The gravel crunched under Eldrid Monaghan’s boots in a rhythm that sounded like a slow jazz beat as he walked on the path across the park near his home. Kr-chhrrg, kr-chhrrg, kr-chhrrg. He tried to focus on the sounds and feel the beat. He tried and failed to listen to the song of the birds accompanied by the breeze rustling the leaves in the trees. It was impossible to hear anything through the pounding rush of blood through his ears. He hurried as much as he could without being obvious. The news would be the same no matter how soon he arrived, but the quiet urgency of the message that bore him home to his wife indicated something serious. The pure enjoyment of a walk in the sunshine was spoiled by the anticipation as much as playing golf ruined an otherwise good stroll across a well-cared-for lawn.
Eldrid arrived home a few minutes later with a somber look on his face and anxiety pulling his shoulders toward his ears. His wife was waiting in the living room, reclined on the sofa with Doctor Tapp sitting in the chair nearest the fireplace. The doctor rose quickly to greet him and extended a hand to shake.
“Oh boy,” Eldrid said nervously.
“We’re not sure of that just yet, but congratulations! Your wife is pregnant!” The doctor’s eyebrows were scrunched up against what used to be his hairline. Eldridge collapsed in the nearest chair.
News of the baby spread across the county within hours. Eldrid was suddenly famous and popular, but not for any of the reasons he had hoped. He had written the first article about the inability of two dozen couples to conceive children for the student paper at the high school. He had reported on “the troubles” as they went from an unusually large number of couples to nearly everyone. Eldrid knew as much as anyone did about it except for Dr. Tapp. Fifteen years later he was in the middle of the story, but not as the one writing. He was to be the subject of the stories — and surely more than enough gossip.
The next afternoon he walked the six blocks from his office at the only law firm in the medium sized town to Dr. Tapp’s office to meet with Tony Kingston. Tony was the last man to impregnate anyone anywhere in the county. He was tall, thin and graying prematurely which made him look much older than his 44 years. He stood from the leather-covered chair opposite Dr. Tapp’s desk and rushed to the door to shake Eldrid’s hand.
“Congratulations, Eldrid. I’m so happy for you and Meredith. You will pass on my congratulations to her, won’t you?
“I will. And thank you.” Eldrid looked back and forth between the two men for a few seconds. “I’d like to sit. I think I need to.”
“Of course!” Dr. Tapp motioned to the men to sit in the chairs opposite him.
“Please. There is a lot to discuss.”
“I’m sure there is.” Eldrid mumbled to himself as he sat heavily in the dark brown chair.
“So,” Dr. Tapp began. “We don’t know how this happened. We can’t be sure of a lot of things. It’s possible — and I’ve been running this through my mind for the last day — it’s possible that you never had the affliction, but being so young. Well, there was no occasion for you to learn if you had it or not. You know I’ve been working on finding a test with Tony here for the last decade. Still there’s been nothing to really point out how it happened, and no way to test for it. It seems that you are now the only two men around without it.” He paused to look back and forth between Tony and Eldrid, who hadn’t stopped staring at each other.
“What does this mean?” Eldrid already sounded defeated. He hadn’t slept all night worrying about this one question. It was the only thing that mattered to him now, because it was the only thing his sweet Meredith was concerned about. Dr. Tapp silently watched Tony. Eldrid raised his eyebrows at Tony.
“You’re wanting me to decide?” Tony said. He looked down at his hands, inspected his fingernails, cleaned out underneath one of them, looked up and continued. “I don’t know. I suppose that is really up to you, Eldrid. I’m not exactly a young man anymore. Eldrid, you’re what — thirty?”
“Right. So I’m a long way from old, but it’s changed my life. Being… me… has made everything different, and you need to know what you’re facing.” He looked up at a board covered with patient photographs on Dr. Tapp’s wall.
“I’ve done my best. I have. I wouldn’t recommend my life to anyone, and yet I’m happy for it. I was put in this position because… I don’t know. I guess I was able to bear it.”
“Bear it? Is it that much of a burden?” Eldrid looked more fearful than ever.
“No. It’s not like that. There is a duty, sure. But… there’s dignity and nobility in it. It’s just difficult to walk through town and look into the men’s faces. They all look at me with…” He trailed off.
“Dignity and nobility are great, but you make it sound awful. It’s got to be good a lot of the time, if you are honest. Isn’t it?” Eldrid looked at Tony with concern.
“Listen. I’m not going to say it is terrible to be the only one that can give a family a baby. I’m part of every family in the county almost. That’s amazing. It is. It’s awkward sometimes to think that I’ve lay with just about every girl of age for a hundred miles over the last 15 years.” Tony paused a few seconds.
“Look. Another few years, and I could be both a father and grandfather to the same kid. That’s not a thought I every hoped to have, but as the years crept on — I worried about it. I’ve been worrying about it more lately.”
“Yeah. I never thought about that. That is rough,” Eldrid said quietly.
“The hardest part is being friends with so many men and seeing so many families and knowing that those children are mine. Their dad’s know it and they know I know it. It sure makes it hard to have small talk at Davie’s Bar.” He chuckled and then took a deep sigh, but kept eye contact with Eldrid.The three men sat in silence for a minute.
“How does it work?” Eldrid asked Tony. “I mean, would you retire then? Would I need to quit my job at the Firm?”
“Oh right. I didn’t even think about the logistics,” Dr. Tapp said spontaneously, then quickly made a zipper motion with his fingers over his mouth.
Tony calmly smiled and looked back and forth between the men a couple times. “It’s pretty simple. I kept my job. I sure wish the doc here could have made it work to do it with a procedure so I didn’t have to be there. Don’t think I’m complaining, though. I did it as a service to the town and the county. Occasionally I even travelled to other counties to help out. I never took payment. That would be… weird at least, and probably wrong. I think so, anyway.
“It’s a sort of part-time thing, you know? It doesn’t take a lot of time as you can imagine, but it is difficult emotionally. Know that. Being intimate with nearly every woman you see isn’t easy, and then consider Meredith. It’s impossible to know what she will say. The poor woman. You should both think of it like you’re performing a medical procedure.”
Eldrid shifted in his chair uneasily, and tugged on the bottom of his shirt to smooth it out. He looked up at the wall of faces. He looked back at the furrowed brow of the man in the other brown leather chair.
“How am I supposed to… succeed if I’m pretending I’m uninterested? Don’t I have to be a little interested?” Eldrid looked very concerned.
“Sure. Well of course, you have to be interested, but my point is — my point is that you and Meredith should think about it that way. That’s all.”
Eldrid squirmed around in his chair some more, then cleared his throat. “Shoot. Well clearly, you can’t go on much longer, Tony. The grandfather thing is too much, really. There is no other than the two of us, as far as we know, right?”
Dr. Tapp confirmed with a vigorous head nod.
“Well then I must do it. You will retire, Tony. We will soon be two brothers, cousins, and uncles to each other’s families. There is no other choice. I will do it. Meredith must understand. I hope she will.”
Tony bowed his head slightly to his younger friend.
“It’s settled, then.” Dr. Tapp said, looking at Eldrid. “You are the new Maker.”