By Paul Beckman
All we can figure is that Arthur and Elaine got tired of listening to all of the talk about other people’s babies and decided to do something about it. They could have done as Nan and Larry had and adopted, or Mike and Mary, who became foster parents. Even Billy D. became a Big Brother, and his girlfriend Sandy became a Big Sister. The rest of our crowd, numbering a dozen couples or so, all in our late twenties and early thirties, already had kids . . . mostly infants and toddlers, and some of the wives were in various stages of pregnancy.
My wife Marti and I were having the Memorial Day picnic at our house, just as we have done for the past five years, and everyone had arrived except for Arthur and Elaine. Finally, an hour late, Elaine walked into our back yard with just the proudest bust-my-buttons little look on her face and said her hellos and then told us that Arthur would be along presently. “He’s getting baby Jeffrey out of the car.”
Instantly Elaine was surrounded by all of the other women . . . questions flying . . . “When did you adopt?” . . . “Where did you have to go to get the baby?” . . . “When will it be final?” . . . “Why the secret?” . . . and then along came Arthur pushing a baby carriage, and we rushed to meet him and Jeffrey.
Arthur held out his hand, palm up to stop our onslaught, and proceeded to bend over the carriage and take out baby Jeffrey. He was swathed in a yellow blanket, and Elaine went to Arthur’s side and together they walked towards us, Arthur holding the baby gingerly as all new parents do.
“I’m sorry we’re late,” said Arthur, “but we didn’t want to wake Jeffrey up from his nap.”
Some of us looked at each other with a ‘what do they know look’ and others clucked sympathetically, and suddenly Arthur began to unwind the yellow blanket and Elaine stood next to him as if ready to burst and then Arthur was holding Jeffrey and Elaine was saying, “Isn’t he beautiful? Isn’t he beautiful?” The laughter began. Some of it was nervous laughter and some was outright guffaws. Arthur and Elaine looked bewildered and hurt, and finally the laughter subsided to only a few snickers and Arthur laid baby Jeffrey, a cuddly brown teddy bear, back into the carriage and said, “I’m starving. Let’s eat.”
And eat we did, not knowing at first whether Arthur and Elaine were putting us on or if they both lost it at the same time or what. Arthur hung out with the other men, and every once in a while someone would bring up the subject of their kid, Arthur would join in with a Jeffrey story, not always interesting, but a Jeffrey story nonetheless. The same thing went on with the women. When Marti went over to a quiet spot to breast feed our baby, Elaine brought Jeffrey along and sat holding Jeffrey to her bared breast, and talked to Marti about motherhood and breast pumps and the like.
Arthur and Elaine had been unsuccessfully trying to have a child all the time we knew them. At first Arthur would joke about getting a call and having to leave work and run to the doctor’s office with a copy of Playboy and then he’d talk about temperatures and thermometers and we would call them up with articles that we had read. The kind of articles that talked about a new method, theory, position or culture’s way of handling this problem. Their cause became our cause, and even though they wanted a baby they never seemed to overly obsess about it. They appeared well adjusted and were grateful for our calls and concerns and accepting of the teasing. And there was a considerable amount of teasing, especially towards Arthur . . . for instance I called him up once and Elaine answered the phone and I told her to get Arthur on the extension. It was during their annual Passover Seder and they must have had twenty or more people in the house and they were mid-Seder and in a very excited voice I began to read an article that I made up — ostensibly from the current month’s Scientific American entitled “Oddities in Fertility.”
“Can’t this wait?” asked Elaine. “We’re just getting ready to read the questions.”
“It can wait,” I said, “but you’ll have to wait for next year.”
“Next year? What do you mean?” asked Arthur.
“Do you want to hear the whole article?” I asked. “I can read it to you, it’s only ten pages but then it will be too late or I can just hit the highlights.”
“Highlights,” said Arthur anxiously and a little exasperated.
I could hear their family calling them restlessly from the dining room and I said, “Arthur, Elaine, it’s 5:45 and according to this article in Scientific American one of the Oddities of Fertilization is that after studying over 2000 couples who were having trouble conceiving they found that there was an extremely high rate of conception if intercourse took place between 5:45 and 6:00 pm on March 26.”
“That’s today,” Elaine said. “It’s Passover.”
“March 26th is not always Passover,” I reminded her.
