Candy Canes, Part 3 - Is forever a thing?


Carol Cooper sat on a fold out chair in front of a walnut casket from the Batesville company. It was mid morning on a Tuesday in April at the Odd fellows cemetery. She smelled the damp grass and the freshly turned soil. Mike Cooper was laying there in that Batesville casket looking a lot more peaceful than he had the week before. His hands were folded serenely across his chest. The cancer finally got him. It took him away and left Carol and his year old daughter, Nicole, behind.

Carol watched Mike's family pull up in their big cars and file into their seats.  They were a lot of help the last few days, loading up her refrigerator with casseroles and cold chicken. Strange, in the weeks before Mike died, they only came over to turn up their noses at her messy house. Where was all the help then, when she really needed it?  There was sweet Aunt May, taking her seat and barely throwing her a glance.  A few weeks ago, she was at her home, perched on the edge of the couch looking sideways at the clothes on the floor and Nicole in her crib.

"If there's anything I can do," Aunt May had said. "Please, let me know."

Carol thought, my husband is in our bedroom dying of cancer, there's dirty clothes on the machine and dishes in the sink, and you have to ask? 

"Of course, I will," said Carol.

There was silence while Carol changed Nicole.

"Mike is looking a little pale today," said Aunt May.

"Well, he has cancer," said Carol.

Silence again.

"I guess I should be going," Aunt May said. "Remember, if there is anything I can do."

"I'll be sure and call," said Carol.

The Cooper family had a thing about death. Everybody does, and everybody deals with it in their own way. For the Coopers, dealing with it meant not dealing with it. Before things got bad, really bad, before Mike became a skeleton, before his skin turned red from the radiation and before his hair fell out, well, the Coopers could be counted on to lend a hand here and there. They would watch Nicole sometimes during appointments or drop by to chat. The house was clean then. As Mike degraded, everything else degraded right along with him. The priorities changed.

One day, Mike said "We don't have a lot of time left."

"I know," said Carol. "I try not to think about it." 

There were all kinds of things Carol tried not to think about.  For instance, how Mike's voice was just a whisper most days, when it wasn't slurred by the meds. Or how about the biggie, what the hell was she going to do after he was gone?

"We should make some plans," said Mike.  "You know, about the services. That kind of thing."

"I guess your family will want to be there," said Carol.

"Always with the smart ass answer," said Mike, but he was smiling. "That's my girl."

"Forever," said Carol, and then she started to cry. Damn it, she thought. Forever wasn't as long as it used to be.

Mike would have cried with her, but he didn't have the strength, so he just held her hand.  They sat that way for awhile.

A few days later, Mike slipped into a state that was neither dead or alive.  He lay there on the bed in a fetal position, his breath rattling horribly in his chest, his lips blue from the meds.

"He's not in pain," the hospice nurse had said.

There wasn't much to say to that, so Carol just nodded, thinking, small favors.

The death watch had begun. The Coopers phoned for updates. Carol rocked Nicole next to Mike's bed. Everything took on a certain fuzziness. Carol felt like an actor in a bad movie. The script sucked, the lighting sucked, the sets were crappy. Who paid for this? She wanted out. She was calling her agent first thing.

It happened early in the morning on the third day. Everything just stopped. All the hustle and bustle of living with cancer, the appointments, the driving, all of that ended because they weren't living with it anymore. Mike was just gone.

Just like that, it was Carol and Nicole and no one else...

20 years later, and here was Nicole, sitting at Carol's kitchen table, in trouble again.

"What did I do wrong?" asked Carol.

"I'm the one who's pregnant," said Nicole.

"I wish your father were alive," said Carol.

"You think this is because of daddy issues?" said Nicole.

"No," said Carol. "I don't know, maybe. You might be less of a smart ass if your dad had been around. You want more coffee?"

"Is that bad for the baby?"

"The coffee or your smart lip?"

"Are we really going to do this?" asked Nicole.

"What, I was joking," said Carol. "Anyway, my only child is pregnant and has no idea who the father is, so I might get a little surly once in awhile."

