My whole world crumbles in the wake of this admission. I'm sure I misheard her. Choke on my biscuit. Wipe the crumbs off my chin, and gasp out, "Wha – what?" Impossible.
She swallows nervously, and everything I cherish is soiled and torn apart in the guilt I see dwelling in her lowered gaze.
"H-honey?" I need reassurance. To be told that I heard her wrong. That this isn't what I'm afraid of.
Seconds pass in silence.
Silence is stifling.
I feel like I'm about to explode.
Silence leads to bad things.
Do not want silence.
No no no.
I need to hear that I'm wrong, or I'll shatter.
Say it, my love.
Tell me I didn't hear you right.
If you love me, you'll tell me I am wrong.
Say it say it say it.
"I'm pregnant," she repeats in a small, weak voice, like she's afraid of awakening some slumbering monster in the next room.
I grip the arm of the couch, cultured leather squishing inwards, knuckles white beneath taut skin. "Pregnant?" The word scalds my tongue. "But you can't-" I don't want to believe it's true, but here's the facts; we're both women, and there's no way she could've have gotten knocked up without outside interference. But she wouldn't do that. I trust her. She loves me. She wouldn't do that.
"Yes." She draws her long legs inwards, folding them neatly on the vacant seat beside her as she continues to avoid my horrified gawp in favour of studying the fascinating coffee table between us, two steaming mugs left forgotten.
"Were…" In love and thus desperate to defend her honour, to find another factor that changes everything, I swallow back the lump in my throat for this next question. "Were you taken advantage of? Did a man h-h-hurt you?"
She winces. Then she's still for a while, evidently thinking back on a previous time, and I feel intense worry. Then rage.
I'll kill him. I sit forward. I want to throttle every male alive into a vacant, early grave. How dare some fucking bastard scum shithead-
She takes a breath, and I calm myself enough to stay seated. She's tense as she offers in reply a tiny shake of her head, followed by a miserable whisper. She whispers, "No. No, I wasn't raped."
"So… you… but I…" Jaw dropping, my fury and concern for her dissipate, replaced by a sinking sensation called dread. I collapse back against the couch. "Oh."
She sniffs. I understand now, looking at her face, that the ugly truth is she's had an affair behind my back and couldn't lie to my face about it anymore. That's what this chat is about. That's why she pulled me from my work with a sad smile and a distant embrace, leading me to the lounge and placing a hot mug of my favourite brew in my hands.
She betrayed me.
She broke our vows.
We don't say or do anything for a while after that feeble apology.
"How long?" I finally ask my beloved wife of twelve years coming next Thursday; annually I remember that important date, though she always forgets to buy me gifts until I present her with a delicate rose, a pricey trinket and a sweet kiss over dinner, and I always smile as she'll frantically apologise and hurry off the next day to buy me something romantic in return. It's always been that way, always. I never deemed it a lack of interest on her part. She loves me in all her forgetfulness. And I love her. So much. Surely she must know.
"I'm not sure."
Her words are like a blow to my gut. How can she not be sure? Has she slept around more than once? Has she had an ongoing relationship with some man? Or relationships? Do I know the father? Has there been more than one man?
"Under three months, I think."
Automatically my eyes fall to her stomach. There's just the tiniest hint of roundness beneath her shirt. I thought perhaps it was my hearty cooking finally catching up with her. I sure know my thighs are feeling it. But instead it's a baby. There's a baby in there.
"I'm so sorry." The first tear falls.
I hear a lot of pleading in the coming hours as I sit here, unable to respond, a zombie on the couch.
"Please; forgive me."
"Please; don't leave me."
"Please; give me another chance."
"Please; don't ask me to kill this child."
"Please; let's raise it – together. We can finally start our own family."
"Please; say something."
Eventually she's just sobbing and quivering in my arms and I don't know what has happened to my life. I never wanted a baby. So far I've been content with my beautiful wife, dog, three fat cats and the tiny green cactus flowering purple dashes of cheer amidst thorns from its little pot on my desk where I can smile at it whilst doing my work and thinking about all that I am thankful for that day every day of my existence – amen.
How did it all change?
I begin to cry as well.
With a baby I never asked for.
I don't know why I decided to stay, but she's obviously very relieved.
"Oh, my dearest. I don't deserve such a wonderful woman in my life, but… thank you for being here, even after I hurt you so. I promise never to hurt you ever again." She nuzzles the underside of my jaw, squeezing me tight. "I love you so much. Thank you. Thank you."
I'm so numb. I don't stop her.
"We'll raise this baby. It'll be our little princess, or prince. You'll be the Daddy, and I'll be the Mommy. And Brownie can be the nanny." She means our dog, a pavement special that dotes on us for rescuing him from a life on the streets and malnutrition.
Brownie is curled up at my feet, snoring.
