Mud. All over her shoes, dripping off the edges of her trousers. Grace grimaces and kicks her feet, sending her sodden shoes rolling sluggishly away from her. Tom watches her entry, annoyed already. “You’re leaving dirt everywhere” he remarks. “Bite me” she mutters darkly and stomps her way past him to their room, shutting the door pointedly. Once inside, she pulls of her jeans and sits down on the edge of her bed. She cries for a minute, as she always does, and regains her composure. Time for a bath.
With difficulty she gets up again – being mobile is getting tougher now. The baby seems to be growing a foot every day. She wouldn’t be surprised if she gave birth to a giant in a few months with the way they were going. She was heavy, all the time. It was taking all her strength to drag her own weight around each day. She steps into the shower and relaxes a little with the steaming heat. As she squints through the flood of water against her face, she wishes she could stay here forever. Not have to get out. Not have to sit through a bland dinner. Not have to have another fight with Tom. And they would have a fight. They fought about everything. If they didn’t fight they just sat there, bitter and silent. Fighting was almost an improvement to that silence.
The bath ends all too quickly. She shrouds herself in a towel and steps out into the room, surprised to see Tom in the room. He looks up, almost guiltily, when he sees her. “Sorry. Just came in to get a book”. She laughs uncomfortably. “It’s your room too, remember. Go ahead”. They stand there, awkwardly looking at each other and she feels suddenly feels naked in front of him. He hasn’t seen her naked in a long time. She’s usually asleep by the time he finishes reading each night. They sleep fully clothed, turned away from each other. In the mornings she’s out the door before he can shake the sleep from his eyes.
She turns away and rummages in the drawer for her night shirt. She hesitates for a minute, holding the ends of her towel together around her and then lets go to pull the shirt over her head. She closes her eyes, anticipating the soft cloth falling over her face, but it never gets there. Tom gently prises it from her hand and lets it drop to the floor. She turns to face him, her cheeks hot. He’s looking at her strangely. “You’re so big” he whispers, and reaches out to touch her stomach. The unexpected gesture raises her skin. She gives his hand an awkward, gentle squeeze. “Yeah” she says softly. He leans in close and kisses her, their first kiss in months, and she folds into the unfamiliar warmth.
Suddenly though, he pulls away. Again, that strange look.
“What’s wrong?” she asks, confused.
“I don’t want to do this” he says, haltingly. The words make her burn with embarrassment but she keeps her cool and bends to pick up her towel. “Ok” she says simply. “Let me change and then we’ll eat”.
“No” he blurts out and she stops short at his tone.
“No, what?” she asks warily. She hurriedly slips on her night shirt and crosses her arms over her chest. “What?” she presses again.
“I mean. I don’t want do this. Any of this. I don’t want to be here” He looks at her, half afraid. She doesn’t speak, just stares at him, trying to internalize what he’s saying. It doesn’t make sense to her, but strangely she’s not worried by it either.
Her non-responsiveness makes him more nervous and he starts to back away. She raises her eyebrows, waiting. “I’m going to go” he stammers. “I’ll send someone to pick up my things”
“What-?” is all she can say before she hears the door shut.
She stands there, just watching the door for a full minute or two, trying to think. She doesn’t feel anything. Her heart isn’t racing. She doesn’t feel the urge to cry. Her towel remains sodden and wet on the floor. She usually hates to have things out of place but right now, she doesn’t care. She can’t tear her eyes away from the door but she doesn’t expect it to open, doesn’t expect to see him walk through again. She just looks at the dark wood, searching its knots and blemishes for a single complete thought. They circle in her head like vultures, but she can’t focus on any.
When she does move, she picks up the towel and smoothes it out on the chair to dry, distractedly working out the creases with her fingers. She supposes absently that she should call someone. Tell them what happened.
Which was what, exactly?
She tries to think of the implications. Money. Support. Someone living with her. Someone to help her when the baby comes. Someone to share the nappy-changing, the sleepless nights, the panic of doing all this so young.
She’s supposed to be scared. She has always been afraid of being alone. She wonders absently why fear doesn’t pin her feet to the ground. Instead she sits down, lightheaded, half-worried she may float up towards the ceiling. She grips the edges of the seat until her knuckles fade to white, just to make sure she stays down.
The strange sensation makes a jittery laugh bubble up in her throat and out of her mouth. The sound of her laughter almost frightens her, as its echo burgeons out into the empty room.
She is alone. Why doesn’t that scare her? She can almost see it in everything around her. In Tom’s things that she knows will be gone in a few days. In the bed, that will soon have only one set of pillows on it. In her bathroom mug which will soon hold only one toothbrush. In the kitchen, which will soon be minus his favourite cereal and instead stocked with baby food.
Wow. This is it. She is alone.
“Alone” she says out loud, testing how it feels on her tongue. “Alone”, she repeats. Strange. The meaning of the word seems to slip away from her, until it sounds as if she’s talking a foreign language, one she doesn’t understand. “Al-oowwn”.
Suddenly, she remembers something and it makes her laugh again. This time, the laughter and the realization that comes with it warms her.
And, as if to prove a point, the baby kicks.