lesson-plan their daughter’s days, the more she resisted and nothing positive was accomplished. They decided to take a step back, observe more passively, and move their emphasis from instructing to nurturing and trying to understand the perplexing mind of their daughter.

One approach they tried was asking Abigail’s opinion on things. What to have for dinner, where to go on vacation, what color to paint her room. When asked what she thought about something Abigail would concentrate very hard, and pull at her ear or scratch her nose as she pondered the question with great seriousness. Sometimes she seemed to deliberately make a selection she knew they wouldn’t like. Why? Perhaps, they thought, it’s a phase, an oppositional acting out just to see what she could get away with. When it happened Alma would suggest a living room debate. Each of them would take a turn, standing in the center of the room and explaining their opinion. Sometimes Abigail’s argument would be “just because” or “because I feel like it”.  Often, however, she was reasoned and thoughtful. On those occasions Alma and George would smile and nod and, more often then not, give her her way.  Then that night, they would return to The Rearing of Abigail and make a note.

When Abigail was twelve she requested a living room debate of her own. After the three of them had assembled, she went to the center of the room and threw back her shoulders, standing as straight and tall as her body would allow. “I would like,” she announced, lowering the timbre of her voice in order to sound more adult, “to start going to church.”

The room grew very silent. The steady, relentless ticking of a grandfather clock was the only sound. Alma and George glanced at one another. Religion was a topic that they had never even thought about bringing up with Abigail. They were both atheists, not the sort of atheists who want to stamp out religion or ridicule believers, but rather academic atheists who had come by their lack of belief as readily and naturally as they had come by the color of their eyes. The concept of a supreme being was just too illogical for them to take seriously.

At last Alma cleared her throat. “Well,” she asked, “what brought this on?”

“Christmas,” said Abigail. “We celebrate it every year, but without an angel on the tree. Other kids have angels. Some of them even have tiny manger scenes. And their families watch that movie about Scrooge. We just give out presents and have a nice meal.”

 George nodded. “That’s true, Abigail. We always thought of it as a sort of winter celebration, rather than a religious ritual.”

“But it’s someone’s birthday.” Abigail’s voice was determined. “It’s the birthday of Jesus Christ. And he gave his life for us, so can’t we at least wish him a happy birthday and not just unwrap presents and eat?”

“You have a point,” said Alma.  “We just never thought of it that way. And you must realize that there are some people who don’t believe in God.”

“Don’t you believe?”

“Well, let’s just say we have our doubts.”

“Then let’s start going to church. We can’t get to know God if we don’t listen to him.” Abigail looked pleadingly back and forth from mother to father. “Can we? Please?”

“Perhaps,” said George, “your mother and I should discuss this alone for a few minutes.”

“No,” said Abigail, “I’ve got a better idea. Let’s pray about it.”

“Pray?” her parents both said simultaneously.

“Sure. I know how to do it. A friend showed me. You just put your hands like this.” She pressed her palms flat together and put her finger tips just beneath her chin. “Then you close your eyes and start to talk. If it’s a really, really, really important prayer you do this.” Abigail interlaced her fingers and squeezed her hands tightly together, so tightly that her knuckles began turning white and her hands began to tremble. “See? The more important the prayer the tighter you squeeze. It gets you to the front of the line. And then when you’re finished you say amen so God knows you’re done. It’s real easy. You want to try? We could call it an experiment.”

And so the family prayed together that afternoon in the living room. The following Sunday they attended services at the First United Methodist Church. It was the first of many Sunday visits to church. Abigail’s parents decided to keep an open mind and listen and observe. It felt odd to them, like they were visiting a foreign land where they didn’t speak the language or understand the customs. And when people looked at them they nervously wondered if their atheism wasn’t somehow visible. But Abigail took great joy from the visits so they never complained. They did, however, start a new chapter in The Rearing of Abigail.

