Excerpt from What Came First: Chapter One
What Came First
Chapter One: Laura
The chickens are getting restless.
It is just past sunrise on a chilly Saturday morning in January, and insomnia kept my brain whirring until after two a.m. Now all I want to do is stay buried under my hypoallergenic faux-down comforter and return to the dream that is already slipping away.
But the chickens have other ideas—assuming their primitive little brains are capable of anything that can be termed an idea. In their coop (which is far too close to my bedroom: poor planning on my part), the birds shriek and cry and say bock-bock-bock, their clucks growing more frantic as the sky grows lighter. Each morning it’s the same, as if they’ve never seen the sun before—which is patently absurd. We live in Southern California; they see almost nothing but sunshine.
In the dream, I’d been kneeling next to a man on a black sand beach, both of us digging up giant clams with our bare hands, prying the shells open and eating the mollusks raw. And yes, I know that sounds like raunchy symbolism, but I’m just extremely fond of shellfish. The man was wearing a tuxedo. And I think he had a tiara on his head. But that was okay because he liked me and I liked him, and my nightly pseudo-erotic dreams are the closest things I’ve had to a date in five years.
Eyes shut, I turn away from the window. Alfredo, the cat, a twenty-pound Maine coon named for my son’s favorite pasta sauce, slinks up from the foot of my bed, settles himself on the pillow next to me, and starts to purr. And then I remember: if you have an independent source of income, reliable domestic help, and an affectionate cat, you’ll never need a man. I didn’t even need a man to get pregnant. At least, not one that I ever met.
So screw the guy in the tiara.
I sense Ian before I hear him, as if the air softens and warms the instant he tiptoes into the room. “Mom! You awake?”
“I am now.” I open my eyes and drink him in, my bony eight-year-old boy with his too-big front teeth, his army-green eyes, and his shaggy brown hair, still shot with leftover streaks of summer blond. He is the sweetest, smartest, most beautiful person I have ever known. There is no one in the world I would rather spend time with. Some days, I still can’t believe he is mine.
But right now, I really wish he would go away.
Monday through Friday I get up at 6:15 a.m. so I can take a too-short shower, put on a conservative skirt, blouse, and control-top panty hose, and join Ian for a hot breakfast (eggs, usually) before heading off to my office in Santa Ana, where I practice estate law while downing countless cups of mediocre coffee. Carmen, our nanny/housekeeper, takes Ian to school.
Unless Ian has a soccer game or other activity, weekends are my time to sleep a little later, trying in vain to recover from my increasingly common insomnia before launching into household projects. Single parenthood can be exhausting at times, but I chose this life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“Feed the chickens,” I mumble. “Then let them free-range.” The chickens are quieter out of their coop; perhaps I can sneak in a little more sleep.
Ian puts his head next to mine on a tiny patch of pillow and reaches over my shoulder to stroke the cat. “You said we could sit outside this morning and watch the chickens lay eggs.”
Ian has become obsessed with catching the chickens in the act of laying. It is vaguely disturbing.
“I said some morning. I didn’t say today. It’s cold out.”
These days, Ian only calls me Mommy when he wants to soften me up. But then, the chickens were Ian’s birthday present from me last spring, so I deserve this.
I reach my arms around his angular body, luxuriating in his warmth and little-boy smell. “You win. But you need to put on a coat. And I need to make coffee. You want hot chocolate?”
“With whipped cream,” he says. “And marshmallows.”
I kiss his shaggy hair. “Anything for you.”
It’s not just an expression. I really will do—in fact, pretty much do do—anything for my son. During his cheetah phase, I took him to the San Diego Wild Animal Park. When he moved on to dolphins, we headed to Sea World. I have seldom turned down a request for a playdate, sleepover, or pool party, and we take a vacation every August. In the years before Ian received chickens and a coop for his birthday, he racked up a Wii, an iPod, a fully stocked saltwater aquarium, and Alfredo the cat. For Christmas I gave him a piano.
More than things, though, I give him time and love and attention. Although I practice law, we are not wealthy. I took myself off the partner track when I became pregnant and have been content with regular hours and a solid, steady income. We live in a three-bedroom ranch house in Fullerton, a pleasant suburban town in north Orange County, California. I drive a five-year-old Honda Accord. It is enough. No, it is more than enough.
Of course, I worry that I’m spoiling Ian, that he will suddenly turn bratty and ungrateful or that he will be crumple in the face of life’s disappointments. But here’s the thing: the more I give him, the greater he shines with curiosity about the world, the more he trembles with appreciation for all living things.
So, yes, I will do anything for my son. Because I love him so very much. And because the sad truth is that the one thing he really wants, the only thing he’s requested for every birthday and every Christmas since he was old enough to talk, is something I haven’t been able to give him.
Ian wants a sibling.
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