Even though New York State had recently adopted a law which allowed abortion on demand, Cora was having a difficult time finding a doctor. It was Rachel's mother -- through her family physician -- who had found Dr. Lowenthal.
Gray haired and portly, he remained in his chair after her internal. Cora still sat at the edge of the examination table, in her green cotton gown. Her mother, who had just entered the room, stood by her side, listening, while the doctor explained.
"Now, how can I help you, young lady?"
"I want an abortion."
"First of all, we now call it a 'termination of pregnancy,' and the procedure you would have is called a 'saline termination.'"
"What is that?"
"You waited too long...."
"What do you mean, 'too....'"
"Now let me finish, young lady. A rubber glove like device is inserted into the uterus and then filled with saline. The saline is then released through 'fingers' around the fetus."
"Is that the only way? It sounds dangerous."
"Not if it's done in the hospital and by an experienced doctor."
Cora sat immobile throughout the doctor's explanation. She didn't remember getting dressed, leaving Dr. Lowenthal's office or going into the restaurant with her mother.
"You could still have the baby and live with me. We could raise it together."
"No, mom, no. I couldn't do that."
The woman at the reception desk directed them to the waiting room. Ten minutes later a doctor dressed in blue sterile garb, rolling himself along in a wheel chair, pivoted to where Cora and her mother were sitting.
"Did you check in?"
"Go to the front desk. They'll tell you where to go, and I'll meet you upstairs. Your mother will have to leave you now. Good-bye Mrs. Feldman."
Cora stifled the urge to laugh -- neither one had realized Dr. Lowenthal was a paraplegic -- but without hesitation, Cora kissed her mother good-bye, and picked up her over night bag.
"Cora, he's crippled."
"He has his hands, mom. Don't worry, It'll be fine. I'll call you later."
"I remember now, but it didn't register at the time. He stayed at the foot of the table after your internal."
"I'll be fine, I'll call you later, mom."
"Are you sure you want to go through with this, Cora?"
Unbelievably, they had put her on the maternity ward. When she found her room, Cora could hear the sound of babies crying.
"Excuse me. Is it possible to get a room on another floor."
"No, this is the ob/gyn floor."
Cora introduced herself to the woman in the next bed. Her name was Paula and she was "waiting." Before Paula could explain, a nurse with red hair, came into the room, and immediately handed Cora a hospital gown.
"Okay dear, now get on the bed, I have to prep you."
She rolled over a small metal table and pulled the curtain around the bed.
"I have to shave your pubic hair."
"All of it? Nobody told me that."
"Didn't someone explain the procedure to you? I have to give you a mini-prep."
"The doctor explained, but he didn't tell me about being shaved. Could you tell me what happens after that ?"
As the nurse talked, she soaped up Cora's vagina, and using a straight edged razor, deftly scraped away her pubic hair.
"In a little, while you'll be wheeled to the operating room to have the saline inserted. Did someone explain that?"
"Fine, after the saline is inserted you're wheeled back here to wait."
Wait. There was that word again. That's what Paula was doing, "waiting."
"You can't get off the bed once you're wheeled back here. If the labor pains get bad, you'll just have to hold on for as long as you can. If we give you a sedative too...it could stop the fetus from aborting.
"Yes, labor pains."
Before the nurse could explain any further, the orderlies arrived, transferred her onto the gurney and wheeled her away down a long corridor into the operating room.
A nurse with skinny lips strapped down both her arms.
"Hold on. I can't find a good vein. Make a really tight fist. Nope, no good. Let me try the other arm. I got one."
Another nurse, with short stubby fingers, lifted her legs onto the cold metal stirrups. Cora was shivering, and her arm hurt. Why did they keep these places so cold?
The swinging doors crashed open, a nurse wheeled Dr. Lowenthal in, his gloved hands in the air.
"Where's my money, young lady?"
"My mother has it. She may still be downstairs."
"I'll get it later. Let's get started. This procedure takes fifteen minutes. Nurse...."
The skinny-lipped nurse locked him into place at the bottom of the operating table. The doctor inserted the cold stainless steel specular clamp into her vagina, and tightened it. At first it felt like the beginning of a pap smear, but then the pain started.
Was he cutting her? Cora looked up at the clock, thirteen more minutes. He never mentioned anything about cutting. It felt like knives were piercing her abdomen, but when she lifted her head to look over at the doctor, all she could see was the top of his blue surgical cap.