“That’s now,” Arthur said. “That’s today. How high a rate of success?”
“Twenty-one point six percent,” I told him, “which the researchers consider phenomenal. They go on and I could read you the testimonials if you’d like.”
Arthur slammed down the phone and I heard him say through Elaine’s phone, “Hurry up, I think I love you,” and then her line clicked off.
It was maybe six months later when Arthur asked for a copy of the article, and I pretended that I had no idea what he was talking about. He went on to explain our conversation and how upset their families were at them and how disheveled they both looked at 6:15 when they reappeared at the Seder table. “I’m sorry Arthur,” I told him. “It just doesn’t ring a bell.
Arthur, realizing that he’d been had once again, glared at me and stormed out of the house, which was kind of dumb since we were at his house. He cooled down quickly and returned and not willing to let well enough alone I asked, “What was it like getting laid with all of that company at the table waiting for you and knowing what was going on?”
Arthur laughed. “Actually, the sex was great, but when we got back downstairs my brother added a couple of extra questions that were a touch embarrassing.”
Baby Jeffrey became a part of all of our lives. He had his own room, and Arthur and Elaine wouldn’t go out unless they had a babysitter and would call periodically throughout the evening to make sure everything was OK. It got to be a bit much on all of us. They would cancel plans at the last minute because Jeffrey had the sniffles or the sitter bailed out.
“It’s a stuffed animal, Arthur!” I yelled when he called and backed out of a card game. “Baby Jeffrey is a stuffed animal!”
“I’m sorry,” is all he said, “But I’m surprised at your attitude, you also being a father.”
Baby Jeffrey’s first birthday was a real treat. What do you bring a stuffed bear that has everything? A bond? You’re always safe with a bond. We all brought our children to the party and they brought their own stuffed animals, and except for singing Happy Birthday to the little fur ball it wasn’t a bad party. The kids thought nothing at all was strange.
Everyone in our group had at one time or another approached either Arthur or Elaine and tried to discuss the situation. It wasn’t discussable. We began to see less and less of them, and they bought a home in the next town over because as Elaine said, “With a family now this little ranch is just not large enough.” Arthur’s law practice flourished and Elaine worked part time as a social worker. Baby Jeffrey went to day care.
Finally, at a holiday dinner we realized that it had been over a year since anyone had seen Arthur and Elaine. As we discussed them it turned out that we had all made overtures and invitations and had all been rebuffed. We were not invited to Jeffrey’s second birthday party, and soon they were not often a topic of conversation in our lives.
Marti and I were watching the eleven o’clock news one evening when a bulletin appeared. A distraught man was holed up in his house threatening to kill his son and himself because his wife had divorced him and that morning she was awarded custody of the boy.
“Look!” yelled Marti.
There was a close-up of a sobbing and distraught Elaine standing next to a policewoman. The camera cut to a SWAT team surrounding the house. Rifles and ropes slung over their shoulders, protective facemasks swiveled back onto the top of their heads and dressed all in black, these men took up their assigned positions.
“Do something!” Marti implored.
“What do you mean do something? What do you want me to do?” I asked.
“Stop them,” she said “Make them stop. Call somebody.”
I dialed 911 and implored the dispatcher to put me through to someone in power. It seemed to take forever to get through to someone who knew about the goings on. I explained that I knew the couple and that there was nothing to worry about and could they please connect me to the person in charge at the scene and I would explain. “Hurry.” I said, “Hurry before the SWAT team moves in.”
They finally patched me into the Captain’s car phone at the scene, and when he at last was brought to his car I told him that I was a friend of Arthur and Elaine’s and that there was no danger for the baby because there was no baby. “I know it sounds crazy,” I told him, “but there is no real baby. There is nothing more than a stuffed teddy bear that this couple call their child and that . . . ”
“What kind of crank call is this?” snarled the captain.
“It’s not a crank call at all.”
“Hold the SWAT team” I heard him order.
The TV and the telephone sounds were meshing into one stereo sound when he came back on the phone. As I was explaining again about Arthur and Elaine, I heard two shots ring out and for an instant while I was holding the phone and watching the TV, it seemed to be just another TV cop show and then the captain, breaking the moment, said, “You bastard.” and the phone went dead and I saw the captain running towards the house as the SWAT team was kicking in the front door and climbing into the house through broken windows.