For months and months and months I’ve tried to get my shitty short stories published. They haven’t been (because they’re shitty, obviously). So, in an attempt to move some of them out into the world, I give you this. Surrealist fiction (which is what I want to call this) is not my wheelhouse, but it was sweet, sweet torture to write. Thank you for reading, as always!
The Final Letdown
I rest my head against the train window despite mucus and toddlers’ hand prints. I’m waiting for Tristan’s name to pop up on my phone. It’s 5:56, three minutes since his last message. Mail must have been late, I think.
I don’t really mind. I prefer him quiet. It gives me time to myself. Who knows how much longer that’s gonna last? Just as I close my eyes for a quick nap, my phone rings. Tristan is beaming up at me with his bright eyes and that little gap between his teeth–something that I had found so attractive the night we met. Things had been easier then, hadn’t they? Nothing more complicated than what bar to go to for the night. Now? I can almost hear his impatient little hum as he waits for me to pick up.
My thumb hovers over the red reject icon.
Ultimately though, I’m a coward and force the phone to my cheek. I guess texting isn’t enough. Plugging my right ear with my finger, I shout, “Hello?”
“Mara?” he calls over the line. “Mara, can you hear me?”
I rest a hand over my eyes, trying to rub the weariness away. “Yeah, what’s up? You okay?”
“Fine. I’ve been trying to get a hold of you.” His voice is deep, melodic, familiar. In a way, it is comforting. In other ways…it makes me want to pull my hair out by the roots.
Instead, I sigh and hold in the scream. The slight action makes my nipples sore. I cup my breast to assuage the pain, unabashed. Lactation is a thing you don’t really get used to, I guess. “I just got off work.”
On the other end of the line I hear him opening the front door. “Oh, duh. Sorry. What’s that saying about pregnancy and loss of memory?”
I roll my eyes. “Don’t know, babe.”
He huffs. “Anyway. Will you pick up some peanut butter on the way home? And mustard; but if they only have Dijon like last time, don’t even bother.” A slight pause and the sound of ripping paper grates on my ear. “Oh! And milk. Only a half gallon, though–that should get us to the end of the week. Speaking of: Have you talked to your mom today? I need to know if we should clean the guest room tonight or if it can wait until tomorrow.”
“Just wait until I get home. You shouldn’t be on your feet,” I tell him half-heartedly. I’m not sure it’ll do any good any more. I swear to God we have a conversation like this every day. I get that he’s been bored on bedrest, but his clinginess has gotten me to the point that I can barely muster a single fuck.
“I know, I know.” He sighs and chews on something crunchy. “But we’ve got so much to do before Monday.” The last word rolls off of his tongue in a dreamy tone. Over the last thirty-nine weeks, he’s only gotten more and more wistful.
Tristan says something else, but I can’t hear him. My reflection looks panicked. Thinking about D-Day has raised my blood pressure from the second we got the news and I suggested we pursue alternative routes. How could you want such a thing? Tristan asked into watery palms after the doctor left to give us our privacy.
I’ll admit that I’m ashamed of that day. The memory makes me tune into Tristan’s rattling on about his muscle cramps and nausea. Come on, Mara, focus, I tell myself.
“But anyway, I need to open up this package. It’s from your brother. ‘Kay?” Before we can say goodbye, he says, “Oh wait! Will you please call the hospital and confirm our appointment? I’ll text you.”
I swallow down a sudden wave of my own nausea. “Sure thing, babe.”
“Love ya,” he says, meaning it.
“Love ya,” I say, not sure if I do.
We hang up and it’s quiet again. I prefer it that way. Sometimes I’m amazed Tristan and I found one another. I’m quiet, bookish. He’s loud, the life of the party. He’s the kind of guy who thinks skydiving is an appropriate first date. When the train stops to let passengers come and go, I wonder what it is that has kept us linked for all these years. Maybe we’re just too stubborn to walk away. The question I dare not ask aloud: Why didn’t I leave?
There’s a laundry list of of reasons, of course. Tristan is funny, handsome, he makes love to me like I’m the only person on Earth who matters. Anyone would be lucky to have him. Right?
The phone vibrates again. I make a tight fist around it, glaring down at: “Tristan: 1 unread message.” It quakes in quick succession until the number tallies up to seven. I don’t understand how he can text so quickly.