My wife is snuggled somewhat forcefully under my arm. She's been doting on me, too.
The baby is probably doing whatever it is tiny globs of meat and jelly matter do in the womb.
And I'm staring at the ceiling, asking it to fall on my head. Why us? We were so happy.
I'm too weak to fend for myself.
Please, old friend.
You guarded me from the rain and the cold, and I'm so thankful for that.
Do me one last favour, if you have the time.
She's already paging through leaflets filled with every ridiculous thing a child unable to control its own bowel movements could ever want in one room. Right down to the colour of the walls.
"Ooh, what about yellow? That's a unisex colour, right? A nice, sunny yellow."
I gaze about the soon to be baby's room. It was originally my study, but I've had to cart my stuff out; the first of many sacrifices a parent is expected to make for the screaming monster god so kindly gifts unwary lesbians. Is this a joke, god? Is this funny to you?
I'm crying on the inside.
"Or maybe green? No, that'll get a bit gross after a while. How about peach?"
I don't know why I'm even standing here, cradling a fat cat in my arms. My wife has this all under control and I need to walk the dog. Probably the vicelike grip she's got on my elbow, her head on my shoulder, breath tickling my skin, all of which pin me here. "Yellow," I state automatically.
"You like it, honey?" she asks cheerfully. She's happy that I'm taking part in the baby's planning more intimately than just financial preparation. I'm the only one who worries about money in this household, and she wants me to abandon my concern and splurge.
For the baby's sake.
"Yes." I don't say much nowadays. I mostly sit in front of my computer, now located in the entertainment room, and do my work with one or more of our pets and the little flowering cactus keeping me company. Yellow. It's the colour of cowardice.
Things we fear when we grow old.
"We're going to make great parents. I can feel it."
She's started to inflate nicely, and she treats her round belly like it's the most precious thing in the universe of precious things.
I disagree. I miss my slender woman. The woman I could scoop in my arms with only a laugh as warning and spin around fast, faces held close, love shining through locked eyes. It makes me sad. Turn a page in my book to occupy myself.
She smiles softly up at me from her place in my lap. "I felt a kick just now."
"Oh?" I don't know what else to say. It's hard to act enthusiastic when you're parenting somebody else's child. I'm the odd one out, here. Outnumbered and chained to a dream.
Please don't leave me.
I love you.
Never hurt you again never hurt you never ever hurt you again.
Gently she takes my hand and pulls, guiding it along her cheek, down the curvature of her jaw, sweeping the length of her beautiful neck, hiking over the swell of her breast and stopping when my palm rests lightly upon her stomach.
I frown, wanting to recoil, resisting for her sake. Because I still love this woman. "I don't feel anything."
"Speak to our baby. Let him or her get to know your voice. You're too quiet, honey."
"Will it understand me?"
I think about what I want to say to the product of my wife's deception. Hi, tiger. Thanks for fucking up a happily ignorant woman's perfectly wonderful marriage to your mother – that woman being me, and I really was happy being ignorant of the fact she found pleasure somewhere else. Guess I'm Daddy, now. Not your real father; he's probably unaware that you even exist.
"Well? What do you want to say to our munchkin?"
Finally, after some entertaining inner dialogue, I settle for a simple, "Hello."
There's a bump beneath my fingertips.
"Did you feel that?"
My eyes widen.
"See? Our baby heard you."
My throat is suddenly very tight, and my mouth is dry. It heard me. The little scum ball knows I'm here. It's… aware of me.
My wife couldn't be more content if I got down and put my face between her legs.
Oh my god.
I sit by my computer as usual, playing with the tiniest pair of socks I have ever seen.
The fat cat bats at the baby's socks as I dangle the cotton abominations before him.
"Excuse me, kitty, those are not for you." My lovely wife, having materialised behind me like a succubus about to violate my soul, reaches over my shoulder and carefully claims the socks before Ben gets to destroy them for my entertainment. She adds a quick kiss to my cheek to tell me she's not really cross. "Let's go out to lunch."
"So you can show off your trophy stomach bulge and me, and let strangers wonder how we did it, and inwardly smile when they believe it's a miracle of science and a kind donation by a stranger," I'm tempted to say. Instead I nod placidly, and even Ben seems to look disappointed in me. "Sure. Let's go."
Lying in bed together always feels so wrong with that balloon between us, always pressing against me, puncturing my inner organs.
"You should've run while you could."
Sigh. I know, ceiling.
Fingers threaded fondly in my hair, my darling whispers sweet, meaningless nothings in my ear, every third word involving her unborn child still growing inside her.
Like a weed, feeding off her nutrition and my happiness.
We cuddle like this for a while.
When she finally falls asleep, clinging to me with desperate need, I'm lying awake contemplating the comfortable couch and Brownie's company. The three cats lying about the bed prevent my escape, however. Idly I rub Pudding behind the ears and Ace under the chin, wiggling my toes for Ben to attack down below. Everybody's purring. Yeah.
