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The Wine Taster
Any English teacher who has ever read or seen The Dead Poet’s Society can immediately tell you that words have power. What they don’t explain is why-why a word from a stranger is different from the words of your dying grandmother or an ex-girlfriend. It’s because of the people behind the words, the thoughts and the feelings and the memories that take these lumps of blood and flesh and electrical impulses into the guy that you met in gym class or the girl that broke your heart.
And I understood exactly what the power of not only the word, but also what the power of the person was when the girl I had met exactly five times and seen naked exactly four times told me, “I’m pregnant.”
As the sky crumbled around me and I knew nothing would ever be the same again, I wondered not what would happen now or tomorrow, but the consequences in a decade or so. Would we drop out of college? Would we be good parents? How would we find jobs? And the worst-do I have to move in with my parents again?
None of this was important right now. “Are you sure?” was all I could say because I needed to know that I was well and truly damned.
She was sure. Of course she was sure. And as she lectured my lack, idiotic face about appointments and splitting the costs, I wondered if I would be okay resigning all of my dreams for this kid I didn’t know and a woman I didn’t love. I knew her of course- I knew that she liked mustard but not ketchup on hot dogs, and that she lived with just her father and that her favorite movie was Rocky Horror Show and that she tasted like white wine. I knew this because I remembered if for when I tried to get in her pants.
I figured that those had to be decent signs. If she were a crazy nihilist racist terrorist, I would have noticed it when she pulled her shirt off. If she had a serious, uncontrollable fetish for men’s ties, I would have noticed when she scratched marks all over my back. If she would eventually snap and require a lifetime of supervision and a strictly scheduled dose of sedatives and horse tranquilizers, I would have noticed the first time we went shot for shot and she let me take her home, laughing the whole cab ride back.
But what I did notice, aside from her mustard penchant, was the look of delight when I held the door for her, like I was a knight. The way she wouldn’t ever let me pay for her. The way her hair looked when she pulled it out of her face and kissed me so hard, I could feel her heartbeat in my mouth.
Could I do this, live with a stranger and an even stranger baby? Listen to crying and schoolwork and change diapers and eventually have a little me that would grow up to resent, or love, his deadbeat dad for dropping out of a great school and working as an electrician-cum-plumber to pay the bills. Or to have a little girl that I would drop off at ballet recitals and she would say something cute like, “Did you see me? Did you see me? Did you think I was good?” and of course I did because she was my kid. And I thought of my own father, who I could never seem to please, let alone understand, and I was filled with a great resolve, not only to surpass him in the daunting ways of fatherhood, but also to rub it in his great, mustached face. And I would deliberately not grow a mustache, partially because I am totally incapable of growing facial hair, but mostly to show him that I am nothing like you.
I was now aware that she was still talking and that eventually I would need to respond. Filled with great resolve to be the greatest father, I said, “I can ask around the med school and see if anyone knows a good OB/GYN. I promise I’ll be here for you, whatever you need.” I actually took her hand, which in hindsight, was the sign of a very large misunderstanding.
She snatched it away from me so fast I could still feel her chipped nails against my palm. Her eyes narrowed and glimmered in the cheap fluorescent lights hanging in the hallway. I noticed how little they resembled the eyes of the girl that laughed at all of my Little Johnny jokes, even the terrible ones I found online.
“I don’t want your f***ing help. I just need a ride to the clinic and a ride back. I made an appointment for Wednesday at five, so pick me up after class or something. I’ll text you.”
She walked back into her room and I was left alone in the hallway, the ghost of my little ballet dancer pirouetting around me and the taste of white wine slowly becoming the stench of rotting, forgotten grapes.