Mr. Fellowes ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(Repost of a story I posted in January, slightly revised.)
“Ella! Ella! Ella! Oh, baby! Give me a great big kiss! Woo! Woo! Woo! Woo! Ella! Ella! Ella!”
The boys hid behind parked cars as they chanted. Ella Peebles walked on, her head down, trying to ignore them. She didn’t know who the boys were, but it didn’t matter. All boys were the same to her. She hated all of them.
“You’re not there,” she said to them, but not loud enough for them to hear. “You don’t exist.”
Ella was fifteen. She knew a girl one year older who went out with a boy just one time and ended up pregnant. Ella wasn’t going to let that happen to her. Just the word was awful: Pregnant. What a terrible, disgusting word! You’re sick for nine months and then this awful little thing comes out of your body and you have to feed it and take care of it for the rest of your life and put up with its sass. You are never free again to do the things you want to do and you’ll never have any money to go to the show or buy a magazine or an ice cream cone because the baby will take all your money and all your time.
She knew the chanting boys were out to get her pregnant. That’s the one thing boys wanted most. She heard it in health class in a girls-only lecture and slide show. The message of the lecture was clear: Don’t let your guard down and let boys get you pregnant! The awful sperm penetrating the egg! Could anything be more revolting? It only took one boy and it only took one time. It was just too easy and the consequences were too awful for the girl but not for the boy. After the boy gets you pregnant, he’s free to go and get somebody else pregnant. He can keep doing it over and over again, as many times as he wants. Just as fortune favors the bold, so nature favors the male.
When Ella walked through the door at home, she heard her brother Percy laughing. Laughing was better than crying. She went into the kitchen and saw Percy sitting on Mr. Fellowes’s lap. Mr. Fellowes was mother’s latest boyfriend. He was showing Percy how to drink beer out of a can and smoke a cigarette at the same time, which, he said, is something you must learn to do when you spend a lot of time in saloons. Mother was sitting at the table, too. She was laughing so hard her mascara was running down her cheeks and she had to keep wiping it off with her fingers. It was odd to see mother laughing that way because she took a lot of pills and drank whiskey straight out of the bottle and was usually either crying or knocked out in front of the TV.
“Oh, I wish I had a camera!” she spluttered out around her laughter.
Percy was nine, small for his age. He was enjoying the attention from mother and Mr. Fellowes. He held the cigarette between his fingers and took a puff on it and waggled his head like a girl.
“You should see yourself!” Ella said. “You look so silly!”
Percy stuck his tongue out at her and hopped off Mr. Fellowes’s lap. He wasn’t ready just yet to give up being the center of attention. He minced and waggled his hips from the stove to the refrigerator and back, while mother and Mr. Fellowes roared with laughter.
“You look just like a little queer!” Ella said.
“Ella! That’s not a very nice thing to say to your brother!” mother said, suddenly serious. “Where do you hear words like that?”
“Every day at school,” Ella said. “People say it all the time.”
“Well, not in this house!”
Mother pretended to be a righteous mother in front of Mr. Fellowes, but Ella and Percy knew otherwise. When she got mad enough, she could swear and rant better than any sailor. She could also slap people in the mouth and throw dishes across the room and break them against the wall and then make Ella clean up the broken pieces. Ella had just learned the word hypocrite and she knew that’s what her mother was. A person who pretends to abhor the thing that he or she really is.
Ella stood in the kitchen doorway and looked at mother and Mr. Fellowes. He was a large man with a lumpy body and a bald head. He wasn’t good-looking, but mother said she was finished with good-looking. They’re the ones that get what they want out of you and then they go off and leave you high and dry. Mr. Fellowes was the reliable type who could provide a woman with exactly what she needed. Sure, he wasn’t exciting, but who needs it? A home and security are much more important.
“Wash your hands for supper,” mother said to Ella and Percy. “Mr. Fellowes brought us supper and we’re all going to eat together.”
She began taking the stuff out of the refrigerator. There was a whole chicken, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, and a bag of donuts. Percy wanted to get right to the donuts, but mother told him he couldn’t eat any of those until he had had a good supper.
