For A Moment At Least...
This is an excerpt from a larger piece and the events are completely fictional. Comments are welcomed and encouraged. Thanks for reading!
I sat on our hand-me-down couch, staring at the beige paint on the wall while Maggie rinsed dishes in the kitchen. My leg bounced, coming to my attention when the candles knocked into the large wooden bowl on the coffee table. I wiped my mouth and gathered my limbs. It was like the waiting room at the doctor’s office, minus the people coughing on my arm. The staring helped, because I was still floored by the news that she was a month late, a happenstance that had just been disclosed to me. The water stopped in the kitchen, leaving the room still, the blank television a foggy mirror of our silent pathos. My eyes spanned the room to the wedding pictures, the carved driftwood on the shelf, The Tenth Insight, and so on.
It was 10 months into our marriage. Children had been discussed, but only in that way that you talk about visiting the Great Wall of China. It was a distant thought, like the later chapters in a book, the ones that seem so daunting until you turn the page and there you are, invested and concerned about the main characters you've come to know so well. I saw myself—or some version of me—laughing at the squealing kids in the front yard as I tended to the grill. Only I was much older. Maggie was taking birth control but was notorious for forgetting, at least three or four times a month. Was I ready to be a dad?
A few of my friends had kids. And we'd watched them grow before our eyes. These were guys I'd seen do all sorts of crazy things, and now they'd become doting softies who said things like, You really can’t imagine until you have one of your own. Maggie and I visited these couples and often laughed about our friends lost to parenthood, drifting sleep deprived and wobbly towards responsibility.
We’d come for dinner only to find our domesticated friends emerge from the baby’s room, exhausted and defeated, treading softly and whispering to us as they opened a beer and watched the baby monitor. Maggie would smile, warm and kind and with that twinkle in her eye that I meant that I would be getting lucky later. Then right after dinner our hosts would fall asleep mid sentence on the couch. Sports talk, music, movies, all of it was replaced by diaper changes, naptimes, bottles. I remember thinking that a baby would seriously interfere with my life.
The spare room upstairs--my office, would be filled with a crib and changing table. My corner desk would be carted to the nearest consignment shop and that best seller rattling in my head would be submerged for another ten to fifteen years. Someone else would write it, I’d be too busy replacing my movie posters with Disney crap and boxing up my video game collections. Saturday mornings would be spent standing in wet grass sipping cold coffee and cheering a scoreless soccer match. Dreadful school plays, parent/teacher meetings, a minivan. My life was over.
But then I thought of Maggie. She would be an excellent mother. The nurturing, caring type that would help me figure out the dad thing. I would certainly be better than my father, wherever he was.
My last memory of him was when I was 8 years old and my younger brother and I, with our bags packed, spent a weekend waiting at the window. Five o’clock came and went with no sign of his irritable Buick Skylark stuttering down the street. At six I blamed it on the traffic. My mother made calls as my brother and I remained vigilant at the front window. The sky turned pink and my mother cancelled her plans. By dark my brother was asleep on the couch. I held out until 9 before giving up hope and my mother brought me to bed, my mind reeling with explanations for my father’s absence. The next day was the same, an endless waiting game as I spent the day in the front yard, only going as far as the front porch to have lunch while craning my head at the sound of approaching cars. My mother shook her head, cursing my father under her breath. The sun set again, and again. Yeah, I could do better than that…
I stepped into the kitchen where Maggie stood over the sink, holding a spoon under the trickling faucet as she stared out at the courtyard.
“How long has it been?”
“Two minutes,” I put my hands on her shoulders and kissed her neck, balmy and smooth, with that unique smell that was all her own. She turned to me, her eyes brilliant and maternal. In that moment I saw a mother.
“Are you ready?” I asked, and she nodded, nuzzling her face into my own and then embarking for the bathroom. I followed her to the doorway, catching a whiff of the litter box as she picked up the stick, flashing a brave smile at me before deciphering the results. I watched her right hand twitch before being rescued by her left, and once stabilized, her lips clamped tight as she squinted at the plastic predictor of the future.
“Well?” I asked, my voice a bit higher than normal. I fought the urge to grab the stick from her hands and see for myself. Was it two lines were positive, or one? I wasn’t fluent in pregnancy tests and needed her to translate, or to smile or cry or scream or gush with joy and hug me. She was the navigator of our small family’s future. Were we happy or sad?
“Negative. You’re off the hook,” She tossed the stick into the plastic trash bin beside the toilet without blinking and the ordeal was over. Only it wasn’t over. I’d seen the hope in her face, however fleeting. And I’d felt something. What exactly, I wasn’t sure, a prickle of disappointment maybe. And that was as close as we would ever come, being the first time in a long line of late night talks and sighs, tears, silent stares in the dark, where both of us cast the blame silently. I guess it was the beginning of the end for us.
Maggie shrugged off the test and life went on. We planned our travels for the summer, visiting friends and families. I joined her for work retreats on the coast, seminars and training. Our busy lives resumed and we tried to forget that moment in the bathroom, where for a few minutes in our heads we had been a family.