Tristan: Don’t forget milk (½ gallon), peanut butter (creamy!!!), mustard (NOT yellow), mayo, bread, call Dr. Allard and your mom.
Next is a picture of the nursery, which is now yellow and furnished with dark wood, except for a crib, which is missing. We haven’t found one that makes us happy (I find myself approaching the whole thing more from an aesthetic point of view than anything else). He sends another picture: a large, white box with a tasteful mahogany crib plastered across the front. Also pictured: a thumbs up, and in the text section: “Bless your brother!”
I should text him: “Wait until I get home to put that together,” but I don’t because I know he’ll have it taken care of before I put the key in the door. I might as well just keep moving through his photos.
Nothing, though, prepares me for the next one.
“These are awesome!” the text reads. Draped across Tristan’s swollen, hairy belly is a set of tiny footed pajamas with a small hat with ears just beneath his pectorals—slightly beyond that, I can see his smile.
The anxiety is back.
And, of course, I’m powerless against the primal pulsation in my breasts. They’re sore and swollen and leaking. I hate it. The milk started to come last week. “Early but not unusual,” Dr. Allard tells me at our bi-weekly appointment. Her saying that doesn’t change the fact that I’m not used to the pain or that I can’t seem to stop wearing white shirts. Her saying that doesn’t change the fact that I resent a stranger’s baby when it cries and I lactate. I pray to God every day that Tristan had to do this part, too. I mean, if he hadn’t gotten pregnant, none of this would have happened. We could have been happy.
That’s not fair, I think. I did my part. I have to pay my dues. I am so fucking selfish.
The sounds of the tracks grinding beneath the train wheels can’t distract me from the afternoon in my parents’ house after we got the news. I’d never seen my dad so excited as he was when he and Tristan poured through the pages of a pregnancy book. Meanwhile, my mother and I discussed what it meant to be a parent over coffee. When I admitted my true desires for the baby, she slapped me with the full force of her open palm. Even the memory causes my cheek to burn. “You should be grateful! It takes most couples years to conceive. How could you want to give up such a blessing? Did I raise you to be so cruel?”
I don’t mean to be cruel; I mean to be free. Tristan’s pregnancy didn’t feel like a blessing nine months ago and it doesn’t feel like one now. My head is spinning. I squeeze my eyes shut to block out the moving scenery. I’m nauseous enough just thinking about onesie colors and baby names. There’s just something about the way life blooms under my palm when Tristan convinces me to touch his stomach. The feeling is alien.
I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t ask to be a baby’s snack pack. I didn’t ask to be at the beck and call of a creature the length my forearm. “I don’t want to be a mother,” I whisper to the floor. It’s the first time I’ve ever said it out loud. Confession feels good, like pressure being released.
The phone vibrates again.
Tristan: When are you going to be home? Should I order dinner now or wait? Did you call your mother yet? Did you call Dr. A.?
I almost throw up, but my shortness of breath holds it down. The phone vibrates again. I can’t bring myself to look at it. My stop is coming up. Is the train car getting smaller? Shoving up to my feet, I stumble to the door. I leave my phone behind. Even as I go I can hear it vibrate against the plastic seat.
Nearly blind with tears, I hang against the pole and wait for the doors to open. When they do, I come out onto the platform. With each step my feet become heavier, as though covered in wet cement. People in suits stream around me while I subtly morph into a stone in a river. I stare straight ahead with my purse slung over my shoulder. There’s a marquee with a man and a woman holding a baby between them. It’s an ad for a cesarean clinic. They look euphoric smiling with all those teeth. I hate them.
What do I want?
In response, my nipples begin to leak.
“No!” I shout and shove my palms to my breasts, like that would ebb the flow. Everyone on the platform gives me a second of side-eye and then they keep going. A train going back towards the city pulls into the station as the one going towards the suburbs barrels on with my cellphone. There’s only one thing to do, I think as I climb into a new car. It’s empty and dim. I sit at the back of the car and stare into my lap, waiting for Tristan’s name to appear on a phone I no longer have.
As the train pulls away from the station, my shirt front is soaking wet and so is my face. I can’t do this.
My palms vibrate with the phantom of a memory I know will never leave me.