Ella sat down at the little square table with her back to the wall. Percy sat across from her, mother to her right, and Mr. Fellowes on her left.
“I want a leg!” Percy squealed. “And I want some potato salad!”
While Ella was pulling the meat off a thigh with her fork, she felt Mr. Fellowes’s eyes on her. When she looked at him, he smiled and winked.
“How’s the world been treatin’ you, princess?” he asked.
She shrugged and said, “I’m not a princess.”
“She’s too ugly to be a princess!” Percy said, his mouth full of potato salad. “Princess is pretty.”
“Well, she needs to fix her hair up and wear a bit of makeup,” Mr. Fellowes said.
“I don’t know about makeup,” mother said. “I don’t want her lookin’ like a tramp before her time.”
“A little bit of makeup won’t make her look like a tramp,” Mr. Fellowes said. “Too much makeup could be bad, but a little bit applied artfully might make all the difference.”
“I don’t want any,” Ella said.
“He’s only trying to be nice,” mother said. “You don’t have to get snippy about it.”
“It’s all right,” Mr. Fellowes said. “I grew up with three sisters. I know all about the moods of young girls.”
“I’ve tried to get her to get a nice hairstyle,” mother said, “but she just doesn’t seem to care about it.”
“She’s at that age,” Mr. Fellowes said.
“Could we please talk about something else?” Ella said.
“You really do need to have your hair cut and styled, honey,” Mr. Fellowes said.
“Hey, I’ll get mine cut and styled!” Percy said. “How would that be?”
Mother started laughing again. “You’re a regular little comedian, aren’t you?” she said.
When the meal was finished and Percy had eaten three donuts, Ella stood up and started clearing the table. Mr. Fellowes had just lit a cigarette. He grabbed Ella by the wrist and pulled her onto his lap. She tried to get away but he put his arms around her and held her against his chest.
“She’s a little big for lap-sitting,” mother said.
“Nobody’s ever too big for a little lovin’,” Mr. Fellowes said.
“Let me up!” Ella said. “Your cigarette smoke is going right in my face.”
“Indulge me for a little while, girl. It’s been a long time since I had a pretty girl on my lap.”
“What about me?” mother said.
“You’re past the girl stage, I’m afraid. You’re now in the matron stage.”
“I don’t think I like that!”
Mr. Fellowes nuzzled his face into Ella’s neck and held her tight.
“She’s never been what I would call an affectionate child,” mother said.
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” Mr. Fellowes said, “but I think you need to take yourself a good bath.”
Percy laughed and mother slapped him on the arm to make him stop.
After the dishes were washed and put away, mother and Mr. Fellowes left to go to the show. Ella and Percy turned on all the lights in the house and sat in front of the TV and watched detective and doctor shows until time to go to bed.
The next morning Ella awoke with a pain her side. Her nose was all stopped up, she had a headache, and her eyes looked puffy. When she realized what was wrong, she had a mortified feeling unlike any she had ever felt in her life. It was like finding out she had a fatal disease and would soon be dead.
While Mr. Fellowes was holding her on his lap—in his arms—at the supper table, some of his sperms went inside her body and penetrated her eggs. She was—that horrible word!—pregnant. She must have breathed them in through her mouth and nose. That’s the only way it could have happened. Mother would die when she found out.
At school she could barely sit still and pay attention. When people spoke to her, she didn’t hear what they said because her mind was preoccupied with the predicament she was in. In gym class, which she had always hated anyway, she fainted during calisthenics and the gym teacher told her to get dressed and get herself to the nurse’s office right away. She might have something catching.
The nurse was out for the moment, but Ella made herself at home and laid down on the cot against the wall behind the file cabinets. She felt better lying on the cot because nobody could see her and the nurse’s office was quiet and cool.
In a half-hour or so the nurse came back and when she saw Ella on the cot, she asked her what was wrong.
“I got sick in gym class,” Ella said.
