Anna Hughes was fifteen when she found out she was pregnant. It was an unseasonably hot day in early April, and she felt herself sweating, the scratchy fabric of her dress causing rashes on her skin. Sitting across from the doctor, she was certain of one thing. Even if the baby’s father married her, her parents would nonetheless find out that she’d broken her promise to God. They didn’t even know about Louis. He was twenty and worked at the local diner. They’d met when she, with her friend Ruth, the month before, had hitched to a nightclub with a fake ID. A week later, they’d met again at the diner, the night she’d given him her virginity.
She sat now with the doctor. She may have been fifteen, but she looked older. Her long blonde hair framed her face, and her wide blue eyes and defined gave her the look of a woman at least nineteen. Still, her straw hat was falling apart, her dress had a few tears in the seams and her gloves were clearly cheap, her rusted crucifix necklace hanging limply on her neck. But that was the way with everyone. It was the Depression and people looked for any way to distract themselves from the fact that no one had enough to get by.
“Is your husband….” began the doctor.
“..boyfriend?” Anna gave a slight nod. Louis wasn’t a boyfriend, not really, but if it was easier for the doctor to understand, then so be it.
“Is he on his way?”Anna shook her head. She opened her mouth, trying how to best figure out an explanation. Ruth gave her a tired smile.
“How old are you?”
Anna bit her lip. She’d written on the form that she was eighteen so that she could get in without permission. But she could tell that the doctor sensed that she was really younger. “I’m fifteen,” she said, very softly, almost inaudibly.
“Well, Miss Hughes,” he said with a deep breath. “I think I ought to call your parents and tell them where you are.”
“Please don’t do that,” Anna pleaded.
She had to talk to Louis first. Then she’d manage her parents.
“Miss Hughes,” said the doctor patiently.
There was nothing she could do to stop him. Within an hour her parents had arrived at the hospital. He hadn’t mentioned why she was there, explaining to her that it was her responsibility to tell them.
“What’s going on?” Her father said as she and the doctor both stared blankly at them.
Anna took a deep breath, as ready as she would ever be. “I’m going to have a baby.”
There was a long moment of silence as her parents faces both fell. Her mother took a deep breath and made the sign of a cross.
“Thank you, doctor,” she said finally. “We’ll discuss this with our daughter on the way home.”
Her father asked how much for the visit and hastily wrote a check. “Drop it with the front desk,” said the doctor. Then, they were off.
The drive was long, tense, and awkward. Anna stared blankly ahead at the mountains, which seemed inviting. It had no business being this hot so early in April. She realized then just how desolate the city really was, The lumber mill her father ran hadn’t been hit the way other businesses had, but in those days, everyone struggled. And Boise seemed as far away from the wonder and excitement of places like New York and Los Angeles.
“Who is the father?” Her mother asked then.
“A man I met with Ruth,” Anna responded.
“When did you meet him?” she said.
“About a month ago. We went to a nightclub.”
“What’s his name?” demanded her father.
“Louis,” Anna said, barely audibly.
“Well, Anna,” replied her mother. “You’re going to find this man and you’re going to beg him to marry you if that’s what it takes. I won’t have any daughter of mine raising a child out of wedlock.”
It took her a moment to respond. “Yes, mother.” She wasn’t even sure she knew how to contact him, but she resolved to walk to the diner with Ruth later that evening, hoping that he would be working.
There was silence again, and her father assured her that they were not done, that they would continue this later.
Anna got to thinking then about whether or not she even wanted to marry Louis, whether he would accept and what she did if he did not. She didn’t want to drop out of school. She liked school, but it seemed that was what would have to happen. She wanted to explain to her parents that she didn’t feel like she was any lesser of a Christian because she’d had sex before she was married. She didn’t regret being with Louis, but now everything seemed overwhelming. She’d always envisioned children in her life, but she didn’t know if she was ready.
When they got home, her parents retreated into their bedroom, leaving Anna alone. She called Ruth and the two met at the bus stop later that night, after dinner.
“My parents gave us money for milkshakes,” Ruth said in greeting.
“I could use one,” Anna said.
“What’s wrong?” Ruth’s family been bankers, and they had among the been the hardest hit in town. But in the past three years, they’d managed to keep afloat with a variety of odd jobs. Some weeks were better than others, and they’d had a particularly good one recently. Because of it, even though they were the same age, Ruth was more world weary, more cautious than her friend. Still, they both liked to have fun.
