Pride Before A Fall (short story)

The sun was starting to turn red in the sky over the trees on the other side of the quarry as Sherrie led Dan along the edge of the cliff.  There were still families swimming at the far end, where the quarry had flooded years ago. You could ignore the ugliness of the man-made hole if you looked above the scrub weeds and scrap metal littering the bottom eighty feet below.

Sherrie turned and let go of Dan’s hand.  She went up on her toes, put her arms around his neck, and kissed him smartly on his lips.  “I’m so happy!”

Dan grunted agreement, kissed her a bit roughly and caressed her breast through her sweater.  Sherrie blocked his hand from further forays with her elbow.

“We have to talk,” she said, suddenly serious.

“About what?” Dan asked suspiciously.

“Something serious…”

“Yes?” When no immediate response was forthcoming, Dan continued, “It’s not about my drinking again, is it?”

“No, not really.  But I think your drinking may be affected by what I’m gonna say.”

“Didja catch religion?” He sneered, “Are you gonna catch religion like the first time I put my hand up your shirt?  Like the..”

“Why do you have to say it like that?”  Sherrie’s voice was bitchy and whiny even to herself and she hated it.  She tried to gather her voice.  “I don’t ‘catch religion’, I just…”

“You just turn on me after we’ve gone too far.  After.  You go along, and you like it.  Hell, you even start it, start kissing me, telling me you love me, let me touch you, you start liking it, and when we’re through you give me these damn guilt-trips like it was my fault.”

He took a short, mean slug from his Schlitz can and interrupted Sherrie’s stuttered protests.  “I don’t want to hear this again.  You’ve got no right.  You just play this game, play along.  I touch you,  you move your hand.  I put it back, you move it again.  I touch you again.  Third time’s the charm.  Same with “no”.  You say no a coupla times, let me do it, then afterwards everything’s all my fault.  Damn!”

Dan took another swig of beer, this one bigger.  “This religion’s a great thing, isn’t it?  Preacher’s daughter, sixteen years old, does what she wants.  Then falls back on religion afterwards, blames it all on the big bad boyfriend.  Damn it, I’m eighteen, Sherrie Ann.  Eighteen.  Why can’t you be like me and take responsibility for what you do, huh?  Instead you catch religon…”

“Well, I caught pregnant this time, Dan.  Pregnant.  Not no religion.  I’m pregnant.”  Her voice broke from a startling yell to sobs.

Dan didn’t do any of the things she dreamed or feared he would.  He didn’t hug her or propose, didn’t hit her, didn’t cry.  He just took a step back, shaking his head in disbelief, saying softly, “No, no, oh no.  Nuh uh.”  He held his head in his hand and was silent for a minute.  Then loudly, distinctly, “How can you be pregnant, Sherrie Ann?  Huh?  We always used rubbers.  I always wore them.  I did what you have to do to prevent pregnancy.  So how you gonna tell me that YOU went and got pregnant?”  He finished off the last of his beer in one long gulp.

“I don’t know, Dan.  Those things aren’t perfect, you know.  They could have holes…”

“Holes?!?!” Dan fairly shouted, “And how could they have gotten there?  How come you know they had holes in them, Sherrie Ann?”

“Dan!” Her voice was out of control again, sobbing, whining like a girl’s.  She wished she didn’t sounds like a child.  “It didn’t have to be holes.  It could be from us laying together after, or…or it slipping or something.”

“You go and put the holes in the condoms and you expect me just to shrug it off, oops, no big deal, Sherrie Ann’s pregnant, oops these things happen?  Bullshit!  I bet you had this all planned, all figured out.  You probably got a white dress in your closet right now.  You probably got a little bridal registry set all picked out at stores all over.  All I gotta do is get you pregnant.  Well, it won’t work.  It’s bullshit.  It’s not fair.”

“Dan!  Don’t do this to me.  I can’t make it alone.  I swear it’s not like that at all.  Please, Dan.  Just be a friend.  Let’s not talk about this right now.  We got time.  Let’s not…”

“Not talk about it?  Not talk about it?  How the hell we gonna not talk about it?  Jesus Christ!”  He threw his empty disgustedly over the cliff and pulled a new one from his jacket pocket.  He popped the top, took a sip.  “I ain’t going along with your happy games.”  In a vicious mimicry, “Dan!  I’m pregnant!  Dan!  Let’s get married!  Dan!  Let’s not talk about it!”  He shook his head.  “Jesus H. Christ!  What do you expect me to do?”

“Please, Dan.  God, oh please, just don’t be like this.  Don’t be angry, I didn’t try for this.  Oh, please, can’t we just not talk about this when you’re upset?  We can talk tomorrow, or in a week, or…”  She broke off into sobs, sniffed, “I’m just scared, we have to think and I can’t tell my parents, Lord no.  They’ll throw me out.  There’s no one I know, Dan, just you.  So please let’s not talk about it now, ok?  Just hold me and we’ll think of something.  Please, Dan.”

