Betty Jane Hegerat

Excerpts

Running Toward Home by Betty Jane Hegerat (NeWest Press 2006)

excerpt from Chapter 3

Every six months, right before his visit with his mom, Corey was afraid that he wouldn’t know her. That she’d dye her hair blonde, cut it short, and start to dress like a woman instead of like a girl. Tina grabbed him and squeezed his face into the hollow of her throat. Her skin was damp against his cheek, as though she’d just showered. A crinkly cloud of hair tickled his ears. She smelled of coconut, of the shampoo she’d used forever, or at least as long as he could remember. When she spoke, the breath of cinnamon gum – always the sugarless kind in the red package – didn’t quite cover the trace of cigarette. He wondered how long she’d try to hide the fact that she was smoking again.

“Holy crap! You grew another six inches.” She spun around behind him and stood back to back, her hand levelled and patting to find the top of his head. “Get a load of this!  You’re as tall as I am.”

“No way. You’re still taller than me. I’m still the shortest one in my class.” Corey’s gaze travelled beyond the fence, through the long grass, around the pond. He’d glimpsed the pacing tiger when he was first inside the gate, but now the cat had disappeared.

“Good. I don’t want you to turn into a gorilla.” Looping a cool arm through his, she pulled him into the flow of people on the path. “I’m cold. Let’s find some sunshine and sit down.” She broke away and ran, her hair lifting in the wind like the tail of some exotic bird with Corey following, zigging and zagging and then grabbing her arm and tugging to the right.

“Hey, Tina, there’s a new gift shop. Let’s look.”

“For Chrissake, we just got here. Do we have to buy something already?”

He pulled away, stung. He never asked her to buy him stuff. Never. She must have been with somebody else’s kids lately to be so crabby. Paulette’s probably. One of the things he could be glad about, living away from Tina, was that he didn’t have to hang out with that bunch of losers anymore.

Every sunny bench was occupied, and Tina kept moving, never looking back to be sure he was still with her. Finally, they sprinted over a large expanse of lawn across from the elephant house and he caught up with her at the edge of a bed of flowers. Breathing hard, she doubled over for a few seconds, and then sat cross-legged on the grass. “Let’s talk,” she said. She pounded the piece of lawn beside her.

Corey sank onto his knees. His legs were doing funny things when he ran. Moving on their own. All he could feel was a rubbery ping like elastic bands. When he looked down, it was like watching someone else’s legs pumping away under him. He’d woken up this morning with a taste in his throat that made him want to puke. Now he tried to stop the gulps of air that were like sandpaper on his throat. He shifted so that he was sitting cross-legged like Tina. Spread his arms out at his sides and ran his shaking hands over the grass, balancing himself.  Breathing slow and careful. “What do you want to talk about?” he asked.

“Duhhh? I haven’t seen you since your birthday. Maybe how are you? What’s new?  Are those new people treating you good?”

“They aren’t new. I’ve been there almost six months. That’s like some kind of a record.”

The thick grass, when she ripped at it with clawed fingers made a sound like fabric tearing. “Thanks, Cor. I love being reminded that you’re kicking around foster homes because everyone thinks I’m a lousy mother.” She trailed her hand over their bare legs, anointing them with a drift of green.

Corey stared at his thighs, too tired to brush them clean. Good start. Five minutes and she was already pissed off. “Sorry.”  He mumbled the word again. “Sorry.” Sorry, Tina.  I didn’t mean it, Tina. Don’t worry, Tina. Must have been the first sentence he ever said. Sorry, sorry. Sorry Corey, that was him.

Excerpt Chapter 28( pg 114)

The old man plodded from room to room, window to window in the dark cage of his house. How strange that he could still feel the imprint of a small body against his chest. And yet why wouldn’t he, on this night that was teeming with the memory of his children, all of them beyond his reach?  Hadn’t he carried them all just so, room to room?

