A French Song in New York(9)

By: Anna Adams

“Thanks for being so gracious about lending us your apartment,” Daniel put in. He moved his vegetables from one side of the plate to another with a fork he held loosely between two fingers. “Don’t worry, we won’t overstay our welcome.”

He spoke to his father, but looked at his mother.

Mrs. Lewis sipped her wine.

“Cynthia,” Alan continued, “you’ll have to find a job eventually. You can’t let Danny pay for everything.”

“I have savings,” Cynthia said.

“How long will that last?”

“Dad!” Daniel’s fork screeched across his plate.

The noise pulled Irina Lewis out of her daydream.

“You have to establish your career now,” she said. “Before you start having babies and going on maternity leave.”

“Oh, maternity leave,” Alan raised his eyes to the ceiling. “You’re not saying you’re married during interviews, are you? If they think you’ll be popping out babies soon, no good firm will hire you.”

“Alan, sweetie, if she doesn’t want to work right away, she can start having kids now. The market might be better in two or three years and she can find a job then, when her kids start going to school.”

“Oh hush, Irina!” Alan snapped. “What do you know about the market? You haven’t worked a day in your life.”

Irina Lewis pursed her lips, opening them only to take a sip of wine.

“I don’t want kids,” Cynthia said.

“Not now, but soon enough.” Irina erased a smudge of lipstick from her glass.

“I don’t want them. Ever.”

Appalled, Irina brought her hand to her face, smearing lipstick on her right cheek.

“Darling, darling Cynthia.” She choked on the word ‘darling’, but repeated it stiffly. “Darling. Shouldn’t you have discussed this with my son before you married him?”

“She did,” Daniel intervened.

“And you agreed to this?” Irina cried out, eyes bulging. “You’ll let her?”

“Let me?”

“Mom, we discussed it before we married. Neither one of us wants children.”

“I’ve never heard you say such a thing!” Irina spluttered.

“You’ve never asked me. Or her. You just assumed—”

“Assumed a married couple would want to have a family,” Irina’s knuckle whitened as she grasped her glass.

“We have a family,” Cynthia said. “Each other.” Daniel smiled with love at his new bride and took her hand underneath the table.

“Danny, if your wife doesn’t have children, she’s free to leave you whenever she wants. With children, she’s trapped. Why do you think we had you so soon after we married?” Alan joked. Irina glowered, but instead of replying to her husband’s demeaning joke, she redirected her anger at Cynthia.

“You’re one of those women. Those selfish women!”

“Because when you had me you did it for the good of humanity?” Daniel asked sarcastically.

“You want your career to be everything.” Ignoring her son, Irina’s eyes narrowed to slits.

“Let her,” Alan said. “Kids cost time and money. Sorry, Dan, but you’ve got to hear this, even if you’re my son. If Cynthia doesn’t have children, she’ll spend all her waking hours at the firm and make partner in no time.”

“There’s nothing wrong with wanting a dazzling career. But that’s not what I want. If that were the case, why would I shirk from a corporate law job? I don’t plan on spending my life in a Wall Street skyscraper. I want to help people. We both do. Children, adults. Anyone. And we want to travel while we do so.”

“God, you’re stupid! People marry; they have kids. That’s what they do. And if I don’t have a grandchild, what will I do?” Irina’s bottom lip shook as did the wine glass she held with a slipping grip.

“How does my not having children affect you?” Cynthia asked. “Kids annoy you as soon as they cry.”

“You complain about how hard I was to raise, though I was a perfect angel,” Daniel laughed.

“Mothers always complain about their children. It doesn’t mean we don’t love them.”

“You said pregnancy was torture,” Daniel added.

“I never said such a thing. It was the best time of my life! All that vomiting and weight gain. I mean, sure, it wasn’t great all the time, but, well, everyone agrees it’s a woman’s most beautiful state. Besides, I was looking forward to being a grandmother. My friends brag about their grandchildren nonstop though they’re dreadfully ugly. I just wanted a chance to show mine off. Your children would look so cute. Please reconsider.”