fiction

Clairvoyance

Jane was happy for Fiona. But what was this other feeling, buried within it?

Photo: d3sign/Getty Images
Photo: d3sign/Getty Images
Photo: d3sign/Getty Images

Fiona hadn’t been invited to Jasper’s wedding, obviously. Later on, she saw pictures online, posted by old college friends they both knew. Jasper and his bride posing on the beach in Honolulu. He had on white linen slacks and a cream-colored guayabera, a lei of dark green leaves draped over his shoulders that hung in two thick vines down the front. The wife, pretty in a bookish way, with a bright smile and dark blond corkscrews. She wore a crown of gardenias and baby’s breath on her head. The top and bottom halves of her body looked as if they belonged to two different women. She had narrow shoulders and arms like matchsticks but below the waist, her hips flared voluptuously. Fiona studied the pictures, trying to decide if she felt anything about them. Jasper, her college sweetheart, her first love.

She reached for the phone to call up Jane.

“Well, you’re winning,” Jane said. “You’re on your second marriage, he’s only on the first.” A laugh in her voice. “What an amateur.”

“He looks constipated,” Fiona said. “He never knew how to smile like a real person.”

“It takes practice to look like a real person,” Jane agreed.

“I never thought he would get married,” said Fiona. “I always had a feeling he would end up alone and weird—”

“What’s her name?” Jane asked. “Who is she?”

“Kenji said she’s rich.”

“Rich how? What did he say?”

“Maybe now he can finally finish writing his novel,” Fiona said.

It had been more than a decade since Fiona moved to New York, straight from undergrad. Back then, she and Jasper were boundless, dancing along the city’s golden rhythm. Nothing and nobody could stop them.

“Fi? You still there?” Jane said.

Fiona realized she’d been silent a long while. “I’m still here,” she said. “Guess what.” She hesitated a moment. “I’m—well, the thing is … I’m pregnant.”

“What?”

“I went to the doctor’s yesterday. It’s only eleven weeks, but—”

“You’re having a baby?” Jane said. “I didn’t even know you were trying to—wait a minute,” Jane said, her voice suddenly serious. “You want this, right?”

“Yes,” Fiona said quickly. “I do. We do.”

“Oh my God. I can’t believe it,” Jane said. She was quiet for a moment. “A baby!” she said. “Congratulations,” she added. “Did I say that already?”

Fiona felt warmth spread through her chest. She recognized then that she felt relieved. Now that she’d told Jane, the baby felt real.

“Are you having a boy or a girl?”

“Too early to tell,” Fiona said. “Bobby wants a girl.”

“Course he does,” said Jane. “By the way, I can’t believe you told him before you told me.”

Fiona laughed. “I mean—he’s only the dad—”

“So what?” The laughing was back in her voice. “Male privilege strikes again.”

“You hate babies,” Fiona said.

“I won’t hate yours.”

“You said babies shouldn’t be allowed in public last week.”

“Your baby won’t be an asshole like the one sitting next to us at brunch.”

“What if she is an asshole?” Fiona said. “Or he?”

“Dude, see,” Jane said. “You’re totally winning over Jasper. It’s sealed now, with this baby.”

Fiona recalled the time she and Jasper walked over the bridge into Brooklyn to cheer for Kenji in the Idiotarod: stolen Pathmark carts festooned in tin foil, silk flowers, and painted cardboard; grown men in stretch-Lycra bodysuits muffing down Bedford Avenue. Kenji was on a team with some teachers from his school. Dirty, hardened snow piled up along the sidewalk, her breath visible in the air. At the finish line, she stood with her hand tucked inside the pocket of Jasper’s corduroy coat, her ears frozen, nose dripping, watching for Kenji to bend around the corner. When he finally appeared, shopping cart wheels scraping, she’d waved wildly and shouted his name but couldn’t catch his eye. Kenji rushed for the long red ribbon that hung across the middle of the wet black street. She’d looked up at Jasper then. A smile creased his face. In his eyes, she glimpsed her whole future.

That was all before Kenji got sick.