On the bus, Anna explained everything. She was afraid of so many things, and had spend the previous few hours running through every possible scenario in her head. That God would love her less because she’d sinned. That she’d be a bad mother. That she wasn’t sure she wanted to quit school or she loved Louis enough to marry him. That raising a child in these times, with no end in sight, seemed fruitless. Ruth didn’t have much to say except to assure her friend that it was going to be alright.
Louis was working and he smiled when the two girls sat down at the counter and ordered their milkshakes. It’s Only a Paper Moon played on the radio.
“Anna,” he said. His smile was gorgeous, his dark hair combed neatly away from his face. Maybe starting a family with him would be all right after all. They began to talk, ignoring Ruth, who didn’t seem to mind.
“Louis, I need to talk to you,” she said, finally gathering the courage. “Can we go outside for a minute?”
He sensed that it was serious and told his boss he was going to take out the trash. Then, he led her into the alleyway. It was still a warm night, and the sky was starry. Crickets chirped gently in the background.
“I’m pregnant,” she said. “It’s yours. And I want us to raise this baby together.”“Are you saying we should get married?” He asked.
Anna nodded nervously.
He froze for a moment before he broke into a smile. “Yeah, baby,” he said. “Let’s get married.” He kissed her then, which seemed, if only for a brief moment, to make all of her problems dissolve. “Is there anyone I should talk to? Your father?”“I’d love for them to meet you,” she said.
He nodded, and they walked hand in hand back into the diner together.
The next days passed by in a haze. Every night her parents gave long, anxious prayers, and at church that Sunday they seemed especially tense. They met Louis that night, and seemed to approve of him. A date was set for three weeks out, the second week of May, before her bump would start to show.
But after he left, her parents pulled her aside and bluntly stated that after she married, she would no longer be welcome in their house. Fine, Anna thought. After all, Louis had proven to be a gentlemen. He took her out dancing. He brought her roses. Showed her that life could be more.
Their wedding was a small affair, and afterward they moved into a small apartment downtown. It was two bedroom that he shared with two other young couples. With Anna there were now six, soon to be seven. They both barely squeezed onto their bed night after night. That summer was brutally hot, which only made pregnancy that much more difficult for her. She tolerated, understanding that this was just the way things were. Louis kept promising that soon they would find a place of their own. But in those days, there was still no end in sight to the Depression. Her parents maintained that they would not welcome her back, and as it turned out, Louis’s parents weren’t in the picture at all. They lived back in Iowa, and he’d left home after high school, hoping to find better work out west.
Anna spent much of that summer at the movies. It was a short walk, and the other women, Mildred and Ethel, would spend whatever pocket change they had while the men worked. Ruth came with sometimes too. There were many they loved, but King Kong was her favorite. The fantastical stories gave some reprieve from the endless repetition of their days. She enjoyed dancing too, she always had, but as she grew more and more pregnant, she found her ability to do so limited. She was due in December, and found herself wishing that the baby would just come so that things could go back to normal. It didn’t help that Mildred constantly spoke of how she never wanted to bring a child into the world, with the way it was and all.
Louis bought her roses for her birthday that October, but by then something was beginning to change. He was more irritable, more distant, and seemed to treat her as annoyance rather than his wife. She’d stopped going to church then too, even as she continued to wear the crucifix necklace around her neck every day, as her parents’ rejection of her had caused her to think about her place as a Christian. She still believed, but she saw weekly churchgoing as archaic.
That November, Anna became convinced that her husband was having an affair. He came home late, often smelling of another woman’s perfume. He snapped at her if she ever mentioned anything.
“I’m sitting here, all alone,” she complained. “You don’t even want to be here for me.”
He told her that she was being ridiculous, that he was working so that they could move into their own house and have a better future. She accepted his explanation because there was no alternative.
Their son was born five days before Christmas. Ruth had been visiting when she began going into labor and the two took a cab to the hospital.
Labor was excruciating, but Ruth held her hand the entire time. In the back of her mind, she wondered where her husband was. Still, it was quick, but what struck her is that the baby barely cried. She was worried for a moment, that something was wrong. And yet, the doctor told her that she’d given birth to a healthy baby boy. The doctor handed him over. He was breathing normally, and yet he was so quiet and calm.
Louis rushed in moments later, and the doctor gave him a look.
“Hi, baby,” he said to Anna. “I’m sorry I’m late.”
Anna gave him a weak smile. “We have a boy,” she said. He opened his eyes. Bright blue, just like hers. He began to cry then. They decided on the name Jay, after Louis’s father. As she held him and Ruth smiled, she had a twinge of hope that everything would be alright. They had a beautiful, healthy baby boy who didn’t cry.