I know it is broken as soon as I fall. I know because when I stand there is a lump right away. It is round and heavy like a new laid egg. I remember reading somewhere that that is what happens when you break a bone. The pain is clear. Not complicated like the pain before, when we argued, when you yelled. My foot is dull and throbbing like a pulse. I go to bed fully clothed. In the morning my father wraps my foot in a bandage. I think it’s broken, he says. I pretend dismay.
I tell you about my foot later, over the phone and after the blue black has spread into my toes and my limb looks not my own. You are still so mad you barely mumble concern. But then you come home. Remorseful, you balance ice on my ankle, stroke my hair and murmur real apologies. We are good on the couch together, the TV mumbling safe words in our ears, the room getting warmer and falling to your shoulder full of sleep.
To my living grandmother, I mail your picture. You will not meet her. She sits and stares at mountains and counts red cars on all the roads that she can see. She is nice sometimes but mostly is not. I wanted her to see you. All I have of my other grandmother, the dead one, is earrings. They are not heirloom. After she died my aunt took my uncle’s guitar-pick cutter. She made pick-shaped earrings out of my dead grandmother’s credit cards. Gramma would want you to have these, she said. What could I do with them? You cannot wear your dead grandmother’s American Express in your ears. I am not sure where they are now. In Vermont my alive grandma is looking at your face, she is thinking you are handsome. Then she is forgetting all about you as she counts cars on her road.
We go out to breakfast and I lean on you. I know I shouldn’t, I already presumed and ordered you coffee. I already had spread face down in your bed, dug in fat like a sated tick. But yesterday you talked about what you read in the news. Some man killed a lot of children. He shot them even while he saw their faces and I wanted to feel your hand. Inside it is blood and bone and cleverness that can fix cars. You recoil into that presumptuous coffee. I am sorry for leaning on you. I am sorry for the coffee. I am sorry for the news. I am sorry for all other dead children in all other places. And for me, I apologize.
I call you driving to the bank to take out a loan. I want a good luck. My stomach hurts like it does, now, when I’m making decisions. And you don’t answer, as you don’t, now. Buying things like cars or houses, they mean you can’t just leave. They mean somewhere you have to be funneling money into some bank account and then later funneling it back around to pay and pay. I do not know what I want but you end up signing the loans anyway don’t you? I think of a day at college, before I knew you. Everything was bright green. After class I switched on my computer. Online I read something my old boyfriend’s new girlfriend had written about me. I can’t remember what it said. I know I called him. It had been a year since we last spoke. I stared at the spring out my window, and when he answered I heard her laugh and laugh in the background. This would be the last time we would ever hear each other’s voices. What? he said and I know I started crying. I did not understand why he would not end.
You don’t answer the phone but later that night you call me. We drive together while you tell me which gear you are in. Then we lie and I feel your blood and bone and cleverness and we hum without making any noise. Our dog curls warm against my curved back. I think this is good, this is a good way to end. But I hate happy endings. But my foot aches. We are going to keep on going. After waking we are both so tired.
I go out to run errands. I asked but no one wanted to come. At times like that I think, they’d be sorry if I died. I get on and off and on again at an exit where I had sex in parked cars, sixties horror movie style but without monsters or chainsaws. Instead just used condoms thrown into dumpsters under cover of night. Seven years and daylight later the soccer fields next door are full. There are wind surfers on the river. It is blinding. I go to the store. I buy beer and milk and examine sunglasses. I try each pair on. One by one I stare into the warped grocery store mirror. I want to forget what I look like.
I woke up this morning and don’t worry friend, I am not pregnant. The cast on my foot has been chipped away. Now I can walk again. Not long distances though, and still I limp. There is a story I tell you but I don’t think you believe me. It was when I decided to live in the snow banks outside of Munich. I had missed my train and full of beer and clear air I decided I could walk forever and just not come back. I did not know what would happen to me. I knew that I did not know and that was the best part. I started walking. I would have walked as long as I could and then curled into the snow. I would sleep white and cool and blissful empty. Then a man covered in mud and scrapes and torn scraps screamed from a corner I had missed. I went back to the lights of the train station. I would get on the train and later on a plane and I would go back home and years later I would meet you.