Eleven more minutes. Cora heard a low, plaintive wail from inside the operating room, and then realized she was making the noise. As her moans became louder and louder, the clock seemed to get slower and slower. Seven more minutes.
"You'll have to stop making noise, young lady, you're distracting me."
Cora stopped for a moment, something had startled her, and then she realized the doctor was speaking to her. He wanted her to stop making noise. Can't stop. Cora started to make small, panting noises instead, noises she hoped the doctor wouldn't hear, because if he told her to stop she would scream.
Cora was sure he was sticking knives into her now. She looked up. Five more minutes, she couldn't bear this. Cora was shaking. Why was it so fucking cold? The knives were ripping her flesh apart now, she was sure of it. She was getting colder. Three more minutes. Then a sharp searing pain seamed to rip her in half. More knives. One more minute, fifty-nine, fifty-three, fifty-one, why is it going so slowly?
"Ok, young lady, we're done. Now that wasn't that bad, was it?"
She aborted the fetus twelve hours later, in the middle of the night. As the nurse had warned, she wasn't allowed any painkillers, but after three hours of active labor she screamed for help. The nurse, who came into her room, stood by Cora's bed for a few moments.
"Wasn't worth it, now was it, deary?"
Then she administered a shot of sodium pentothal, which sent Cora on a cosmic high to a glorious, pain-free world. While the attending nurse held her hand, the on-call physician performed the abortion.
After Cora had moved to Manhattan, dinners with her mother had become something of a weekly ritual. When she arrived at the Riverboat, her mother was already drinking, and her perfume permeated the air, already thick with the aroma of fish. Cora's stomach turned.
"Sorry, I'm late, but my boss got a late call, and I had to wait until he was finished before I could close down the switchboard. How was your day?"
"Okay, I'm exhausted."
"I have good news. I'm starting school in the fall."
"That's wonderful. Where?"
I'm going back to Queens. They have the best writing program, and I won't lose any of my credits. I'm going to quit my job and work part time. "
"That's wonderful Cora, but I still don't understand why you won't move back home? You realize all the traveling involved?"
"I do. Let's not get into that again. It's been a long two years, but I finally have my own place and enough money saved. Let's make this a celebration. "
"I'm seeing my father tomorrow."
"I wasn't going to say anything, but...."
Dinner was going to be a catastrophe.
"Eight years, without one word from your father, and eight years before that. What brought this on? Your therapist?
Her mother would never realize that her overzealous need to revile her father's reputation had played a major part in her decision. Her sessions had become an emotional tug of war; not wanting to hear her mother's "truths," ultimately colliding with Cora's need to know as much as possible.
"What difference does it make? I told you, can't we just forget about it? Mom? Please? I told you, isn't that enough?"
"I'm assuming you called him. He hasn't called you once in eight years. Why should he start now?"
"Stop telling me how long it's been. Don't you think I know? I was going to change our appointment, but I didn't want to hurt your feelings."
"You were going to cancel our plans, because you're having lunch with him? Who the hell is he? Just because he can see you, you're ready to drop everything. What the hell makes him so important?"
"Nothing. Take it easy. mom. He was coming into the city tomorrow, on business, I just wanted to get it over with. That's the only reason."
"He got me pregnant before we were married, you know. He didn't want to start off the marriage with children, it was too soon."
"Here we go."
"He was only earning $18. 50, a week so I had an abortion. It wasn't really Illegal then, it just wasn't talked about. We went to our family doctor, he arranged for the abortion, but I had to borrow the money."
"I never knew, Mom. I'm sorry."
"Of course you never knew, you wouldn't let me tell you."
"But right now isn't the best time either."
"He didn't want another child, but it was after the war, and I couldn't stop feeling afraid. I wanted Sheila to have a brother or sister. He started fooling around with Dottie when I was six months pregnant with you. We went to a party and I found him kissing her in the kitchen."
"His second wife?"
"Eventually he left me for Dottie, but he dragged it out for years. He continually promised to break it off with Dot, and I always believed him. He was a great salesmen, he could sell anything to anybody, believe you, me. I loved him, and I wanted you children to have a father. You know, divorce wasn't accepted like it is now."
Cora's head was throbbing near the base of her skull, and a spot over her eye was pulsating. She rubbed the back of her neck and her mother stopped talking
"Are you all right?"
