Authors: Kim Golden
Tags: #FICTION / Romance / Multicultural & Interracial, #FICTION / Contemporary Women, #FICTION / African American / Contemporary Women, #FICTION / Literary, #FICTION / General
a life in progress
Echo Books – Stockholm
No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to author at the address below.
Kim Golden/Echo Books
Email: [email protected]
Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.
Cover Design: Arijana K/Cover It! Designs
© Kimberly Golden MalmgrenAll Rights Reserved, except where otherwise noted
To my noisy muse, who spoils me with perfect cups of coffee, kiss breaks, Sunday snuggles and absent-minded distractions.
I love you always.
Don’t let her slip through your fingers
I can’t do this anymore…
Mads gripped her hips and thrust into her one last time before he came. Eyes squeezed shut, he tried to blot out the mewing sound she made. She’d asked him once if he thought it was sexy. It wasn’t. The last thing he wanted was to think about anything sexy. This was work. This wasn’t fucking because it felt good or because he loved her or anything personal. Sophie was a client. That was it. He had to tell himself that as he pulled out of her and retreated to the bathroom. She’d rolled over on her back and hoisted her legs in the air.
“I think it worked this time,” she called out to him. “I’m sure it did.”
Great. He turned on the faucet of her tiny sink and rinsed off as best he could. He would shower at his workshop. He didn’t want to stay much longer than he had to. He rubbed his chin and stared at his reflection in the mottled mirror. His reddish-blond hair hung looked shaggier than he remembered. Three days worth of stubble covered his chin. And the dark circles under his eyes weren’t going to make him very popular at that week’s mingle.
Maybe I’m getting too old for this.
He splashed warm water on his face, hoping it would wash away how sordid he felt.
Just get dressed, say goodbye, tell them you hope it worked and get the fuck out of here.
He looked around for a guest towel without any luck. At least there was a roll of paper towels on edge of the tub. As soon as he’d dried off as best he could, he went back into the bedroom and started to dress.
Sophie was still lying naked on the bed, her legs in the air. Her right hand rested on her concave stomach. “Are you staying for lunch?” she asked.
“No, I’ve got to get back to the workshop. I’ve got some prospective clients coming in.” A lie, but it was better than outstaying his welcome, no matter how many times Sophie assured him her husband was okay with the arrangement.
“But I told Sander you were having lunch with us…”
“Sorry, I can’t.” He’d stayed the previous time at Sophie’s insistence. Sander had been nice enough–he’d cooked lunch then too–but his chill glare spoke volumes. He was going along with this because Sophie was desperate, they both were, to have a baby–but they couldn’t afford the clinic’s fee. It was the only reason Mads was even…making house calls. If the clinic ever found out, he’d be in a world of trouble.
He threw on his clothes, said a quick goodbye to Sophie, who called out, “I’ll keep you posted!”, and rushed past the kitchen to the hallway where his shoes were waiting by the door. He’d nearly finished tying his laces when Sander emerged from the kitchen. “Leaving already?”
“Yeah…some clients, I’m making cabinets for their kitchen renovation.”
Sander’s nostrils flared then relaxed. “So not another charity case then.”
“You and Sophie are the only people I’ve ever helped like this.”
“Right…” Sander crossed his arms as he leaned against the doorframe. His lips thinned to a tight, white line. “Listen…I know you mean well. And that this is…just work for you. But if she tells you it didn’t work this time, don’t let her talk you into anymore of…this. It’s…I mean, you’re fucking my wife, for Chrissake.”
Mads couldn’t look him in the eye. His anger, his frustration came through loud and clear.
“I’ll say no.”
“Good. Because I really don’t want to see you again. I don’t think I can take this anymore.”
Mads nodded and then let himself out. He didn’t think as he pounded down the spiral curve of the marble stairs that led to the apartment building’s main door.
He just wanted to get away.
“Mads? I thought it was you!”
He smiled tightly and nodded a greeting at the stroller-pushing woman approaching him on Absalomsgade. What was her name? Veronica? Anoushka? He couldn’t remember it exactly, but it wasn’t a typical Danish name.
“This must be serendipity,” she continued and kissed him on both cheeks. “I was just telling a friend about…you and Copenhagen Cryo.”
“It’s nice to see you again–how long has it been? Two years?”
“Something like that,” she agreed. “So… how are you? You look well.”
“So do you.” He wasn’t lying or turning on the charm. She looked content. The last time he saw her, she was so pale and painfully thin she reminded him of a fragile bird. Now there was a healthy flush of color to her cheeks. He glanced at the expensive-looking stroller and understood why. It had worked.
“This is your dau-” she caught herself and laughed nervously. “I’m not really sure of what that the protocol is here.”
