Jennifer N. Baker
It ends as quickly as it began. The latest cramp a punch in the gut. You convulse in bed and go fetal from impact. The moisture in your underwear spreads, and it’s as though you pissed yourself. This liquid is thicker though, pungent in a different way, not of ammonia but acrid. You turn away from the full-length mirror reflecting the mattress. You’re glad for the evening, for the shadows and lack of moonlight filtering in from the bedroom window creating slivers of ivory along the floor. You don’t want to see your face when another rumble hits your abdomen.
* * *
A week earlier you watched as your sisters-in-law bustled around Mrs. Smith, who stood like a general commandeering her squad in the kitchen. “There’s something about a woman in heels with a string of pearls,” Joel said, “that makes you know she means business.” The women fulfilled the prerequisite duties for dinner of plating, divvying up cutlery, tasting items that you all had no real say in but knew by now to adjust your expectations and your taste buds.
The husbands shuffled in and out, familiar with their part in this performance. They asked if they could help, were shooed away with a playful flick of a hand towel as they dipped a finger in sauce or picked at a chicken thigh, before shuffling off not to be seen again in this space. You stood waiting by the door frame, offering yourself. You were in that in-between place: not stranger, not family. You knew more acutely in that moment this would change.
“You sit and relax, Mikayla,” Mrs. Smith said, not giving you the kindness of a swat or a gesture of mock annoyance. She was polite in a way that read as anything but, though she was practiced enough to know the difference, and you’d been with Joel long enough to see it as well.
Once everyone was seated in the dining room, grace recited by Dr. Smith in the form of “Rub a dub dub thanks for the grub,” followed by an eye roll from Mrs. Smith, you announced, “I’m pregnant.” You said this for the second time in a year to your in-laws. Once again it was received with cheers that punctuated off the wineglasses, echoing in the usually quiet space.
Dr. Smith, big, imposing, an aged linebacker—he continues to urge you to call him William—was the first to get up from his place at the head to hug you. He held your face with hands that felt like slabs on your cheeks. “Our first one.” His eyes were intense, not the ice blue of Joel and his mother and brothers but hard and dark.
“Calls for a drink,” Mike said, downing his in one gulp and already making his way to the crystal bottles against the wall.
Mrs. Smith was next. “Congratulations, dear.” She smiled. It wasn’t slight either. Her lips etched parentheses into her cheeks.
She was gentle in that moment, a fragile-looking woman who was anything but. She reached out to squeeze your hand, you squeezed hers back, hoping this could be the white flag, so to speak. Tension had been apparent from the first day you set foot in the space she raised Joel and his brothers. You kept wondering if she disliked you because you were you, because you were black, or because you were not good enough for her son. Joel insisted none of the above was true. His mother had been this way his whole life.
Celebration continued after dinner. Mike had certainly lost count of how many drinks he’d had, though no one else did. The men stood clustered around the bar. The women huddled on love seats and cushioned chairs, in a room with ceramic vases and walls lined with framed degrees. Accomplishments served as decor.
“We’re going to have to start thinking about the nursery,” she said, encircling you into the “hen party,” as she called it, consisting of you, Mrs. Smith, and Joel’s brothers’ wives. Now you were immersed in this world. Just like with the women at work. The ones who had families and once you said, “I’m pregnant,” that partition blew apart, a drawbridge was lowered, and you were allowed into the fold because motherhood? That transcends everything.
From your new membership location, you watched your husband get commended. Noticed Jerry stare at you before catching your gaze and looking away. You saw Joel smile, and his cheeks reddened, almost eliminating the freckles lining his face when Mike said, “You and Mikayla have been busy, busy, busy.” In that moment you saw why your sister commented your husband could give Shaun and David Cassidy a run for their money if performance was in his blood rather than medicine. Joel’s face was childlike, sweet, and kind all at the same time. His slim frame and height gave him an advantage over most, but seeing a hand rub the back of his neck, that “aw shucks” Opie-type demeanor, you wanted to embrace him.
“Mikayla?” Mrs. Smith said, bringing your attention back to what you had missed. She cupped your chin, patted your cheek. Her fingers were cold. She examined you from head to toe with a glare only a mother knew how to use.
