Dick and Jane will not always be happy. But happiness is what they want for you. So as you read, touch the icon [∆] on the screen whenever you are not happy and Dick and Jane will adjust their story to fit your needs.
For instance, let’s say that you’ve had enough for one day of the world’s hardships and economic disasters. More specifically, let’s say that your grown daughter is again in rehab or you have just today finally summoned the courage to break off with your abusive boyfriend or to tell your husband’s mother that she needs to stop meddling in your family’s affairs. Let’s then also say that at the same time Dick and Jane are in a rough patch in the story and you cannot bear another moment of pain, least of all the specious pain of fictional characters. Simply touch the icon [∆] and Dick and Jane will adjust. Likewise, should Dick and Jane’s actions make you anxious, or should you feel that their behavior is too perfect or silly or unbelievable in any way, or should they somehow bore you or make you angry, remember that the icon [∆] is there to remind Dick and Jane that you too need to be happy with how their story unfolds.
Ready? Okay. Begin.
Waves are striking the nearby shoreline and this methodical thump and whoosh of high tide has caused Dick to think of a baby’s heartbeat the first time you hear it through the speakers of a fetal monitor. In his daydream, Dick knows these two things have nothing to do with one another, and yet at the same time right now he believes they have everything to do with one another. Jane has just told Dick that she is pregnant with her first child, Dick’s fifth, and she is waiting for Dick to fully register the thought that at 68 years old he will again be a father.
“Dick, put the car in park and look at me.” More and more Dick has been doing this. You show or tell him something even a little profound and he’ll take so long to acknowledge it that you wonder if he’s heard you. And now, with Dick staring out the window of the car where he stopped it on the gentle slope next to the low sea wall looking down into the cove, Jane wonders if she shouldn’t have waited to tell him until they got to the beach house. It might have been better to mention this when he was on their patio behind the dunes with a drink in his hand where even if his mind wandered she wouldn’t have had to worry about his foot slipping off the brake and rolling them into the sea.
Yes, he’s older than her by nearly 35 years, but that’s not it. He’s still sharp when he wants to be. God knows hearing him on the phone with one of the younger brokers Jane often feels sorry for them. Dick can still rip open one of their deals using the kid’s ego as ingress and then peel out millions more where no other partner would have been able to find another cent. It isn’t that Dick isn’t still smarter and more with it than any man half his age. Give him the mechanics of his profession, his houses, their travel or their finances, and Dick doesn’t waver for a single second. It’s only at those times when his older kids bring by the grandkids and he is putting them to bed, or when he finds out that a friend’s chemo is no longer doing the job, or times like today when Jane – more than two months into her pregnancy - couldn’t wait any longer and had to tell him about the baby, that Dick stops in his tracks and time stands still as you wait for him to reach through eternity and back into the moment.
Truthfully, Jane is getting sick of this. She wants to be patient and sensitive but right now she really just wants Dick to be younger. Why should she subject this baby to a semi-depressed man who will probably be dead before the kid even learns to ride a bike?
Then again, maybe if she just tells Dick the truth about the baby; that the baby is not his, that Alan at the garage has been coming over during the week not just to tune up the Bugatti and the Jag and the Mercedes but also to see her, and that this just happened. Maybe if she tells Dick he will somehow take pity on her and they can get past the pre-nup and Dick will support her along with the baby for the rest of their lives. Or maybe – and this thought thrills her more than she’d like to admit - maybe she and Alan can figure out a way to murder Dick and he will be out of the picture and she with the money and Alan and the baby will live by the sea forever without this old, old man.
Forget it, she couldn’t never do it. And Dick will be gone soon enough anyway. Besides, if she never tells Dick, it will make for a better story someday. She can even picture it. Her daughter and she on the silk-covered Chinese love seat looking out at the ocean through a rain storm when Jane just springs it on her. They will be confessing sins and regrets and will have gotten to the moment where the most transgressive of secrets are ready to emerge. “Honey, your father is not who you think he is.” Her child will be a grown woman by then, well-married with kids of her own, and Dick will be long gone. Indeed her daughter will barely remember Dick and will decide on that dark afternoon that it is time for her to meet her real father. Wow, that will really be something.
