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Ken Waters knew all along that
his second wife Julie wanted children. He thought he did, too. But
now that it’s a reality? Well, that’s a different story.
“Baby,” he said, his voice dull.
His fingers tracked through his chestnut hair. What if he lost
another child? That would just kill him. Never once had it ever
entered his mind that he might lose his beloved four-year-old
Katrina; and when he did, his mind railed.
Katrina skipped into his
thoughts—know how much I love you, Daddy?
Too much, my little Katrina, too
There’s no such thing as too
Five years had come and gone;
still, there was no accepting the loss that hibernated like a
grizzly in winter within the vacuous cavern of his mind. Fatherhood
a second time around aroused the hidden beast.
Pacing about the manse in
Cohasset, Massachusetts, Ken mumbled, “If only I had known that
night as I tucked you into bed that it was going to be for the last
time. I’d’ve hugged you tighter, breathed in the essence of baby
shampoo that lingers on those blond ringlets that flounce about your
head. I’d’ve read one more story, kissed that button nose of yours a
thousand times more, told you that I love you so much more than just
a mere too much.”
No, there’s just no way of
getting over little Katrina’s loss. So it was that with each passing
day, Ken lost sight of new bride Julie and all the positive things
she had brought to his life. Her voice and complicated simplicity
vanished quicker than the snap of fingers. No longer did he see the
fairness of her face or her expressive cocoa eyes accentuated by
lashes that picked up the golden hue of a summer’s morn. Even her
honeysuckle perfume failed to penetrate the defensive walls that he
had built around himself. Eyes that gleamed in the sunlight and the
engaging smile that outlined cheekbones that blushed like ripe
peaches became lost in the darkness of tormented nights.
All the changes Julie had made
to the manse failed to keep the ghost of Regina at bay. He fought
off the ghost with denial, haphazard activity, and single malt
Scotch—way too much Scotch. Nothing worked.
He tried to get away—on business
trips, so he claimed. That was a lost cause, for everywhere he went,
everything he saw reminded him of Katrina. He couldn’t even pick up
a book and read, for she wasn’t there, snuggled up on his lap,
listening to his every word. Worst of all, he dreaded the return to
that manse, for Regina was there. She was always there. As a result,
Ken stopped leaving the manse; therefore, he didn’t have to return.
Drowning in booze was so much easier.
Day after day, Ken sat alone in
his office on the first floor of the manse. Rarely did he think to
shower his five-foot-ten frame or to shave. More often than not, his
mind conjured up one of the happiest days of his life, the day
Katrina was born; and it seemed as though he was in the delivery
room all over again. Cold, stainless steel scissors ringed his
fingers as his hand contracted to sever the umbilical cord. Then the
obstetrician picked up the newborn and offered her to Ken as though
he were a great deity. Ken gawked at the tiny life. A grin wrinkled
the obstetrician’s green mask. “Go ahead. Take your daughter. She’s
not going to bite.” A great belly laugh shook the delivery room and
then he added, “Well, not until she gets you under her spell
Gingerly, Ken took the babe, so
tiny in his computer wiz hands. His heart overflowed. He wanted his
voice to soar high above the clouds and into the heavens beyond and
proclaim that here was a miracle. But he was tongue-tied. The
newborn had taken his breath away. He kissed the tiny nose and
sputtered, “She’s smiling at me.”
Chuckles filled the delivery
room. “Not quite yet, my friend,” blustered the obstetrician.
Nobody’s telling me that my baby
girl didn’t smile at her Daddy, thought Ken. He turned to Regina and
cold reality slapped him down, for it was more than obvious that the
entire event repulsed her. From day one she resented the
transformation that pregnancy had wrought upon her flawless body.
She had fought off stretch marks with every type of cream known to
mankind and even went so far as to purge to stop all weight gain.
Furious about being knocked up, she blamed Ken completely and
threw him out of the master bedroom for good. “It’ll be a cold day
in hell before I ever go through this again,” she had screeched over
and over again. With each passing day, a host of new curses befell
her mouth. That woman put four-letter words together in ways that
even the devil couldn’t conceive. And man, did she have a set of
lungs! Worse than any predatory harpy in classical mythology! As it
turned out the baby girl had to be taken by cesarean section. Regina
was not at all happy about being cut. She had already scheduled a
tubal ligation for the day after delivery, so now, not only was her
world-famous Hollywood plastic surgeon going to have to do away with
every scar and stretch mark, he was also obliged to do something
about that disgusting incision.
“Please hand the baby to her
mother,” the obstetrician had said.
Ken peered at all the eyes
staring at him above green surgical masks. These people didn’t know
Regina like he did. Unsure what to do, he glanced at the
obstetrician, whose eyes rolled from baby to mother. With a great
deal of reluctance, Ken stretched out his arms and muttered, “Here
you go, Regina.”
She glared at the infant and
then at Ken. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” she scoffed. “Get that
thing out of my face.”
The obstetrician and nurses
exchanged shocked looks. Suspicions Regina wanted nothing to do with
the baby confirmed, they never bothered Ken again.
