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Apathy Girl and Other Tales

Musings of the Overly Naive Cynic

A longer fiction piece originally written on yellow legal paper on the DC Metro, finish in spring 2010 session.

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 The worst part about the long trips was that Jess never got to see or talk to Patrick. Sometimes the void that existed between them was more tangible than the desert, the mountains, the ocean, the roads. It was the fact that she was living a life that he was not a part of. Her weeks, sometimes months spent in a region ravaged by hatred, soaked with blood, was a far cry from him, sitting in their little apartment, at a dining room table, surrounded by piles of books, books filled with theory about law he would probably never practice, but still books that gave him meaning. He knew that these books were paving stones on the path that was going to take him to a place where his mind, the way it worked, would be valued in a way that very few had valued it before. Jess saw his mind from the beginning. And as he sat there in their tiny dining room, she was worlds away remembering the time she had said “I really can’t see you being a lawyer.” At this moment, there were shells crashing down on the bureau, she was sitting typing her copy, wishing she had never said this to him. She wished that all the stupid words had never come out of her mouth, and the right words would flow freely as they did in her mind. When they were first dating she would plan her conversations with him. Now that they were married, she never did. They had been married four and a half years. And she was planning a speech. “Patrick. We always said that after you got out of law school we would reevaluate. Maybe change where we live, what I do. Patrick. I don’t want to leave the field. I want to feel like I am relevant, like I am alive. And I am still me. But the thing is, I am not just me. And now we are three and not two. Patrick. I am pregnant.”

Another shell crashed overhead. This one hit home, the building shook, and pieces of the sky began to fall in on her. Everything that kept her together started to fall apart. When the universe starts to disintegrate around you, what do you save? When it seems like the great spirit in the sky is the only thing keeping you alive, is it your life or your legacy that you cover? Jess, the woman who existed, she would save her legacy, her work. She would have taken last seconds to make a hard copy of the story. She would have turned on the tape recorder and narrated what she was seeing, feeling. And then she would have deployed her last moments to guaranteeing that work was found. And in that she would live on.

Not this time though. This time the radio that played in her head was shuffling between the music she and Patrick used to sing to when they were young and the songs he would serenade her with while she was home. And all she could think of was that they were three now. And that universe was different. That universe was not lit by the cold sunlight reflecting off the moon. And that universe did not have dimensions that let the very hand of God pick her up off of her feet and throw her against the wall. She slumped on the floor, curled up over her womb. It had started out the same though. Over six months ago.

*****

Jess was ready to go home. Everything made her want her tiny apartment and her husband. They had married right after she graduated college, deciding that she would do the gallivanting reporter thing while he focused and finished his undergraduate degree and went to law school. Essentially they had decided to spend the first five years of their marriage apart. Both being strong willed, independent people, this seemed like no problem at all. For the most part it wasn’t, they were both thrown into their respective works. They took a small apartment, and when she was home she lived there as a guest. Jess did not know that when she was gone Patrick would play her favorite music on a loop and spray her perfume on his pillow. Patrick did not know that Jess would watch bad-B horror movies and kept a photo of him under her pillow. They did know, however vaguely, that this was temporary, a stage between complete independence and the stability of marriage. But they loved each other so much that sometimes words failed and Jess would listen to him talk about this or that and all she could think of was how deeply she felt whatever this feeling was. How the word “love” just didn’t seem to cover it. At times Patrick would lay awake listening to her snoring, realizing that everything that had seemed disjointed now fit.

Jess had been away for three weeks. This trip hadn’t been that bad, the weather had been mild, the fighting light, the news even lighter. She had gone on a tip that riots were set to break out surrounding elections, but the skirmishes in the street were secondary to the successful election. Jess put out three weeks of sweet fluff about growing rights and increased approval ratings for fledgling government. She was supposed to be gone for a full month but the boredom, and the pain, was unbearable. She told her bureau chief she was taking the next flight out. Over twenty hours and three stops later she was in a taxi cab on her way home. When the cab pulled up to her apartment complex her breathing finally slowed. She unlocked the door and the air smelled of the same feeling she felt the entire time she was gone. Jess quietly put her bag down and tiptoed through the apartment to the bedroom. Patrick was sound asleep, he didn’t even shift when the door creaked open. She showered and let her hair dry before she collapsed, sleep deprived, into bed. As soon as she settled Patrick rolled over and pulled her closely to him, holding her tightly. Neither of them said anything, but lay there silently, listening to the sound of their breath sync up.