The little girl in the stroller was fast asleep, her thumb planted firmly in her tiny mouth. Mads knelt down and swept a burnished curl from her forehead. His chest tightened. For a second, he thought he might cry. There was no mistaking he’d played a role in creating her. She looked exactly like all the baby pictures his grandmother had saved. Her wavy hair was the same coppery blond as his, her round cheeks bloomed, she even had the same smattering of freckle across the bridge of her nose. How many times had he thought about this moment? When he might finally see one of the children he’d helped bring into the world? And she was beautiful, a precious porcelain doll of a little girl.
“What’s her name?” He rose to his full height again and shoved his hands in his jeans pockets.
“We called her Lida, after my grandmother.”
“She is. My husband and I—we’re just so grateful you were able to help us.”
Mads glanced at the sleeping child again. His daughter. Could he even caller her that? He wasn’t playing a role in raising her. He’d probably never see her again.
“I’m glad everything worked out,” he said. He pulled his hands from his pockets and tapped his watch. “I’m sorry. I’ve got to rush—an appointment.”
“Of course, of course.” She touched his arm. “I’m just so grateful to you. When I saw you, I had to tell you. You’ve given my husband and me such a beautiful gift. She is what we wanted for so many years.”
“I was just doing my job.” He nodded but couldn’t meet her eyes. “It was…nice to see you. I’m sorry. I’ve got to go.”
He walked away before she could thank him again. He didn’t try to get one last look at his daughter. He didn’t think he could take it.
His daughter. That sleeping child was a part of him. How many of the other couples he’d helped had been successful? The clinic never told him, and he never asked. He assumed the success rates must have been pretty high. When he signed his donor contract, Ida told him there would be status reports from time to time, but he wasn’t sure he’d ever received one. He cashed his monthly checks, splurged on a car or treated his grandmother to a summer holiday in Portugal, paid the rent on his workspace. He took the money. And he tried to forget the hustle that was part of being a donor.
Sometimes when he thought back to the afternoon Ida propositioned him, he wondered why he’d said yes. Sure, money was tight then. He’d just been laid off from the design firm where he’d worked since moving back to Copenhagen and the demand for furniture makers was never steady. Everything depended on the whims of interior stylists scouting for interesting pieces to use in magazine, film sets and the buyers for home interiors shops. Get your name whispered in the right ear or featured in the right magazine and your future was set. His name and reputation as a craftsman was spreading, but the income so far wasn’t steady enough to say he’d made it.
All of this was churning inside him when his cell phone vibrated in his pocket. He was just paying for his lunch, hoping for a little quiet time before he had to head back to the shop again and finish a custom-made dining table and some cabinets.
“When can you come in for another round of donations?”
“Hold on…” Mads wedged his phone between his cheek and his shoulder as he carried his coffee and sandwich to his favorite spot in the café–the corner window overlooking Dronning Louise’s Bro, the lakes and Nørre Søgade. He did his best thinking sitting there watching the world go by. “Sorry, what’s up, Ida?”
“We need another round of donations from you.”
“I just finished a month’s worth of rounds,” he said. “I thought I wasn’t allowed to do anymore for a while.”
“Your video’s been pretty popular,” Ida said. He could almost hear her shrugging through the phone. “And we had a call from our sister clinic in Toronto. They need a little more of you..”
Mads frowned. He wanted to tell Ida how sordid it was all becoming–the mingles, the desperation some of the couples gave off, the whole donation process. Sometimes he felt like he couldn’t wash it away.
“I’ve got a lot on this week, so I don’t know.”
“Mads, come on. It won’t take you more than an hour to do this.” Ida let out a lengthy sigh. “And if you do us this favor, we’ll give you an extra month’s break.”
“So no more donations for two months?”
“I’ll think about it.”
“The clinic in Toronto is willing to pay a higher fee to expedite it. Which means you’ll get double your usual rate.”
Double… with the extra money, he could buy a new morticing machine for the shop. He still hadn’t taken a vacation. Maybe he could take two weeks off and go to Greece or Spain.
“I said I’ll think about it, Ida.”
“Let’s talk about it tomorrow…at the mingle.”
“I thought I didn’t have to go to any when I was on break.”
“We’ll talk to tomorrow.” And then she hung up before he could protest again.
Mads tried not think about Lida for the rest of the day. There were too many things that needed to be done. A prospective client had called when he was leaving Sophie and Sander’s and wanted to see samples of his work. He convinced Ludde and Jonas, two of the other woodworkers who shared the workshop with him, to help straighten up. The front area, where they usually met clients, was littered with used coffee mugs, takeout containers and magazines. Not the best way to make a first impression. While they collected the garbage, Mads gave the floor and couches a good cleaning with the industrial vacuum cleaner he’d bought with the last check from Copenhagen Cryo.
Cleaning helped him clear his mind. The monotony of vacuuming, of polishing the tables and restoring a semblance of order to the workshop helped him think more clearly. Meeting Anoushka and Lida didn’t change anything. Lida would never know he was her biological father, and it was better that way. She needed a normal life. What could he give her?
“Nothing,” he muttered to himself. “Absolutely nothing.”