Jenna Hunterson could think of several other places she would rather be on a Thursday morning than the waiting room of St. Joseph’s, surrounded by a simpering selection of other mothers-to-be. She was meant to be in the diner, readying the pies for the day, and had already prepared a variety of excuses for Cal the cook regarding her lateness: “bus was late”, “bus wouldn’t start”, “driver was driving too slowly”. But here she was in a gynecologist’s waiting room, perched on the edge of a plastic chair, holding a freshly-baked pie in her lap. She scanned her eyes over the other patients, taking in odd scraps of their excitable conversations.
‘I’m having the kookiest food cravings,’ one girl said to her neighbor, reclining on her chair with two hands clasped under her barely-swollen belly.
‘Are you?’ the woman next to her replied.
‘I wanna chew gravel,’ the girl admitted, puffing her cheeks out.
‘That means you have an iron deficiency,’ said the woman sat across from the girl, leaning forward in her chair helpfully, ‘I add a handful of kale to my smoothie in the morning and it’s worked wonders.’
Jenna looked at this woman, at her perfectly-coiffed hair and glamourous maternity dress which stretched over her neat-and-tidy bump. She looked exactly like the kind of woman who would make kale smoothies in the morning. Hell, she probably even took the time to make sure her underwear matched. Jenna imagined that this woman was perfectly placed to raise a child, perhaps with a supportive husband and a nice house. In that moment, Jenna felt even more out-of-place.
It came as something of a relief when a plump nurse marched into the room and announced, ‘Mrs. Hunterson, the doctor will see you now.’
Before she could listen to any more conversations about stretch marks, or incontinence, or what other fresh hell awaited her with this predicament she found herself in, Jenna picked up her pie and scuttled after the nurse as she led her through to the doctor’s office.
Jenna could find some comfort, at least, in the fact that she knew her doctor well. Doctor Perkins was a kindly woman who had known Jenna all her life and had nursed her through various illnesses (including a savage case of the measles she’d had when she was eight). When she’d started baking pies with her mother as a small girl, she always made sure to bring one to every appointment, and Doctor Perkins had always waxed poetic over how wonderful they were. In amongst the confused chaos of Jenna finding herself pregnant, in a marriage which – to put it mildly - had gone stale years ago, she could take some solace in the fact that she had someone she trusted to guide her through it.
And so, she sat on the gynecologist table, having changed into a scratchy medical apron, with her bare feet crossed over each other, looking down at the pie she’d made for today’s appointment. She’d taken painstaking care over it, whipping the filling until there wasn’t even the suggestion of a lump, and picking out the most perfect and pristine mini marshmallows to garnish the top. It was Doctor Perkins’ favorite pie, and Jenna had been glad of the opportunity to focus her attention on making it as immaculate as possible.
Finally, the door swung open, and Jenna turned to greet her doctor. She was, however, faced not with the grey-haired, bespectacled woman she was expecting (needing) to see, but with a younger, dark-haired woman who was peering down at a clipboard and frowning.
‘Hello, Mrs. Bunterson,’ the woman greeted, not looking up.
‘Hunterson,’ Jenna corrected.
‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ the woman replied, stepping into the room and finally meeting Jenna’s eyes.
Jenna looked back at her, making little effort to hide her confusion. She took in a tall, slender figure, dressed in a crisp, white lab coat. An equally confused face, sat on top of a pair of broad shoulders, looked back at her.
‘Um, who are you?’ Jenna questioned.
The woman blinked several times, shifting her weight from one foot to the other.
‘I’m your doctor,’ she answered, almost as if it was an apology, ‘I’m Doctor Pomatter.’
Before Jenna could respond, Doctor Pomatter clocked the pie in her lap and smiled for the first time.
‘You brought a pie?’ she observed, sounding pleased, ‘You know, I’ve only been in town for a few weeks and I’m already so impressed by the genuine hospitality of this place.’
Jenna pursed her lips, watching as Doctor Pomatter looked down at her clipboard to scribble something down. Her accent wasn’t local, it was punchier, more like New England. Definitely out of town, in any case.
‘You’re not my doctor,’ Jenna disputed, knowing she was being impolite but feeling too disappointed to do anything about it, ‘Lily Perkins is my doctor.’ She gestured to the pie in her lap. ‘This pie is for her,’ she continued, ‘It’s Marshmallow Mermaid, her favorite.’
Doctor Pomatter sucked air through her teeth apologetically, shuffling her feet again.
‘I’m so sorry,’ she began, ‘But Doctor Perkins is no longer seeing patients. She’s semi-retired now.’
Jenna felt her heart plummet straight down to her bare toes.
‘What?’ she uttered, frowning.
