Betty had a small house filled with every kind of electrical appliance, and a large attached garage. In the garage were her tools, electric saws, portable drills, a shiny generator. Each size nail or screw was neatly kept in its own compartment all lined up and ready for use. She had as well two dogs, a half-breed St. Bernard who was always trying to climb into her lap, and a German shepherd who was always hungry: one begged for affection, the other for food. A tub full of dry food was kept in the garage for them and they had a door that allowed constant access. As for affection, the dogs took what they could get when Betty collapsed on the sofa after another long day of managing her accounting business.
But the dogs and tools, the house with its appliances and gadgets, none of this was enough. One day Betty caught a plane to Oklahoma and returned five days later with a very small baby. The baby had black hair and olive skin. At first Betty, who was blond, had had doubts about the baby, but when the birthmother expressed doubts on her side, Betty's competitive instinct had taken over. She decided this was to be her baby and she fought for the right to keep it. An extra payment for "doctor fees" was the catalyst for an agreement, signed and sealed by the court.
Betty spent her first two hours back home at New Baby Depot, where she purchased a crib, stroller, baby backpack, mobiles, stuffed animals, crib sheets and blankets, disposable diapers, baby sunglasses, and packages of tiny baby clothes. She named her baby Diana.
In spite of the difference in their genetic makeup, Diana grew up to be very like her new mother. She learned early how to shoulder aside the dogs to ensure her own food and affection. By the age of two she had enough of a vocabulary to stand by her demands until they were met. By three she could wield a hammer well enough to construct a box and in general spread mayhem everywhere.
Betty decided she needed a larger house for her family. She traded in her small tract house for a ranch house on an acre of land and bought three horses (she had a soft spot for horses in need of a home) and a terrier-spaniel mix so Diana could have her very own dog. Everything went well. There was always candy in the cupboard and Fruit Loops on the shelf. The dogs became more frantic and needy horses multiplied but there was plenty of room on their suburban ranch for all.
Diana learned to read and by first grade had become a little princess who demanded obedience from her subjects. She called her mother Bett-tee. She treated the horses as if they were overgrown dogs. Betty would sit at the kitchen table sipping coffee and shake her head in amusement while Diana buzzed about, busy with her own imaginative tasks. When things became unbearably hectic, Betty would shoo them all--Diana, the dogs, herself--into the yard, where it would be time to rake up horse droppings, or water the vegetables, or mow the front lawn. Betty grew thin and sleek with all this exercise and Diana grew into a bronze amazon.
But soon the questions began. The kids at school asked Diana why she didn't have a father, and Diana asked Betty, and Betty, who had promptly forgotten about the role of the father as soon as she had adopted Diana, made up a story that seemed to have no more substance than a fairy tale. So Diana took things into her own hands. She declared to her friends that Bett-tee was the only parent any child would want. She was luckier than they were, she said. At her house there were no mean fathers, no beatings, or drunken fights.
Is it like the Virgin Birth? a Catholic friend asked. Is it like Protective Custody and Bett-tee is the Social Worker? another asked. Can you stay up late? asked a third. Better than any of that, was Diana's answer, and they dared not disagree.
On Diana's birthday her whole class was invited over to ride horses and eat cake and stuff themselves with peppermints and lollypops and rainbow ice cream and sweet red punch and chocolate cookies. They all brought gifts guaranteed to be easily broken, had wonderful times, and went home to throw up. This happened every year until Diana turned twelve. Suddenly she grew up, just as Betty began to grown old. Together they gave up sugar for carrots; together they watched "The Simpsons" and while Betty laughed Diana took notes on how to avoid the pitfalls of family life.
Over the next few years Diana organized classes on dog-training and horseback-riding, which she much preferred to babysitting. She made top grades in math and P.E. She won a scholarship for girls from single-parent households who had black hair and played soccer. At college she led clubs, organized marches, excelled at everything, and wrote to Betty faithfully every Friday night.
Betty, feeling lonely with Diana gone, acquired another dog, but it died after two days from distemper and took the rest of the dogs with it. She signed up for a cruise but an outbreak of shipboard influenza cancelled the trip. She tried an art class but she hated confining a paintbrush to a small rectangle of paper. Then she met Sam.
Before, the dogs and their incessant barking had kept mail delivery to the front gate, but now that the dogs were dead and buried Sam the mail-carrier brought Betty's mail to her door and even accepted an invitation for a cup of coffee. It became a daily ritual for them. Betty always had doughnuts or coffeecake on hand, and Sam was always ready for a coffee break. Betty explained her weekly letters from Diana. Sam told Betty about her recent divorce and how her life was taking on a new direction.
One morning as she was adding cream to her coffee, Sam looked at Betty and Betty looked at Sam and then they left their cups of coffee cooling on the table as they moved to the sofa in the living room and then to the bed in the bedroom and when Diana came home during Easter break to tell her mother she had decided to major in French literature instead of veterinary science, she was surprised to find she had become a child of a two-parent family at last.