[Emmet Jordan is a rich Nebraska farm boy, newly graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1956. He is still in his apartment in Lincoln. He is twenty years old and a virgin.]
I was still in bed when the phone rang on Monday morning after my graduation weekend. . I said, "This is Emmet," and an exhausted female voice said, "This is Maxine."
"Maxine! Where are you?"
"I'm in a deep hole. Do you remember what you wrote me? I've been living the script. All of it came true."
"All of it?"
"All but the end. I'm in the emergency room of a Lutheran hospital on the north side of Chicago. I thought I had severe cramps, but I started to bleed big-time. It turns out I'm in the last stages of pregnancy. The baby isn't quite on the way but could decide to come any time. An ambulance brought me here.
"I've told some whoppers. I told the hospital that my husband was several hours away but I had reached him while I was waiting for the ambulance and he was on his way from Nebraska."
"Who's your husband?"
"Don't be dense, Emmet. Please."
It didn't take me five seconds. It probably seemed longer to her. "Okay," I said. "I said if you ever needed me I would come."
Her composure broke. Her sobbing was loud and heavy. A woman's voice said, "Has something happened, Mrs. Johnson?"
"I'm okay, Nurse," I heard her gasp. "My husband is on the line, and I wish he were here." My husband.
"All right, dear. I'll leave you to your conversation."
I heard Maxine inhale, then let it out. "Will you just let me talk until I say it all?"
"Yes," I said.
"I am doing a terrible thing to you, but I'm doing it because you're the only man who ever cared for me as a person, who dared to speak the truth when you saw where I was heading even though you couldn't stop me. I made the baby's father the same proposition I made to you. He said that he was divorced, but that was a lie. He also said that he'd been fixed, but that was a lie too, as I just found out yesterday. I thought my periods were irregular, so I didn't see a doctor.
"I am not planning to stick you with the baby or me. At the emergency desk I pretended that Maxine Johnson was my married name, not my original name. I made up a husband on the spot, said his name was Ellis Johnson, that we were estranged, but that he was coming from Nebraska and would be here Monday night to take care of the financial arrangements."
"So I am supposed to be Ellis Johnson and bring money," I said. "It's crazy. What made you think I would go along with it? Somebody asks for my driver's license, it's all down the toilet."
"Why should they ask?"
She had me there. I already existed as far as the hospital was concerned. My appearing would be expected; and when I showed up with enough cash to cover the bills, why should they doubt me? I could get the money before I left Lincoln. "But why the rush?" I asked. Why the pretending?"
"Two reasons. The first is that I doubt I'll be alive when you get here. It's the baby or me, and the baby has a greater chance of survival than I have. The second is that I don't want my mother to have the baby. She'll think it's her responsibility, but she is too unstable for that and I don't want her to mix up another kid the way she mixed me up. If there is a certificate of live birth with two parents listed and I sign off to give the baby to an agency, she won't know anything about it. I don't want my mother to have the baby," The emphasis was compelling, even on the phone.
The situation was appalling, but there was no time for anything better and with luck we could pull it off.
[ The memoir of Emmet Jordan begins when he is twelve and ends when he is seventy. But it is only Part One.]