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Harriet wasn’t pretty at all. In fact, she looked odd. Her large, pale eyes bulged like lichees. As if that wasn’t enough, the eyeballs sometimes drifted lazily apart.

“She’s such a good woman,” I told Michael.

Harriet took care of an invalid downstairs, a heap of skin and bones in a wheelchair. I sometimes feared this would be Harriet’s fate: caring for one withered pile after another until she withered herself.

One day, Harriet asked if she could speak to me in private after work. I laid on tea and cookies and waited, wondering.

She got right to it.

“I’m pregnant,” she said, taking a bite of cookie, a sip of tea.

“Pregnant?” I gulped. I’d assumed...well...I’d imagined that Harriet led a different life. I smiled gently.

“May I ask who?” I said.

She shrugged. “Just a guy from work, from the clinic.”

Then Tom barreled in, wide-eyed, sparking with interest. Kids are like cats: they have that knack of arriving precisely where and when they’re most unwanted, quickly charming us into submission.

“Darling,” I said, “isn’t that program you love starting right now?”

“It just finished,” said Tom. “Hi Harriet.”

He sidled up to her. Harriet was a favourite with Tom. He found her eyes endlessly intriguing.

“Hi, bubblegumhead,” said Harriet, and Tom giggled.

Desperate measures. I jumped up and fished my purse from the cupboard.

“We’re out of ice cream. Who wants to go to the store?”

Tom thrust out his hand for money and exited.

“He’s a sweet little guy,” said Harriet wistfully.

“Yes, he’s a doll,” I said, “when he’s sleeping. Now, what about you? Does your friend...?” Tactfully, I paused. “Are you planning...?”

She sighed. “He doesn’t know. I never thought I could get pregnant. Female troubles...” She bit her lip. “And, the thing is, I might never get pregnant again.”

I hadn’t had a talk like this in ages. Mostly it was kids and recipes and Michael’s rants about politics and money. Few people came to me as someone wise, someone to be consulted. I felt a little dizzy with the weight of it. I leaned closer.

“Do you love him?” I asked.

Harriet looked past me out the window. One eye floated away.

“No,” she said. “But I’d love to have a child.”

I cleared my throat.

“Let’s look at the pros and cons. The pros are you want a child...and this, well, this could be your last chance.”

Harriet nodded.

“And the cons,” I went on, “what are the cons?”

“Money,” said Harriet. “I don’t have enough to raise a child alone.”

“That’s a big con,” I agreed.

“But I’m forty,” Harriet said, and began to cry.

I reached up and pressed her shoulder. I’d given birth late myself, knew how anguished you could feel at three in the morning, everything going downhill, flesh and spirit.

“Have it,” I suddenly blurted, “just have it. Let the future take care of itself.”

I went on passionately in this vein for a while, then stopped abruptly, sensing my fervor had pushed her in the opposite direction. Harriet smiled sadly.

“Thank you, Fran,” she said. “Thank you, thank you.”

“On the other hand,” I backtracked desperately, “Money’s a real problem.”

It was too late. Helplessly, I trailed her to the door. We smiled and hugged. We’ll talk again, I reassured myself, tomorrow, next week.

But next week, she had flown back to the States. A lovely girl from the Philippines replaced her. I tormented myself that drunk with being valued, with being heard, I’d blabbed away Harriet’s chance of being a mother.

Three years later I got a call from Harriet. She was in Tel Aviv revisiting old haunts.

“Come over,” I said.

An hour later, I opened the door and there she was, looking the same as ever, her arms full of baby.

“You had it,” I rejoiced.

“No, no,” she said, laughing, “I had an abortion.”


“Thank God for science,” said Harriet, cuddling her child.

The girl was a beauty. I patted her fat blond curls.

“Thank God,” I said.

“Harriet’s Last Chance” was published in The Apple Valley Review.


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