Tomorrow's Child

by Lisa Mason


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The cop said they found Turner's daughter, but she wasn't at the Palo Alto PD, she was in Emergency at Stanford Medical. It was bad. Even over the phone the cop couldn't conceal the anguish in his voice. Real bad.

Turner told his driver to take the Rolls right up to the Emergency entrance. Three car-accident victims were also coming through, twisted limbs spelling out some terrible omen.

There had been other hospitals, other calls from Emergency, and Turner had come for her. From the boardroom, making hasty exits from important meetings, he had always come. Anger and displeasure with her had long ago replaced most of the worry. He thought of himself, self-righteously, as fulfilling his fatherly duties at moments like these. He wondered what crazy prank she'd pulled this time.

But nothing could have prepared Turner for what had happened to Angela.

The crisp, mottled thing with no fingers or toes or recognizable face lay packed in ice water beneath a plastic tent. A web of tubes was somehow keeping the alien-looking body alive.

If alive made any sense.

Jeanine, recovering from her faint in the lobby, began a hysterical chant, "How could she do this? How could she do this?" until Turner told her to shut up. Ever the obedient wife, she did.

"Well?" Turner confronted an ashen doctor.

Angela had second- and third-degree burns on more than ninety percent of her body. They found her in some East Palo Alto shooting gallery. The bedroom had gone up like a torch. She and her hoodlum boyfriend had been cooking up a methysynthetic known on the street as blue moon.

The boyfriend hadn't made it.

Turner assembled these facts in an orderly fashion and filed them neatly in his mind under an incomprehensible heading called Angela. He bent over the tent. Fury filled him.

"Angela," he said. "You dumb little bitch. I could kill you for this."

"Mr. Turner," the ashen doctor said. "She's not expected to live through the night."

He didn't want to in front of all those strangers, but Turner began to cry.

He had his driver take Jeanine home in the Rolls, and Turner took her Mercedes. He turned the car west, to the sea, and drove into the sun. He felt a strange detachment from his physical self, as though his body was barely there.

Like Angela's body.

Angela. He remembered a little girl with cornsilk hair who once upon a time had adored her daddy. Angela in ballet class, in her Swiss boarding school frock, tanned nut brown at St. Croix, astride her Arabian mare.

He had given her everything a man of his wealth could give an only daughter.

He contemplated the images of her like fingering a rosary, found them cool and smooth as marble. Lifeless. Revealing nothing. How had she turned into such a rotten fifteen-year-old?

He and Jeanine knew as much about proper child rearing as any other modern, enlightened parents. They had striven to give Angela quality time and a sense of order in her life. They had carefully reviewed the nannies, the teachers, the schools. They discussed her future, the bright hopes they had for her.

Perhaps Jeanine should have been paying more attention. She was the mother, after all. One or two less fashion shows or parties.

Turner himself had never had much spare time, especially in the last ten years. CEO of Landover Industries, he worked eighty-hour weeks for an eight-figure salary. Landover was the leading producer of jet aircraft and rocketry for the U.S. Air Force, as well as several allied powers, and monopolized the space shuttle business. When he had taken a moment to consider his pace, his self-sacrifice, he told himself his career, the house, the portfolio — everything was for her.

Now he saw it all as so much shit.

Angela was always a wild child, daring the world to crush her. A beautiful baby with a bruised forehead. An elfin five-year-old with a mangled hand. At nine, ten, and eleven her slim, tanned body bore at one time or another a frightening array of broken bones: a rib, both forearms, the left knee once, the left ankle twice.

And at thirteen. At thirteen, a tear-stained face on the videophone. A young woman with a wound that wouldn't heal.

But the young woman's father was a busy, important man, and he was already displeased with her, with her recklessness. He couldn't understand her pain. When he flew to Geneva and found out what crazy prank she'd pulled this time, he'd shouted at her, humiliated her, leaving her in the hands of strangers.

That was when she started to change, Turner realized, when she slipped completely out of his control.

He came to see her for Christmas; she refused to say a word. He sent a diamond pendant for her fourteenth birthday; she sent the package back to him unopened. Every meeting became tainted with rage. His rage; her rage, too, was something new. There was an abortion and dismissal from boarding school. She came back from Europe with needle tracks in her arms.

He turned the car onto I-35 to Half Moon Bay. A gorgeous, crystalline California night descended. Stars winked on. Venus and Mars aligned with a crescent moon. Turner had always held order in the highest regard. Now, as Angela lay dying, the inexorable order of nature filled him with disgust and loathing.

He had last seen Angela a month ago.

She showed up at the annual Founding Day party for Landover Industries. A tent had been erected behind Turner's house. An extra staff of thirty and a band had been hired. News photographers and several important Air Force officials were present. Her cornsilk hair was peculiarly cut and shaved and greased into some monstrous topknot dyed blue. Her kohl-rimmed eyes were sardonic. She brought her hoodlum boyfriend, who had dressed for the occasion in spiked wristbands, scruffy black leather pants, and little else. She wore a Band-Aid of a skirt, fishnet stockings visibly held up with a garter belt, and a black leather jacket emblazoned on the back ANGEL ASS.

"How dare you show up here looking like a hooker," he said.

"I'd rather ball than make bombs," she said.

"Go upstairs and wash your face."

"Screw you."

He seized her arm, bent her over his knee, and whacked her on the butt.

She screamed at him, "Fucking baby killer!" Right in front of the deputy Air Force chief lieutenant general.

Turner had the butler and the driver throw her and the boyfriend out until the end of his party. She didn't come back. She disappeared with two thousand in cash stolen from her father's dresser drawer and her mother's ruby ring.

He reached Route 1. Fog obscured the treacherous cliffside road.

He could see the whole Founding Day incident now. Clearly. Objectively. As though he had been someone else acting out the part of himself.

God, she knew how to push his buttons. Baby killer, right. And of course he did a knee jerk, just like she wanted. What a fool he was. She was still reaching out to him. The gorgeous little bitch. Even the Air Force brass was trying to look up her skirt. Did her hoodlum friends really call her Angel Ass?

He was laughing. He was crying. He was laughing.

There was so much he wanted to explain to her. There was so much he wanted to ask her. How did she describe him to her girlfriends? Did she have any girlfriends? The missed birthdays, the lost years. She was like a stranger to him.

He had never meant to hurt her. Now all he wanted was another chance to be her father.

He would not let her die.


This story copyright © 1989 by Lisa Mason. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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