I’ve got like, four tabs open when Damien gets home. One is a Google search for his ex-girlfriend’s name, one is her husband’s Twitter account, one is an Instagram photo her husband took of her snowshoeing on vacation, flushed beneath her dark curls, those dark eyes. One is her Facebook page where everything is private except her cover photo, which is a picture of her staring at the baby in her arms. Dark curls, dark eyes. Grinning up like her mama’s just told her the most beautiful news. I stand up and close them all in a series of too-frantic clicks. Damien laughs and loops his arms around my waist and fiddles with the tie in my dress. He smells like green grass and wind. “What were you peeking at?” he asks, and I shrug and say nothing. My hands look like my mother’s hands, tired and full of skinny bones.
Damien doesn’t want a baby. A baby where there was no baby before. A bundle wriggling and gasping and smooching in my arms on Saturday mornings when we play records and yank open the living room curtains so we can lie in the sunlight like cats.
He always says a baby but that means my baby. He doesn’t want our baby.
“I get it. You don’t want to have a baby with me,” I’ll say, and he says stop it.
Or “I want to have your baby,” I tell him, and he says stop it. But it’s true.
Now he puts Sam Cooke on the turntable and drops the needle. He shuffles into the kitchen and I hear the insides of the fridge clanking. I put this song on a mix for Damien once, when we were first dating, after we started having sex, when I didn’t know how heavy the ropes would be that I was holding, the ones tied to him, how far I’d have to go, how long I’d be following. And every so often he turns around and sees me there and smiles before he turns around and keeps going, and that smile is enough to keep me tied to him. I hate myself for it but it’s enough.
“Let’s go get food,” he says, and I follow. He kisses my face in the car and I smile.
I have this story I made up, where I’m reading to our daughter, my hips cramping because I’m trying to snuggle up with her in her little-girl bed. Harry Potter and Narnia, the whole series, every book one after the other because she loves hearing them so much. But what the hell am I gonna tell Damien, that I want to have our baby so I can read to it? I want to cast spells. I want to roar like Aslan with our daughter who doesn’t exist.
“Maybe I should go have a baby with someone else then,” I say when we fight. But I won’t and he knows it. His palm makes a home in the back pocket of my jeans. I am his. I’m devoted. My grandma died a few weeks ago. It was cancer, so she knew she was dying. Damien and me went to the hospital to say goodbye to her and now I can’t quit thinking about saying goodbye to my life, too. Even though we knew it was coming for long hospital weeks, my grief knocked me under and held me there in the salty darkness as I choked and sputtered. Our baby will never know her. Our baby might never know anybody.
I need our baby for my grandma, I don’t say. I need our baby so I can roar with her in soft bedtime light. I need our baby to know my body can bear her. I need our baby because I’ve got a language inside of me that you don’t know. I need to hold our baby close to me to know that I can hold someone close to me. I need our baby for my love because otherwise my love wanders, begging for a home.
We’re driving down I-57 to get Hardees and he takes my hand with the radio playing, squeezes three times for I, love, you. I watch him the whole time, his eyes on the road. I wonder at how a face could be as familiar to me as my own. I can’t blame him for my sadness. He’s a practical man, and I’ve stopped telling him things. I want to tell him that inside my body is a hollowed-out walnut. I want him to look at my face and realize that I’ve done enough chasing.
He buys me a chocolate milkshake at the drive-thru. I press a paper napkin to my eyes and turn out the window so he doesn’t see. When I cry about a baby, it pushes Damien further away from me because he understands me less, he says. How strongly I feel about it when he doesn’t feel about it at all. How did his old girlfriend end up with a man who gave her a baby and how did that baby end up being a little girl with her dark hair and dark eyes, one she can read to in the evenings? How does anyone do it? How does any man make it easy?
I tell myself that someday I’ll let Damien go. Sometimes I tell myself that day is coming soon. Sometimes I lie alone wishing that the day would come already. My heart for him is a Sam Cooke song, swaying and sweet. I keep thinking he’ll look back at me just once and it will hit him like a sock full of quarters how lucky we are, how ready I am. How long I’ve been heavy-bound to him by these ropes stuffed with splinters. I slip the plastic spoon into my mouth and the cheap edge cuts my lip. I say thank you, my mouth full up. I devour.
About the Author: Lindsey Gates-Markel was born in the Midwest in 1983. Her fiction has most recently appeared in Sundog Lit and Hobart and is forthcoming in Little Fiction. lindseygatesmarkel.com
Story Song: "Bring It On Home To Me" by Sam Cooke