I am not pregnant but I keep running my hands over my belly. I hope strangers will notice and think I am with child. You are out shopping for houses to live alone in. I am renting my apartment and feeding my dog and opening beer bottles with a hiss. I want to move this story along. I want to jump into a time that is not this one. But I cannot change chapters or read from the back of this book. We are linear and you have found yourself a beautiful home with a stone fireplace and a lake for a backyard. When I cried you were surprised. I could not explain. Robotic, empty bellied I open beer bottles alone. Hiss hiss hiss. There is no other time to jump to.
We go on vacation and stay in a room painted like a jungle. I want a baby now but will never tell you. On the wall there is a fat toad who watches us in bed. In the bathroom an orangutan crouches by the toilet. On patios we drink beer as though we were in Europe. I ache for this, to live in courtyards strung with lights. I order you no coffee but run my hands through your hair. We drive home over a bridge full of lions. I count them while I hold my breath. The rain slicks off the windshield and despite it we pull over. We walk down a boardwalk to the beach and look at the ocean. The white sand is mixed with orange rock. Everything else is gray. What you don’t understand is even though now I stretch out my arms, even though now sea salt damp laps my toes, even though this is now we will still climb back up the boardwalk. We will get into the car. The beach will be behind us and then it will be a long time ago. It will be such a long time ago. What I want is to keep a piece of both of us.
I am not pregnant but I throw up in the morning. I throw up bile mixed with blood. This is dramatic until I rise and brush my teeth and pull on shoes. I imagine I am Keats or Chekhov but Kafka hits too close to home. My eyes are rimmed red but there is no starched handkerchief flecked with blood. There will be no swooned escape into death. No request for burning manuscripts. Instead there are stomach pills. Doctor’s scolding. You’re travelling more these days. Not home to hear the heaving. I still limp from car to office and then off and back again. This is the nature of everyone’s days. I sweep up all of humanity and clutch at them, tighten their ties, adjust the resolution of their screens and scream.
We go out on the boat. It is baking bright mid-morning. When I haul in the glistening, wriggling fish my hands are full of life. Later I watch you gut him, pulling the stringy intestines out above the water. You might want to turn your head away you say. I do not. I watch the whole thing. I am the commander, and having ordered execution I will witness with honor. The fish looks the same when dead as alive, but the boat is much redder. At home as you cut filets I make up my mind and tell you that this is it. I am leaning on the kitchen island, elbows up. I should move in or this has come to nothing. You pause with the knife. It makes me nervous. I don’t want to give up on this. Your voice is so soft. Not yet. The next day I begin to bring my things.
The big stone fireplace is the only part of the house I truly love. I take our dog to the dog park for the first time. Our dog is like me. Aloof but scared he sniffs at this rock, that log. He eyes the other dogs with suspicion. It’s all right. I tell him. Go play. He looks at me, unsure. When other dogs approach, tails wagging, I lurch with fear. I feel as though I am sending off some child, lunch box packed hair combed back nervous grin. He is all right. He plays. I swell, then deflate. At home the dog stretches in front of the fireplace with a yawn. He looks at me, jaws parted in content. I refill his water bowl with purpose.
When I moved in I hung up my pictures. I put clothes in a closet. I did not have much else to do. The first night I could hear you playing pool two rooms away. That clack rattle of balls and closing my eyes I could imagine your aiming squint. When you are very drunk you lean on the cue, chalk marks streaking your cheek. Years ago, when we first met you were playing in some bar and I punched up songs on the juke box. There was one I needed you to hear. I thought of it as an explanation. Or maybe an apology. A group in cowboy hats and squeals took over, their songs overriding mine. You lost the game and we left, my song to play hours later to an empty room. That night in the dark I wiped the chalk off your face.
