Sue-Ann Pederson gave birth hard, on a cracked linoleum floor, beige and black. When her son popped out, the toaster oven on the counter by the fridge rang, indicating the bread was ready for its oleo-margarine, cinnamon not far behind. Sue-Ann sang out, "Ding! Ding!" as she always did in the morning, while fixing her father's breakfast. When the lady paramedic asked the baby's name, her silver pen in hand, she paused only a second, cocking her head, before entering D-i-n-g carefully into her logbook.
Sue-Ann hadn't known much love in her life. It was a revelation, like swimming underwater for the first time, then breaking into the air, into the light, to be so necessary to someone. And she was necessary to Ding. At the hospital, they taught her how to hold him, how to change him, how to swaddle. She really liked the swaddling. It seemed both loving and confining, and the idea of it brought a strange comfort.
When she brought her son to her breast, he stared up into her eyes, never wavering, with a fierceness that took her breath from her. Only when fully sated would he give way, pass out, and still he clung to her tight.
No one had known Sue-Ann was pregnant. Her mother sat in the living room, day after day, chain smoking and looking out the greasy window. Her father worked at the fabricators. He was a machinist. He left at 5:30, after his toast and coffee; got home around 3:00. He'd clomp down the basement stairs, six-pack in hand. She'd hear the t.v. down there, but he never came up again till time for breakfast.
Sue-Ann's parents hadn't had much to do with her for her whole life. She came early, and her mom would leave her in her crib for hours with her bottle. Sometimes it had milk in it. Most times, weak tea. The specialists had said she might have brain damage, might be autistic. It didn't really matter. Sue-Ann's mother just shrugged and looked away, thinking of getting outside, thinking of not being in some bright room with some bright doctor peering at her. Social services were called in, but they were kind of hit or miss.
One September afternoon, when Sue-Ann was 19, a man named Hoke knocked on the door. He'd been trimming the hedge on the grade school property across the street. He was asking for a glass of water, but really looking for something he might steal and sell downtown. One look at the house, though, and he saw there'd be nothing for the pawn shop today, nosir. But there was this girl here, yeah. She might be a little slow, but she sure smiled at him, she sure liked him. She even laughed at his jokes.
Hoke came back after dark, scratched at the back door. When she opened it, Sue-Ann couldn't have known she was meeting her future, creating her destiny. She couldn't have known that something so wrong might actually save her. She didn't know much, Sue-Ann, but she was going to find out about love.