During her high school years Abigail developed an interest in sports. Her parents didn’t encourage it, but accepted it as long as her grades didn’t suffer. At first it was basketball, then cross country, and later softball. When Alma and George went to watch her play they saw things in her that they had never dreamed existed. Abigail had an easy athletic grace about her, none of the clumsy awkwardness that plagued her parents during their rare attempts at physical activity. Also, she had a take-charge attitude and a fierce determination. She was clearly a leader on the teams. And there was one other thing. She smiled. Victory or defeat, it didn’t matter. The competition itself seemed to fill her with an effervescent happiness.

At one softball game Abigail hit a game-winning home run and her parents stood with the rest of the crowd and applauded while the team jumped and shouted and greeted their daughter at home plate. George smiled, turned to Alma and said, “How on earth did we create that child?”

“Perhaps we didn’t,” mused Alma. “Perhaps she’s a freak of nature. Something that cannot be. And yet is.” Down on the field Abigail turned to the stands, looking for them. When she spotted them she blew them a kiss.

“Yes,” said George, “there is definitely something in that child that we didn’t put there.”

There was one conversation George and Alma had many times with Abigail during her high school years. It usually began with the question, “What do you want to do with your life?” “Live it,” was the usual response.  To her parents Abigail seemed like a remarkable mass of intelligence and energy, just waiting for a direction, a goal, a dream. But she seemed satisfied with just putting one foot in front of another and walking through life without any real purpose.

Eventually, Abigail was faced with a decision that could not be delayed, what to do after high school. Her parents prepared a list of colleges for her to consider. They sat her down and went through the list methodically, summarizing the benefits of each. She listened carefully and finally said, “You know what? I don’t think I want to go to college right away. I’d like some time to, I don’t know, get to know myself first.” And so, Abigail Glade graduated from high school, began working part time at a pizza parlor, and her parents started an unexpected and frustrating chapter of The Rearing of Abigail.

Abigail worked, spent time with her friends, dated occasionally, and seemed to be content. Her parents, in the meantime, shrugged their shoulders and waited and hoped.  And then it happened.

Once Alma had written an article for a mathematics journal in which she claimed that any event could be analyzed mathematically. You just start with the event and then backtrack the long chain of decisions, circumstances, and happenstances that led to it. The example she used was a brick falling onto a man’s head. The brick had to fall at that precise instant and the man had to be standing in that very spot at that moment in time. What caused the brick to fall? Was there a crack in the mortar caused by shoddy work by the bricklayer? Was he angry with his wife that day? What loosened the brick? Was it a sudden, strong wind? And why was the building made of brick in the first place? If it had been a wooden structure there would have been no brick to fall. And why was the man standing there? Was he waiting for a light to change so he could cross the street? Where was he going? To work? Why didn’t he drive that day? Did he have a flat tire? What caused the flat? A nail that fell off a carpenter’s truck? Where was the carpenter going? If he had chosen another route and not hit a bump in the road, maybe the nail would not have fallen. And why was there a bump in the road? Alter just one tiny seemingly irrelevant event in either of two infinitely long chains of events and the man’s skull would not have been cracked. “Fate,” Alma concluded, “is in our hands every second of every day.  Every decision we make, every step we take is all part of destiny’s chain. Add or subtract just one link and, if it’s the right one, you might live forever. If it’s the wrong one, is there any limit to the consequences? Could the end of the world start with a bump in the road?” It was a playful article, designed more to trigger a chuckle or inspire a soft “Hmm”, rather than to encourage scholarly discourse. It apparently did not amuse the journal editor, however, because it was never published. It had been more than ten years since she had written the article, but it was weighing heavily on Alma’s mind as she and George sat in a hospital room, staring at Abigail’s unconscious body.

It wasn’t an errant brick that had struck Abigail, it was a bullet from a gun being held in the very jittery hand of a twenty-two year old would-be thief. According to the police he didn’t think the gun was loaded. When the shot rang out and Abigail collapsed to the floor he had dropped the gun and stared down at it, muttering “It wasn’t supposed to happen like this,” over and over and over until the police arrived and took him away.     