What surprises me most, when it happens the first time, is that it is honest. I really did forget. Afterwards, you are bent with worry but I show no concern. Still, you insist. The next morning I feel myself moving through the pharmacy, the girl smiles to refill my usual prescription. Instead small voiced I ask for a morning-after pill. How much is it please? She recommends generic, thirty-four is not so much. Maybe I am paranoid or maybe there is ice in her voice now. My head is fuzzy when I swipe my card. I take it in the car with no water. It sticks dry in my throat and later makes my stomach ache, my eyes swim. At work I pant over the keyboard. People ask if I am all right. Might have a bun in the oven one says. I make it to the bathroom before I cry. I hear other women opening and shutting the door, water coursing from faucets. I curl forward and imagine great waves, sweeping forces to clean me away.
You will not tell your mother we live together. Don’t want her to get the wrong idea. Don’t want to over-excite her. Before she is due to visit, when you ask me to take down my pictures, I leave. I drive to the lake. Where I grew up you could drive to the ocean, but at night it was a risk. Often there were old or young men, the same leather skin on both, in the grip of something mind-numbing. They would shout if you were a girl. Sometimes they would stumble closer. Still, if they were not there it was worth it with the moon and waves. The lake has no men but the waves are not the same. The shoreline seems to erode under a close eye. I wish I did not understand. But I know the idea you do not want your mother to have. I wish I could be free of it myself.
When I actually become pregnant I dream I slept with my old boyfriend. I try to explain to you that I was not really with him. It was just a dream. In the dream you say no. You point to him curled naked on my bed. I am so full of guilt I apologize for the universe, for the synapses misfiring in your head. For the baby. When I wake up I know I have not seen my old boyfriend in 15 years. He is not here to ruin us. But there is something else, something else wrong riding with me now. I do not know it for several weeks. Then my gums engorge with blood and I spit red. I carry a paper cup for the overflow running down my teeth. When I see the doctor he frowns. Localized periodontitis he says. You brush and floss daily? Yes sir. Then I pee into a cup. Again he frowns. You’re pregnant he says. I can’t be. I am playing out some scene in a teenage melodrama, but I am much too old for that. I’m sorry. This wasn’t planned? No. How will I tell you? I try so hard to not be happy. The periodontitis is rare, he gives me a pamphlet. I run it again and again between my fingers. This condition may suggest complications later. I beat the paper against my palm. The warning does not take hold. I have larger things to worry for.
It happened because I forgot again. Not so much on purpose but also not an accident. In the end I could have done something. Once, outside the zoo on a windy day a ticket awning began to blow over. One metal support pole slipped slowly from the ground. My friend was near, staring up at a cloud and saying how it looked just like a trout. I did not look skyward but was fascinated by the slow arc of the falling pole. It sailed down and hit her on her upturned forehead. It was not my fault. I did not push the pole over, or worse, pick the pole up and outright smack her with it. I just did not reach my hand out to stop it. And so now I did not reach, my palms turned out were rigid by my sides. I did not will this life to grow. I just did not crush it.
I knew you wouldn’t be happy, but I thought you would be angry. Instead you sink into a despair that overwhelms me. You lie face down on our bed, breathing in and out as though willing yourself to stop. I sit silent and grip your wrist, running my fingers over the ancient scars there. I shake with fear. We will give it up. I say over and over. We will tell no one and give it up. You just shake your head. I can see your cheeks are wet. There is no joy. The dog trots into the room, stares, and scampers out. The air is iced misery. My gums still bleed. I cannot even lean to kiss your forehead without leaving a sticky print.
Hours later I sit shaking. I want a beer but instead my hand presses hard into my abdomen. What now. It is a statement somehow, no longer a question. What now. I want to tear down all the clocks and stomp them out. No more seconds ticking. You sit across from me with a blank stare. I cannot do this. You say. I did not want this. I will give it up. You would never forgive me. We are still. You cross to me. I hold my breath, close my eyes. I can see the lions on the bridge. I am numb, but when I look down your head is thrust to my stomach. Eyes half-lidded you wrap your arms around my waist. OK, you say. OK I repeat. Then pause. OK what? With a soft motion your lips press my belly. A goodbye kiss? Then a whisper. OK keep it? My fingers twine in your hair. At the front of the house the dog barks frantic. Someone must be coming up the walk.