“Just hold you?!?  How do you think this all started in the first place?  You make me sick!”  He shook his head bitterly.  He looked out over the quarry at red and yellow sky where the sun had just dipped below the horizon.  Damn, he should have joined the Army when the recruiter had called him, should have just gone far far away from this little shithole town.

Sherrie breathed deep, started to calm down and stand up straighter.

“Here I am, eighten.  Eighteen years old, and here you come saying you’re pregnant.  Well that’s just grand.  Just fine and dandy.  Little sixteen year-old, getting a little growed up.  Thinks she knows everything, thinks she’s got the man of her dreams.  So it just happens there’s holes in the condoms.  Gee whiz, she just happens to catch pregnant.  Gee whiz, she has a husband.  Well, it won’t work.  I got too much going for me.  Too much to see yet for you to go screwing it all up with this little baby of yours.”

Dan walked to the edge of the cliff, spat over, and moved back away.  Another sip of Schlitz.  “Well, you’re wrong.  Dead wrong.  It won’t be like that.  You get into a mess, you gotta get out of it.”

Dan took a long sip of beer, was silent briefly.  Then, his voice softer, “If you want to maybe go to a doctor, you know, a clinic like up in Pittsburgh, well, I could help out.”

Sherrie said nothing.  Dan started to warm up to his topic, caught up in his generosity.  “I’ll drive, and pay half and all.  Except you don’t have a job, so maybe I could pay for all of it.  Yeah, I’d do that for you.  But you g….”

“I knew it would be bad, but not like this.”  Dan turned suddenly at the sure sound of her voice, the strength and resignation.  “I’m just glad I told Heather.”

“What are you talking about?” Dan spat, “You told that loudmouth about it?  Oh Gawd!”

“Yes, I told that loudmouth about it.  I also told her that when I told you I was pregnant, you went berserk, said you weren’t the daddy.  You were so mad you said you could kill me.  Told her you invited me up here, told her…”

“You got that backwards.  YOU invited ME to the quarry.  You never said anything to me before now.  What are you getting at?”  Dan looked around, suspiciously.  He stepped back a pace.

“I told her you were just furious.  Swearing up a storm.  Acting crazy.  I told her how my life was ruined if my parents found out. Told her how I’d have to drop out of school, told her you wouldn’t support the baby.”  She shook her head, snorted, “My life is ruined, Daniel Herron.  Ruined.  I…I knew it would end this way, knew as soon as I missed my period.  But I thought maybe I could talk some sense into you.  Thought, well..thought maybe you loved me.”  She smiled sadly and stepped towards him.

Dan took a step back, asked nervously, “What are you talking about, Sherrie?  What are you saying?”  He stepped back.

“My life’s ruined, Daniel.  Over.  Over, don’t you see?  And I could have maybe just have made it if you loved me or even offered to stand by me.  I was half at fault for this, but I’m doing all the paying.  I’m the one pregnant, and you worry about yourself.  I’ve lost my family and all my friends from church and I can’t even graduate from high school.  I can just find a place to stay and collect welfare and raise my child for eighteen years.  And I ain’t but sixteen.  And you just worry about poor old you.  Well, I can’t take it, Daniel.”  She took two steps towards him.

He edged back, hands in front of himself.  “Sherrie, look, don’t act crazy.  I know you’re mad at me now…”

“Oh, Daniel,”  she said, suddenly softening, “I’m just upset.  I took it out on you.  I’m sorry.  Hold me and tell me you love me.”

They embraced.  Sherrie looked up at him, moved her head close.  She kissed him long and slow.  He kissed her, ran his hand through her hair, slipped his tongue into her mouth.  They both began to breathe heavily.

She suddenly kneed him in the crotch.  He bent at the middle, grimacing in pain.  She grabbed the sides of his head in her hands and tore her fingernails across his face and neck, gouging deep into his skin.  He fell to his knees, one hand holding his crotch, the other barely waving her away.  He was unable to defend himself.  She reached out and scratched his hand, drawing blood, then punched his head twice, bruising her knuckles.  He fell to his face.

When nothing happened for a moment or so, he looked up off the ground at her, “OK…I deserved that…”

He looked up at her, breathing raggedly, as she stood by the edge of the cliff, radiant and smiling.  “Goodbye, Daniel,” she whispered.

Then she screamed aloud, a terrifed and anguished shriek.  She doubled over with the effort, screamed loud enough that the people loading the last of their picnic goods into their cars at the parking lot could hear, “HELP!!  Help!! Oh my God no!  STOP IT!  DAN!!  Help!  HELP!!! SOMEBODY SAVE ME!!!!!”

She rushed over the edge of the cliff and hurled herself down.  She screamed until she and her unborn baby and the skin under her fingernails and her bruised knuckles smashed against the rocks below.

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