“If only we had insisted that she go to college right away,” Alma said, as much to herself as to her husband. “If she had been at Stanford or Ann Arbor or Cambridge this wouldn’t have happened.”

George stood up, walked to the side of the bed, reached through the maze of tubes that ran in and out of Abigail’s body, and stroked her forehead. “And how often did she do what we insisted upon? It would have been an exercise in futility.”

“You’re probably right,” said Alma, “but there’s something I need to confess.” They were in the hospital’s intensive care unit. Abigail’s struggle for survival was displayed on the screen of a machine that beeped steadily as it monitored her breaths, her pulse, the oxygen level of her blood, everything that kept her on this side of an eternal blackness.  Add or subtract just one link, Alma thought.

George returned to the chair next to his wife, reached out and held her hand. “Confess?”

“Yes. It happened yesterday. I may have made a very bad mistake. I let her read it.”

“Read what?” George asked. Then his expression darkened. “The Rearing of Abigail? But we agreed.”

“I know. I know. But Abigail’s a young woman now and if we’re really serious about actually publishing it we’d certainly have to show it to her first. And I thought that reading it might give her a new perspective on college.”

“And did it?”

Alma glanced over at Abigail.  “No. She said it made her feel like a lab rat. And a stupid lab rat at that. One who was never able to run through a maze in quite the right way.”

George dropped his gaze to the floor and slowly shook his head back and forth. “A stupid lab rat. The mistake wasn’t letting her read it, Alma. The mistake was writing the book in the first place. We should have burned it a long time ago.”

Alma began to sob. Suddenly, the steady beeping of the monitor changed to a steady, piercing, insistent tone. A nurse rushed into the room, followed by an orderly who wheeled in a cart. Then two doctors ran into the room. They all surrounded the bed.  One of the doctors shouted instructions. The group was a flurry of frantic, well-rehearsed activity as they tried to bring Abigail back from the brink. George put his arms around Alma’s shoulders. She shuddered with a sense of uselessness. Then she interlaced her fingers and squeezed her hands tightly together, so tightly that her knuckles began turning white and her hands began to tremble. Alma closed her eyes and began to speak. Softly. Urgently. Pleadingly. 


                                                 © 2016 Stanley R. Teater

                                                  All rights reserved


© 2016 Stanley R. Teater



Author's Note

Stanley R. Teater
I usually break longer stories up into pieces, thinking they might be less daunting. This time I posted it as one complete story. Which do you prefer?

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Featured Review

Wonderful read. I like the turn at the end away from pure logic from a purely logical thinker. This is a fascinating topic, how best to raise a human...my guess is, there is no one way. Nice venture into human nature too, how we always turn to what we did wrong when something bad happens.

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.




Reviews

A amazing story. You are a talented story teller. You held my attention till the last words and I wanted more. Thank you for sharing the entertaining story.
Coyote

Posted 1 Month Ago


I love it. It is a great story.

Posted 1 Year Ago


You could break it into digestible pieces, I think. Like Part 1 and so on.

Posted 1 Year Ago


Amazing! Just amazing, you wrote it really well, how would you like to review my book?
Thanks!

Posted 1 Year Ago


As always sir, very good story. I loved it.

Posted 1 Year Ago


I expect the parents not knowing what to do started praying for their girl to survive. Most people turn to prayer when trouble comes knocking at their door.

Posted 1 Year Ago


a true life story,emotions guide her,enjoyed

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Wonderful read. I like the turn at the end away from pure logic from a purely logical thinker. This is a fascinating topic, how best to raise a human...my guess is, there is no one way. Nice venture into human nature too, how we always turn to what we did wrong when something bad happens.

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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Added on October 17, 2016
Last Updated on October 18, 2016

Author

Stanley R. Teater
Stanley R. Teater

Cedar Park, TX



About
Writing fiction has always been a dream. After 36 years working in television station marketing and advertising I grew tired of writing 30-second commercials and promos. I retired and I now write fict.. more..

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