Nicole opened her mouth, thought for a second, then said "Okay, you got me there."

"I raised you by myself," said Carol "That was the last thing I wanted for my own child, to be a single parent.  And here you are."

"I get that I screwed up," said Nicole. "I really do. Do I have to be constantly reminded of what an idiot I am? I'm on the mercy of the court here, Mom, I just need your help."

"What am I supposed to do?" said Carol. "I'm still angry. It's hard for me to be helpful when I'm angry."

"Just be here for me, mom.  Holy cow, do I have to spell it out? Your my mother, this should all be instinct," said Nicole.

"Will you go to church with me?" asked Carol.

"No," said Nicole. "That didn't take when I was a kid, it won't take now."

"It's the only way," said Carol.

"Look, that might be what worked for you, but it won't work for me. You know what will work for me? You just being my mom. How about that?"

"You need God," said Carol.

"I need my mom," said Nicole.

Nicole watched her mother busy herself with making another pot of coffee. The silence wasn't hard. It never was with her mother, no matter what was between them.

With the coffee brewing, Carol sat down and said "I'm always your mom."

"I know that," said Nicole. "I  don't want to go through this watching YouTube videos and Googling everything. I just want to ask my mom. Is that too much to ask?"

"But if you would just..."

"If you're relying on God and I'm relying on you, what's the difference?" said Nicole.

That stopped Carol. She furrowed her brows and sipped her coffee. Finally she said "That actually makes sense."

"Don't act so shocked," said Nicole.

"I'm still mad at you," said Carol.

"Yeah, but now you have to work at it," said Nicole. 

Next up:  And baby makes two















Candy Canes, Part 2 - Pregnancy 101

Nicole wasn't without resources.  She thought about her mother, then the internet, but finally settled on her best friend Judy Barnes, herself the mother of a 5 year old child named Bailey.  She had watched Judy finish her senior year of high school carrying Bailey all the way, giving birth to her a month after graduation.

Nicole punched Judy's number and then endured 20 seconds of some unidentifiable 10 year old hip hop ringtone before she answered.

"Hello?" said Judy.

"Holy crap," said Nicole. 

"Oh, hi Nicole," said Judy. "And shut up, that's a classic."

"So were parachute pants and disco," said Nicole.

"You know you love it," said Judy.  "What's the haps?"

"Well, I kind of have an issue and I think you can help me with it."

"What kind of issue?"

"Let's just say you are the voice of experience," said Nicole.

"Sister, there's only one thing I've ever done that you haven't..."

The phone went silent for a moment. 

Finally, Judy said "Who?"

"I don't know," said Nicole.  "I was at a party a few weeks ago, had a little bit too much, one thing led to another, I guess."


"Judy?" said Nicole.  "Just say it, I'm a slut, I know..."

"Holy cow, let a girl process, will you?" said Judy.  "And stop with the self shaming.  I might go with irresponsible, maybe stupid, but a slut you are definitely not."

"Anyway, let's get together, " said Nicole. "Please.  I mean, I can do some research, and I will, but I just need to talk about this with somebody other than my mother."

"Not a bad resource," said Judy.

"My mom?  You've met her, right? Nobody puts you in your place quicker with an arched eyebrow and a stiff shot of fire and brimstone than she does," said Nicole.

"She was a single parent, am I right?" said Judy.

"Yeah, but does she have to be so damn judgmental?" said Nicole, with some heat.

 "But still, " said Judy, ignoring the tone. "She might know some things, is all I'm saying."

Nicole took a breath.  "I hear you," she said. "But for now I just want to get together with my best friend and talk about dumb party girl tricks over coffee."

"I know a place," said Judy.

The next morning, they went to Morning Rush, a little hole in the wall coffee shop downtown where hipsters and students sat at tall tables and frowned at their laptops and drank frothy coffee drinks in tall mugs.  .

Looking around, Nicole said, "What is this, Friends?"

"I know," said Judy.  "But they have good coffee."

They settled in.

"Well, so you went and did it," said Judy.

"I guess I did," said Nicole.  "Not on purpose."