“You know,” she began as if starting a story, “when I met you, you were a student, and then you weren’t. Then you were a hostess, and then you weren’t.” Her lids lowered, shading her gaze slightly. “Then you were a secretary, and then you weren’t.”
You tensed and crossed your legs, waiting for her to pounce, expecting her to go through each position. You had edited your résumé enough times, had rubbed out and retyped over dates and responsibilities. Cursed at the holes in the paper wearing thin from all the erasures and having to start over. Your stomach curdled at the thought of the search, of finding a place to fit.
“But, perhaps,” Mrs. Smith continued, “you found what you were looking for?” Her palm landed on the still-forming mound. Maybe she could feel something small inside there that Joel said he hadn’t felt when you’d asked him earlier in the day.
“I don’t care what any ‘feminist’ says,” and here she leaned in as though sharing a secret between the two of you. “There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a mother and having a family, now is there?”
“N-n-no.” Your voice came out more garbled than you had intended or wanted. “There isn’t.”
“You have something there let me get that,” your mother-in-law insisted, quickly wiping away your tears before anyone else noticed.
“What are you thinking of for colors? You can go neutral or wait until you know the sex.” The other wives remained quiet.
“I want to know. But I don’t necessarily want an all-blue or all-pink room,” you said, thinking more on it. Grinning as the words came out because it was happening. You’d be a mother. A role designated by you.
From across a room, genders and generations divided like a high school dance, you and your husband caught each other’s eyes and you mouthed, “I’m happy.”
* * *
You stay in bed for several minutes, hoping it’s a fluke this time, that it’s spotting and not a steady flow. The patch of reddish brown seeps into the sheets and spreads. It’s then that you shed your clothing.
In the dark you maneuver out of the bedroom and into the bathroom next door. You almost fall into the toilet because the seat was left up. Your bones mash against porcelain, your butt slaps against cold water. Slamming the lid, you take a seat and unclench your legs. You hunch your back, steel yourself waiting for the latest spasm to pass. Your body shudders from the pain, the feel of your uterus being twisted, waiting for this fetus to expel itself.
This is the third fetus gone, the second miscarriage with Joel. The first was six years ago, an abortion in 1975. As a tremor ripples from your belly button to your pelvis, you wonder if the warnings and admonishments were true. If that procedure, still experimental to legitimate practitioners several years ago, has screwed you for life. Or if the physician you trusted, the gung-ho man who touted Roe v. Wade like a theme song to inpatients, wasn’t as knowledgeable as he claimed. You walked into the clinic, into the medicinal smell of a place where procedures were done. When you placed your feet in stirrups, you weren’t nervous, you were anxious. Anxious to remove something that would tie you to a partner you did not love, something that could deter you from the destiny your mother held on to since your youth. Medical school was months away, and, as you believed at the time, the child growing inside of you was going to hinder that. After, there was discomfort, but it didn’t extend beyond the physical. You didn’t feel loss so much, but a reprieve. Funny how things change.
If you weren’t already wincing from the cramps, you’d smack yourself for announcing this pregnancy. You’re only six weeks gone this time, before you were four when you lost it.
You knew better. Beyond the confirmation from urinating in a cup and later on a stick, there was nothing. No nausea, no yeast infection, no hormonal imbalance that you could speak of. And the pain? The pulsing in your crotch is just what you deserve.
* * *
“I’m pregnant,” you said to a different family a few days prior. There was less fanfare than with the Smiths.
Your mother and sister stopped their respective chopping and peeling in the kitchen. Your father was in his La-Z-Boy with Joel beside him on the couch. They’d been in conversation over their unifier: baseball. Your husband and father were animated, the wood paneling on the wall behind them served as a backdrop like they were on Dick Cavett or something. Wilhemina’s husband and your brother were elsewhere in the house or neighborhood, oh but they’d be around once the food was ready.
The buffer between the kitchen the ladies prepped in and the living room the men sat in was a thin wall with a hole. A counter erect between the rooms reminded you of the times you and your brothers got on chairs and pretended your mother was your own private waitress. “My life is not to serve,” she’d say. You all gaped at her with faces that’d been gobsmacked that a parent wasn’t there for their child and their child alone.