When she woke up the sun was high in the sky, gaudy bright light burst through the mini-blinds in the bedroom. The hum in the air told Jess the day was already well underway. Patrick’s side of the bed was vacant, and under the sound of the music filtering through the door was the nonexistent disturbance of pages turning. She slipped on her robe, hastily discarded on the floor on her way to sleep, and walked to the living room. He had his back to her, hunched over the table, reading, underlining passages. She tiptoed, even though he had already heard her leave bed, and removed his glasses gingerly from behind him, placed her hands over his eyes.

Hey! You…cut that out.” He pretended to be offended, startled.

No. Guess who?”

Zed?”

She laughed. He took her hand and pulled her around and onto his lap, smiling. He touched her hair, but couldn’t stop looking at her eyes. He hadn’t seen those eyes in so long. He kissed her softly, wanting to linger in that kiss for forever. She usually would take a kiss like that too far, turning it into a hungry bridge from kissing to elsewhere, but this time she was just happy to be so close to her husband, to be able to feel the warmth of his arms around her. So she kissed him softly, and pulled back to just look at him. She smiled, and started to get up.

Coffee?”

Wait… just…” he pulled her back, to where she was standing in front of him. When she had stood up her robe had gaped, showing the milky skin underneath. “I think you should be wearing less.”

She laughed, this was something he said when he was feeling cute, usually he specified an article of clothing that she should be wearing less of; pants, shirt. “Do you really? Why is that?”

He placed his hand on the belt of her robe, pulled gently, allowed the satiny linen to fall to the ground. Standing there exposed, she shivered slightly, watching him watch her.

******

Jess’ eyes fluttered open. There was silt in the air, her lower half felt too warm. She tried to stand, but couldn’t, the sky was holding her down, remnants of the ceiling covered her legs. She tried to talk, to cry out, but she had no voice. She found that she could move her hands, though. Slowly, painfully, she reached down to spread her fingers across the tightening drum that was her abdomen. Something was wet, was thick, was too warm. Blood. Her hand was covered in blood. Jess found her voice to weep, to cry out helplessly for her child. “You’ll be ok. We’ll get out of this. Mommy will get you out of this.” She made her first promise to the life she carried. She attempted to drag herself out from underneath the beams and wreckage that covered her lower half. A spasm of pain washed over her, she felt her flesh tear where a beam was dug into her abdomen. The baby was moving inside of her, kicking her wildly. She gasped, trying to catch her breath. Jess found she was able to shift herself to one side of the pile, to where it was mostly stucco and wood, not steel and stone. She took a deep breath and imagined her child. Trying to survive. Trapped inside her failing body. She saw Patrick. The look on his face if he ever found out he was a father. He would be a good father. Perhaps too blunt at times, but he would love his children; try to fill their lives with joy. She saw their family, perfect in this moment of impossibility. She took all of these thoughts and used them to replace her waning strength. Jess lifted up on the weight that was holding her to the ground. Her legs, once free from the weight, worked minimally and she used them to push herself free, dragging a trail of blood behind her. It was her intent to continue moving towards the only exit she could see, a crevice over a hill of debris. But the red river that poured from the slice on her stomach, and now from her womb as the baby became more and more distressed, had left her weak. She could move no more. Her child’s movement was slowing, the baby was tiring. Jess did the most logical thing she would think of at that moment, where she existed as a mother with a tired child. She sang. She sang lullabies. Melodic assurance that on the other side of sleep there was hope, she kept to herself that it may have been false. Desperation filled every cell of her body, washed over her, rinsing away any resolve she had left.

******

For almost a month her life was slow. Three days a week she would go in to the affiliate office, not too early, around ten. She would put out two stories, three at times, and then sit back and watch as the younger reporters scrambled to take them over, to bring them down a few levels with their new fresh “style.” Jess did not mind, it was like she was helping them cut their teeth, and as long as her byline was on the international section of the flagship paper, her editor did not care either. Most afternoons she was home by five, time enough to tidy up the apartment, to cook dinner before Patrick came home from the library. Some nights she waited up for him to get home from the movie theatre where he worked part time as a ticket taker. She kept dinner warm, and suppressed yawns as she listened to him talk about his day. The best times were when he would skip class, come home in the middle of the day and take her where he found her, kissing her feverishly. It was quick and giddy, but the way he desired her followed Jess around all day, reaffirming that more than stale vows kept them together.

The first few days her ear was always trained to her cell phone, anticipating Beethoven’s 5th symphony, her editor calling her in. Every day of silence from the phone was like another layer of insulation for the new state of marriage she existed in. Eventually she stopped anticipating when it would happen, or that it would happen at all. She cooked, she cleaned, she read books, watched movies, she slept in and made love with her husband. She lived as fully as possible on borrowed time. Until one night, she and Patrick were laughing over dinner and the most surreal sound came from her telephone. Beethoven’s 5th, but from worlds away.

“Hello?”

Apparently there had been a coup. The government that had, just one month ago, been a huge success, had fallen to the military power. Hellfire was raining down. Her plane left in 8 hours. Jess hung up the phone. Patrick had cleared the table, and was finishing the dishes in the kitchen, methodically wiping down the counter. The rag moved over the same place again and again and again. Each time his eyes tried to focus on it, but they couldn’t. He carefully folded the towel and stood frozen, bracing himself against the sink. She wrapped her arms around his waist, rested her head against his back. He cleared his throat.

“When?”

“Tomorrow morning.” A lump was rising in her throat.

“How long?” he turned around, stood with his arms crossed, erecting a barrier between them.

Jess hesitated. The reality was, this would be the longest trip she had ever gone on. The violence was raging, predicted to spill over into other countries. It was dangerous, and the borders may be shut down by what was left of the government.

“Three months, maybe more. You see; there was this coup…” she tried to wrap her arms around him, to snuggle into his broad chest, but he pushed past her, and she heard the bathroom door slam. The shower turned on. She waited outside the door. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Steam rolled from the crevice at the floor. She jimmied the loose handle and let herself in. He was standing in the shower, forehead against the wall, arms limp to his sides, the water leaving angry comments on his back. She wanted to cry, he looked so vulnerable, so used. He did not even look up when she stepped into the shower, still wearing her summer dress, placing herself between the hot water and Patrick.

“It’s just a few months, you’ll be in school, studying for your bar exam. You won’t even notice that I am gone.”

He scoffed. His eyes were blood shot, his body shaking slightly. He kissed her, held her close, desperately.

“Please, let this be the last time. Every time you go it is more dangerous. The trips get longer. We said this would be temporary. I graduate in the spring. We’ll have enough money, you could take a job that is smaller, closer…”

She turned off the water, stepped out of the shower, removed her wet clothing and started to towel off. She glanced back at him and took a deep breath.

“Patrick, when the time comes, we’ll talk about that. I love what I do. It makes me feel alive, and worthwhile. If I can’t go out there and feel the bullets whiz past me and tell the stories that matter, then who am I? More importantly, who would even care to ask that question if I didn’t do what I do?”

He stood there, dripping, listening to her commit what felt like verbal adultery. There were other spouses, at cocktail parties and airport terminals, who had called their “plan” naïve, idealist. They told him he would always be second to the story.

“Do you love your job more than you love me?” The words spilled from him, desperate and unbidden.

Jess had just been gut checked. Not by the question, she knew it would come some day from him, she had already heard it from her father, from close friends. She just never thought it would sound so honest. He wasn’t playing games. He really wanted to know if she loved him most. He really needed to know that he was the first thing on her mind. That he was the road and the destination. She walked to him, slowly, placed her hand flat on his chest, quieting his heart.

“I love you more than words. I love you more than I need to breathe. I love you more than clichés can cover. It doesn’t matter whether or not I love my job, because without you, I couldn’t do my job, because I would not exist. I am not me without you.”

She left much as she had come, in the dark of night. Only this time Patrick was awake, to put her in the cab to the airport. She felt sick to her stomach, but it had to be regret and nerves. She turned around in the cab to watch him diminish through the back window. He watched her until she no longer existed.

******

This was a mild hit, comparatively. The first three top floors were completely demolished, the fourth floor was sans ceiling, and the bottom three were fairly intact. According to the owner, no one was in there, today had been the day off for the news bureau who rented the building in the ravaged downtown area. The check was a routine sweep, a stroll in hard hats. The first three floors were clear.

“Can we just pack it in? There is no one here.”

The squad leader said they had to at least finish this floor. No sooner had the words come out of his mouth then they heard a voice limp down the stairs from the collapsed fourth floor.

“What the hell is that?”

The squad leader stood still, stone still, and listened with every molecule of his being.

“Lullabies?”

They launched themselves up the stairs, but their momentum soon slowed, they hit a veritable wall of rock. There were beams and ductwork, steel and exposed wires, at least six feet up. The singing was louder here, but still just a shadow of sound. One of the younger men started to climb, the wiring bit at him and the ground shifted beneath his feet. He reached the top and began to clear a space to pull through the stretcher, the aid kit, and maybe a human body. The more he shifted the rubble aside, the louder the singing got. It was a siren song.

Jess could hear from the space where she was floating between life and somewhere else, that there was movement from behind the wall of debris across the room. She kept singing. The baby had stopped moving what seemed like hours ago. He was sleeping; his mothers singing had comforted him, Jess thought. She saw the rescue crew scale the pile of rubble, heard them shouting to one another as they passed through their gear. As they reached her she called out.

“Please…the baby…”

It was the colors that stopped the squad leader in his tracks. Usually when they found a victim time had past. The blood spilled by fruitless conquests was dried brown like the mud and shit lining the city streets. This woman was surrounded by a sea of red. Roses. Cardinals. Lips. Cherries. A pure crimson that she seemed to hover in. A color so bright that it made the bleached and dusty stone of the floor become nothingness. Her hair was golden. Her slim greenish veins visible through her ivory skin. When he finally got to her, saw her eyes open, they were almost surreal in their intensity, blue, green and gold. She was noticeably pregnant. So beautiful and terrible was this image, something deep and perverse rose inside of him, wanted to order the team back so he could stand there and watch her in these moments. Stand away so he could see all the colors that existed between life and death. This moment existed beyond reality; it was religion, reverence, rapture.

******

Jess stood in front of the cracked and yellowing bathroom mirror. Her little room was an oasis. Fourteen hours of her day were spent in the hot desert sun, blankly staring at dead bodies, having tea with warlords who, out of proprieties sake, refused to look at her, an uncovered woman, and would only answer questions when directed through her photographer. An easy work day was sitting in a cramped room on the floor with other reporters, waiting on some General or Ayatollah, someone who dared make sense out of the senseless. When this was her day in and her day out, she came home to a room filled with silk tapestries and soft cushions. Wide open windows and cool marble floors. An old clawfoot tub. Fresh greenery she bribed the land lady for. And silence. The noise of the street dampened by the sheer weight of the air. This silence was her friend. All thoughts would slip from her mind and she would fill the void with music. Now there was only the deafening tick tick tick of the seconds filling the clock. Three minutes.

She hadn’t bled in three months. She was fatigued. Nauseated. Tender. In these impossible three minutes she tried to find some rationality. Malaria. Influenza. Cancer. Anything but…

It had to have been the morning after she came home. She recalled every second from a detailed film reel stored in her brain. His lips. His bare shoulder. The hair on his chest. His abs. He had taken her slowly, caressing every inch of her body as if it were the first and last time he had ever touched her. She had played games at first, resisting his touch, standing slightly away. Watching his eyes slide luxuriously over her curves. It was a game he won, more quickly than usual. The meeting of their hips, her nails in his shoulder, his quiet whisper “oh my God.”

She never imagined she would regret a private moment with her husband. Never thought that the pleasure she had once craved would be so detestable. Never fathomed that the act she had waited 25 years for would be so worrisome. Never thought she would hate her husbands hands, pulling her in. But standing in her oasis, in the middle of the desert, holding a stick with a little blue plus sign, she wished Patrick had never touched her.

******
Jess woke up and the first thing she noticed was the smell. Antiseptic, disease, death. She started to panic but felt the comforting weight of the baby against her pelvis. A nurse was standing next to her bed, taking down the numbers from a monitor, recording her chances for life on a clipboard. The nurse had clear caramel skin and long raven hair in a braid. She saw that Jess was awake and smiled warmly. Jess tried to speak, but found her throat too dry for words. The nurse handed her a glass of water.

“Please,” she said in a language that was not her own, “is my family alright.” Jess used the word for family because in her muddy brain she could not find the word for ‘baby’ in the vocabulary of the second tongue she had spoken for years.

The nurse smiled again, but nervously this time. Jess thought she had misspoken more severely. Said something ridiculous. “Your husband is with the Doctor. He will be here soon.” The nurse patted her hand and left quickly.

Patrick rubbed his eyes. The doctor was staring at him. It had been mid-morning when they called him, told him there had been an accident and said little else. He took some of their meager savings and added it to what his parents willingly gave and took the next flight to the desert that had finally consumed his wife. He called his professors, her parents, a few friends. Every time he hung up the phone he couldn’t even be sure what he had said. Was he coherent. Jess. Building. Stable. Injured. They don’t know. Nothing else.

He had been greeted at the airport by her editor and bureau chief. They started to apologize but upon seeing Patrick’s face they remained silent all the way to the hospital. The doctor was waiting for him in the grimy post war lobby. Patrick listened silently, stoically as he heard about his wife’s crushed leg, her vicious laceration, the blood loss and internal injuries. He was a man, but kept up right only by words like “stable” and success and progress. It was words such as “fetal heart rate” and brain activity that gave him hope. He smiles.

“Jess wasn’t pregnant. You have the wrong woman.” Patrick was happy. This woman, God help her, wasn’t his wife. She was off, somewhere, traversing the streets, trolling for a story as always, and she had forgotten to check in.

The other three men shifted their eyes toward each other, and then down.

“Pat. Um, I don’t even know how to tell you this man.” Her editor cleared his throat. “She was about six months pregnant. She tried not to tell any of us, but you know, you see a person every day…”

Patrick reached out, put his hand on a table beside him. Pregnant. His wife. He searched his mind for the when and the how, but came up with nothing. Nothing except the image of Jess holding a small bundle, smiling. The sound of cries waking him up in the middle of the night. The feeling of looking down at another life, the result of his entire heart, his love. He was a father. He looked around at the other men, expecting, waiting, for the clichéd smiles and pats on the backs, getting nothing.

The doctor cleared his throat. “The stress of the accident, the pressure placed on her abdomen by the fallen beams caused the placenta to hemorrhage. By the time we had stabilized you wife, there was nothing more we could do.”

He collapsed. Nothing more they could do. Patrick sank to the floor. He reached for the ground but couldn’t find it so he fell, slowly, through the possibilities he had just been given. Through little smiles. Through first words. He fell through fatherhood and landed on the grimy hospital floor, mere feet away from his damaged wife and his dead child. He retched and vomited on the ground.

The doctor pulled him up, snapped for an orderly. “Sir, your wife does not know about the still birth. She has only been awake for a half an hour, and very groggy from the medication. We thought it best if you informed her of the situation.”

The situation was this: the baby had suffocated trapped inside Jess. Her internal injuries prevented her going through a natural stillbirth. There would be a C-Section. The child would look like a very small baby. Its skin may be torn back in some places, would be very pale. They could take pictures, name it if they wanted, and the baby would be taken away. All of this looped through his mind as he walked the light years to her room.

Patrick had not seen his wife in five months. He had not talked to her in over a week. How could she have not told him she was pregnant? Rage crept through his veins. His hands shook on the doorknob. Words battered him. Some were screams. She robbed him of being a parent. If she had told him when she found out there could have been months of fatherhood. Others were whispers. She had her reasons. She was not the one who bombed the building, ultimately killing their child. From a darker placed was the hiss of a reminder. She could have taken the child out of a war zone. Jess could have come home and this would have never been a possibility. People’s babies did not die where they came from. Like a parasite this ate at him. He opened the door.

All the thoughts were silenced. She lay in the bed, on her back, unnaturally. Her faced was badly bruised; she had stitches on her forehead. Her leg was in a cast. She was sleeping. It was in the rise and fall of her chest that he found her glory. Patrick knelt beside her bed, he gently lifted her hospital gown and looked at the natural perfection and wonder that was his wife’s pregnant belly. He kissed his child, let his lips graze the stitches and staples holding together the wound that had rendered them childless.

“I am sorry I didn’t tell you.” Jess, awake now, stroked his hair. “I just couldn’t come to terms with changing my definition of me. But now I know that my definition can include him, it has to. Oh, it’s a boy, the nurse told me so. You’re a daddy.”

A sob wrenched though Patrick, tears leapt unbidden from his eyes. He tried to breathe but there was no air. He took her hand and kissed it. Looked her full in the face.

“We are two and not three.” He laid his other hand full on his wife’s stomach, his long fingers covering her womb, satisfying some need to protect his child, for his son’s sake it should have been sooner. “Our son is dead.”

When the words reached her, Jess cried with no sound. She had no sound left. How could he be dead? He was still tucked safely inside her. She had sung him to sleep. In the background Patrick was talking, giving her meaningless details. She existed in silence. She felt no heart beat. No movement. Just the aching quiet of her womb, surrounding her and filling every inch.

Much more quickly than it came to Patrick the thought came to Jess. Murderer. You killed him. As sure as if you scheduled an abortion or put a gun to your belly. By ignoring him and staying put in the war zone you killed him. By working overtime on your day off, you killed him. By not telling Patrick, not letting Patrick know so he could protect the child from his mother’s selfishness, you killed him. By getting pregnant, you killed him. Patrick was standing over her, he tried to gently kiss her forehead, but she turned away from him. She never wanted to look at him again. She couldn’t bear to see if there was blame in his eyes.

Jess wasn’t saying anything. She wasn’t crying, just staring out the window. Well, staring towards the window, but seeing nothing. Patrick, weeping openly now, tried to hold her hand, to touch her, but she inched away. He was alone, standing in a room filled with shadows and missed possibilities. Alone. Wanting, desperately to ask his wife questions about her pregnancy. To feel connected to what had happened without his knowledge. Alone.

The doctor came in and asked Jess if she consented to the C- Section. She took a deep breath. She tried to objectify the being inside her. Tried to see a fetus, a growth, an unplanned, unwanted and unwelcome pregnancy. She tried to think of this as doing what she should have done in the first place. But all she saw were tiny fingers, tiny toes, and bright smiles.

“Cut it out.”

The doctor nodded and left. Patrick cringed at the harshness of her voice. Those were the last words he would hear from Jess for a long, long time.

The baby came out cleaner than Patrick expected. He was swaddled and placed in Patrick’s arms. His skin was like pale blue paper, his lips crimson. He was small, could fit in Patrick’s palm, and somewhat alien. The most beautiful thing.

They waited in the desert. Waited for Jess to wake up. Waited for her to eat the meals given to her. Waited for her to walk on her damaged leg. Waited for her to heal. Waited for the doctor to release her, waited for her to talk. There were no words. And despite the grief counselor’s warnings, Patrick took his utterly silent wife home. On the plane he wanted to kiss her, hold her hand, to talk. He waited.
******
Jess was deep in the middle of her evening routine. She had made dinner, somehow the mindlessness of cooking and cleaning soothed her. She listened, but did not respond to Patrick’s forced conversation. In the beginning he had tried these dinner conversations off the cuff, but now on his lunch break at his law firm he would sit at his desk and research talking points, write outlines and questions. He would print out news articles that would interest her, brought home papers and magazines, gloriously scented used books and cd’s he had mixed. He would quietly place the stack of no less than four or five items on the chair in the hallway. On good nights after he had eaten and she had picked over her food she would silently pick up these tokens on her way to the bathroom, where she would lock herself in and slip quietly into her former existence, devouring the news, the stories, listening to music that at one time would have made her soul sing. On bad nights she bypassed the chair, or threw the items Patrick brought home away. Behind the locked barrier she would turn on the shower, let the room fill with steam. Jess would remove her clothing, and examine her body in the mirror. She had lost weight, her bones, ribs, collarbones, knees, all more prominent. She would trace her fingertips along the jagged scar that turned into the surgical precision of the abortion. Cesarean. Whatever.

This was a bad night. The mirror fogged as she ran her fingers over the barely perceptible ridge of the scar. She placed her hand over her stomach, covering the void in which her womb had once existed. They took it when they took the baby. The fetus. She closed her eyes. Recalled the feeling of the child kicking at her ribs. Of him responding to the sound of the music she played or the sound of her voice. She saw his pale curled hand as they took him away from her. She saw the blood pouring from her body as she tried to drag herself out. She remembered she almost didn’t go to the bureau that day.

******

In the middle of the night she quietly left their bed, slipped on her shoes, and walked to her car. At first he thought she was just going for a cigarette, she had taken up smoking since she was released from the hospital. But the sound of her car idling made him get up, to peer out the window. Jess was just sitting with two hands on the wheel, her forehead on the back of her hands. This was not right. He grabbed his truck keys, and by the time he got outside she was pulling out of the parking lot. Patrick was able to follow her just by watching her taillights weaving through traffic ahead of him. She headed out of town, driving erratically. Patrick felt a foreboding creep into his being, but at the same time, he was calm. He didn’t think about calling the police, the ambulance, her father. He just followed her as she drove out to the river bluffs where they used to go hiking through the fall, where they would swim and canoe in the summer. His unconscious version of the future was that he would quietly observe her while she sat in the moonlight, while she picked at the grass, while she cried. The same thing he had been doing for months. It was only when he lost her taillights on the curving country rode that fear rose inside him. By the time Patrick pulled into the gravel parking lot Jess was out of her car, no where to be found. It was at this moment that the last seven months hit Patrick. Before he had always seen a light through the bleak grey existence they lived after the baby. She would get better. She would smile again. She would let him touch her again. She would work again. She would be Jess again. She had to. But now the air that rushed past him as he ran through the woods trying to find her, calling her name, that air seemed to contain bits of her essence, like it was perfume. Pieces of her she had discarded on the way, to where he did not know. A broken branch here, a muddy footprint there. Moving towards the bluff, he thought. When he reached the clearing he saw nothing at first, just a wide expanse of green grass made neon by the moonlight. He heard nothing but the gentle running of water not but 10 feet below them. And then a flash of light from under a boulder, right next to the cliffs edge. It was the eye of the moon in the cold shine of a blade.

“Jess?” He cursed himself for keeping any knifes in the house. The doctors had warned him about the trauma she had suffered; maybe he should keep the collection of blades locked up. He had except for the one he usually kept in his pocket.

“Did you know that I felt him move? The baby. They used to call that the time of quickening. When the little zygote becomes a little human.” She chuckled strangely, shook her head. “He was a little human. With little fingernails and little toes. And a heart that beat. And I tried everything to not recognize that he existed. I should have come home the moment I knew. I should have told you about it. I could have protected him…”

Patrick began to move slowly towards her, so aware of her movements. He had taught her to handle that knife, to toss it into the air and catch it closed, to roll it over her hand to open it, even to spin it by the tip of the blade, as she was doing now.

“Jess, there was no way you could have done anything more to protect him. You know how they found you? Do you know what you were doing?”

She had heard the story recounted dozens of times by now. The chattering of all the voices. Family. Friends. Doctors. Coworkers. All insisting. You did the right thing. Did all you could. No one could expect more. Its ok. Its fine. It. Is. O. K. Jess shook her head, shook away all of the words that had been spoken at her since that day.

“I KNOW!” she screamed, followed by a dry, racking sob. “It wasn’t enough after the fact. I should have never let it happen. I killed him, Patrick. I killed our baby. I couldn’t just settle in to it all like I was supposed to. I had to go chasing blind spots. Parts of my life that I should have been able to see right there I tried to find half-way across the world. I had to be tough. Unconventional. The woman who becomes a mother and barely notices, because she is grander than that. I acted like I was too good to care about him, and now…”

Patrick kneeled before her. Tried to look her in the eyes. For the last eight months he had been trying to look his wife in the eye. He felt as if they held some magical power, if he could just make eye-contact with her the spell would be broken and she would smile and crack some stupid joke, or sing again. All would be well. He hadn’t seen the dark blue and green and gold in so long, he didn’t know if he would recognize them if she was to look at him.

“You loved him while you could, how you could. There is no shame in that.” He tried to touch her hands, but she pulled away. As she did so she looked him in the eye. They were dull. Grey. Flat. He wanted to look away, but he just couldn’t. He stumbled backwards, away from her. For some reason this made her smile, an awful, disgusting smile, as if some invisible hand was pulling back on the flesh of the dead.

Jess smiled, that was the last light to extinguish. He was aware now that she did not exist. For months she wished in her heart to see this from him, to see him acknowledge what she felt. That she was without worth, without essence. That she was a shadow. For months the only thing keeping her from this point was Patrick, she was like the moon, only relevant because his light reflected off of her. And now…now he was moving away from her. She turned her attention back to the knife in her hand. This was the first knife he had ever taught her to handle. She rolled it open in her hand, sat there for a moment that lasted a universe. He started to move towards her, but everything was slow motion. Jess dug the blade into her soft, white skin at her narrow wrist, and cut precisely along the vein to her elbow.

Patrick was going nowhere fast. It seemed that no matter how fast he tried to get to her from the point he had retreated to, not even five feet away, there was no way he could get there as quickly as her life hit the ground. He tried. Watched her stand. Take the red blade. Lift her shirt. Cut along the scar left on her abdomen, the injury that had ultimately killed the baby. He reached her, tried to hold her, but she stepped backwards.

She looked at him, at the desperation in his eyes, the blood on his clothing. It was funny that after all of this, Patrick still loved her. He still looked at her when he could. She supposed that if she still existed, she would love him too. She recalled the desperate way they had once craved each other, not too long ago. How they would stay in bed all day long, just to feel as much of each other as possible. How she had thought he was so weird when they first met, and eventually all of his eccentricities would fascinate her to the point of a minor obsession. She remembered their wedding day, how handsome he looked. How he had tears on his cheeks when he lifted her veil. She remembered how scared she had been on their wedding night, how, despite his impatience after three years; he had been gentle, slow. He was a good man.

“Patrick…” she was starting to fade, weaving slightly on the edge of the bluff.

He was two feet away from her, his hands and knees cold and wet from the grass beneath, his breath heavy and ragged. Patrick was helpless. He didn’t even know how to reach her. There was an invisible barrier. He looked away from her eyes, to her feet, standing in a pool of blood. He saw her take one step back towards the edge. Now nothing was slow. He reached up to grab her shirt, her hand, anything to keep her from falling into the water, but she slipped away.

“JESS!”

Patrick was oblivious to the fact that a police vehicle and an ambulance had pulled up behind him. Apparently someone noticed them driving in so late at night, and then heard him yelling for Jess. Hands grabbed him back from the edge, but the ribbons of red drew him back, and he dove in after her. He knew she was gone. There was so much blood. He hit the water, and found her floating like a mermaid, and pulled her up on the shore.

Jess heard him scream. It didn’t matter. The air on her skin felt new, refreshing, like she had never felt air before. She fell for years. She fell through her life. She saw her failures, her triumphs. She saw the baby, too pale, covered in her blood, the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. She saw Patrick, dancing in the living room with him. She saw Patrick. Patrick. This universe was shaped just like the Earth. She hit the water. Her blood mixed with her surroundings, and she finally felt clean. She was suspended in the water. She closed her eyes and smiled. She would just float away. Until she felt a familiar arm around her waist. And that contact was the first contact in the world. The air she gasped as they broke through the surface was the fist molecule of oxygen to ever exist. The cool pebbles and mud of the bank were so comfortable.

“Patrick. My heart feels good. It isn’t made of wood…”

“Shhh…I know. I know. I am going to fix this. This isn’t your fault.”

Behind them medics were scrambling down the bank. He held her tighter, thinking they would rip her from his arms, but they worked around him, attempting to stem the flow of Jess from the world. Patrick kissed her, she kissed him back with all the strength she had. He looked into her eyes and they were blue. Green. Gold. Vibrant. Nothing mattered at that moment, they removed themselves together, listening to nothing, not the strained orders of the medtechs, not the whispers of onlookers, not the police taking reports, there was no sound, nothing, except their breath syncing up.

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