Unwed Babies ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Little Thelma Kane hadn’t been to school for two weeks. When she returned, presumably for the last time, she was accompanied by her mother, Nova Kane. The two of them presented themselves in the principal’s office immediately after lunch on Friday afternoon.
“We want to see Mr. Middledyke,” Nova Kane said to Ima Chiclet, Mr. Middledyke’s secretary.
Ima Chiclet eyed Nova Kane suspiciously. “Do you have an appointment?” she asked.
“You have to have an appointment to see Mr. Middledyke. He’s a very busy man.”
“Look here, doll face,” Nova Kane said. “I’m in no mood. I had to rearrange my schedule to be here.”
“What is the nature of your visit?”
“Of a private nature, for Mr. Middledyke to know.”
Ima Chiclet sighed and stuck the tip of her tongue out between her ruby-red lips. “I don’t think Mr. Middledyke will see you without knowing the reason.”
“Just tell him it’s personal.”
“Nova Kane, mother of eleventh grader Little Thelma Kane.”
“I’ll see if he’s free.”
She stood up from her desk, tapped on a door and went inside. In a moment she came back out.
“Mr. Middledyke says he’ll see you on one condition,” she said.
“What’s that?” Nova Kane asked.
“That you’re not carrying a gun.”
Nova Kane held open the sides of her coat and whirled around. “No guns,” she said.
“How about you?” Ima Chiclet asked Little Thelma Kane.
“I don’t have a gun, either,” Little Thelma said, “but I wish I did.”
“If you’re both clean, then you may go right in.”
Mr. Middledyke was a small man with protruding ears and a thatch of sparse reddish hair on top of his head. In his pinstripe suit, he resembled a junior-league gangster. Not at all pleased that his after-lunch solitude was being interrupted, he ushered Nova Kane and Little Thelma Kane into his office and pointed to two chairs.
“Yes?” he said. “How may I help you today?”
“My daughter here, Little Thelma Kane, wants to quit school,” Nova said, settling her wide hips in the high-backed chair. “Show me where to sign and I’ll sign the damn form.”
Mr. Middledyke looked from Nova Kane to Little Thelma and back again. “She wants to quit school? For what reason?”
“She’s getting married.”
“She’s just a child!”
“Have you thought long and hard about this, young lady?” Mr. Middledyke asked Little Thelma.
“Yeah,” Little Thelma said, looking bored.
“It’s a very big step to quit school,” he said.
“Without a high school diploma, you may find yourself unable to meet life’s challenges.”
“I’ve told her all that,” Nova Kane said.
“Don’t you think you’d be better off to wait a couple of years until after you’ve graduated and have your diploma in hand?” Mr. Middledyke asked.
“It won’t wait,” Nova Kane said.
“And why not, may I ask?”
“It seems there’s going to be a baby.”
For a few seconds Mr. Middledyke was speechless. He looked at Little Thelma Kane and didn’t recall ever seeing her before among the students at the school. She was dowdy, pasty-faced and unattractive; so easy to overlook or not see at all.
“Is the boy also a student here?” he asked.
Nova Kane and Little Thelma looked at each other and laughed.
“No, his name is Finn Wozniak,” Little Thelma said. “He’s almost thirty years old.”
“He’s in scrap metal,” Nova Kane said.
“You’re marrying a man thirty years old?”
“Yeah, what of it?”
“The age of consent in this state is eighteen.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that if a thirty-year-old man has had sexual relations with a girl of sixteen, it’s statutory rape, no matter how willing she is.”
“Finn didn’t rape me,” Little Thelma said.
“The way the law sees it, he did.”
“What are you saying?” Nova Kane asked.
“This girl does not have to marry a thirty-year-old man and have his baby.”
“Maybe I want to!” Little Thelma said.
“It’s my duty to report these cases to the police,” Mr. Middledyke said.
“Do you mean I can’t quit school?” Little Thelma asked. She surprised Mr. Middledyke by starting to cry.
“See what you’ve done?” Nova Kane said. “She was perfectly happy and now you’ve made her cry.”
“Are you sure there’s going to be a baby?” Mr. Middledyke asked.
“Have you seen a doctor?”
“Why do you think you’re going to have a baby?”
“I just am, that’s all.”
“You can’t ask a woman questions like that!” Nova Kane said.
“If you weren’t going to have a baby, would you still want to quit school and get married at your age?”
“Well, I haven’t thought about it.”
“There’ll be no unwed babies in my family!” Nova Kane said.
“I’m asking her.”
“Well, I don’t much like school,” Little Thelma said, “but I guess I’d choose school over some things.”
Nova Kane glared at Little Thelma. “You got me here for nothing!” she said.
Mr. Middledyke buzzed for Ima Chiclet. When she came in without delay, he knew she had been listening at the door.
“Get me the parental consent form,” he said.
“Parental consent for what?” Ima Chiclet asked.
“For this young girl to quit school and marry her thirty-year-old boyfriend.”
When Ima Chiclet brought him the form, he signed his scrawl to it and handed it over to Nova Kane.
“Wait a minute!” Little Thelma said. “Don’t sign it! I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to quit school.”
“There’s no baby. I thought there was a for a while but I was wrong.”
Nova Kane regarded Little Thelma with disgust and punched her in the mouth with her knuckles, a sort of backhanded slap. Little Thelma grunted; her mouth began to bleed.
“I should have drowned this one at birth,” Nova Kane said.
“I’ll come back to school on Monday,” Little Thelma said. “I’m going to tell Finn Wozniak tonight that I’m not going to see him anymore.”
“Enjoy your high school years while they last,” Mr. Middledyke said, his eyes welling with tears.
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp