She couldn't sleep. She swayed rhythmically with the cicadas and crickets, pleading with them to stop, laughing at the futility of the oscillating fan in the bedroom. Everything was damp from the rain and the humidity. The baby slept sporadically between their backs.
He knew the morning would bring a long day. Two weeks prior he decided he was done with long days. He decided he was going to get everything in order. He even told her that. He told her from now on, after all they'd worked for, finally – now – everything was going to be fine. She believed him initially, but the last thing she said before bed that night, the words that echoed through the house, through their foundation, was, “Get that money out of here.”
She used a wet paper towel to keep the baby cool throughout the night. Her father did that when she was young, whispering long syllables in time with the compressing of the towel, applying it to the neck, wrist, and temple, the pulse points, to send a shock of cold to her blood as it traveled through her body, offering only a temporary relief, but always prompting her father to say, “Why waste money on air conditioning?”
Two weeks earlier, they had been in rare form. He came whistling up the walkway, flowers in his hand, like they were still courting. She watched dumbfounded from the window and let him unlock the deadbolt with his key even though she stood within an arm's length of the door. His momentum was not to be interrupted. She waited for him to speak first.
“We're OK, beautiful.”
“What do you mean?”
“We're going to be fine.”
“Get dressed. We're going out.”
“What about the baby?”
“My sister's on her way.”
She was so confused that she didn't make one productive move until he went to the driveway to greet his sister. She picked the dress she imagined herself wearing on a day like today, a day when everything fell into place, when the struggle ended, when they reached the lowest depths of their trench, when they dug their feet in and started walking back uphill after years of a steady fall. She felt alive for the first time since the baby showed up.
They went out for a long time, celebrating for no disclosed reason, pretending things were going to get better.
She wrung out the paper towel and repeated herself. He was offended.
“I said get that money out of here.”
“That money is none of your business.”
“You won't tell me where you got it.”
“I don't think that's something you need to know.”
He checked for his keys and headed towards the door.
“You said you got caught up in something.”
“Like you were caught in a wake, like you were sinking.”
“I'm out now. We escaped.”
“I would've sunk with you.”
“But we don't need to sink anymore! Don't you want to swim?”
“I need to know what's keeping us afloat.”
The look he gave would be the look she remembered him by, which was a shame, because on most days he looked handsome.
He left, but the usual playfulness that followed between her and the baby was missing. The air in the house often felt lighter when he left, but today was different. She trudged through the motions, heating up food at the appropriate times, but losing her focus and dropping it on its way to the highchair. Her facial expressions didn't change, and she dealt with each crisis as it occurred, one step removed. Any car passing would send her racing to the window, her stomach falling when she'd realize it wasn't his. Claustrophobic and anxious, she took the baby for a walk around the lake. The pace she maintained impressed the other mothers, the mothers with secrets of their own, secrets that couldn't possibly compare.
By the time she reached the bench by the dogwood, uncharacteristically empty, she broke down. The mother of the twins, the banker's wife, was not there this day. Neither was the twins' aunt. She felt weak. She walked briskly away from the lake, pushing the stroller all the way uphill, arriving at their house, staring up at their blacked out windows and a porch covered in flowers, hearing the sobs echo through the village.
John Welsh is currently a mailman on Long Island with an expensive certification to teach high school social studies. He enjoys podcasts, crossword puzzles, and the idea of waking up early. He also plays guitar in the band This Good Robot. John is a staff writer for The Inclusive.