For now Dick continues to stare at the sea, and Jane begins to think about Alan; how he takes her into the long back seat of the Jaguar, the sunshine from the skylight in the converted barn double-filtered through the moon roof of the Jag and subdued into dark gold across Alan’s naked chest as she crawls all over him. Alan. Jane has to suppress an audible moan of pleasure lest Dick catch on. And now both of them are daydreaming.
Alan. Yes, the sex is something. But it isn’t love. And there is something else. Something Jane doesn’t like to think about. How much she likes it when Alan hits her; how she begs him to do it. Is that why she is drawn to him? This ex-marine with two tours in Iraq who has come back with a lust to hurt things? She hides the small bruises from Dick but she does not hide the pleasure from Alan.
Just then Dick speaks, “Did you ever feel as if someone else were pulling the strings to your life?”
Yes, yes Jane does. But why would Dick bring that up now? It actually frightens her a little bit and she makes herself resists the thought that some other force is controlling her destiny.
“Dick, you haven’t said a word about the baby. Are you happy?”
“Yes.” Dick snaps to and looks at her. “But I’ve been sitting here thinking that maybe it’s a little late in the game for this to be happening to me again.”
“I thought you said you wanted us be happy.”
“Yes. But there are many ways to be happy. We don’t have to have a baby to be happy. Do we?”
“Well I suppose not Dick. What are you suggesting?
“Nothing. Do you want this baby?”
“Yes … I mean if you do.”
“Then we’ll have the baby.”
Jane now has a nearly uncontrollable urge to pull out the cigar lighter in the Mercedes and burn herself with it. A minute ago she had a way out. All she had to do was to emphatically say that she didn’t need a baby to be happy and then lead Dick away from it and the both of them toward an abortion and with that she would have been able to keep up the afternoons in the Jaguar with Alan slapping her hard enough to make her forget the abuse of her miserable childhood.
Jane abruptly snaps out of it. “I’m so happy, Dick. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you’re going to be such a good father to this baby.”
Dick smiles and hugs her. Their heads resting on each other’s shoulders, Dick finds himself wondering which of them is which. Who is the man and who is the woman? Who is the father and who is the mother? What does that even mean?
Yes, okay, Dick also knows he needs to bring himself back into focus. He shuts his eyes tight and starts to do mental calculations. He takes a basic corporate bond deal and starts to complicate it with tax loop holes and accruals and collateralized debt obligations until in his mind he fills up the back seat of the car with money. Then he does the same thing with some housing foreclosures executed under his broker’s license, filling up the front seat until property deeds and cash reach just below his and Jane’s noses. Now he feels better. More like himself again.
Money makes it all okay. Doesn’t It? He’ll just float this baby on a cloud of money and all will be well.
Dick smiles again and he realizes he’s been holding his breath. So he breaths deeply and when he does is when he feels the first stab of pain in his chest. Then comes a second wave of pain which feels like someone is knotting a thick cotton towel under his sternum inside his body at the base of his throat. He pulls back from Jane’s shoulder and when she sees his face her mouth sags open.
Dick cannot speak, does not even seem able to hear Jane as he reaches down and laces his fingers between the buttons of his oxford. A cascade of small wooden disks starts popping into the windshield and cup holder as Dick rips open his shirt, one button even grazing Jane’s cheek. Anyone looking on would think that Dick was trying to find a path to his own heart.
Reflexively, Jane lowers her eyes to watch the button dribble from her cheek to her lap. A rattle in Dicks’ throat causes Jane to look up at him again but when the rattle turns into a rasping screech Jane just tilts her head as if she is studying a painting on a gallery wall. Dick sees her expression and he begins to grab at her with the terror from eyes, hoping his eyes alone will shake her with a sense of urgency, but Jane will not be shaken.
She has always figured that this moment would be coming, and – though she hears a lost whistle of guilt like the cry of an animal far away in a forest - Jane does not see why she should get excited now. Just sit still and make Dick comfortable. It will all be over soon and it is all going to turn out as it was meant to be no matter what. Jane tenderly pulls Dick’s head to her breast and says, “Okay Dick, just rest now honey. I’ll stay with you.”
Dick’s rattling and screeching has stopped anyway, and Jane feels contentment in the way fate can take control of things for you, just the way you wanted things to be to make you happy if only you could envision it.
So Jane is as surprised as anyone when the car starts inching toward the water. She glances from the “D” on the gear indicator to the floor where Dick’s foot has slipped off the break of the idling car and she says, “Oh shit.” Jane almost feels as if someone is laughing at her, and it might be funny if she didn’t have such a clear sense that this same someone wanted to kill her.