‘Long story,’ Doctor Pomatter said, puffing her cheeks out.
Jenna looked at her steadily, somewhat impatiently, waiting for her to elaborate.
‘Making it short,’ Doctor Pomatter continued, clapping her hand on top of her clipboard for emphasis, ‘I’m the junior doctor on staff, I’m from Connecticut, I moved here two weeks ago, are you bored yet?’
‘Yes,’ Jenna retorted, without really thinking. Then she flushed with embarrassment. ‘I mean -’
‘I’m sorry,’ Doctor Pomatter said, laughing quietly and rocking back on her heels.
Jenna shook her head, rubbing the space between her eyebrows with her thumb and forefinger. She turned on the table, awkwardly while she held the pie in one hand, and faced the doctor properly.
‘Um. If you’re not comfortable having me as your doctor, that – that’s fine,’ Doctor Pomatter assured her, ‘My feelings won’t be hurt. You can just find another gynecologist in the area.’
‘Doctor Perkins delivered me, she’s been my doctor forever,’ Jenna explained desperately, ‘I really like and trust her.’
Doctor Pomatter took a tentative step towards her, lowering her clipboard and tilting her head a little.
‘Maybe you can really like and trust me, too?’ she offered, meeting Jenna’s eyes.
Jenna looked at her and sighed sharply. Doctor Pomatter looked steadily back at her, her expression earnest. There was something quite disarming about it, and Jenna felt suddenly self-conscious and broke their eye contact, looking back down at the pie and adjusting one of the marshmallows.
‘It doesn’t happen that fast, but I’ll try,’ she muttered petulantly.
‘Great, I’m your doctor!’ Doctor Pomatter proclaimed, punching one fist feebly in the air before looking like she immediately regretted it, ‘It’s lovely to meet you, Mrs. Bunterson.’
‘Hunterson, Hunterson,’ the doctor repeated, scribbling on her clipboard again, ‘What seems to be the problem?’
‘I seem to be pregnant,’ she said, the words feeling cold and unfamiliar as she said them, as if someone else was saying them. Hell, she wished it was someone else saying them, that this was all happening to someone else and not to her.
‘Oh, good! Good for you, congratulations,’ Doctor Pomatter said warmly, making more notes on her clipboard.
‘Thank you,’ Jenna replied, without emotion, ‘But I don’t – want this baby.’
It was the first time she’d admitted that to someone who wasn’t Dawn or Becky. She still hadn’t told Earl about it, and truth be told, she wasn’t completely sure how she was going to. There’d been a couple of opportunities for her to come clean, when he’d been in a rare good mood and, even more rare, moderately sober. But she was torn between wanting to keep him in a good mood, and telling him the one thing which would almost certainly sink him into a bad one.
‘Oh. Okay,’ Doctor Pomatter said softly, pulling Jenna from her thoughts, ‘Well, I could refer you to someone who would perform -’
‘Oh, no – I’m keeping it,’ Jenna said hastily, before adding, ‘Not that I judge – that. I’m just -’
The doctor looked at her openly, and she bit her lip, closing her eyes and pinching the space between her eyebrows again.
‘I’m not so happy about it,’ she admitted, ‘Like everyone else might be.’
She thought of the Misses Kale-Smoothies and Kooky-Food-Cravings in the waiting room. Sure, they had looked apprehensive, even nervous. They’d complained with candor of how their bodies were changing and how their feet hurt. But they’d also wrapped their hands around their swelling stomachs, patting them fondly and talking about names, and gender-reveal parties, and how they were going to decorate the nursery.
Jenna glanced at Doctor Pomatter and saw that she was still looking at her, waiting for her to finish.
‘So, I’m asking you to be sensitive to that,’ she requested tersely, ‘And not make a big deal out of it and congratulate me every time you see me.’
The doctor nodded, blinking a couple of times.
‘I’m having the baby, that’s that,’ Jenna concluded, ‘It’s not a party though.’
‘Got it,’ Doctor Pomatter said, finally, scribbling another note on her clipboard and reciting quietly, ‘Not – a – party.’
The two women looked at each other again for a moment, apparently unsure of how to proceed. They were soon interrupted, however, by the nurse opening the door and striding inside. She was armed with a clipboard and now had a pair of spectacles perched on the end of her nose.
‘’Scuse me, Doctor Pomatter, here are Mrs. Hunterson’s blood test results,’ she said, handing the clipboard to the doctor and shifting her spectacles further up her nose with one finger.
‘Thank you, Nurse Norma,’ Doctor Pomatter said, taking the clipboard and peering down at it.
Nurse Norma nodded and strode back out of the room, closing the door behind her and leaving the two women alone again. The doctor took a step closer to Jenna, examining the results closely. Her mouth quirked upwards in a sort of half-smile.