Your father clapped Joel on the back, a universal congratulation among men, and said he was happy for you both. The cheeks you inherited glazed and rose as your father approached to kiss you on them. His scent of tonic and lacquer enveloped you when he embraced you.
“Sunday dinner isn’t going to make itself,” your mother said, and so everyone took their places again. You claimed your spot in the kitchen.
There was silence, or as silent as it could be with a toddler roaming around and announcers on the television shouting plays and stats. Music played dully on the ham radio your mother kept in the kitchen, splattered in grease and everything else that popped and sputtered from the stovetop.
Cutting cheese blocks into slices, you peeked at your sister’s body, at the pouches that had yet to go away. You took note of motherhood lining Wilhemina’s face, how it racked her figure. You already felt it, the flesh pushing itself out, being inflated, the swells. All of the blood pumping through you to your child.
You popped a chunk of Muenster in your mouth before putting the block back in the freezer. “Mmm, that’s the good stuff,” you said midchew, queueing your sister to respond, “Not as good as government cheese though.” Wilhemina leaned back in her chair so she could see Joel in the adjoining room. “Right, Joel?”
“Leave the man alone,” your father called, attempting to hide a laugh. When Joel was first introduced to your family, government cheese had been mentioned offhand, and he asked, “What’s government cheese?” to stares from every Jenkins in the room. None of you had ever needed it, but you all knew what it was. “You’ve got cute going for you, that’s for sure,” your sister had told Joel.
“Yeah, leave my husband alone,” you echoed. In the doorway you winked at your chided partner. “You want me to take her down? ’Cause I will if I have to.” You flexed an arm.
Joel smiled at the television. “Remember, nonviolent resistance, M. I believe in healing, not fighting.”
“And it’s what I love about you. Among other things.”
“I’d like a list of things you love about me at some point.”
Your father lifted a hand in the air, his way of shushing. “I’m glad you love each other, but Randy is on the mound and our team is down.”
“Little Randy Jackson plays baseball?” you asked only to receive a sigh from your father in return.
“Please don’t joke with a man when his team is losing,” your husband said, already putting a hand on your father’s shoulder.
“Two runs! That’s all we need.”
Joel turned on his soothing tone, “I’m confident. There are two more innings left.”
You wove around the women in a kitchen that was big for one yet small for three, nevertheless you made do because everyone had their area. Wilhemina at the rounded table for desserts and readying. Your mother at the counter. You on the farther counter next to the oven. Flowered wallpaper curled in on itself around the stove. The smells of onions and paprika, of cheddar and butter on noodles. The mustard greens and vinegar taking you home, further filling you up. You took another bite of Muenster warming in your hand.
You offered a brazen grin with the evidence mashed on your tongue. “No.”
Your mother’s hands were slick with grease. She wiped them on the towel wedged between her torso and apron cinching all things culinary to her person. Her face was usually tight, but she was twitchy, blackheads dancing all over.
“What’s up, Ma?” You approached her, slowly. “You’re not happy for me?” you asked and gave her a quick squeeze from behind, smelling pepper on her inciting an itch through your nostrils in preparation for a sneeze.
She shrugged you off. Lifted an elbow to get you to step back because she was busy, and armed. “You’re happy? I’m happy.” It’s what Joel said. “Are you happy about the baby?” “Sure. Whatever makes you happy makes me happy.” It wasn’t an answer and you told him so.
You recall the times as a child running into your mother and clutching her leg. Her patting your head and saying, “Alright now. I got work to do.” Then you sprinting off elsewhere. There’ll be no reassurances from your mother today.
You could almost feel your child push into your body until someone did in the form of your nephew. Sweet, honey-colored, and teething, he already had your skirt in his mouth. You hugged him and he smelled how a child should smell, sweet and sour with a touch of ointment. His cheeks are ripe like yours and your father’s. He buried his head into you, more plush on plush. You breathed him in some more.
“He’s not perfume, Mika,” your sister said along with, “Try smelling him when his diaper’s full.”
