by Marisa Clogher
My husband touches my belly in the mornings, and I pity him. He stretches his hand as wide as it goes and places it on my stomach, as if to say, This is a sacred thing; I will help you make miracles with it. He pretends that it is still there, that it still works. Every morning I move his hand away from my stomach and shower until I forget his name.
He had a birthday party for the baby we never had. It was exactly one year after that baby’s due date. He baked a cake. He bought balloons. He invited our friends and our family. The invitation read in blue, cursive letters, “Join us in celebrating Jacob’s First Birthday!” He woke up at six for a party that started at one and spent the entire day draping our house in blue and white streamers. He made pasta salad, finger sandwiches, meatballs, crab dip, deviled eggs, along with a fruit tray and a vegetable tray. He bought a new shirt and new pants and asked me if they made him look like a dad. I tried to answer but couldn’t.
Nobody called; nobody came. My husband sat in our living room with streamers covering our bare white walls and a party hat that carved a line into the fat under his chin. He was looking at the extra party hats in his hand, getting angrier each minute.
“It’s rude. Isn’t it rude? We go to all of their parties. All of them! We went to Mark and Callie’s kitchen-warming party. We went to celebrate their kitchen, and they can’t celebrate our child? It’s rude.”
I sat at the kitchen table in silence. I watched my reflection in the microwave door. This woman was tired and washed last week. Her fingernails were chewed raw, and her eyes looked like they belonged to someone else, a veteran perhaps. She opened her mouth, stretching her jaw. She bit the inside of the cheek until there was blood. This was not a mother. This was not a woman in love.
He walked into our room and sat down on the bed next to me. I was reading a book, and his eyes were red and distant. I looked at my book. He looked at his knees.
“Are you even excited about the others?” he asked me.
“Babies. After Jacob, we’ll have Anna, then another boy, Andrew. I always really liked the name Andrew.”
“Have you read this book before? I think you would like it.”
“Did you hear me?”
“Yeah, I did.”
Fifteen months earlier, I was stretched out on an operating table having my uterus removed through small cuts in my abdomen. I lost a lot of blood in the car and on the bed, so they removed the problem, and with it, my husband’s sanity. He drove me to and from the hospital; he took care of me afterward.
When I was nineteen, I was told that I would probably never have children, that I was not hospitable. The pregnancy was unexpected, and I felt betrayed. My body was supposed to protect against that. My husband thought that God had blessed my body and our marriage.
“How do you feel?” he asked after returning home from my surgery.
He sat up straight. “What do you mean, relieved?”
“I mean I’m relieved I won’t bleed like I did. I’m relieved it’s not an issue anymore.”
“But what about kids?”
“What about kids?”
His eyes tried to start a fire at my feet, burning the stranger before him. He stood up, walked out of the house, and didn’t come back until the morning. This was the last time he remembered.
He forgot the morning I bled. He forgot the subsequent self-destruction. He forgot that the potential life became bloodstains in our sheets. He forgot that he threw those sheets away, a mess of stiff fabric tangled in our garbage can. He forgot them cutting out this part of me. He forgot crying over the future babies we’d never have.
I was in the backyard smoking and staring at the bottom of the fence where the neighbor’s dog was attempting to dig a hole into our yard. I had informed our neighbor that his dog was on the verge of escaping, and he said he would put chicken wire down. Three weeks later, the hole was bigger, and the dog was still digging.
I slid open the sliding glass door after I was done and walked inside. My husband was staring at me, his face too small and too angry.
“You shouldn’t smoke,” he said.
“You might be pregnant soon, and we don’t need any risks.”
I laughed. “I’m not going to be pregnant soon.”
“Stop,” I said as I tried to walk past him. He stood in front of me but refused to look at me or touch me. “God, I’m so sick of this. I can’t have a baby, and you know it. Why are you doing this? If you want a kid, it won’t be with me, so just go.”
“But what about Jacob? I don’t want him growing up without the two of us together.”
I stared at him and tried to figure out if he was trying to hurt me or if he really believed that I had given birth to a boy named Jacob. He looked scared. He looked desperate. He cared about this baby, and I felt sorry for him. He wanted something to cling to other than the two of us, so he clung to what he thought my body could do. But I no longer made miracles. I was too tired to argue and too tired to be alone. I walked over to him, hugged him, then went to take a shower until I forgot his name.
That night we looked at our plates the entire time that we ate. He pushed the pasta around the plate, hardly eating. His clenched his fork, white-knuckled and silent. I finished my plate and rinsed it in the sink while my husband was still staring at the rearranged food on his.
“I’m sorry,” he said, without looking up. I walked over and kissed the top of his head: a peace offering.
I don’t remember the last time my husband looked in my eyes and remembered my name. I think I became non-distinct a long time ago. He touches my belly. He talks about Jacob. We go to bed, and I am quiet on the pillow. The next day is the same.
I still smoke, and he still gets angry. He prepares the vitamins and supplements while I breathe in chemicals in the backyard. The neighbor still hasn’t put chicken wire down, so the dog has dug a hole that is now big enough for him to fit through easily, yet he stays. Every day he makes the hole bigger and then goes back inside to eat and sleep for the night.
Marisa Clogher is a writer and editor who’s lived in New Orleans their whole life. They are currently an associate editor at ANTIGRAVITY Magazine and have work in My Spilt Milk, New Orleans Review, and others. They are fiercely loyal to New Orleans, forever.