Anna, so docile, he’d come home from the shop to find her in her crib rubbing the satin hem of the blanket on her cheek,  her mother snoring on the bed a few feet away. He would feel such guilt at having left the two of them alone all day. that he carried Anna against his shoulder from the time he came in the door until she was fed, and bathed, and so deep in sleep she scarcely stirred when he returned her to the crib. Such guilt at dragging Bepp across the ocean, away from her mother and her sisters who would surely have kept her afloat, that he cooked an evening meal, tended the baby, tidied the house and then nudged Bepp to her own side of the bed when he crawled in. When the alarm woke him at four, it was time to start the day over again. Often he would find Bepp in the kitchen. Rubbing her eyes, holding her head in her hands, working so hard to pretend she was fine.

“I’m going to make gehaktballen for supper, Cor.  Leave me money for the meat, please. I’ll put Anna in the buggy and walk to the store.” Then she’d press her fingertips to her temples where the skin was like skim milk, a blue vein pulsing. “But I have such a headache.” There would be no meatballs when he came home, and Anna would be playing quietly in her crib.

Shadowy little Anna, so agreeable that after Bepp died and Anna turned into a teenager, he never guessed she was taking off her panties for every boy who looked her way. He thought she was with her friends after school. It turned out she had no friends. She has poor judgement, Mr. Brinkman, they told him. Back then they didn’t know that his baby daughter had been poisoned by the alcohol her mother drank. They knew only that she was incapable of making the right choices.

Anna had stayed until Tina was three years old, but only because he’d bullied and threatened and paid a woman to look after the both of them while he worked. A babysitter for the baby and the mother. Finally, one night she’d climbed out her bedroom window after he fell asleep rocking Tina. She’d never come back. Once, the police phoned to say they’d found her in Toronto, but by then she was a week away from her eighteenth birthday and what was the point, they asked, of sending her home. If Anna was still alive, she was forty-three years old. She didn’t know she had a twelve-year-old grandson.

Somewhere too, there was a man from long ago, a boy more likely, whose brown eyes were flecked with gold, whose body was slim and lithe and moved like quicksilver, who didn’t know he’d fathered a child. The first time he held Tina, Cornelius Brinkman had felt compelled to check the tiny wristband and the placard on the plastic bassinette.  Baby Girl Brinkman bore no resemblance to any other Brinkman female he’d ever seen, nor to the fair, soft bodied, blue-eyed women in Bepp’s family. When Corey was only a few hours old, his Opi looked into his eyes and saw the same sparks of gold. That child was as familiar as a fingerprint.

Excerpt from Delivery by Betty Jane Hegerat (Oolichan Books 2009) pg 31

He was such a stickler for rules, Winston. So afraid of losing his funding, being kicked out of the country. When Heather told Winston she was pregnant – he was the first one to know – he looked as though every drop of blood had whooshed out of his body. His face went all dusty grey, even his lips.

She was amazed he didn’t ask how that could have happened. Glad she didn’t have to admit that she stopped taking her birth control pills after the first couple of weeks because they were making her fat. She really did intend to use something else, and meanwhile she’d counted on the condoms. She’d insisted on condoms – all that sex education about STDs wasn’t wasted on her –and Winston was so agreeable to everything. So careful too, she couldn’t believe they got caught.

“What are we going to do?” he asked. “Oh my.” He held his head in his hands. They were standing in his messy kitchen. “What’s this going to do to my student visa?”

“Settle down,” Heather said. “Like I’m going to report you to the Dean of Grad Studies? I might have an abortion.” She could see him exhale, so relieved. “But then again I might not.”

“Heather, don’t do this to me!”

“Do what? Seems to me I’m the one who’s been done.” She’d already imagined Jack reacting this way, like she’d planned this to cause him trouble and a whole lot of embarrassment, but she hadn’t expected the same from Winston.

“No, no,” he said, and pulled her down onto the sofa. “I didn’t mean it that way. I mean don’t tease me that way. Tell me what you’re going to do.”

“I don’t know!”

“Well then, let’s discuss this.” He looked quite frantically around the little basement suite. “We could get married.”