He’d recovered, anyway. It took time, but he got his mouth back. His throat, his voice. His hair grew in after the chemo rounds, his eyebrows and eyelashes. His skin lost that waxy, plastic doll sheen. She’d been afraid he might die. If he had, Fiona thought, maybe she and Jasper might have worked things out, sewn together by grief. Then she felt terrible for imagining that possibility.

In her New York years, Fiona had lost touch with Jane. She wondered now if it had been on purpose, the way she let the time between returning Jane’s phone calls, her emails, stretch out languorously. In truth, didn’t she believe her life, the choices she made possible for herself, superior to Jane’s? The odd jobs Jane worked, and often lost, carelessly, after they graduated high school. Of course, Jane didn’t really have to work, did she? Her mother always floated her money anyway. Then her father died, the way he did. Fiona had left California that year.

“Did I ever tell you,” Fiona said quietly into the phone, “about the time—Jasper and me, we accidentally …” She couldn’t bring herself to say the words. Was it bad luck to bring it up now?

“What happened?” Jane said.

“Nothing,” Fiona said. She touched a hand to her belly. If she hadn’t done it, that child would be—how old? Almost a teenager.

“Hey. You okay?” Jane said. “I was joking. About Jasper, winning—”

“I had an abortion. Years ago,” Fiona said. “Obviously, I had to. I mean, we talked about it. What if we—Jasper wanted to keep it, more than me.”

Jane was quiet.

“It happened right after we moved to New York. We didn’t even have a sofa yet.” Fiona shook her head. “It’s not like I regret it or anything.” She thought of that apartment on Mulberry Street and recalled the scent of almond cookies from the Italian bakery on the ground floor. “It was the right decision.”

“Of course it was,” Jane replied.

“But it just makes me think,” Fiona said after a moment. “And seeing his dumb wedding photos—”

“Think what?”

“I don’t know,” said Fiona. “That some part of me still—I remember thinking, when I took that pill to make the abortion happen—we’ll get to do it for real one day, you know? Me and him.”

“Part of you still, what?”

“Loves him.”

“No—”

“It doesn’t mean anything,” Fiona said. “I’m happy.” She laughed, though she didn’t know why. “I’m happy, I mean it. Everything’s great.”

“What’s going on?” Jane asked. “Seriously—is Bobby—”

“Nothing,” Fiona said. “I swear. I’m fine.” She laughed again, and this time it felt like she’d pressed a valve, pressure alleviated. “Janie,” she said. “Don’t you ever think about what other lives you could be living?”

“Hell no,” said Jane. “What’s the point of that? Once it’s done, I’m over it. No regrets.”

“You weren’t always like that—”

“I learned from Won.”

“Now we know where you went wrong,” said Fiona, and then they both laughed. After a moment, Fiona said, “I was thinking about my mom this week.”

Jane made a noise, half grunt and part moan. A comforting sound. “I know.”

She was quiet. “I miss her, too,” she said finally. It had been two years since Auntie Wendy passed. “I think she would’ve liked Bobby,” Jane said.

“You think so?” Fiona wanted to believe her.

“Tell him I said congrats, too,” Jane said, and Fiona promised she would.

“Can I tell you something?” Fiona said suddenly. Jane waited for her to go on. “I’ve never told you about my dad.” She paused a moment. “My biological father. Back in Taiwan.” She took a breath. “I can finally talk about it, now that Mom’s …”

Jane listened to her best friend tell the story of how her mother became a mother, at sixteen. Her father, Fiona said, was an older boy—a college student, studying under Fiona’s grandfather. In all the years they’d been friends, Jane had never asked Fiona about her father. It wasn’t that she hadn’t been curious; some things, even between friends like they were, remained unspoken, passed over in silence. Fiona talked on. Jane could hardly imagine it; Auntie Wendy, a scandalized teenage mother, all on her own. And yet, she could see it all so clearly: Fiona as a little girl, her mother’s treasure, protected at all cost. They were happy, Jane knew without Fiona saying so, mother and daughter close in a way that had always felt foreign to Jane.

