She had bitten her nails to bits and shredded her fingers, an old, nervous habit from her college years that resurfaced when her period was late three months ago. She drummed her fingers on the dashboard and tried to think of something, anything, everything else that wasn’t babies, cribs, or diapers; which was hard to do when you were sitting in the parking lot of an elementary school, waiting for your little munchkin to bound his way up to the car. She searched the seas of children heading towards the parking lot, their tiny little feet skipping and their tiny little hands holding neon backpacks and chewed-on pencils. She tried not to imagine what this baby would look like when it was born, when it grew older, when it became an adult – half me, and half….him.
How could she ever hide what she had done?
What he had done?
She began to chew her fingers again, bits of blood dripping into her mouth and turning her tongue to rust. Lost in thoughts of nothing, she almost screamed when her son tapped on the passenger-side door. A smile stained his face, his tawny hair was dirty from playing, and in his hands he held a squirming lizard. He climbed in and tossed his things in the backseat, and began to chatter on about rescuing the lizard from the bushes at the edge of the playground. She eyed it cautiously, chastising him for bringing it in the car and reminding him that if he kept it, he would need to take care of it, house it, and feed it. He emphatically promised to look after the poor thing, which continued to thrash at the grip of his new master. Once he had agreed to place the lizard inside of a Tupperware container she had managed to salvage from underneath her seat and had poked breathing holes into, she drove off from the school and back to their home on autopilot, her thoughts meandering elsewhere.
For hours, she sat in the living room on the couch, watching television while her son busied himself with caring for his new pet at the dining room table. He gathered leaves from outside and “roly-polies” for it to eat, and placed them carefully in the Tupperware. He named it after his favorite breakfast food, Pancakes. Pancakes seemed to be content in his new home, or it could have been the exhaustion from the struggle to escape that sedated him. In any case, her son brought out his box of crayons and his notebook and started drawing pictures of him and Pancakes having adventures. She didn’t remind him to do his homework or to do his chores, she only sat in thought, staring blindly at the television, until it became dark and her son whined about his hunger.
She mechanically cooked the first thing that came to mind, and sat a plate of pancakes in front of her son. “Eat up,” she said, and he did, and she sat once more, not eating.
Then her husband came home, ragged and tired and starving. He had noticed his wife hadn’t cooked in a few days, and that she was ignoring him. He assumed, of course, that it was her time of the month, and she needed to be alone for a while. He fixed himself a microwave dinner, ate it alone, and went to bed. Their son said goodnight to Pancakes, cleaned up his dishes, and went to bed all by himself. He had also noticed his mom seemed sad, but his excitement over his reptilian friend consumed his thoughts and he forgot all about his mother.
She fell asleep on the couch and woke up at 2 a.m. She wiped her crusty eyes and turned off the television, reaching for the house phone and dialed his number.
After three rings, he picked up. “You’re up late.”
She sat in silence, unable to speak as her throat dried and constricted and her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. She made a croaking sound when she tried to say words.
“Do you want me?” he whispered. “You woke me up, so you must want something. I’ve been dreaming of you…”
Tears streamed down her face as she tried to stifle the surfacing sobs in her throat.
“I’ll come over if you think we can get away with it,” he breathed, and she could almost feel the heat of his breath on her neck. She could imagine him holding her too tight, pushing too hard, biting her collarbone, slapping her face. She couldn’t bear to see the visions that flashed before her eyes, but she couldn’t stop them. They never stopped.
“N-no,” she stuttered. She swallowed, regaining the control over her shakiness, and croaked her next words, “No, I’m – I’m fine.”
“What is it then?” he replied gruffly. “It’s two in the fucking morning -”
“I never want to see you again,” she whispered. As she went on, her voice grew with power and conviction. “You’ve ruined me, can’t you see? Do you know how hard it is to cover bruises every morning? Do you know how hard it is to hide, from everyone I love?”
He scoffed at her words. “Well you’re one to talk about love! You complain about every fucking thing and every-fucking-one, including your clueless dickhead of a husband and your insane chattering shithead of a son. You told me you haven’t loved anyone for years. At least, that’s what you said when you agreed to do this.”
“I admit I originally- wanted this. You. A life with you, but – you aren’t at all what I thought you were.” She stopped, took a deep breath, and continued. “And I’m telling. Telling everyone. And the police.”
This was too much for him. “Shut the fuck up, you whore! You don’t have the fucking balls, you stupid cunt – you think anyone is gonna fucking believe you? Pity you? You won’t get no fucking pity from no-fucking-one, ’cause you’re a fucking cheater.” He said this last word softly and drew it out, and she couldn’t stop the sobs from escaping. She covered her mouth, suddenly aware of how loud she must sound. “Yeah yeah, a- a cheater. A liar, a bitch, a shitty mom and an even shittier wife. Oh, you think your husband will still want to be with your ugly ass when he finds out? When you “expose” me to the world?” – he began to shout, stinging her ears with every word- “If you don’t shut your lying fucking whore mouth, I’ll have you killed – or I may just kill you myself.”
A loud sob broke free from her chest. Through her tears, she choked, “I’m not afraid of you, not anymore. I’m stronger than you. I’m stronger than your empty threats. And I’ve got a threat for you, now.”
“Oh? Oh yeah, whore? You got a fucking threat you wanna fucking give to me?”
“I’m keeping our baby,” she cried. “You won’t be able to take this baby from me. You won’t be able to hurt this baby, or me.” She let her words hang in the silence. Then she clicked the phone off and collapsed into the couch, attempting to muffle her sobs.
From the upstairs bedroom, her husband clicked off the other phone.
The alarm clock blared in the chill of the early morning. Her husband showered and dressed for work methodically. His wife had not come to bed at all that night, and when he woke up last night after he heard noises downstairs, he realized his wife must have been talking on the phone. He had recognized the voice of who she had been talking to and was unable to act other than to keep listening to their phone conversation. When his wife uttered the words “our baby”, he was in shock. He couldn’t fall back to sleep after that, and as he made his way down the stairs, he still had not formulated what he wanted to say in his mind yet. He assumed it would come to him when he saw her ugly face cooking breakfast in the kitchen.
But she wasn’t there. Their son was at the dining room table, however, with a breakfast he managed to get for himself (a banana and a bowl of cereal), talking to a Tupperware container. The television blared cartoons in the background.
“Where’s mom?” her husband said, a little anxiousness growing into his voice.
“She isn’t feeling good,” their son said, “She said she wanted to sleep for a while. That’s all I could read, though.” He reached across the table for a piece of paper that he then handed to his father. It was a note, signed by his wife.
“I’m sorry. I’m sick, sick in the mind, the body, the soul. I’m tired and weak. I’m broken…”
Her husband couldn’t read the rest, tears cascading down his cheeks, his anger diffusing with every breath. A news bulletin flashed across the television, just as the house phone began to trill.
“A woman was found dead today after authorities managed to drag her car out of the local river. The car is registered to a Bethany Helms, who is believed to be the deceased woman found in the driver’s seat. The authorities have ruled her death a suicide…” said a reporter standing in front of a decimated car on a river bank. Of course, he recognized the car and the name. It was her.
The phone was ringing.
“Daddy! Daddy, my lizard is dead,” his son sobbed. “Pancakes is dead.”
He fell to the ground.