The wee hours of the night found
Ken preparing formula, changing diapers, and feeding Katrina, whom
he had named after a character in a book that his mother had read to
him as a child. He bathed Katrina, cradled her in his arms, and read
to her. He slept in the nursery in the bed next to her crib, instead
of the downstairs bedroom at the back corner of the manse where he
had been sleeping ever since Regina had thrown him out of the master
bedroom. During the day while he worked in his office, the
bassinette was always within arm’s reach. If obliged to go out on
business, he bundled up Katrina and took her with him. She was a hit
everywhere they went, plus her charming disposition landed several
new clients. Ladies were attracted to this man who doted over his
little girl, but he was never ever tempted, for he refused to do
anything that might risk losing his Katrina.
Whenever a rare conflict in
schedule arose, Ken’s mother, Patty Waters, or Regina’s mother,
Gretchen Konstanze, came to the rescue. There also was Nanny Ellen
whom Regina had hired long before Katrina came into the world. An
inordinate amount of money—in advance—kept Nanny Ellen on standby
twenty-four hours a day. No unexpected gaps—that was Regina’s
motto—which was in addition to the weekly maid service that had
always been in place. She wanted nothing to do with children or
housekeeping. To Regina, kids were no more than bloated ticks on a
dog’s back. The moment plastic surgery was possible, she went under
the knife. She concentrated on getting her figure back and nothing
else. Her body, her manse, and her high-society lifestyle had to be
absolutely perfect at all times.
Yet for Ken, being so involved
in his child’s life was no inconvenience. He relished every bit of
it. Katrina was a blessing, the only good thing that came out of a
In no time he learned the
language of babies, each tone, pitch, and cadence. One meant, “I’m
hungry,” another, “I have a dirty diaper,” and still another, “I
need a change of scenery.” Then there was the one accompanied by a
reddish-blue face when Regina held Katrina, “Mommy doesn’t like me.”
“The kid’s colicky,” insisted
Regina. When nobody was looking, she chucked the little girl into
the crib to languish in the dark, silent, and vacuous nursery until
Daddy, Nanny Ellen, or one of the grandmothers discovered her
After Katrina’s birth ordinary
conversation turned uglier, intensifying with the dawning of each
new day. The moment Ken walked into the room, Regina griped, and it
led to his wondering when the hostility had actually begun. There
was the blowout on their wedding night when he found birth control
pills on the wash basin. Then there was the face off in his Beacon
Hill apartment. She wanted to move. He didn’t.
“There’s a manse in Cohasset,”
“We don’t have that kind of
money,” he said flatly.
“Gretchen and Leopold are buying
it for us,” she claimed.
“No, they’re not.”
“Okay, you tell them that! Go
ahead! Tell your brand new in-laws who adore you like their own son
that you’re snubbing their wedding present!”
The move into the manse came
Over time, Ken learned to ignore
Regina. She never had a good word to say anyway. You’re late.
Company’s on the way. The manse is a mess. Your shoes are filthy.
Look at your clothes—they’re a disgrace! Would it kill you to buy
new clothes? Clothes with style and flair? You need a haircut.
Hurry! Go change. And for Christ sake, shave! Above all, do not
disturb Katrina! She’s already been fed and is playing quietly in
her room. Nanny Ellen’s been instructed to put her to bed.
Ken never listened, for nothing
kept him away from his little girl. Of course, Regina found out, and
man, did the pooh hit the fan! She got so riled up during her high-falutin’
get-togethers whenever he disappeared upstairs to cuddle his little
Katrina and read her a goodnight story. Regina fumed quietly in
front of her snooty friends—that is, at first. As months passed,
however, she got mouthy, which cast suspicion that she wasn’t the
personage that friends thought her to be. She made up the most
God-awful stories; everything from Ken was having an affair to his
being a closet gay to his having unhealthy urges toward kids.
None of it mattered. Ken kept on
doting over Katrina, holding her tiny hand from the first day when
she could only clutch his pinkie finger through times when she
dragged him off to see the latest get-up she had dressed Ralph the
cat in or when they skipped all the way to the kitchen to dive into
a batch of Gammy Getchen’s latest baking delight. Regina went
ballistic over the crumbs on the counter, crumbs that were visible
to nobody but her.
When Katrina turned three,
Regina had the crib taken down, so Katrina had to sleep in the bed
that Ken had been using and he went back to the downstairs bedroom
at the back corner of the manse. He couldn’t hear if Katrina wanted
a drink of water in the night or if she had a nightmare. Neither
father nor daughter slept soundly, both missing each other terribly.
Yet the bond they shared couldn’t be broken.
One awful day, Regina stole
Katrina from Ken and then the Cessna crashed deep within the Florida
Everglades. Searches revealed an oil slick, traces of fuselage, and
black silk snagged upon a saw-tooth palm. The silk was part of a
dress, Regina’s, the one with the plunging neckline and slit up the
side. Since survival in the crock-infested swamp was impossible, no
rescue was attempted. Ultimately, memorial services were conducted
without the dead.
years later, impending fatherhood agitated Ken to the point that
every time his eyes fell upon new bride Julie, his mind beheld
Regina, long past crocodile bait. All the sorrow that Regina wreaked
upon his soul lived again, worse than ever. Furthermore, the ghost
of his beloved Katrina had made its presence known. The only thing
that eased the pain was single malt Scotch, but getting through each
new day required more and more. But on this June morning in 1989,
Ken hadn’t drunk so much as a drop, since the moment his eyes
opened, he believed Katrina was calling to him.