Calculating the path from her foot to the brake pedal, Jane lifts her legs over Dick’s body and jams her heel toward the floor on the driver’s side. She misses with her heel but does manage to catch the pedal with the pointy toe of her ankle boot. And then the car stops; it doesn’t want to do it - what with the mild gravity of the slope and the power of a five hundred German horses urging it toward the low rock ledge that is meant to keep cars from plunging into the ocean - but for the moment Jane’s boot is hanging in there holding back these unseen forces.
Not for long, though. As fate would have it, Jane’s skinny leg will not be enough to hold back the force of righteousness. In fact it will be Jane’s leg that actually expedites what fate has in store.
Jane can even feel it happening and she tries to stop it, but her calf muscle is tired and cramping and when she shifts her foot a little to ease the pain her toe slips the rest of the way off the brake pedal and slams down onto the accelerator. Before Jane can do anything else, the car leaps forward, jumping the double ledge of bricks that make up the top of the sea wall and throwing Jane backward across Alan’s breathless chest. And this is when Jane starts to pray.
As if prayer could save her now.
The car isn’t going very fast when it tips nose first into the water. And the curb has slowed it down even further so that it isn’t a very violent fall. Moreover, owing to high tide, it hasn’t even fallen that far. Still it doesn’t take long for Jane to realize that now that the car is in the water and washing out away from land, it is going to sink fast and she is going to drown if she does not figure a way out.
Gaining some composure, she finds the sliver of brushed metal that opens the passenger window and she claws it toward her. The window starts to open and she can already see herself climbing out and swimming back toward the wall where she will pull herself to safety and then call the police, crying when she does as befits a pregnant widow who has just herself escaped death. Then she will call Alan.
But Jane isn’t going anywhere. From inside the future where she is calling Alan, Jane can hear the faint pop of a fuse under the dash and when the passenger window stops moving about three inches from the top of the door frame Jane remembers what Dick said about someone else being in control of their lives. Then Jane thinks back on the pop of the fuse and what she thought of when she heard it; it was exactly like the sound of someone spitting a tiny gob of disgust into her face.
The water is topping the window now and beginning to flood the car and Jane has begun a desperate search for her cell phone so she can call for help. Frantically rooting around inside her bag all Jane can hear is Dick’s voice scolding her for never being able to find anything in her purse. When she realizes she will never find it – and that it would do no good even if she could - she gives up and looks over at Dick whose eyes are open and unblinking and who appears to be smiling.
Salt water has started spraying at Jane now with the force of a fire hose and a stench that makes her want to vomit. She tries grabbing the door handle and pushing at door of the car, but her thin shoulder applied against the door is no match for the weight of the all the world’s water on the other side. Bearing down hard on what she might to do next, Jane inserts her fingertips into the open slot at the top of the window to try and pull it down, but the force of the water knifing at her hands won’t let her keep her fingers in there for long. So she feels down along her leg under the water for her boot and she rips it off, trying to smash open or loosen the window, but the window is having none of that either.
Rapidly the water is rising past Jane’s chest now. Jane closes her eyes and starts to scream for help. She understands she is about to sink to the bottom along with the car and realizes that she will soon have nothing to breath but putrid sea water. This is when Jane goes quiet. She knows what is coming and she knows who she is. She decides in that moment that if she has always been the kind of person who takes control of things, she must stay that way until the end. With the horrible sadness and fear it must take to invite death into the last moments of your life, Jane floats her butt high up off the seat and with a sharp jerk backwards lets her head go under the water, pushing out - as she does - all the air she has left in her body.
Drifting into unconsciousness, Jane starts to think about many things all at once. Dick – floating there and smiling beside her. Alan - likely not even shedding a tear when he hears about her and Dick. And, in the last moments before she loses control of her brain, the baby; how tragic it will be for the baby to have to die with her.
Then something mystical happens.
In her twilight coma sleep, Jane slowly starts to drift away and begins to dream that she is living in another life, a life separate from the life she has lived with Dick. It is the life of someone who can love without having to have pain inflicted on her to do it, someone who could care for this baby more than Jane ever could. Had she been able to realize it Jane would know that this is the woman she could have been, a plain, honest girl who likes to read and longs for children and who is soaked with promise yet to be realized.