The nurse stuck a thermometer in her mouth and took her blood pressure. She had a fever of a hundred and one and her blood pressure was high.
“Now, tell me what’s wrong,” the nurse said. “Your clothes are soaked through and you’re pale.”
“Nothing’s wrong,” Ella said.
“Okay. Go on back to class then.”
“If I tell you what’s wrong, will you promise not to tell anybody?”
“Cross my heart.”
“Uh-oh! That’s not good, is it? Who’s the boy? Do you know?”
“The boy who impregnated you.”
“There’s no boy, except the ones that were yelling at me on the street yesterday, and I don’t think that’s when it happened. They were too far away.”
The nurse sighed and looked over her shoulder as if she might find some help there in another part of the room. “Okay, tell me what happened,” she said. “I’m here to help and I promise I won’t tell a soul.”
“It’s Mr. Fellowes,” Ella said.
“Who is Mr. Fellowes?” the nurse asked.
“He’s my mother’s boyfriend.”
“So, you had sexual relations with Mr. Fellowes?”
“Who, then? Who did you have sexual relations with?”
“Nobody. Not even myself.”
“Have you and your brother been experimenting?”
“He’s nine. He still believes in the Easter Bunny.”
“Okay. Well, we’re not getting anywhere, are we?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“If you’re pregnant, there has to be a boy or a man involved.”
“It happened yesterday.”
“Mr. Fellowes’s sperms got inside my body somehow and broke open my eggs. I knew as soon as I got up this morning that I was pregnant.”
“This happened yesterday?”
“And you did not have sexual relations with Mr. Fellowes?”
“Are you kidding? With my mother and little brother sitting right there?”
The nurse stood up and got a wet washcloth and put it on Ella’s forehead. “You just lie here for a while until you feel better,” she said. “I’ll call your mother and she can come and get you and take you to a doctor to find out what’s really wrong.”
“Please don’t call my mother! I think it’ll just about finish her off when she finds out I’m pregnant.”
The nurse went out of the room. When she didn’t come back right away, Ella knew she was calling her mother. It was the last thing she needed.
She stood up off the cot, feeling light-headed, and went out into the deserted hallway. All the way down at the far end were the doors leading out of the building. She put her head down, thinking that would make her less noticeable, and walked to the doors as quietly as she could.
The sunlight hurt her eyes and she thought she was going to be sick again, but she rallied herself and got away from the school as fast as she could before anybody saw her.
She walked a long way, a couple of miles at least, to the edge of town and beyond. She came to a high bridge that she remembered like a bridge from a dream. It was on an old highway that nobody used much anymore because a new one had been built.
She walked out onto the bridge, squinting in the sunlight, and when she was about halfway across, she stopped and looked down at the river. It looked ugly and dirty; moving fast because there had been a lot of rain lately. Limbs and cardboard boxes and other unidentifiable things floated along with the current.
She eased herself over the railing and stood on a little ledge not more than three inches wide, facing out. She had to turn her feet sideways to be able to stand on it. When she closed her eyes, she could hear the river and feel it churning, about eighty feet down. All she had to take was let go, and gravity would take care of the rest. With her eyes closed, it wouldn’t be so bad. She wouldn’t have to see the water as she entered it. And then when it was all over she wouldn’t have to go to school anymore. No more worries ever again, about being pregnant or anything else.
Tilting her head back as far as she could in the awkward position she was in, she saw birds nesting in the framework of the bridge high above her head. Something seemed to have upset them. They were flying around frantically, squawking and ruffling their feathers. They made her forget for a moment about everything else.
While she was watching the birds, a black pickup truck parked on the bridge and an old man got out and approached her.
“Hey, girlie!” he said. “You shouldn’t be playing on that there bridge like that. It’s dangerous.”
“I’m stuck,” she said. “If I try to turn around, I’m afraid I’ll fall.”
“How did you get yourself into a fix like that?”
“I was going to jump and kill myself.”
“Why would you want to do a thing like that? You’re just a damn kid!”
“I guess I changed my mind.”
“Here,” the old man said. “Give me your hands and I’ll help you turn around.”
