The Cuckoo's Nest
by Cassie Ingaben
Conrad's expression had telegraphed that something was not right, so when Frieda walked into the library Klaus was already prepared. Not that the wrongness was difficult to spot: she was tense, body rigid with fear, eyes not meeting his.
She sat down, waving away the suggestion of refreshments, and plunged in with accustomed directness. "I am pregnant."
Klaus stared for a few seconds. "Who is the father?"
"Don't know his name. I was drunk."
Frieda jumped up, defiance and fear propelling her. "Why not? I had to know what I was missing."
Klaus nodded reluctantly. "And did you find out?"
"I wasn't missing much. Or maybe I just can't enjoy the high life. Too much noise." She plunged back into the sofa. Shrugged.
Klaus lit a cigarette, then put it out. Not good for the child. He stood up and went to the window. "So, what now?"
"I don't know." For the first time, a baffled desperation surfaced on her features.
"Since you're telling me, I am assuming you want to keep it?"
"I said, I don't know!" She threw her hands up.
Klaus went to his desk and picked up a pen and pad. "You should make a list of the possible alternatives, then add two columns, for pros and cons."
Frieda had to suppress the sudden urge of throwing the marble ashtray at Klaus's head, and stared at him. Klaus threw down the pad, and sighed: "I really could never understand you."
"I can see that."
Klaus paused, and in the heavy silence he found himself lighting a cigarette anyway. He contemplated the burning tip. "Why are you telling me anyway? What do you want?"
She sounded very tired. "I don't want anything, Klaus. I just thought you should know. You'll want to make it known the marriage plans are scuppered. I bet your father won't like it."
Klaus waited until the end of his cigarette. "Why should they be?"
"You must be joking!"
"If we went ahead, you could have the child, and no scandal."
Frieda shook her head. "Which part of 'I had a one-night stand and got randomly pregnant' do you not understand? Why should you, Mr. Proper-And-Honourable, want to marry me?"
"And this would be a good reason? I promised too, except this little development invalidates it. I am telling you, Klaus. If this is out of pity I'll brain you with this ashtray."
"I doubt you could do it."
She grabbed the object, marble as cold as her eyes. "Try me."
"Put that down. I think we should marry. Nobody needs to know anything."
She banged the ashtray on the table. "What are you getting out of this? Is this one of your schemes?"
"I think this would suit us. When you stayed for the summer, back in—"
"I remember, thank you. But I am not sure it applies any longer."
"As far as I am concerned, it still applies."
She barked out a laugh, deep in her throat. "Sorry to hear it. But being the eternal fiancés is not feasible anymore."
"So you want the baby?"
Now it was Frieda's turn to go to the window. The Schloss's park was aflame with autumn leaves. "It should be due in May. What a birthday present you'll have."
Klaus stood. "In this case, I am repeating my offer. Marry me."
"What if I actually meet someone else I can have an actual relationship with."
"We can come clean about the situation, and get an annulment."
"What if you meet someone else you can have an actual relationship with."
Klaus looked down, face pained. "It won't happen."
Frieda whirled around, incredulous. "It already happened." It was not a question. Klaus gritted his teeth but gave no answer. "You really are ruthless. Is this about mortifying the flesh? Am I going to be your punishment? This is not the nineteenth century, Klaus! Does he even know?"
The silence continued unbroken. Eventually, she folded her arms over her chest, and sighed.
"So. I'll get respectability, and a child. And the money and comfortable life, of course. But what will you get?"
"An heir. And safety."
"So he does know, after all."
"Not about me. Not for sure. But he does know his mind."
"I don't know if you are insane or idiotic."
"Whatever suits you. Under the circumstances, I suggest we arrange plans speedily. Private ceremony, Eberbach church, I think. I'll let you draw up the invitation list. I will oversee the rest. You can get yourself whatever dress you like, just send me the bill."
"Right. A list. Should I invite him too?"
"I am already hurting him enough as it is."
Frieda shrugged, then crossed to the coffee table, and grabbed the pen and pad. She knew when she was beaten, which always brought out her pragmatic side. "How many people does this church hold?"
30 June 2009