Still, this conjured woman is stronger and more alive than Jane will ever be; a point easily made as Jane, held helpless in the flooded car, is forced to swallow more water. Gulping, Jane's lungs and sinuses fill with liquefied microscopic particles that come from the bottom of the sea, all the way back from the beginning of time. If only Jane’s body could remember, it would remember that once, as with that baby inside her, it breathed a fluid much like this and not only lived but thrived and grew.
But it doesn’t matter now, because Jane is no longer really under water. She is in an apartment sitting on a window seat glancing up from a book of short stories on her reader as a siren cuts through the gassy yellow sunshine of the city. This sound has distracted her momentarily from finding out how the rest of this will turn out.
When he swims down there, the paramedic actually has a pretty easy time opening the car door now that passenger compartment is completely filled with water and has equalized with the pressure of the sea outside. He has only had to dive down a few feet to get to the car where, even through the blur of his naked eyes against the water, he can see that Dick is dead, but that there are still air bubbles coming from Jane’s nose. He grabs this dying woman from her seat and kicks the both of them up and into the light of life.
On the sea wall a family watches the rescue. They pulled over as they saw the car go into the water and now the man and woman hold hands – right to left - across the backs of their two little children. In her free hand the woman holds the cell phone she used to call 911.
When the paramedic swims to the sea wall with Jane, his partner reaches down to pull her up onto the parking area where he pumps her chest, ejecting the sea water from Jane’s mouth onto the steaming tar. He then blasts Jane with the paddles of a defibrillator until her heart beats again and she again regains the shallow breathing afforded to the half-dead when oxygen has been forced through their noses and mouths.
Jane will live.
It’s how she will live that is the question.
Later that night in the hospital, the mother who dialed up the rescue will visit the intensive care unit and she will find out that Jane is in a deep coma and that her brain is dead. “But what about the baby?” she will ask. “I heard the woman was pregnant.”
The ICU nurse does not confirm or deny that Jane is with child, but when the mother walks away wondering if what she has heard is true, she is startled to see a young, mop-headed woman staring at her from the doorway of a room across the hall. She knows this woman has heard her conversation with the nurse and she is worried momentarily by how fluidly this woman seems to have appeared from out of nowhere. It is almost as if the woman could not wait any longer and has suddenly decided she must enter these lives.
For five months the doctors will keep Jane alive on life support and watch the baby grow inside her. Though Dick is not there to hear it, doctors, interns and nurses - along with the woman from across the hall who appears and disappears now at will into Jane's room - spend hours listening with awe through the speakers of a fetal monitor to the strong heartbeat of a baby boy who will be delivered by c-section, nearly full term, just before Christmas. It is a miracle, and the sound of the boy’s heartbeat does indeed make many of those listening think about the sound of waves rising and falling on the shore.
But when the boy is born, he is born with nothing to call his own. Having never known that Jane will have a son, Dick did not provide for him in his will. Dick’s oldest daughter says that she and her husband will adopt the boy, but even the greenest of the case workers can see that these two really want no part of this baby, coming as he has from a gold-digger who married the old man for his money at the weakest moment in his life. The daughter’s husband even has his suspicions that the baby may not belong to Dick.
But it doesn't really matter because Dick is dead. And once the plug is pulled, Jane dies too. To whom this baby belongs now and what his fate will be is up to those disconnected men and women who swarm around this motherless child.
Or is it?
On the night before the baby is to be released into the custody of Dick’s daughter, the woman once again appears from across the hall and quietly walks into the nursery to stand over baby’s cradle. She has come again from the window seat in her apartment where she can hear the singing laughter of the children in the playground across the street. As she stands over the cradle, she drops little verbal sounds of love onto the soft blanket that covers the boy, and the boy responds with a gummy open mouth that releases the quiet peace of recognition.
The woman hears footsteps walking in a small nurses’ station behind a wall. She cannot see who is there, but she’s knows she is about to be escorted out of this life and not a little kindly either. Her eyes fill up with tears as she thinks about having to say goodbye to this boy along with everything else that both of them have longed for and not yet gotten.
Deciding that she can no longer hesitate, she reaches down into the cradle and picks up the baby. She sees her hands as clouds. The child is the sunshine pouring down on those clouds.
The woman does not believe she is a kidnapper. She believes she is a savior and protector of life. That Dick and Jane would have wanted it this way.
And this, as you might expect, would have made them happy.