"Fine ma, just a little tired. It's a lot to hear at one time."
"I'm going to have another drink, do you want one?"
"No, I'm fine."
"The divorce almost killed your grandmother, she started to have palpitations. "
"I'm sorry, mom."
"l couldn't say no to him, so I started sending you kids downstairs to the lobby when he came to visit, just so I wouldn't have to see him anymore...did you know, he fabricated some story and got a psychological discharge from the army, did you know that? Made believe he was nuts or something."
"Mommy, I'm really sorry, but I can't really hear anymore. Now that you asked, I've got a terrible headache."
"Okay, but there's just one more thing you should know. His visiting dates became erratic. Sometimes he skipped weeks and months at a time. This went on for over a year. You children never knew whether you were going to see him or not. After a while you didn't want to see him when he did visit. I didn't know what to tell you, so I finally told him if he couldn't keep a regular schedule, not to bother visiting at all."
"You told him that?"
"And he stopped?"
"Yes, he stopped."
"I bet you didn't know your grandfather once hit grandma?
"Why are you telling me this?"
"I was six years old, and grandpa had stayed out all night. gambling at a saloon. Grandma sent me to find him, 'tell him I want him to come home.' He came home all right, but he was furious. He slapped grandma across the face, and said, 'Don't ever embarrass me like that in front of my friends."
"l...Mom, I really have to go, I feel really sick. I'll call you soon. I love you. Sorry to spoil our dinner."
"Cora, what's the matter with you? You never used to act like this. At least take the rest home with you."
After the disastrous dinner with her mother, Cora took four aspirins and went to sleep with an ice pack on her head. She was still groggy the next morning, but relaxed after a long, hot shower. She chose her clothes with purpose; to emphasize her slim torso, she chose a green and white gingham body suit; to accent her waist, a burgundy wrap around dance skirt; to show off her shapely legs, high cork platform sandals.
They had agreed to meet at noon near her office.
"Richard...Dad, here I am. Sorry, I'm a few minutes late."
"That's okay. Where do you want to have lunch?"
Stupefied, Cora realized she hadn't even thought about where to have this lunch. After several moments, she finally stammered,
"I'm not really sure what's good around here."
Without missing a beat, he hailed a cab. "Luchow's," he told the cab driver. Cora had often passed this imposing structure on east fourteenth street, with its ornate, dark wooden doors, wondering what it was like inside.
A draft of cold air caused her to shiver. They were led to a round table, near the center of the large bustling dining room, and Cora felt nauseous. Calm down Cora. Calm down, he's only a man. Take some deep breaths, but when he started to talk, the queasiness returned.
"So, how have you been? Your mother told me you were married. I'm sorry it didn't work out and that I didn't call you, but I was away on business."
"When I was married for three years or for the past eight years."
"Nothing. I'm separated. The lawyer wants seven hundred dollars, and I can't afford that right now."
"Well, at least you got out when you knew it wasn't working out...and without children. Your mother and I waited too long and we had you kids. It got complicated. She told me not to visit you. Did she ever tell you that?"
"Maybe we could talk about something else."
"Your mother drove me crazy, screaming every time that I did come. I went to see a therapist and he said, 'Do whatever you need to survive,' so I stopped visiting you kids. I should have stayed with Dot -- she was the best, but she was getting too old."
"Can I ask you something?"
"How come you never called us again, after we saw you at Pretty Pants?"
"You never called me. I didn't think you were interested."
"You got me tickets to see Barbara Streisand, I called to thank you."
"I don't remember that."
"We were children when you got divorced. It wasn't for us to call you. Think of your sons at sixteen, can you imagine them doing that?"
But before he could answer, their food came.
"Do you smoke?"
"Ingrid and I like to smoke. Can't let you kids have all the fun, Colombian, I like Colombian. Of course we never smoke in front of the children."
"Excuse me, I need to go to the ladies room."
"Is everything alright?"
"Fine. Yes, be right back."
"Did you enjoy the lunch?"
"Mmmmm, delicious. Thanks. I was always curious about this place.
"It was really great to see you again, and listen, if you can't afford the seven hundred dollars for the lawyers fee, I can let you have it."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that's what fathers are for. When you decide I'll help you out. Call me, okay Honey? Well, I better get going, I have to get back to Queens."