By Sophira Bradford
I hadn’t seen her for about a month. It was a long four or five weeks and suddenly there she was, walking down the street with a bag of groceries. But why should I be surprised? I knew where she was.
I followed her; I was about a half block behind her but I knew where she was going.
Her hair was twisted into a braid and hung between her shoulders. Her white dress was sleeveless and I sped up, thinking of that place I used to kiss, right at the top of her shoulder, now covered by a thin strap. I laughed, my mouth dry and my chest tight. I missed her. At home, in a two bedroom apartment now obscenely empty without her, I didn’t replay our arguments in my mind over and over again the way I used to. The way I so easily did when I knew she would arrive at any moment.
The ache in my chest overwhelmed me. I missed her painfully, but it filled me with anger. I was angry that I missed her.
She reached the motel: room 217. I thought of her in flashes of memory, her face tired, withdrawn and sad. She’d gone from shocked– to hopeful – to vigilant – to tired…all so quickly – in a matter of months. I hadn’t known what to think or feel. But I knew I had been frustrated. I knew I felt I couldn’t carry her sorrow as well as my own ambivalence.
I followed her up the stairs closing the gap quickly. Her back was to me as she set the bag onto the cheap wooden table. The room looked dark and dreary. I saw the start of fear slither down her spine as she shook, shivering and turned around when the door closed behind her.
“Daniel…what…what are you doing here?” I watched her face recover. It slid smoothly from fear to a composure that unsettled me. She didn’t look tired anymore. Her face was closed, her dark eyes like hard stones that reflected nothing back to me. I felt the past year flood back, that familiar frustration and tiredness. I felt vindictive, wanting to draw some response from her. Something, anything to make her angry and expressive. But I didn’t know what to say.
“What do you want?” she asked evenly. Her eyes held mine, and I drunk in her face. Soft full lips, and almond eyes, her round face passive and thoughtful. I hadn’t seen her so composed in a long time. I’d seen her face stained with tears or frustration for so long. That thought drew me to her. Had I been the husband she needed me to be? Definitely not.
She grew stiff as I walked up to her, fingered the strap of her dress. I looked into her eyes but couldn’t hold her gaze. I suddenly didn’t care. I didn’t care about the doctors, or the shots, or the calendar marks, or the money. I just wanted her. I wanted to be with her the way it had been before. Before the miscarriage, and before the all the tests. Could she be with me like that? Did she want to even try? My anger had suddenly evaporated, and I felt like a child.
I kissed her slowly, softly, searchingly. Her lips were still, her arms limp at her sides as I pulled her in close to me. The smell of her hair, oh god. I didn’t care about being right, or being heard, or being hurt anymore. I loved her.
“Ava…” I spoke into her mouth, completely taken with her. I wanted to control myself, to show how her how together I was without her, but I couldn’t. I wasn’t together. I was barely functioning. I’d let her leave a month ago, and that was a mistake. I hadn’t even spoken to her or come to see her. She hadn’t tried to see me either. A week or an hour or a moment ago, I was convinced our marriage was over. That was easier than this…than this harsh and imperfect thing of loving the woman I’d married. I didn’t remember how that argument had begun, but I remembered how it ended: she told me she wouldn’t come back. It was in response to something I’d blurted out angrily and meaningfully: what was the point of all this? It was a stupid and insensitive thing to say. Not because I hadn’t meant it, but because I knew she hadn’t understood what I was applying that thought to. I hadn’t meant: what was the point of this whole process, but: what was the point of all this – pain?
I remember watching the statement register on her face, settle into her mind, and pool into a gloss of grief in her eyes. I knew Ava’d misunderstood me. But I’d said nothing. I felt trapped. I’d been trapped into facing my emotions and frustration. I’d felt trapped struggling to express myself with her; my unsureness about even being a father, much less facing the fact that we may never have a child, not without help. Most of all, I felt trapped by an inability to do anything about her brokenness and emptiness. I couldn’t fix it, or make it better, or make it go away. I’d been selfish because I had not known how to take care of her, so I withdrew and decided to take care of myself.
I’d let her leave; stupidly and aimlessly stranded alone without her, not realizing she’d left with a piece of my soul.
“Dan-,” she sighed. I heard the breathlessness in her voice, the sound of her longing and loneliness. She moved in my arms, then was suddenly still. She stepped back, looked directly into my face and held me in the vise of her gaze.
“Why did you even…Why did you come, Daniel? What’s the point of doing this again?” Her eyes were searching, hesitant yet open. Had she remembered? Did she remember the last thing I’d said to her? Was that what she’d decided to hurl back at me; had she chosen to make me stare my own words in the face? I couldn’t tell. I didn’t know; yet the question was honest and vulnerable.
“I love you.” It came out as a whimper almost, a horrifically emasculating sound that some part of me was aware that I’d never want anyone to hear. I reached for her hand. Her slender fingers bent around mine and I felt a lightness where they’d been a weight I hadn’t noticed.
“I know,” Ava said softly. It wasn’t a question of that.
“I want to be with you… no matter what happens with…no matter how our family…no matter what.” She took me in, her eyes brimmed with sad restraint. But the tears slid free anyway.
“You don’t know what you want, Daniel. I wanted to have children, and I thought…I thought we shared that…but…” she shook her head, her hand suddenly out of mines and wrapped around her waist. She turned from me and I felt myself losing her.
“Ava…you’re right. I don’t know what I want. I thought….I thought we would just have children one day. It would just happen. And being a father would be something I learned to do, having children would be something I loved. It’s – it’s different when you know it won’t just happen. We have to make it happen. It takes so much…and…I’m not… I don’t feel ready to make that decision…because… Ava, I just don’t… I never had a father…”
I trailed off. This wasn’t going as well as I’d liked. I’d had a father, but she knew what I meant.
“I know… I know Daniel.” She turned back, walked slowly to me and held my face in her hands.
“You will make a great father.” Ava said softly, confidently. I kissed her – she was caught off guard again, but I could tell she’d liked it. We clearly missed each other enough for the pain of the last couple of months to morph into loneliness.
“We’re going to counseling.” She said it assuredly. I knew it wasn’t an option. Ava was not the type to make ultimatums, but I knew it was the deciding factor of whether she’d come home with me or not. She wasn’t foolish enough to think that we’d somehow gotten past the turmoil of this issue.
“You’re going to counseling,” Ava continued. I was confused for a moment. Then I got it. They were two different things. I nodded, and kissed her again, devouring her, overpowering her slight frame as I grabbed her shoulders, then her back, then her waist. She melted in my arms for moments that felt excruciatingly like hell, and heaven. I pulled her to the small bed, but she resisted.
Breathless, her chest heaving and her eyes alit with desire – I felt the resoluteness of her will.
“I’ll give you some time to think about it,” Ava spoke lightly, like she’d offered me a position after a job interview.
I laughed so loud and heartily that she couldn’t help but chuckle a little.
Gathering myself together, I nodded.
“Ok.” I said.
I left her in the small, dark, dreary room and walked back the way I came. But it felt like a whole new, different path.
Sophira has had a torrid, painful and passionate love affair with writing since she was old enough to pick up a book. They just can’t seem to break up. She’s from Brooklyn, New York and she though she plans on leaving one day and never returning, it will always be home. She loves discussing good books and the perils of being a writer – her email address is email@example.com if you’d like to reach out.