“Married?” She shook her head, and shoved a pile of clothes off the sofa to move farther away from him. “I do not want to be married. Not to anyone, so don’t take it personally. God, Winston, that’s not a solution.”

“Why not? It would help getting my permanent residence card.” He had the decency to look embarrassed. “That’s not the only reason, Heather. We could be fine together with a baby I think. Yes, fine.”

“Well I think not,” she said. “Especially not the baby part. If I don’t have an abortion, I’ll probably give it up for adoption.”

Excerpt from Delivery pg 160

Lynn sits down, her foot automatically setting the rocking chair in motion. She puts her head back, closes her eyes. She has Jack’s voice echoing in her mind, and he will not go away. She’s beginning to doubt that he’ll ever truly go away, even though he’s now married to someone else. It seems that from that day she met him in the Students’ Union Cafeteria, she was fated to be tied to Jack Bishop for life.

For three months Lynn and Jack were together almost every day, and she felt as though she was changing into some other girl. It frightened her at times, the sense that she was losing her old self. Then one day, after Jack cancelled a date because he had to study for an exam the next day, she saw him arm-in-arm with one of those girls she would have expected him to date. She didn’t take his calls, went home for Christmas and managed to avoid him when she got back. Two weeks after she confirmed that she was pregnant, she bumped into him in the hallway of the Tory Building and he grabbed her arm when she tried to squirm past.

She agreed to meet him after her class, and all through the lecture she worked the words around in her head. She hadn’t intended to tell Jack. Not ever. But when he’d stopped her as though nothing was changed, she wanted him to know what he’d done. He linked his arm through hers. As soon as they exited the building, she pulled him off the path, and stood on tiptoes to look him in the eye. “I’m pregnant.”

He looked genuinely puzzled. As though he didn’t know the meaning of the word, or at least that it had no context in his life. “Oh, you can’t be,” he said. Remembering, she was sure, the great care he’d taken with condoms, the reassurance he’d given her that he had everything under control.

“There isn’t any question about it, Jack. I had a pregnancy test and I am.”

He grabbed her arm and steered her across the street, away from the campus and along the high bank of the North Saskatchewan River. Neither of them said a word until they began a twisty descent into Emily Murphy Park.  Jack’s face was as white as the birch bark trunks they skirted. “How the hell did that happen?” It was clear he didn’t expect her to answer. He charged on ahead, kicking branches and last year’s leaves from the path.

At a picnic table a stone’s throw from the water, Jack dropped his books between them when he sat. Lynn clenched the edge of the bench, and stared at the river, glancing every few seconds at his clenched jaw. Finally, he ran his hands through his hair and then clasped his head as though he was in pain.

“Oh God, Lynn, what are we going to do about it?”

The sharp little edges of the word bounced between them. “It?”

“The pregnancy.”

“Oh. The pregnancy.”

“What’s wrong?” He turned and put his hands on her shoulders, reaching across the gulf. Two magpies scolded from a log a few feet away. Lynn glanced down at the remains of a hotdog bun under the table. Splash of yellow mustard against white bun, against black earth.

“I stopped thinking about ‘it’ when I found out ‘it’ was true, Jack. Since then I’ve been thinking about a baby.”

“Stop. Don’t think like that. I know someone who has some connections. We can get you an abortion.”

Lynn was terrified at the thought of having a baby. But she’d already phoned home, and her mom and dad were coming to Edmonton in two days to help her “make plans.” Even if she hadn’t been more terrified at the thought of an abortion, it was too late.

“We can’t get married, Lynn. You know that, don’t you?”

Of course she knew that. She’d never expected to marry Jack Bishop. Nor anyone else for that matter. She thought she’d get her Arts degree, then join CUSO. That was what her mother kept pushing her to do — get an education, travel, stay out of the rut.

“I’ll work it out,” she said. “You don’t need to be involved. I’m giving the baby up for adoption.”

2 Comments »

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    Comment by Cigarette Pants — November 11, 2011 @ 4:13 am | Reply

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