His head was a warm stone that dribbled and drooled, still it was cute. “From afar,” your sister tentatively agreed. You’ve seen her though. Witnessed her melting in the presence of her own children. But her softness is something she doesn’t expose, even then her jaw was as tight as a man’s, she blew the tendrils from her face and focused on her task, but her son smiled at her muttering “mama” and there it went, the edges shaved a bit at the acknowledgment of the voice saying it.
You kissed your nephew’s head. “I was thinking I’d give notice in March. Mrs. Smith is urging me to quit, so is Joel, but I want to stay. The editor I work for likes me and, honestly, she scares me.”
Your mother nodded but not in the way that denotes listening. Usually that was accompanied by a nod and the shifting of her body. At that moment she was ramrod, the stillness legendary as you kept speaking, hoping her hands would do something beyond working. That she’d say, “I’m happy for you,” and mean it because ever since the dream she thought you and she shared was deferred on your side . . .
“I’ll need help with some of the baby things. I haven’t crocheted in a while so maybe we can get some needles and you can show me again.”
Taking tiny hands in yours and guiding them. Teaching something to someone beyond how to xerox, fax, or make proper editing marks on a pile of manuscripts. The moments when your father guided you in driving or your mother supervised you chop and slice and grate were small, simple things that gave you an alternative perspective. Not of two parents telling, but showing. Wanting to make you a full-fledged person who knew things.
“We’ll see,” your mother said.
All it took was a moment, with Joel beside you and the words “I’ve quit” exiting your mouth that your mother morphed. She was “removed,” no longer the thick arms that waddled in greeting wrapping around you to let you know you were home and you were good.
“It won’t take long. I’m sure I’ll remember again. Not sure why I—” you halted, not saying the word. Not laying gas to the grill, as your father would say, in terms of what you “gave up” once Joel came around.
“I like work, but that convention going on at Madison Square Garden is a pain,” you said turning away from your mother. Chiding yourself for having a fleeting moment of being that same child who flung herself to legs waiting for the pat of acknowledgment.
“You don’t even need the money.” Your sister often slipped this into conversation.
“Well, I like it. Sometimes. Bigger. Different. More to see in the city. Art on the streets nowadays. Once the baby comes—”
Your mother intercepted, finally, “Mika, you may not want to start planning a whole future just yet.”
Your mother kept at the chicken, removing bone as quick as she deshelled beans. All of it fast movements, a deftness of her fingers from completing these tasks since childhood.
“Why not?” you pushed, but she still didn’t reply. Fear, that’s what it was. Creeping in, prickling in your extremities. Like she knew something you didn’t. Like she could foresee the worst parts. Some high priestess ready with news but unwilling to spill it. “Ma?”
“I don’t want you getting hurt.”
Hurt? It was back to this then. “Joel isn’t going to hurt me,” you said.
That’s when she looked at you, all knowing in her matriarchy. “Didn’t say anything about Joel.”
* * *
Your head is bent between your legs. Joel’s mentioned this is the way to subdue dizziness. After an indeterminate amount of time, your limbs tingle from the numbness settling in. Rubbing your calves together there’s the feel of stubble. Your feet are brown and shrunken, not gleaming and swollen like before. Then again, you may have imagined that.
Blood has gotten into the grout of the tile, missing the bathroom mat you squish under your toes. A brick-colored line runs through the beige. Your home is your father-in-law’s doing, the decor your mother-in-law’s. Mrs. Smith encouraged clean lines, light colors.
The slam of the front door makes you sit up. Heat rushes to your head.
He shuffles rather than walks in the hallway. Joel’s shoes scuff the floor.
He’s close now. He hums to himself sometimes. Often to let you know he’s on his way. The slight purr of Joel enough to alert you of his presence before the bed dips from his weight. You hear him on the way to the bedroom. The silence is what you wait for. The pause. He’ll see the panties next to the bed, the sheets and comforter—a shame to mess up the silk you received as a wedding gift. Joel will see—
You say nothing. No need to rush what will happen. Banging against the door. Joel calling frantically from the other side. The jiggle of the knob as he pushes into it. Damn thing is stuck. He bursts in, his face pink and sweaty. His scrubs and hair stick to his skin. His eyes are large and wondering. Joel fills the frame from top to bottom.