She yelped as she let go of the rail and put her hands into the hands of the old man because she thought for an instant that she was gone. The old man didn’t let go, though, and, with some pulling and grunting, he had her back on the safe side of the rail in just a few seconds. She sobbed and wet her pants and wasn’t even embarrassed because she didn’t care.
“You’d better get yourself on home now,” he said. “This is no place for kids.”
“I’m so tired I don’t think I can take another step,” she said.
“Do you want me to give you a ride to town?”
“I’m not supposed to ride with strangers.”
“Well, my old lady is in the truck, if that makes any difference.”
He took her by the elbow and led her to his truck and opened the door for her. She found herself sitting next to a tiny old woman with wooly white hair and protuberant eyes like a frog. The old woman stared at her with unabashed fascination all the way into town.
“Do you know where the high school is?” Ella said to the old man. “You can drop me there. That’s where I’m supposed to be.”
School was just letting out. Ella thanked the old man for rescuing her and got out of the truck and went into one door of the school building and out another door as if she had been there all day.
When she got home, she was the only one there. She fixed herself a sandwich and, after she ate it, she took off her clothes, wadded them into a lump and threw them in the trash, and then she took a long scalding bath.
When mother came home from work, she was in a bad mood, but Ella didn’t think it was because the school nurse had called her. No, if that had been the cause of her bad mood, she would have started ranting the second she walked in the door. The more likely cause was that she had a fever blister and it was her time of the month. With a cigarette dangling from her lip, she went into the kitchen and made of lot of noise opening a can of spaghetti and one of cream corn for supper.
While they were eating, mother eyed Ella and Percy suspiciously as though looking for something to dislike about the way they were chewing. Finally, she said, “I’m afraid we’ve seen the last of Mr. Fellowes.”
“Why?” Ella asked.
“He decided to go back to his wife and family.”
“Did you have a fight with him?”
“No, I did not have a fight with him! If it’s any of your business! His wife is dying of emphysema and he decided he wanted to be with her at the end.”
“I liked Mr. Fellowes,” Percy said.
“Yes, he’s a real gentleman,” mother said. “They threw away the mold with that one.”
“So, will you get yourself a new boyfriend now?” Ella asked.
“Sure, I will! The old girl still has what it takes. Men flock to her like bees to honey.”
“I think it’s flies to honey,” Ella said, but mother ignored her.
When supper was finished, Ella announced she had been sick all day, but she didn’t say what was wrong. Mother put her hand to her forehead.
“I fainted in gym class today and they sent me to the nurse’s office. She said I had a fever and my blood pressure was high.”
“Whenever you have kids, there’s always something going wrong,” mother said.
“The nurse said I should just stay home from school tomorrow and rest.”
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
“I want to stay home, too!” Percy said. “I’m sick, too!”
Ella went to bed right after supper without any TV. In the morning when she woke up it was almost nine o’clock and the house was quiet. She put her hands to her stomach to see if she felt the baby growing inside her, but she couldn’t. The good thing about pregnancy, if there was a good thing, was that you could keep it to yourself for a while before anybody would know.
All day long she napped and read magazine stories and ate snacks, enjoying having the house to herself. By suppertime she was feeling better. She got up and put on her imported red-and-yellow silk kimono and helped mother fix supper. When mother asked her if she felt like going to school the next day, she nodded her head.
On her way to history class, her first class of the day, the nurse stopped her in the hallway and gave her a pamphlet. “Read every word of this,” the nurse said. “You can’t wallow in ignorance your entire life.”
Ella slipped the pamphlet into her book and, sitting at a table alone, read it in third period study hall. It explained all about the reproductive mechanism and how a woman brings forth a baby. Most important of all, it explained the part the father plays in the process and what must happen for the sperm to fertilize the egg.
So, being pregnant wasn’t like catching a cold, after all. It was a little more complicated than that but, still, she would never sit on her mother’s boyfriend’s lap again, no matter how much he wanted her to. No use in letting that get started. There must be a hundred ways to keep it from happening.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp