by Laurelann Easton
Jennifer tugs her blouse over her stomach, a part of her that has never rounded, and twists the peridot ring she’d put on in place of her wedding band. The band had barely lasted her and David a year, and now they sit together in an iron silence, waiting for their parents to come for lunch in his mother’s favorite Italian restaurant. A waiter brings by bread and butter, and as she watches David smooth out his napkin over his lap, an unwarranted memory crosses her thoughts of the last time they had sat side by side like this.
The napkin was red, instead of white, and a long clothed table stretched before them instead of this small round one. Their friends and family sat at scattered tables, and they all smiled at what a wonderful union had just been made. The ceremony had been all she had asked for. Their June wedding was welcomed with fair weather, and though a passing rain had come just after the ceremony, the preparations and reception afterward carried on without a worry. During the reception, they had toasted over red wine to their friends and family, and they had made a promise to love each other forever.
Staring now at the peridot on her ring finger, she wonders where forever has gone.
David doesn’t say a word as he spreads butter on a thick slice of bread, and he hasn’t glanced at her since they entered this restaurant. They agreed on meeting here because his mother loves it for the fact that David had brought them all together here to propose to Jennifer. With that memory still fresh in her mind, well over a year later, Jennifer tastes a bitterness on her tongue. The memory of his proposal became tarnished with their broken promises. For David, though, all she has is memories. With the divorce now in process, no more could be made. There is no future to look forward to and no plans to make.
Yet there had been a future once, and they had sat this tense together before, though they’d been in a waiting room. Two months after their honeymoon beneath the palm trees, she missed her period. She took a test and called her doctor, and David looked at her with such pride.
Waiting for the doctor to see them, they gave each other anxious glances.
“I hope it’s true,” she said. She clutched his hand. Her leg bounced as fast as her heart hammered in her chest. The wait felt like the worst part.
“I’m sure it is, Jen.” He rubbed his thumb over her tight fingers, and he caught her knee to hold it still. “Relax. It’s fine either way.”
“You won’t be upset if I’m-”
A nurse poked her head out of the office door. “The doctor is ready to see you.”
Jennifer shot up and only his hand kept her grounded. The couple followed the nurse to the next room, where Doctor Liepke greeted them. His eyes had tired lines around them, and she couldn’t tell what that meant for her.
“Your results are back, Jen,” Doctor Liepke said. He held up a brown clipboard with papers as evidence. She held her breath and prepared herself for the news. “You’re pregnant.”
Jen’s grip on her husband’s hand fastened harder, and she let out her breath with a smile. Her other hand felt her stomach, where she now knew for certain life was growing. A new life for the two of them. Doctor Liepke left them alone for a moment, and scheduled them for their next appointment before they drove home in blissful chatter of their future.
This started a new period of waiting—for the arrival of their child. In their restlessness, they shopped constantly, read baby articles, and kept up on what was healthy for Jennifer to be doing. They even told everyone they knew, and the happiness never stopped spreading. David was more than helpful, and seemed to come home with a new item for the baby every day. Some days it was just toys. Other days it was a crib, or a colorful mobile to hang. There were still many months before they should expect their baby, but their excitement overtook them.
After work once, she came home to find him amidst a pile of wood. It was in the works of being put together by his scattered tools. He worked in what had once been his office and was now the workings of a colorful nursery. This room had never looked so disorganized, but it held the most color and light in all of their home.
She leaned against the door frame and asked, “What are you doing?”
“Wait and see,” he said without looking up from the sheet of instructions that seemed glued beneath his gaze. “I want it to be a surprise.”
So she did wait, and then, something new came: cramps. They reminded Jennifer of what she might get while on her period, but much worse. She stayed on the couch an entire afternoon one Friday after work, and the next day she stayed in bed through lunch. They didn’t know why she would be feeling this way.
He left her to rest in bed, occasionally bringing her something to drink or something light to eat, like toast. At some point in the afternoon, he let her know that he was heading out to get some paint. While he was gone, she went to the bathroom, and she flushed away a bloody stream. There was too much blood.
She worked her way to the nursery just a little ways down the hall. There was no reason for her not to see what he’d been working on now. The kitchen chair was still pulled up by his project, a gentle rocking horse. All that was missing was the paint, which he had listed in big letters on the blueprints to be red. Blood red, she thought, and the swirling red water wouldn’t leave her mind. She sat there in that chair, staring down at his unfinished work.
Sometime later, David entered the room to see her still sitting there and staring. He dropped the can of paint and rushed to kneel before her. He took her hands in his and leaned his head in to try to catch her eyes.
“Hey, look at me,” he said. “What’s wrong?”
She kept her gaze down. “There was a miscarriage.”
He sucked in a breath and his forehead landed heavily on her knee. They sat together in this way for long moment, like still-life figures wondering when life would begin again.
He raised his head and kissed her fingers. “I’ll go make some cocoa.”
As he left the room, her eyes followed him out and her chest deflated with a sigh. Her hands felt cold with his no longer covering them and she didn’t feel she could warm them.
After this, David began to keep his distance. He took longer hours at work and stayed even longer at a nearby bar with some of his coworkers. Sometimes he wouldn’t stumble in until it was after midnight, so she often went to bed alone. She would wake up to the smell of whiskey floating into the room and settling beside her, but she never turned over to cuddle up to the bitterness. She couldn’t find the words to say what she needed from him, and he was never around to hear them anyway. They seemed to almost stop talking altogether.
Their distance threw her into a kind of darkness, the kind that keeps you inside and away from your friends, and you don’t think you mind. She found a solitude that she tried to cope with through romance classics like “Serendipity” and “Sleepless in Seattle,” or in reading her favorite Danielle Steel novels over again. She lost quite a bit of weight during this period of wishing for what she didn’t have and could experience only vicariously. She lost enough weight that she felt as though David couldn’t see her. She was alone and weightless. Invisible.
Did he see her now though? She couldn’t bring herself to look at him to find out. With cheery chatter from surrounding tables, their discontentment and tension remains in a tight bubble around their table. Even if David won’t actually look into her eyes, he looks in her general direction because they have an understanding. They’ll get through this lunch date with their parents (who are fifteen minutes late now), explain to them the divorce and go their separate ways.
David finishes his bread, and motions to the basket, a silent question to her.
Jennifer shakes her head. She hadn’t been too hungry this morning, and she had decided to save what was left of her appetite for this meal. She plays with the edge of the tablecloth hanging down in front of her, her attention fixed downward. Her knees bounce in place. She hardly wants to eat at all and just wants to get it over with.
A commotion of conversation and laughter starts from the doorway when three people walk in. Jennifer’s parents, Susan and Richard, and David’s mother, Denise, have finally arrived. Susan spots Jennifer and David sitting together, and gives them a fluttery wave as she leads the others past the host and to the table. The two stand to greet their parents with hugs that make her feel as though she hasn’t seen these people in years. In reality, it’s been only half a year, the same amount of time since the miscarriage; Jennifer had simply avoided making any plans like today’s for fear of her parents noticing how her marriage was crumbling away.
They took their seats, and the cheery air that their parents carry with them covers up any heaviness between David and Jennifer. In the background, a toddler’s screeching laughter cuts across the room. The sound feels as though it magnifies the pressure hovering in her chest. While Jennifer’s parents are attempting to ask her how work at the office has been going, Denise cuts through the conversation. “Oh, David! You’re so much like your father. Did you forget your band today? You know, Jen, men will always forget the little things, and you’ll never be able to change them. They’ll always forget something, just like—”
“Denise.” Jennifer pulls Denise’s rampant train to a halt. Beside her, she can feel David tensing at the mention of his deceased father. It had been years since then, but it still stuck with him. She draws in a breath, and says, “We’re getting a divorce.”
The pleasant atmosphere shatters and the tension is ripped wide like an insatiable demon jumping from the shadows. No one says anything at first as they digest their shock, and Jennifer wonders if David hates her for blurting it out like this. The toddler’s screaming cries reach them again from across the room.
Susan reaches across the table to touch Jennifer’s folded hands. “When did this happen?” Her mother’s gentle voice eases some of her stiffness.
David says, “A few days ago.” It’s the first time he’s said anything all day, and Jennifer’s surprised enough that she looks at him. With this look, she sees new lines around his mouth and between his eyebrows that weren’t there before. She should have noticed them sooner from the many times she used to kiss that mouth or smooth his stressed head. His hair is touching his ears, longer than he normally let it grow, and his tie is a little off center.
She had never before taken the time to see all of these changes, miniscule as they are.
He looks just as alone as she feels, and she can feel each distinct inch of space between them that gapes wide.
“But you two were happy,” Denise says. “I can’t believe this. What happened?”
Richard cuts in with his own demanding questions. “Jen, did he hurt you?” His anger turns on David. “Did you do something to my daughter?” He stands and his chair scrapes backward.
Jennifer’s eyes widen with alarm and she pulls her hands away from her mother’s. “Sit down, Dad. He didn’t do anything.” Her father yanks his chair back under himself and tries to settle again. He looks as though he could fly across the table at David at any perfectly provoked moment. “No one did anything here,” she says and she gives a hard look to each of their parents to make sure they understand her.
In the expanse between their chairs, his hand comes out of nowhere to hold hers. She doesn’t know what to do, so she remains still. “Sometimes things happen that you don’t expect,” David says, and he looks at her while he speaks. He really looks at her and her heart feels heavy in her chest. “And sometimes things happen that you can’t control, and you don’t know how to take that control back.” He returns his focus to their parents. “So you step back. And that’s what we’ve decided to do.”
“But what happens now?” Denise asks. Confusion draws her brows down, and of course she wouldn’t understand this, nor would Richard and Susan. They’ve never known divorce, or the forces that can drive two people to forget why they’re married at all. It’s not like Jennifer and David really meant to forget. Like he said; sometimes things happen that you can’t control.
“I guess we’re still trying to figure that out.”
Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student