‘Un-congratulations,’ she said, ‘You are definitely having a baby.’
Jenna laughed without mirth.
‘Un-thank you,’ she quipped.
They both smiled at each other, feeling a little more comfortable than they had before. Doctor Pomatter looked down at her clipboard, clicked her pen a couple of times, and started making more notes.
‘Okay, so. Do you have any concerns? “Do”s and “don’t”s, exercise, sex…’
Jenna fidgeted, touching the end of her nose with her knuckle.
‘Don’t really do much of either,’ she said with a shrug, sniffing.
She looked up at the doctor again, to see her blinking rather rapidly back at her.
‘Okay,’ Doctor Pomatter replied, her tone of voice a little higher than before, ‘Well, um.’
She started writing on her clipboard again, and Jenna began to wonder what on earth she could have to make so many notes about. Her gaze fell to the woman’s hand as it wrote: it was her left hand, with a simple, silver ring on the fourth finger. Looking up, Jenna also noticed that the doctor’s cheeks had turned pink.
‘Here’s a prescription for your prenatal vitamins,’ Doctor Pomatter said, clearing her throat delicately and holding the slip of paper out to Jenna. She let go before Jenna could take a firm grasp of it, however, and it began a gentle descent to the floor. Both women tried to grab it at the same time, their hands brushing against each other as they did so. The doctor managed to snatch it before it hit the ground, straightening up and holding it out to Jenna again, who took it. They both laughed a little awkwardly.
‘Um, Nurse Norma will give you a bad food list, but basically no alcohol or caffeine,’ Doctor Pomatter said hurriedly, ‘Really nice meeting you, Jenna. I’ll want to see you again in three weeks.’
Jenna nodded, taking a quick look at the prenatal vitamins she’d been prescribed. The doctor turned away from her, busying herself with rearranging the various pieces of medical equipment on a desk by the wall.
‘Doctor Pomatter, I do have one question,’ she said.
‘Yes?’ the doctor said, turning to look at her.
‘How pregnant am I?’ Jenna asked.
Doctor Pomatter glanced down at her clipboard for something like the hundredth time.
‘You are eight weeks, give or take,’ she told her.
‘Okay, so I won’t start showing for a while, right?’
‘Good, that gives me a little time,’ Jenna mumbled, folding up the prescription with one hand and holding it.
Doctor Pomatter took a tentative step towards her, holding a consoling arm out.
‘You know, it’s quite beautiful,’ she began, ‘When a woman’s body -’
‘Nope,’ Jenna cut her off, hopping down from the table and marching towards the door, still holding the pie in both hands.
‘Sorry,’ the doctor said, laughing.
Jenna turned to her, giving her a small smile.
‘Doctor Pomatter, I’m gonna give you this pie,’ she said, holding the pie out in a gesture of reconciliation.
‘That looks absolutely delicious,’ the doctor replied gratefully, ‘But I’m off sugar.’
‘Huh?’ Jenna uttered.
‘Yup. It actually causes leptin resistance, chromium deficiency, decreased longevity…’ Doctor Pomatter reeled off.
Jenna smiled wistfully, even though she had little idea of what the doctor had just said.
‘My mama used to say you could live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you wanna live to be a hundred,’ she offered.
The doctor shrugged. ‘The longer you’re away from it, the less you crave it. I haven’t had a slice of pie in years.’
Jenna’s mouth fell open at that. When pies were so prevalent in her life and had been since she was a child, the concept of someone not eating it was completely alien to her.
‘Really?’ she breathed, tutting.
The doctor nodded at her, smiling.
Pressing her lips into a line, Jenna plonked the pie down on the gynecologist table.
‘Life’s hard enough,’ she said softly, throwing the doctor a shy smile as she walked out of the room.
Jenna burst into Joe’s Pie Diner at around 9.30, over half an hour later than she was expected to arrive. At least there weren’t many customers at this time of the day; the bigger rush tended to be around the middle of the day, with the diner being a favored location for lunchtime meetings. But still, she felt flustered, and out of breath, and there was a persistent churning sensation in her stomach which she didn’t like.
‘Late,’ Cal barked at her, hands on his hips.
‘Sorry, Cal, the bus driver was half asleep,’ Jenna mumbled, hoping she sounded convincing. She threw Dawn, who was rearranging the condiment bottles on the counter, a half-smile by way of a greeting.
‘Why doesn’t that husband of yours get you a car?’ the man asked.
‘He don’t want me going nowhere,’ Jenna said sharply, slinging her satchel bag below the counter and finding her name badge.
Cal did not press the matter further; he instead turned his attention to Becky, who had sidled in behind one of the pie racks.
