She had set the table. It was her first day home. He said it was best to get back on a routine. What was more routine than laying down dishes, folding napkins, and placing silverware? She had also made dinner. A simple baked chicken, coated in crispy breadcrumb, accompanied by instant mashed potatoes and frozen vegetables. Nothing too complex, nothing that would make it look like she was trying too hard.
Michael would be home soon. He had said he would stay home if she wanted him too, but why? Audrey made sure everything was in its proper place, that everything looked just as it had a few days ago. Nothing to indicate that something had happened.
She heard the familiar hum of the garage door. He was home. She looked in the reflection of the microwave, made sure her hair was in place, and sat on the couch, grabbing a generic fashion magazine to occupy herself. She was flipping pages as he came in.
“Hello,” Michael said. “How was today?”
“Fine,” Audrey replied nonchalantly. Was it really fine?
“That’s good. Mine was busy. Nice to get one’s mind of things, heh?”
“Yes. I’ve made dinner. It’s ready when you are.”
Within minutes, after a simple washing up, the two were sitting at the kitchen table with food on their plates.
After Audrey had nearly finished her chicken in silence, Michael placed his fork down, having cleared his plate, and coughed nervously.
“You know, I was talking to Jack at the office, and the same thing happened to his wife.”
“You mentioned it to Jack?” Audrey asked in mortified shock.
“Yes. It’s good to get these things out in the open, share your experiences,” Michael stumbled.
“I don’t want my things out in the open.”
“It doesn’t hurt to talk.”
“Just how much did you ‘talk’?” Audrey asked angrily.
“It was nothing, really. I had told people. They knew about the baby. It had been four months after all.”
“We both had told people,” she snapped. “It was a mistake. It was too early. It –.”
“None of it,” Michael answered softly, yet firmly. “The doctor had said it was fine. It happens to lots of people.”
“Does it? Does it really, Michael? Three times?”
“We’ve had our troubles, but it will work out. There will be a baby, we’ll try again,” Michael said gently and hopefully.
“I don’t know if I can,” Audrey whispered.
“We can,” Michael emphasized.
“The first time, okay. That’s normal. That’s what everyone’s been through. I could handle that.”
“We got through it – and we can again.”
“The second time, it was for the better. It was still early. The doctor said so. There must have been something wrong for it to happen.”
“Yes,” Michael said, “You see how strong we are?”
“Maybe you, but it’s not the same for me. The first two times it was different. Even to my body, it was different. You don’t know, it’s not your body. The cramps, the blood, but I could just tell myself – it’s like a bad period. That’s what it felt like – and it was early so I could believe the lie.”
“I know it was different for you this time, but who’s to say next time won’t be the charm – the baby meant for us?”
“Michael, dear,” Audrey said with resignation, “the third time is supposed to be the charm. Didn’t we say that exact thing when we found out?”
“Yes, I do remember, but . . .”
“No buts. This time was the charm. It – stayed – longer. Four months, Michael, seventeen weeks, almost half-way there.” Audrey fought the tears that came to her eyes.
“It was probably for the best, you don’t know.”
“We do know. We saw ultrasounds, heard a heartbeat. I felt it move. It was perfect. It’s me.” The tears came freely now.
“No, never say that,” Michael stated, aghast.
“But it’s true. I don’t want to go through that again. The hopes I had, the dreams I dreamed. I was looking at clothes, furniture. We were turning the office into a nursery.”
“Audrey,” Michael said with conviction, “it will be different in a few months – once you feel better.”
“Not this time. I’ll never get over this.”
“I want a child – with you.”
“I don’t believe that,” Michael said with conviction.
“I have to get used to this emptiness. You must get used to your’s.”
Audrey stood up and took both their plates from the kitchen table. She took them to the kitchen and placed them in the sink. Then she returned to the table, did the same with the silverware, and threw the napkins in the garbage can. She filled the sink with hot soapy water and let them soak. Then, she wet a rag and scrubbed at the kitchen table. Next, she scrubbed at the dishes and silverware in the sink, scrubbed and scrubbed until they could be clean, her tears mixing with the soapy water. Scrubbing hard until the inside of her would also be clean. Never, she thought, never will I do this again.
Michael stood up from the table and looked at Audrey at the kitchen sink. Normally, he would help, but he thought better. Give her space, give her time. Isn’t that what they had said at work? Isn’t that what they all told him? One day they would try again. They would have a baby. He opened his newspaper and read.
An hour later the two went upstairs. In unison, they undressed and sat in the bed, each reading a book, Audrey the latest mystery and Michael a world history. It was the bed where so many dreams, at least three, had begun. They sat, reading, in silence another hour. Another dream would come, Michael thought assured, as he lied down. Another dream dead, Audrey thought, as she turned out the lights.
Melissa Davis is a writer and teacher. She has had work published with journals such as Leaves of Ink, Fiction on the Web, and The Commonline Journal. She can be found online at http://www.melissadavisauthor.com/.