He switches on the light before crouching in front of you. You cover your eyes. Your vision strains adjusting to the brightness. The shade was sort of soothing. His knee covers the crevice of blood. Before you can tell him this, he paws you all over, warm fingers on cooling skin. Joel smells of musk but the room is all iron.
“How much blood have you lost?” he asks. He touches your forehead with the back of his hand, presses his index and middle fingers to your carotid artery. “Do you feel lightheaded?”
“No,” you whisper.
“We should get you to the hospital.” He grabs a towel from the rack behind him to cover your legs.
This is what reminds you why you couldn’t be a doctor. How could you look at someone like yourself and summon up anything but pity? You imagine the women in this situation, those who experienced loss turning fragile, mute. Before quitting medical school, you saw these misfortunes firsthand and shrank away from them, instead becoming a doctor’s wife. You’d be immobile as you are now, unable to step into action. Apologies would be the first thing to come to mind along with the immediate sensation to commiserate. This is what makes Joel a good doctor, his ability to focus, but at this moment you don’t need a doctor.
“I’m not lightheaded.”
“We should make sure. I’ll call ahead—”
Whatever look you send cuts him off. You repeat his name. He gives you a once-over. Those eyes reading you the way he has since you first met. This is a time for comfort.
Joel rubs your knuckles with his thumb. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I’m so, so sorry. I know how much this meant to you.” He leans up to kiss you between the eyes. He continues but you blank out, watch his lips move. He is speckled in freckles, and you fixate on how they expand and contract around his mouth with each word.
“We’ll get through this,” he says.
Now the “we.”
Joel turns on the faucet in the tub beside you.
“You’re sure you’re okay?”
“I don’t want to go to the hospital.”
Taking your words as gospel, one of his arms slinks under your legs, the other around your waist. The towel slips from your lap to the floor. It’s a baptism. Your buttocks taste the bath water first. Joel angles his body and yours as he kneels, brings you into the liquid. You settle into the heat. It burns but it’s a good hurt, a disinfecting type.
Joel twists away from you, grimaces at the toilet seat. He shuts the lid and reaches to flush.
“No!” You’re suddenly mobile, thrusting out a hand to stop him.
Joel frowns. He stares at the toilet then back at you.
“You left the seat up again,” you say.
Joel blinks a few times before saying, “What was that?”
“I ran in here. I fell in the toilet. Among other things my ass hurts.”
“Yes, I am sure. I am very, very certain I don’t want to go to a hospital and answer questions that I’m sure you want to ask me right now. I don’t want to talk about when my last period was or how many times this has happened or anything regarding my body. Okay?”
Joel sits you up like an invalid, and you allow his body to prop up yours. One hand soaps your back, the other pushes away the strands of hair webbed around your breasts. The ends of the scarf tied around your head dampen on your shoulders.
“Talk,” you urge. His hands freeze on you. You regard him. He doesn’t meet your eyes. He’s about to speak. But you interrupt, say, “Talk about anything else but right now.”
He answers after a bit. “About fifteen minutes before I was set to leave, I was paged. One of the junior residents flubbed with the tracheotomy kit.” He shakes his head at the thought. You’re five years removed from your first year, but Joel keeps you updated, his rants, his successes, his failures that he tries to hide when he comes home, his form alternating the heaviness of the mattress so much you can feel when a life has been lost on his shift.
“There was a good amount of blood,” he stops. There’s a buzzing that radiates off him like sound waves when he’s had a good day. When patients straddle the line and he, or anyone, is able to make it a firm win. “I got a tube in just in time.”
You remove the hand he has on your stomach and squeeze it under the water.
He continues, rushing through the rest, downplaying his shift. Joel’s hand gets firmer washing your back. You take it, feel the scratch of a nonexistent itch.
The real kicker is that at the time he was saving a life, you lost the hope for one. That drawbridge will be raised and shut, locking you on the outside, again. You press your hand against the wall, bite your lip, and hold in the groan not from cramps but from failure.
Joel pulls you in, darkening his scrubs, wetting the floor tiles. His eyes roam over your body in a way you haven’t felt since you made the announcement to his family. He huffs or sighs or a mixture of the two. He gestures at your torso. “I hate seeing you in this much pain.”
