The wicker rocking chair creaked, its tired legs straining to carry me in its arms. Apart from its relentless moaning, the room was quiet. That, and the occasional crackle from the fire. Chin in hand, I felt almost hypnotized, rolling back and forth like an ocean wave. A crack opened up in one of the runners.
I was too dazed to notice.
Closing my eyes, I let my head fall back, resting my hand on my ample stomach. No sooner than I had touched it, I felt a foot just above my navel.
“Oh, must you, child?” I moaned, now wide awake. The kicks were coming more often now. Fiercely, too. Sleep was a luxury that neither my husband nor my tormented fetus were keen to afford me.
I shifted my weight to the other side, hoping to feel better. My efforts did little but coax more eerie creaks from the rickety chair.
“You should let me fix that thing, woman,” my husband grunted. “Let me be a man around here, dammit.”
My eyes trailed over him from head to toe.
“As if,” I scoffed, stifling my laughter.
Let him be a man, was the cry.
Yet, there he sat, smoking a pipe and reading yesterday’s paper in a couch with only three good legs and all the stuffing coming out. Behind his square, thick-rimmed glasses, I thought I saw him raise a brow as he grunted.
Nothing new. I assumed he was raised by gorillas. Plumes of smoke curled upward, filling the room with a bluish-grey haze. I wrinkled my nose.
“You could quit smoking that stinkin’ thing.”
His lips parted at first, but then disappeared entirely, leaving only a tight, thin line.
Ignoring my sighs, he sipped his coffee and lifted the paper to shut me out of his view. I shook my head and tugged my shawl up around my neck and shoulders. Nothing disgusted me quite like the sight of him with that pipe in his mouth. Telling him wouldn’t be enough for him to quit, though.
It never was.
“Listen,” I cooed, moments later. “It’s just… well, it won’t be good for the baby. You know. The smoke and all.”
He lowered the paper, slightly. We locked eyes for a moment, then, he smiled.
His way of calling my bluff.
My feelings had nothing to do with our child. Smoking was just one of a laundry list of things he hid from me. I didn’t find out til our wedding night. I had a mind to call the whole thing off, but I would become the talk of the town and an outcast.
Too much for my fragile heart to handle.
I wish I was as cold then as I was now. But that milk had long been spilt and was not worth a tear anymore.
I was a nice girl once. Now, I was just his wife–his miserable, angry wife.
Dropping the paper on the table, he leaned back and took off his glasses.
“For the baby, you say?”
He was a man of few words when it came to me. And that smile? It wasn’t a friendly smile. It was the kind you give when you just can’t be bothered to frown.
Clearly I wasn’t worth the energy.
He took a deep draw of his pipe, savoring every last bit of smoke. The look on his face was so content, so peaceful. I cringed. A tobacco-filled pipe pleased him more than I ever did. Without a word, he knocked its contents into the ashes on the fireplace. When he sat back down, he just returned to reading that god-forsaken paper.
My eyes fluttered downwards. I didn’t dare look up. I had a serious mind to chuck a shoe at his head. There was no ‘used to’ for anything to go back to, because this is how things always were, since the wedding.
Every morning I greeted the sun with a sigh, and hissed when I told it goodnight.
Brick after brick piled up on my heart until it could not handle any more. My choice of words were not the best, but they were the truth, which I hadn’t told in a long time.
Not ever, actually.
I have to guess that my venom took him by surprise. I’m sure he knew that I hated him, but I had never dared to breathe a word that might show it.
He just figured.
Now he knew I was nearing my breaking point.
That sick smile said it all.
Our wedding night was the beginning of the end. I died that night. My body went on living but my spirit and soul were long gone with the winds of the prairie we built this sad little house on.
I was a walking corpse.
Undead, as they say.
Burying my face in my hands, I hid the tears that started to fall. I’d never seek pity. Not from him, anyway. He had none. I searched for life in his eyes, but today, like every other day, his thoughts were with the rise and fall of the stock market.
I brushed the tear of my face and rubbed my aching jaw. This was no way to live.
Mother did say I could always come home.
She had never liked him.
Dad never liked him either, though they were so alike. But he was the pot that would never curse a kettle for being black. His only response to our engagement was a long draw of his Cuban cigar.
Grasping the arms of the chair, I tried to ease myself up on wobbly legs. I was thirty pounds heavier and they weren’t used to it. Neither was he, for that matter. He kept saying I’d better be ‘like those gals who bounce back.’
As if carrying his spawn wasn’t bad enough.
My child kicked me again. I leaned harder on the chair arms, taking a moment to catch my breath. Not knowing it had reached its end.
I remember the loud crack.
And him rushing to save me.
But it was too late.
I hit the table, then the floor.
Pain shot through my belly.
I must have blacked out.
For what I can’t remember, is how I came to be here.
In this bed.
And a widow.