It’s too soon, or too late, and my mind won’t stop thinking what if, stop trying for some final untangle, one last stretch to a perfect cat’s cradle that rocks me to sleep.
What if I switched from coffee to tea.
What if I took melatonin, breathed in deep through my nose, out through my mouth, 10 or 100 times.
In the darkness, my husband stirs, wraps his arm around me, big spoon embrace, weaving his fingers into mine.
I close my eyes and inhale. They could be anyone’s fingers, the warmth of his skin from anyone’s skin. What if.
What if I left a perfectly good love, this perfectly good man, behind.
“Are you awake?” he murmurs, breath warm on my back, guileless and good, nothing more, nothing less.
I don’t answer.
The baby wakes with a wail from across the room and my breasts tighten and begin to weep. Behind them, my pulse thunders, heart working overtime from lack of sleep.
I lift the baby—Maya, named after his mother—and relief flows through my body like rain as she nurses, like the deepest yawn.
I love this with resigned reluctance. I want to be frustrated at her constant feedings, all day, most nights, and the toil it takes, but I love it. This is my offering, one only I can provide. Maya closes her eyes and slows her rhythm, the light just beginning to seep through the blinds, and I rock us, rock us, and before day begins, for this handful of time, we sleep.
I open the front door for him with one arm. In the other, Maya fusses and wiggles. I pat her back and sway, a dance of distraction I’m not sure where I learned. She catches her small, sticky fingers in my fray of my hair.
“What do you girls have planned for today?” he asks, zipping up his impossibly clean coat, hefting his laptop bag over his shoulder. My jaw tightens.
“Laundry, at least,” I respond, glancing down at my shirt freshly sopped with spit-up. “Maybe a walk for some fresh air.”
“Don’t wander too far.” He leans over and kisses me, a peck on my lips.
I wave goodbye, Maya does too with my help, and I stare at the road long after his car puffs away, turns the corner and disappears, as simple as that.
or some time around then. What matters is Maya is napping now. She’s in her swing, the rhythmic tick of its pendulum filling the living room, a countdown. I pull the curtains tight to the window seams and the couch, soft and shapeless, tempts me. But this is my time to do chores, while both arms are free. My time.
Take out garbage
And not on the list, but will happen regardless:
Check Sonya’s Facebook page again
(She still wears those glasses that shrink her big eyes, still smiles like someone with secrets to share.)
Reheat coffee from this morning’s pot
Watch Maya grin as she dreams
I take Maya outside to the front lawn and we wait for him to come home. The ground is warm, grass murmuring in the breeze. Maya wriggles on her back, kicking and cooing, and I consider her new skin, how long we’ve been lying in the sun. But I like it here, in the waning heat of the day.
He pulls into the drive and I sit up to see, nudging my sunglasses up. His broad shoulders pop out from the car, and looped on his arms are two bags of take-out. Thai food—my favorite. He comes over to us and kisses me first, then lifts Maya from the ground like a treasure he’s unearthed. I’m surprised when something sputters from the center of me. I hold it for a second, this thing made of loose ends, wet strings and fray. But I recognize it, before it evaporates: the familiar tug of what must be love.
It’s the witching hour, and I am the whittled witch: from lack of sleep, from a long, notched day spent with nothing to show for it save skin that’s been touched raw.
Upstairs, I rock Maya to sleep and my body is tired, anxious, less sweet than before. It is late, the day in tatters, and I long to shed it now—this precious skin. In the dark, the sounds make a pattern: the chair’s glide, the rhythmic tug as Maya pulls from my center, and I wish for some magic to claim as my own, some promise. In the rhythm, the floor becomes water and a river boat laps against my legs.
I set the baby down in her crib, safe and sound, and consider what’s next. I could crawl into the boat. I could curl up in its hold. I could let the waves carry me away.
Back downstairs, he makes me a cup of tea, chamomile, something for sleep, and we watch TV, enjoying the small pretense. I lean into him, close my eyes and it could be any night again—quiet and loose, sleep at the ready, our bodies our own. It could be.
I slide back into bed after feeding the baby, the sheets still warm where my body had been. He doesn’t stir and I’m grateful—for this anonymity, this slipstream gift.
I ready myself for the worries—the what-ifs, the inevitable knot I must tease.
What if I can’t pretend anymore.
I could open up Sonya’s page again, hide my phone under the covers and squint at what’s behind those glasses, something long gone. But I close my eyes, and from exhaustion or luck or maybe the tea, I dive back into that watery slumber, as if it were always so easy.
As if I never got up at all.
“Spent” by Meagan Johanson appeared in Issue 40 of Berkeley Fiction Review.
Meagan Johanson is native to Corvallis, Oregon, where she still lives. She has been published in Lunate Fiction, Verseweavers, and Shout: An Anthology of Resistance Poetry and Short Fiction. When she is not writing, she is reading, gaming, submersed in music, or making someone a grilled cheese sandwich.