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Encumbered
About the Author: William R. Eakin is a professional writer of short stories, with a love for things past the margins, and with recent work in places like ANALOG and FANTASTIC STORIES, as well as AMAZING, REALMS OF FANTASY, F&SF, etc. His fiction that most exhibits his dark and weirdly criminal side has appeared in such zines as THE HORROR ZINE, BLACK OCTOBER, CITY SLAB, and HORROR GARAGE. He lives and writes on a cliff a lot like the one in this story.


I knew since I met Eddie in third grade he’d be like this.  I was breathless as I plopped my not badly misshapen rear on the flat stone clifftop. The river below and before me turned in a big green oxbow curve between high flat canyon walls.  Its water was higher today than it had been in years, too high for canoes, perfect for our purposes: a white stretch of rapids and boulders signified where we’d just come from and where we’d lost the baby.

Eddie’s frazzled white top appeared over the stone edge below me, then his white bushy eyebrows and beard.  He carted the tent and sleeping bags and overnight gear, and he was huffing and puffing from the near vertical path.  He’d been in fourth grade, when I was in third, and that nearly fifty years ago, so he earned the huffs.  But he also hadn’t just had a baby and two months of postpartum depression.  So he’d had to do it, carry our supplies. And he’d sure enough helped me pitch the baby. Down there now its little limbs had been snapped and cracked by rocks and rapids—it, she, was lost and probably in pieces and no longer worth thinking of.  I knew that she would be found; this was a river well-populated by rafters.  But not this week, perhaps not the next. And DNA would certainly trace itself back to me.  It did not matter.  I would be free.  Free.

I stood up to help Eddie pitch the small tent against lichen-covered shale and dirt.  He was red-faced from the climb, from the exertion of the day, from what he’d done.  He looked guilty.

I’d known in third grade he would be like this.  He was only slightly older when we met but I knew he was flirting with me, old enough to know perhaps.  Playground: we played Ed Sullivan.  Eddie shook his non-extent jowls and rolled: “And now a really big sheew!”  More like Nixon.  I wore a blue-plaid gingham dress, short; white socks, saddle oxfords in the style of girls that year.  I twirled like a dancing bear, and he laughed and said something like “My name is Jose Jiminez” and that made me laugh even harder and also realize I might love this boy someday, but could not afford to now.   No to Rapunzel. So I simply flipped up my dress at him and turned away.  Honestly I did not know what that might even mean, flipping my dress; by his astonished look, he did, which was why I turned away and why he kept writing letters when I was long gone.

Daddy was being transferred.  I knew it, Eddie didn’t.  He waited to see me again, must have waited on the playground the next day, and he must have been disappointed when I did not show up.  When he found out about the transfer, I discovered later, he started writing those clinging love letters, Dear Angie letters. I received a bundle forwarded some four years later, caught up with us in Greece, sloppy and romantic and really bowled over and wanting to be committed, betrothed, a part of an institution he thought we would make up. But by then I was in junior high and already felt I could practically kill someone over the idea of being chained.  It was the beginning of the ’70s, and you were supposed to avoid promises, supposed to have multiple partners.  Rock-and-roll and love the one and the many you are with.  There were boys in Greece and Turkey, accented, strong, always four or five years my senior with their muscled legs and thighs to enwrap me, with a vital life I could taste and swim in. Juicy, delicious, alive and free we were. Unencumbered.  Not like that clingy little boy Eddie.  Eddie’s letters remained forever unanswered.

“We had to do it,” I told him.  We were lying at the tent opening.  “I’m too old to be a mother, Eddie.  Think of her growing up, all the trouble she would have had in elementary school, high school, special school.” 

“I don’t need any more convincing, obviously.” He was grumbling.

“I know you feel some remorse.  You’ve to get rid of that.  God, how old we would be, caring for her!  When she was an adult! I’d be—What?  Way past sixty-four, that damned Beatles’ song! You’d be—”

“I know.  I know.”  Both horribly encumbered.  “There are all sorts of wonderful programs. I have more than enough money.  You know that.”

“It’s over, no use beating yourself up.  Let’s enjoy that money ourselves. We already took the leap.”

“Or the fall.” 

I told him it was a kindness to her.  Sometimes a push off is better than a clinging on. Sure there were special programs and money, but nothing to get rid of what the doctors called congenital defects.  Or our chains.

“Can you really be so detached?” 

They’d called my baby defective!  I called her: a ball and chain.



This story appears in our NOV 2016 Issue
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Reader Discussion

28
Nov
"Things That Make You Go Hmmmm..." Flashy and Noiry!
By Lisa Strom

29
Nov
I thought this was an interesting narrative and there were some surprises along the way. I certainly enjoyed reading it.
By Derek McMillan

29
Nov
I truly enjoyed this story. Somehow I knew she'd rid herself of this husband also. I wanted to kick her off the cliff myself! A good read.
By Frances Dunn

29
Nov
Strong writing with a good setting to match
By George


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