‘And you,’ he hissed, almost incandescent.
Becky emerged, strutting forth in a denim jacket and sunglasses, a red bag slung over one shoulder.
‘You are inches away from being fired,’ Cal threatened, jabbing one finger in her direction.
‘Okay,’ Becky replied, entirely nonplussed, ‘Then fire me.’
‘Okay, I will.’
Becky removed her sunglasses, pursed her lips and raised one challenging eyebrow.
‘Okay, then do.’
The pair of them glared at each other. Jenna exchanged curious looks with Dawn. The tension was such that she half expected one of them to whip out a pistol, as if they were having a face-off in the Wild West. Cal stood down, however, slinking over to the back of the diner and into the kitchen. Becky strode behind the counter, stowing away her jacket and bag.
‘How was the doc?’ she hissed at Jenna, who was pushing a rack full of fresh pies across the diner towards the table in the window.
‘It was fine,’ Jenna replied, as she took out each pie in turn and placed them on individual stands, ‘It’s a new doctor.’
‘Oh, is he single? He might be good for Dawn,’ Becky asked in excitement.
Dawn giggled a little too rapidly.
‘She,’ Jenna clarified, swiveling a cherry and almond pie around so its best side was facing the window.
‘Oh,’ Becky said with a shrug, ‘Is she single? She might be good for Dawn.’
‘Becky,’ Dawn squeaked, thwacking the older woman on her arm with her rolled-up apron.
‘Nothing wrong with keeping your options open, girl,’ Becky said, holding her hands up and laughing.
‘She had a ring on,’ Jenna told them, grinning, ‘She was nice. Nervous. From Connecticut.’
‘Connecticut? What the hell’s she doing here?’ Becky asked, astounded.
Jenna hadn’t really given the matter much consideration. Moving from Connecticut to a small town on the borders of Kentucky seemed a strange action to take, now she thought of it. But it was none of her business.
‘I have no idea,’ she admitted.
Becky shrugged but changed the subject immediately by producing a large gift bag from behind the counter.
‘Park yourself, girl, we’ve got something for you,’ she said, pulling out a chair, which was promptly sat in by Dawn. ‘Not you,’ she said in fond exasperation. Dawn nodded and stood up again.
‘Oh, you shouldn’t have!’ Jenna said, sitting down and taking the gift bag from Becky’s hands.
She reached into the bag and pulled out a thick, square, ring-bound notebook. Holding it in both hands, she turned it over, and when she saw what was printed on the cover, she felt immediately deflated. There it was, her desperate and impossible situation, staring at her defiantly in a pink, swirly font.
‘“What a Mama You’re Gonna Be”,’ she read aloud, trying desperately to appreciate the sentiment behind the gift and sound grateful.
‘I researched all the best baby books, and this one is so sweet,’ Dawn told her, taking the book from Jenna to open it and flick to one particular, floral-bordered page, ‘Look! “Dear Baby”. There’s a page for you to write your first letter to your baby.’
Jenna gave her a wry smile.
‘Yeah, that’s really great,’ she said, not meeting Dawn’s eyes and fixing her gaze on the floor. She could see her friend’s shoulders droop in her peripheral vision, which just made her feel worse.
Becky walked around the table to stand next to Jenna, resting a hand on the back of her chair.
‘We know you didn’t immediately have a strong happiness about this pregnancy,’ she began, gently, ‘But she is coming anyway, so you might as well get used to -’
‘We don’t know it’s a “she”,’ Jenna interjected, ‘Could be an alien.’
Becky and Dawn didn’t laugh.
‘Are you really not feeling any affection towards this little baby?’ Becky asked her.
‘Not at all?’ Dawn added.
Jenna winced. She knew that a large part of why she was so resentful of her situation was that it felt like a shackle. A shackle which attached her to a man from whom she was so desperate to escape. But there was also a different feeling within her, buried in amongst the darker ones of hopelessness. She knew that this baby had had no say in being conceived or in being brought into the world. They were just the result of a string of bad decisions on her part, on his part too, and that was no fault of theirs. She felt a tiny twinge of protectiveness, a desire for them to have a smooth ride of it (till they were born, at least). But affection?
‘Not everyone wants to be a mama, Dawn,’ she said quietly, ‘That doesn’t make me a bad person.’
Before either of her friends could respond to this admission, however, Cal came slouching over with his hands on his hips, yelling, ‘Can I interest the book club in some coffee and a slice of Sit-On-Your-Ass pie?’
‘That’s a good one, Cal,’ Becky said with heavy sarcasm, as Jenna and Dawn leaped to their feet to get back to work, ‘Keep ‘em coming.’