Even before she was born people were talking about how beautiful she was going to be. Because, you know, how the old folks say that two ugly people have beautiful babies? Well, Lisa and John, were not considered beautiful by any; not even their own parents. As cliché’ as it sounds Lisa’s nose was continually compared to your classic roman emperor’s. That’s just the simple fact of it. And she was plagued with rosacea. Summer, winter, spring, or fall it didn’t make a difference; people kept asking her if she’d got sunburned. That always ticked her off. She wanted to reply, ‘That’s my excuse, what’s yours!’ But being an understanding and considerate soul she kept her anger inside.
John’s ears, well, you know how that story goes too. All the kids called him, Dumbo. He’d lived with it his whole life, and had grown such a thick skin he’d long since tuned-out the world’s cruel jokes. He also had facial imperfections. The result of hours picking, squeezing, freezing, and piercing the boils and pimples of adolescence. With his drooping shoulders and his long, mousy hair he looked like a character from an 80s sit-com. Poor John, he never dared hope for a girlfriend. He knew no girl would ever want anyone like him. So, when Lisa came into the wholesale club, where he fixed flats and changed tires, he was surprised by his reaction to her.
“I think one of my tires has a slow leak, could you check it for me?” While she was asking the question Lisa was thinking, what a sweet man. When he smiled at her she blushed causing the purple spider veins on her cheeks to flare. Handing over her keys and trying to sound calm, she said, “It’s the blue Honda.” John reached to take the keys and their fingers touched. A spark of fire shot through both knocking them backward. Laughing, they asked, “What was that!” Unknown to them it was the beginning of new life.
The sun shone bright as the guests milled around talking of their surprise at this unexpected wedding. Amid stifled giggles could be heard, ‘Who’d have thought two such wall-flowers would find each other!” “And, fall in love!‘ Lisa and John heard none of it. For them, no one else existed. Exactly one year later they were intently watching the screen as the doctor slathered gel on Lisa’s stomach.
“It’s a little girl.” said the doctor. “See?”
Lisa looked at John. “Is that okay?” she asked. “I know you wanted a boy.”
John, eyes tearing up, replied softly, “A little girl!” He bent, kissed his anxious wife, and whispered, “We’re having a little girl! I love you so much!” They cried together. Neither had ever known such happiness.
On the night before the baby was to be born John got a call from a co-worker that a car he’d worked on had been involved in an accident and that it looked like shoddy work might be the cause. And even though it was nine o’ clock at night his boss wanted him to come in immediately. Mr. Fernandez was a kind man, but he also wasn’t one who minced words.
“John, the police have been here investigating why one of the wheels came off of the customer’s car as he sped up the on ramp to the expressway. Did you tighten the lug-nuts? Did you double-check everything?”
John couldn’t think for the fear and anxiety in his heart. He’d left Lisa, complaining of back pain, and he knew she was due to give birth any minute. It was all he could do to breathe.
“John, — JOHN! Did you hear what I said?” shouted Fernandez. “John, his little girl is in emergency surgery! They are trying to save her life! My God, are we responsible! John! Say something! Answer me!”
John couldn’t be sure he’d checked his work. His mind had been so focused on Lisa and the baby, he couldn’t recall anything about the day or what he did. His phone rang. It was Lisa. The only words he heard were, “The baby is coming.” He ran to his car and headed to the emergency department. When he got there the nurse at the desk informed him that because of complications his wife was in surgery undergoing a cesarean section. She was doing fine, but he would need to wait in the waiting room.
The waiting room was already filled with people. His parents, Lisa parents, and sisters, all tried to hug him while asking, have they told you anything yet? John shook his head. “I’m going to wait in the hallway. I can’t think,” he said walking out of the room.
Heart heavy, he hunkered down against the soda machine, cupped his face in his hands, and let the tears fall. They flowed unstoppable and he struggled for breath. A little voice said, “Hello.” John brushed the hair from his face and looked up. The pretty little girl smiled a great big smile at him and said, “I’m Sophia, you’re John right?”
Shaken, John asked, ”How do you know my name?” “Oh, I know your name because you are the mechanic who over tightened the lug-nuts on our car and stripped them.” John’s head was spinning. “You are who? What?”
Sophia, in her pretty white stick-out dress, sat down cross-legged beside him. “I’m Sophia. it was my dad’s car. I wish you would stop crying John. It’s alright, honest it is, everything is going to be alright. I just need you to give my dad a message for me. Would you do that?”
Convinced he was hallucinating John listened. As, with an air of authority, Sophia continued, “Tell him Sophia said, he was the best dad ever and I love him as high as the beanstalk sky. He’ll know what I mean. And that, even though he wouldn’t let me have the kitten, I still played with it in the garden. And that when he sees the kitten in the garden he’s to give it a bowl of milk and some cat food.” She got closer and whispered in his ear, ‘It’s in the plant pot behind the shed.’ ”Will you tell him that for me John? And tell him not to be sad. I’m okay, I’m with mom and Memaw.” John nodded and watched in wonder as Sophia faded into the ever-increasing light that engulfed them. When the light faded he saw a man, talking with a doctor in scrubs, at the other end of the hallway. He knew it was Sophia’s father. He remembered serving him when he came in for his new tires. The man looked so alone. John got up and walked toward him.
“Mr. Garcia, I’m John.”
“I know who you are.” The man replied. “You’re the mechanic.”
John looked down at his feet and struggled to find the words. “I’m so sorry.” said John.
The man looked at him and said nothing for a while. Then he sat down in a chair and said, “She was all I had left. Her mother died giving birth to her, and she’s been my whole life for the last seven years. I was always so scared she was going to get hurt. I never let her run around or get dirty. I never let her out of my sight.” He leaned back in the chair and cried. “I never let her live!”
John sat there in silence not knowing what to say.
“I suppose I should go home now.” Whispered Mr. Garcia standing up.
“Please wait a minute,” asked John. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
“There’s no need,” replied Mr. Garcia. “I know it was an accident.”
“No, that’s not what I was going to tell you.” John gushed. “I came to the hospital because my wife is in labor with our first baby. And I got the news of what happened with your car right as she went into labor. As I was, please hear me out, and don’t think I’m crazy! As I was out here in the hallway devastated about what happened to you a little girl stood in front of me. She told me she was Sophia, and she wanted me to tell you something.”
Mr. Garcia’s legs buckled under him and he sat back down.
John continued, ” She said, you never let her get the kitten! But she played with him anyway. And that you are to give it a bowl of milk and the food she has hidden in the plant-pot at the back of the shed, and that you are not to worry because she is with her mom and her Memaw. And that you are the best dad in the whole wide world, and she loves you as high as the beanstalk sky.” John was almost purple when he finished speaking.
As Mr. Garcia sobbed uncontrollably a nurse came up to the men and asked John, “Would you like to see your new daughter Mr. Evans?”
John didn’t want to leave Sophia’s dad out in the hallway by himself and said, “Please, please come with me!” Donning facemasks both men entered the room.
Beaming from ear to ear Lisa sat holding a tight little bundle. “Here comes your Daddy, Sophia.”
John and Mr. Garcia looked at each other stunned. “Why are you calling her Sophia?” Asked John.
“Because just before they wheeled me into surgery a happy little girl came in here, told me her name was Sophia, and asked if I knew it means, Wisdom?” She was such a sweet, beautiful girl. And the moment I lay eyes on our precious baby girl, I knew, she was a Sophia too.”
Painting: Girl and Kitten by Arthur Claude Strachan