“This? This is nothing compared to what I hear childbirth is like.”
Your husband asks if that was supposed to be a joke. The truth is, you don’t even know.
* * *
The bedsheets were satin, as were the nightie you wore and the boxers Joel donned. The attempt at lovemaking turned into an exercise on how to stay on the bed. When you jumped atop satin on satin, centrifugal force slid you off in record time. At one point you were about to be in Joel’s arms and the next your knees crashed against the wicker hamper stationed on the other side of the mattress. The marks of your descent were ashy scratches on your calves.
Joel fared better. He reached out to you as though ready to help you onto a fast-moving train while you ran alongside it. His whole face creased when he asked if you were alright. You laughed from the floor. Went into a fit that brought on tears and hiccups while you rubbed your leg. It was upon seeing you in hysterics that a grin broke on his face. Joel’s arms were not enough against gravity or the fabric’s smoothness and magnetism. You tried again, but writhing on your back midkiss, you, and Joel, slipped centimeter by centimeter until your feet touched the ground while Joel attempted to maintain a grip on the mattress.
Joel’s exposed skin began to match the maroon of the spread. He cursed the wedding gift with each tug of a corner. “Screw.” Pull. “These.” Yank. “Sheets.” Rip. Once bare, only the manufacturer’s label apparent in a corner of the bed, did your husband lift you up then lay you on the mattress, moving on to work his tongue from your lips to your crevice.
“Of course,” he said.
“We still have to write ‘thank yous,’” you reminded him. The wedding had been a couple months ago. Towers of boxes filled with items of no real purpose were in the guest room adjacent to yours. One of the presents had been a melon baller.
“When,” you’d asked your husband, “would I ever need this?”
“Maybe not ‘need,’ but it’s handy to have isn’t it?” was his response even though he also looked confused and more so concerned by the real estate being taken up in the space he had been lobbying for as his future office.
“Dear Mike, Thanks so much for the satin sheets and sleepwear. Joel and I enjoy slip-and-slide as a form of foreplay. Love, Joel and Mikayla Smith.”
Joel brought you close, he on his side, you again on your back. “I like the sound of it.”
“You want me to write that?”
“I like the sound of Joel and Mikayla Smith is what I meant.”
“Oh,” you turned your face to kiss his, getting more hair than head, “I do, too.”
“It’s disturbing he got us this.” He gestured at the rejected boxers somewhere on the floor.
“What’s disturbing is the color. It reminds me of blood.”
You touched your stomach, sunken in from lying flat, but you puffed out your cheeks, another curve to add to the rest of you. “You know, I might be pregnant this time. Your little men could have already made a clear path to my thingamajig, and boom, baby.”
“It’s possible,” he murmured, eyes shut. His hand atop your left breast was an opaque marker, a blanched patch against russet skin, looking as though he left it there while you were out in the sun.
“A girl, or a boy, would fit between us on this bed. Can you picture it? Wedged between us? Kicking and nuzzling.” You thought on it. Attributed features to a not-yet-existent child. Curls, oak-toned skin, a mole, oval face, slim fingers. All of it from somewhere down the family line. A person come to being whom you would hold before revealing her (or him) to Joel, his family, your family, and saying, “See? See what a beautiful thing we made?”
Joel said he wasn’t sure when he pushed his face through the curtain of your hair to kiss your neck again.
“You can’t picture a hypothetical that will soon be a definite?” you asked.
“Can we simply luxuriate in the moment?”
You startled up, and Joel’s hand dropped from your breast. Leaning on elbows, you said, possibly in an accusing manner, “What’s that mean?”
He admitted, “I want to focus on the two of us right now.”
“Don’t kill the mood—”
“Maybe you’re killing mine, M. Maybe—” Opening both eyes, Joel smiled, genuine and kind. “Neither of us are killing anything. Right?”
You squinted at him. Ready to whack him on the chest and hear the smack of your palm on his skin. “Don’t treat me like a patient.”