Growing up, Jane preferred playing at Fiona’s house, where there were no restrictions on what they could watch on TV, how long the set stayed on, or whether they’d finished their homework first; where their afternoon snacks were pepperoni Hot Pockets heated up in stiff paper sleeves, fried shrimp and teriyaki hot wings from the casino buffet in Styrofoam takeout containers; where all sorts of kids in the apartment complex dropped by to ask if Fiona wanted to go ride bikes, if they’d heard the ice-cream truck go past yet today. And when they were teenagers, Fiona’s mother was more like a friend than a parent. She gossiped with the girls, told them outrageous stories about the casino regulars. Auntie Wendy never scolded, unlike Jane’s mother, who was always breathing down her daughter’s neck, finding fault.

“Do you ever think about finding him? Your … father?”

“No,” said Fiona without hesitation. “And anyway, now, there’s no point.” She was quiet for a moment. “I don’t ever want my baby to feel that way,” Fiona said. “Unwanted.”

“Fiona—”

“I made my mom’s life so hard. And then I think about what I did—”

“You were wanted,” Jane said. “What you and Jasper chose to do—it was the right thing.” A pause. Then: “And this baby? She’s wanted, too.”

“She?”

“I have a feeling,” said Jane.

They hung up the phone. In her apartment, Jane settled back into the sofa. She folded her hands in her lap. It was Saturday, and she had the rest of the afternoon ahead, nothing planned other than a couple errands: the car due for an oil change, and another thing she couldn’t remember now. What was it? Something or other she’d put off all week. Still she sat there, considering what Fiona had just told her. A baby coming. Fiona and Bobby’s baby. She was going to be an aunt! Jane sighed. Everything was going to change. She stood and plodded to the kitchen, opened the refrigerator door, and peered inside.

Fiona was going away, she thought. There were three cans of Diet Coke left. A wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano in a sandwich bag. Jane felt afraid. She thought of Bobby and despised him a little. She thought of the annoying habits he had that Fiona complained about, and then the ones she’d noticed herself but kept quiet on—analyzing Bobby was like commenting on the weather. He existed regardless, her best friend’s husband, and Jane accepted this as fact. She shut the refrigerator door.

At the grocery store later, after the oil change, Jane overheard a man on the phone asking if there was enough butter, or if he should pick up another package. Do we get the salted or the unsalted? he said. Jane thought it was a lovely question. She reached for the red carton of salted butter and placed it in her basket even though it wasn’t on her list.

She was happy for her best friend. She hadn’t known that Fiona wanted a baby. After her mother passed, Fiona suddenly became serious about meeting a man and marrying again. For a while, after divorcing Aaron, she’d shut off that part of herself, it seemed. All their lives, Fiona had attracted attention without trying. It wasn’t only that she was beautiful, smart, stylish. Jane understood now that there was something guarded about Fiona, as if she were always looking behind her, watching her back. Even while her eyes were fixed on you, Fiona was casing the room for the exits. Some alert quality about her that was unsettling, and sexy.

Jane had never felt jealous of Fiona. She didn’t compete with her; she’d only ever wanted her to stay. When they were younger, she never wanted Fiona to go home at the end of the night. She could sit in Shamu, Fiona’s old hatchback, talking on, forever. The two of them shared everything, and a compliment to one was accepted equally by the other, though most often, Jane knew, it was Fiona to whom the unsolicited kind words were directed, and Jane who stood in the refracted light.

Groceries stowed in the trunk, she drove back to her apartment listlessly.
Everything seemed back on track again in Fiona’s life. Last year, she’d transferred her credits to UCLA and completed the law degree she’d abandoned in New York. She passed the California bar on the first try. She met Bobby on Tinder. Now, a baby.

Jane was happy for her. Yes, she really was. But what was this other feeling, buried within it? Fiona was leaving again. She was always leaving. And this time, Jane feared there would be no coming back. A baby changed everything, more than a man ever could. She’d thought they had more time. There were still so many silences, passed over. Fiona was going away now—some other planet, where mothers lived—while Jane remained here in place. She moved through the apartment, from room to room, turning on the lamps, as though searching for something. Nothing was missing. She felt as lonely as she’d ever been.

From FIONA AND JANE by Jean Chen Ho, published on January 4, 2022 by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2022 by Jean Chen Ho.

Fiona and Jane
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Clairvoyance: An Excerpt from Fiona and Jane