Overheard in a Crowded Diner
A flash fiction piece on decisions
Darren let out a deep, worried sigh. “Fuck.” Joyce sat patiently picking at her hash browns as he took in the news. An uncomfortable silence lingered, before Darren offered his hesitant thoughts. “Okay. Okay, well, fine. We’ll be fine. I’m doing good at work; we can move to the suburbs, somewhere where the schools are good. You might need to quit your job, but I can take care of us. I’m sure my parents would—"
“Darren.” Joyce interrupted, “I think I want an abortion."
The words took the air out of his lungs. It wasn’t even a thought he had considered. It wasn’t even an option. It wasn't his faith exactly that kept the thought on the outermost fringes of his mind, although the Sunday school from his youth certainly did shape his thinking. It was more a sense of pride, and duty.
Darren's father was a tough, hard, military man. He loved his wife and his two children dearly, but had trouble committing to the necessary work of relationships. All the same, he had instilled into his two sons his strong sense of: “A man’s got to do what he believes is right. He takes care of his own.” More than that though, Darren was not a fickle man. He knew what he wanted and the picture was clear. He wanted two kids; he wanted to be high on the office totem poll ("As high as an in-house accountant can climb," he’d laugh, not really joking); he wanted a house outside the city, but close enough to spend the night out; and he wanted to share all of it with Joyce.
“What? What do—What? What do you mean?”
“I mean that I’ve thought about it a lot. I just started my job. We both agreed that we didn’t want kids right now, and I’ve told you that I don’t know if I want them at all… I think I want an abortion.” She knew she wanted it, but "I think" softened the blow, she thought. She was scared, confused, and nauseous. She wanted to be back to two weeks ago. Before she knew for sure, before she had to make a choice, before she had to exercise a right that many men didn’t agree she had. She knew, though. Joyce knew what she wanted before she knew she had to. She was realistic. A baby right now wasn’t compatible with they way she and Darren lived their lives, lives that Joyce adored. Maybe they weren’t compatible with how she wanted to live at all.
“What do you mean, you want an abortion?” Darren asked again, as if she had spoken another tongue. “Why the fuck did you even bother telling me if you were just going to do this? Why don’t I get a say in this?” he asked slightly louder, and considerably more emotional. The diner around them was unbothered, but the booth they occupied was a million miles away from the usual coffee, eggs, and bacon routine.
“Honey,” Joyce pleaded, “This was not an easy choice to make, and I could really just use your support right now.” She reached across the landscape of pancakes, eggs, and hash browns to grab Darren’s hand in solidarity, but he pulled away angrily as she did. He had his father’s temper as well.
She let out a deep, sad sigh. “I told you because this concerns you, too. I need you to have my back on—"
“If it concerns me, then why don’t I get to have a say in it, Joyce?” he spat. Heads were beginning to turn. This diner had seen its fair share of dates, fist fights, arguments, drunken sports debates, and a few divorces. This was the first of the "I want an abortion" variety.
“Because it’s my body, Darren,” she returned, in an angry whisper, frustrated that she even needed to clarify that.
“So, I just don’t get a say in this at all?”
“In what I do with my body? No, no you don’t.”
Darren sat back, shaking his head. “This is so fucking typical of you. Everything is about you; you don’t ever consider how you may be affecting anyone else.”
“You are being such an asshole right now.”
“I’m being—” He paused, adjusting his volume. “I’m being an asshole?” The scraping of forks and knives in the nearby booths had stopped completely. The two of them stared out the window, shaking their heads occasionally. The traffic was light for a Saturday morning. All things considered, it was a beautiful day.
Darren looked down, and took a centering breath. “I just don’t think that having an abortion is the right call. I know we both said we wanted to at least wait a few more years, but we have talked about getting married and...” he trailed off. Joyce met his pleading gaze and they shared a sad moment.
“I’ve made up my mind, Darren. I'm sorry. This just isn't for me. Not yet at least." Maybe not ever, she thought.
The rage returned to Darren’s face. “Fuck this.” He said as he stood, throwing his napkin on top of his unfinished pancakes.
“Where are you going? Darren? Darren!” He didn’t even bother looking back. Joyce buried her face in her palms for a moment, and let out a low, stifled, heartbroken groan. She wasn't just hurt. She was angry.
“Is there anything I can get you, hon?” asked the kind older waitress carrying a pot of coffee, not entirely referring to the food.
Joyce sat up, steadying herself. “Just the check, please.”