He sat up then, trying to meet you ire for ire. “One night. One full night off in a month and I want to sit here with my wife and enjoy an evening alone. Of quiet. How it used to be between us before the wedding and the moving and all that other crap. I don’t want to think about anything else but you and me. That’s not wrong, M. And nothing you say will make me think I’m being unfair here.”
Your lips faltered. To speak, to smile, to pout, to spew accusations?
“All I want, at this moment, is to know we want the same thing,” you said.
* * *
Joel is on his haunches beside the bathtub, his chest up not exuding authority so much but the appearance of strength. His arms rest against the tub’s rim. When he breathes, his body lowers as though he’s deflating. First you, now him.
“All this, it’s not worth seeing you in pain.”
You face the tile; you’re growing to dislike the color the more you stare at it. “Childbirth, pregnancy, all of it, is pain. It’s pain that leads to something good.”
“This is happening so quickly this year. Maybe it’s a sign—”
Arms open wide you show Joel his damaged prize. Water drips from your limbs and fingers, droplets glisten in the hair growing under your arms too damn quick. You shaved just the day before. “If anything, it’s a sign something is wrong with me. Goddamn it.” Your arms drop in the water splashing Joel and further dampening the rug underneath him. “I’ve worked for what everyone else wanted for me. Yet this, for some reason this is not happening.”
Joel changes tactics, starts off in that tone again with, “I understand.”
“You don’t understand.” Your fingers trail down his neck, the water dripping where your fingers glide. “You’re still high off the fact that you averted a death tonight, so you cannot understand what I am feeling right now.”
“You know what I understand?” Joel’s voice fractures and goes soft, “I understand that the lining to your uterine wall broke down. That the egg and sperm didn’t fuse chromosomes properly and come together in the way they should have. I get that this has happened before. I get that you want a child but this was not it.” He motions with his head to the toilet. “It wasn’t formed yet. It wasn’t ours. And I get that there’s nothing wrong with you. But do you understand that? Do you comprehend that this happens, often? Because that, that I understand.”
Joel rises. He’s taller than you but the feeling of being a weakling unable to move, the inability to have your body match the heat of your words while lying in dirty water leaves you at a significant disadvantage.
The bath and you have switched places, it’s tepid, you warm. The blood spatters have dissolved into the water changing the overall hue. And you have changed, no longer an expectant mother. You’re relegated back to woman, wife, the black lady lucky enough to snag the white doctor husband.
The reflection in the water isn’t as clear as a mirror, but it’s there and you can make out the eyes, the face, the contemplation around the edges of Joel whenever he’s grasping at what to say. Joel bends toward you and offers his arm. The chill gets to you now that you’re out of the water, along with the air and feeling hollowed out. You dig deep, stand up. You cross your arms covering your breasts.
Joel goes into husband mode and finds the right words: “We’ll have a child.”
“How do you know?” Anxiety surfaces of what you’re not. You are not a doctor. You are not a success. You are not pregnant. You are not a daughter so much as an essence of someone who could’ve been more. “How do you know?” you ask Joel because someone has to have an answer so you can keep trying. Your body shakes from the cold, or the crush of reality racks you enough that your husband holds you upright with one arm.
He pulls your face to his and kisses you. A simple action that is supposed to solve everything; in a way it does and doesn’t. “We will have a child because you deserve to be happy.”
A towel lands around your shoulders. You tie it around you and tuck the corners of the cloth between your thighs. You wrap your hair within itself and tighten your scarf so it’ll hold.
You gesture at your lower half. “I need to . . .”
One leg steps out of the tub followed by the other. Your hand hovers over the flusher. There’s a bit of release and a trickle starts on your inner thigh. Eyes closed, you lift up the lid swearing a creak sounds. You open one eye, easing the cover up more. Wondering if it’s like the horror movies, a floating mass in liquid, webbed fingers, not whole though it had the possibility. The trickle works its way in a swirl around your leg down your inner knee. Another eye opens, the lid widens but a hand stops you setting it back down. The trail travels and pools in the middle of your toes. Your husband takes a hand in his and urges it to the flusher glistening in the light, the cleanest part of the bathroom at this very moment. Together you flick the handle down and the sound washes it away. A whoosh and a gurgle note it’s done.