Once, she wanted him. Now, she wants a house to grow old in. She wants to make something beautiful and to travel. She wants a miniature greyhound, and a garden for it to dig in. She knows the hollow ache of desire. She waits for the ache to come for this, but it does not.
He talks of the child who will sit between them. It will have her curly hair and his blue eyes. She cannot see this child. She is jealous that he can.
She checks for the ache daily. They have long talks that leave her resentful. She does not want responsibility for his happiness. When she pushes him away, she laughs to lessen the blow.
He calls her from work one afternoon. Just below his window, an old professor folded to the grass and lay on his back staring up at the sky. Leaves landed on his face. The paramedics came, but there were no sirens. The story holds everything he wants her to understand.
That night, she climbs on top of him, and his look of surprised gratitude is almost too much to bear. She is full and afraid. He cups her belly in his hands.
She cannot feel anything. Not yet. But they tell her it’s there. It is cells knitting together. It’s blood vessels spidering out. It’s thin fingers growing. She trips over nothing, thinking of it. She digs her fingers into her belly, feeling for it.
She hopes the ache will grow inside her slowly, along with the child. The months pass, but the ache does not come, and the child does not grow. Her relief is tempered by his disappointment.
They find joy in other things. They travel. They drink interesting cocktails. They buy a home they can’t afford. But she sees the way his eyes follow families, how he smiles to himself, warm and distant. He does not share this smile with her. Sometimes her body is weighed down by what it has not made. She writes a novel. They save for retirement. She learns to live with the heaviness. They adopt a greyhound. She writes more novels.
When he dies at 55, the heaviness sets in for good. Grief grows inside her, gathering cells, growing fingernails. The heaviness gets so bad she can barely walk.
The doctor sends signals into her depths, and she is awed by the cavernous shadows that gather on the screen. They make her body all the more mysterious to her. She feels for the ache of desire out of long habit, and finds a deep, strange tenderness instead. Yes, just there, where the shadows are gathering. She has carried it all these years. The size of a fist, it is ridged with muscle and vein, solid as stone.
Lara Ehrlich’s writing appears or is forthcoming in The Columbia Review, The Normal School, SmokeLong Quarterly, River Styx, and Paper Darts, among other publications, and she is working on a short story collection entitled News From a Country Never Visited. www.LaraEhrlichWrites.com.
—Art by So-Ghislaine