"Nobody ever does, sister," said Judy.

A twenty something stopped by and took their coffee orders. 

Nicole watched the waitress leave, then said "I really don't know what to say."

"You don't have to say anything," Judy said.  "This is me you're talking to, remember?"

"I know," said Nicole.  

"How did your mom take it?" 

"Pretty much like I expected.  Gloom and doom and get your ass to church."

"Gotta love her," said Judy.

"I know right?" said Nicole.  "But even with that, she was actually pretty supportive.  She even asked me to move back in."

"See, it's not all bad."

"Of course I declined," said Nicole.  She laughed a little bit, then turned away. 

"I know," said Judy.  "It's a shock to the system."

"I'm such an idiot," Nicole said, sniffing.

"Of course you were," said Judy.  "So was I.  Dumb.  Now here we are."

"I don't know what to do," said Nicole.

"It's scary as hell," said Judy.  "But it worked out for me."

"But you've got a man," said Nicole.  "I mean, not that you need one, but the extra support has to be nice."

"Now I do," said Judy.  "But that's incidental, baby.  I was going to keep that kid no matter what."

"I don't know if I'm that strong."

"Excuse me," said Judy, " But, bitch please.  You are the strongest woman I know."

"I don't feel much like it," said Nicole.  "I wish..."

"Wishes are for chumps," said Judy.  "You have to go with what you got."

Nicole looked at her best friend sitting there in her little sun dress with her hair up and lipstick on her coffee cup and wondered what happened to the little idiot who used to honk at the boys and pop her gum in class. 

"Quit looking at me like that," said Judy.

"What did you do with Judy?" said Nicole, but she was laughing now.

"Motherhood does that to you," said Judy. 

"What else does it do to you," asked Nicole.  "I mean, what happens when you, I mean, when..."

"Oh, sister, there's whole lot of other wonderful things that happen when you're pregnant, stuff that'll make your life miserable long before that baby pops out."

"That's really why I wanted to talk to you," said Nicole.  "I want to know what I have to look forward to."

"It's like your worst period on steroids, except without the blood.  We're talking bloating, heartburn, swelling, I could go on and on.  For me, that was just in the first month or so."

"Oh," said Nicole.

"You could actually Google all this stuff, you know," said Judy.  "Anyway, then there's the constipation and the hemorrhoids."


"Oh, yeah," said Judy.  "And, oh my god, you're peeing all the time.  And throwing up, too."

"All the time?"

Judy looked at her friend, all big eyed and scared, and couldn't help but smile.  "Sometimes all at once," she said.

"What are you grinning about?" said Nicole.  "I'm in trouble here."

"You bet you are," said Judy.

"You were supposed to ease my mind," said Nicole.

"You want peace of mind or the real deal?  Look, I won't lie, it's not going to be easy.  But for me, it was worth it.  The best thing I've ever done."

They were silent, sipping their coffee.

Nicole said, "I'm keeping this baby."

"I knew that," said Judy. 

"You did?"

"There wasn't a doubt in my mind," said Judy.  "I know you sister, and the kind of person you are. And for the record, I think you'll be a great mother."

"I'm scared, Judy."

Judy laughed.  "Hell, Bailey's 5 years old and I'm still scared to death. Welcome to motherhood!"

Next up:  Mama's gotta preach




Candy Canes, Part One - Consequences

Nicole Cooper would be the first to tell you that she’s had a hard life.  She would also be the first to tell you that most of it was her fault.  It seemed that since her junior year in high school her life had been a series of crappy decisions.  From booze to boys to cars and innumerable late nights, Nicole did everything without any thought at all as to consequence or even a moment’s pause to let some semblance of common sense calm her seeming headlong rush to self destruction.

So there she was, twenty years old and laying in her bed one too bright morning, so hung over that she wished she could blow her own head off with a shot gun, just to stop the lurching, greasy nausea that roiled in her stomach on a sea of undigested late night fast food and tequila shooters.  The events of the previous late night were hazy.  She vaguely remembered a lot of grunting and groping and now here she was in her own bed (thank God!), her clothes disheveled and smelling of Pabst Blue Ribbon and cigarettes, and she thought, what have I done?  While she never had put much stock in Old Testament fire and brimstone, much to the chagrin of her religious mother, some small part of her, lurking there in the back of her head just behind her pulsating head ache, was ashamed.

