Part 23: The big topic
Stories. Everywhere, stories.
Women learn of Kathy's infertility, and of Wendy's generous gift to her, and then their own stories spill out - stories about how they, too, cannot bear children, and how they finally dealt with that, either by adopting or by putting the whole matter aside.
It is a big topic one night during a ceramics class in Warwick. (Wendy has used some birthday money from Kathy to enroll them both in some sessions.)
A woman named Denise, who is applying some final glitter to a Santa figurine, volunteers that she has only one ovary, and that, about 20 years ago, she adopted two children who were only days old.
Several women look up from their work in surprise. "I didn't know that, Denise," says one.
Then Margo, the instructor, shares her story, about how she'd adopted a child, and 10 years later, unexpectedly gave birth to one.
A third woman, age 49, says she had surgery when she was in her 20s to resolve an infertility problem, but no children followed, so she gave up; she didn't want to adopt.
That's how widespread infertility is: Of the 10 or so women here, four, including Kathy, have a story - and those are just the ones who are talking.
The women explore the pros and cons of adoption; when and how to let children know they're adopted; how to deal with it when they become curious about their birth parents; the shocking number of child-abuse stories in the news these days; the progress of Wendy's pregnancy (she tells them about her iron deficit).
They talk and paint, talk and paint - but mostly talk.
"You know what?" says Margo the instructor, observing the group's slow progress on their figurines. "This is not a working night tonight, it seems like."
* * *
"She really loves her sister, actually feels for her sister," says manicurist Jo-Ann Silvo, referring to Wendy, who's getting her hair cut a few feet away and who isn't paying attention.
Wendy's been a customer of this salon on Reservoir Avenue in Cranston for years now (her hair stylist, Lenny Cioe, is the one who's always urging her to go into hairdressing,) and the entire staff knows about her being pregnant for Kathy and Joe.
"Can you imagine my sisters doin' it?" says Jo-Ann, 43, who underwent a hysterectomy when she was 27 to be rid of several tumors. "They'd be pulling the baby back and forth - 'It's mine!' 'No, it's mine!' "
The woman who's having her nails done looks up from her hands - "But you and your sister are close."
"There's close and then there's close," says Jo-Ann, filing away under a chrome spotlight. "That's a different close - when it comes down to the nitty-gritty." She motions toward Wendy in the nearby chair - "That is really a remarkable person there."
"I remember reading about it in Ladies Home Journal," says the customer, Virginia Candelmo, of Cranston, a starstruck expression on her face. "It's really happening."
* * *
Over in Lenny's chair, Wendy asks how he's doing.
"You're the one having the baby," he responds. "How you feeling?"
"Uncomfortable," she says, laying a hand on her belly. "Hard to get up. It's in the way."
With a small crochet hook, Lenny begins pulling strands of Wendy's hair through a plastic cap, for highlighting. And, as usual, the subject of Wendy going to hairdressing school comes up.
"You could go now," says Lenny, meaning after the baby's born.
Wendy looks skeptical, because what about Andy? Kathy and Joe are paying a helper to replace her on the truck now, but that's just till she recovers from the delivery.
Lenny keeps working. He has a good gig doing hair at the casino, he says. He could get her a spot.
"I don't know if I have the personality, though," says Wendy. "I'm shy. You gotta be outgoing, talk to people."
Lenny tells her she's more outgoing than she thinks; he points out that when she tells a story, she imitates the voices of everybody in it.
Wendy smiles as if both ashamed and proud of this talent. A career in hairdressing would be nice, she tells Lenny, but what about her family?
"Gotta take care of yourself, too," cautions Lenny. "You're gonna get to a point where you're gonna want more."
Wendy nods at their reflections in the mirror - "The counselor told me that, too."
But it'll be enough - for now, anyway - just to get back to her old life, she says. She wants to walk again without waddling, to not need a bathroom so much. She also wouldn't mind going out for a nice margarita.
"We need a break," she says. "Me and Andy need a break."