She told herself many things over the next few days, but the biggest lie was also the oldest—chances are you won’t get pregnant after one time, so you probably won’t.  It worked, too, that little fib, and for awhile she actually felt better.  She would chalk it up to a lesson learned and be more careful next time.  And then she missed her period.

She went through three at home pregnancy tests, each time watching the little blue cross materialize in front of her like one of Dickens’s Christmas ghosts visiting her with rattling chains and visions of things to come, before the reality of what had happened hit home—she was pregnant.  Unlike Scrooge, there was no time to change her ways and thus her future.  No matter what she did from this point, she was going to be a mother.  

Her first thought was to call her own mother.  She didn’t really know why, her mom had never been a bastion of support and understanding.  Nicole felt like she had to call somebody, though, and maybe getting an earful of old testament judgmental platitudes was just what the doctor ordered to justify her current state of self loathing.

Nicole listened to the phone buzz on the other end.  Carol, her mother, picked up.

“Hello,” said Carol.

“Mom,” said Nicole. “I have something to tell you.”

“Oh dear god,” said Carol.  “What is it now?”

“Maybe it’s good news, have you ever thought about that?” said Nicole.  “You always get yourself so worked up.”

“Alright, I’m sorry, your right.  Maybe you’ve met a nice boy, or you won the lottery…”

“Mom, don’t be ridiculous.”

“It could happen,” said Carol.  “So what is it?”

“I guess you could say you were half right,” said Nicole.

“Which half?”

“The nice boy part.  At least I think he’s a nice boy.”

“You don’t know?”

“Mom, I’m pregnant,” said Nicole.


“Mom?  Are you still there?” 

“I knew this was going to happen,” said Carol.

“What?  You knew?  Why didn’t you give me some warning?  I could have prepared better, read some books,” said Nicole.

“Don’t be flip,” said Carol.

“No, really, am I such a big slut that getting pregnant was a foregone conclusion?”

“It’s irresponsible,” said Carol.

“Mom…it was, okay, I know that.  I have to deal with it now,” said Nicole.

“How could you not know who the father is?” asked Carol.

"Mom," said Nicole.

"Like two cats yowling under the window, for god's sake."

"Nice, Mom," said Nicole.

"It's disgusting," said Carol.

"I'm still your daughter," said Nicole.

“This is punishment, you know that, right?” said Carol.  “All that running around, you never go to church, you see what happens?”

“Thanks, mom,” said Nicole.

“I’m serious,” said Carol.  

“I know you are,” said Nicole.   Then she said "I'm having this baby."

“You can barely tie your shoes, for god's sake," said Carol.  "You leave dishes in the sink.  You let your milk go bad.  You're going to have a baby?"

"I know I have to be more responsible," said Nicole.  "Don't you think I know that?"

"You don't know what you're in for," said Carol.

“Are you going to be there for me?” asked Nicole.

"Now you want me to be there for you.  Now.  You never listen to me, you think you know everything, now this.  Maybe if you'd listened to me before..."

"My life would be perfect, of course," said Nicole.  She paused.  "Look, Mom, I didn't call to fight with you.  I just...I don't want to do that anymore.  I haven't been the best daughter in the world, I know that."

“Oh dear god,” Carol said again.

Nicole sighed.  "I'm going to hang up now and let this gel with you for a bit."

“This is what you get,” said Carol.

“I love you, mom.”

Hanging up, Nicole thought, that went well.  The phone rang almost immediately.

“You can have your room back, if you want,” said Carol.

“Mom, I’m not moving back in,” said Nicole.

“I have to take care of you,” said Carol.

“Mom, I’m pregnant, not an invalid."

"Read your bible.  Love you, too,” said Carol.  She hung up.

Next up:  Nicole finds out what she's in for....