If this baby pulls anyone's tail or ears, I'm tossing it in the pool for the dog to play retrieve with.
Finally let my eyes flutter shut.
An instant later she kisses me awake and unwanted sunlight streams into the bedroom we share, infusing me with a searing headache.
"Hey, sleepyhead." She's an angel hanging over me right now. She's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. I could almost fool myself that nothing bad has happened, but then I see her rounded midsection, and it all comes flooding back.
"I'm going to sleep in a bit."
"Sure. I'll go get some breakfast going. Not that I can match your cooking."
I force on a smile.
She smiles back, then disappears.
My wife looks radiant as I walk into the room. "Hi!"
"Hey." I let her kiss me on the lips. We're married, and that's what married couples do. Doesn't feel right, don't kid yourself.
She rubs her tummy and takes my hand. Normally we'd be a tangle of limbs at this time of day, and I figure she's wearing very little for a pregnant woman. With such confidence, I'm halfway surprised she hasn't tried to proposition me for sex yet; I remember a time when she couldn't go a week without, and it's been months since we last connected. And yet she seems to have all but forgotten about the affair.
I let her pull me along. But has she? Maybe it's the guilt. Maybe she doesn't feel like she has the right to ask. Or perhaps it's just the pregnancy. I guess that could be off-putting to some women. And it's not like she doesn't know how to pleasure herself. She was always really handy.
She doesn't need me.
No, of course she does, or she wouldn't have begged me to stay.
It's that damn baby.
I hate it.
I drifted off for a moment, not hearing whatever it was she's just said. "Sorry?"
"I said I love you"
"Oh. I love you, too."
She kisses me more deeply than before, and I awkwardly try to kiss her back. But even with our breath intermingling, our lips shaping to fit each other perfectly, I lack that special tingle I always used to get.
Unappealingly, the bulge of her belly presses against mine.
Her breasts are huge. She admires them with pride in the mirror, shooting me a wink over her shoulder when she catches me eyeing them. "Like what you see?"
I emptily smile back. "Of course." I'm getting good at telling lies it seems, because she glows as if it was a compliment and fondles herself some more.
"You could come here and give them a test run if you like," she says in a joking fashion, not really trying to be seductive. "Make sure they'll work for the baby."
I swallow, watching those veined mounds shift beneath her bra.
They used to be perfect and natural.
Now I don't even recognise them anymore.
Those… aren't for me.
"I'm scared." She's about to crush my hand with the potency of her grip. "D-don't leave me."
"I already promised you I wouldn't," I manage to reply with relative calm, although I may have peed myself a little bit.
"Oh, sweetheart." She yanks me down and sloppily kisses my bruised knuckles. "Th-thank you. Again. Thank you."
I just pray the doctor will see us soon.
She's about to have a baby.
A baby I never expected.
A baby I could've done without.
I never knew a woman could scream so loud. My beloved is in agony and there's so much sweat, so much blood. The wet, putrid smell of birth fills my flared, throbbing nostrils. I wish this were just a nightmare in my head.
It's tearing my world apart.
Make it stop.
In the calm, I tentatively move closer to get a better look at this creature that my dearest has incubated.
The baby boy is small and wrinkly in his mother's arms, like a tiny old man lecherously searching for her teat whilst she coos and nuzzles him so tenderly, exhausted and happy.
"See that gorgeous young lady over there? That's your Daddy. And I'm your Mommy. We love you so very much, little one."
I'm thankful for the chair a kindly woman in uniform offers me, collapsing into it as all the weight of the world plummets on my shoulders at once and crushes my bones in a million different places.
"Busy day, huh?"
I nod shakily.
"What should we name him, honey?"
I don't have the strength or breath to answer.
"I'm so proud of you."
I shudder as a familiar hand rubs me up and down, tracing my spine.
There's a low purr as the bed shifts and lips kiss the back of my neck, almost hungry in their ministrations. "You beautiful, smart, sexy woman. And you're mine." She's using the voice that's known to get me naked, fast.
Yet I feel confused more than aroused. Uncomfortable with the way she hooks a thigh around my waist.
"Bobby's asleep. Dinner was fantastic. You're fantastic. I want to ravish you tonight. It's been too long since we-"
"It's my time of the month," I blurt quickly, a lie.
She stiffens. "Oh? You're a little early."
"We could do it in the bathroom." She rolls her hips, a motion that should drive me insane, but it makes my stomach churn instead.
"I'm sore," I fib again. I realise it'll be a long time before we can make love like we used to. The concept frightens me right now.
She rubs my stomach. "Poor thing. Let me get you some pills. Maybe in an hour or so you'll feel better and-"
"And it's gross. I really would rather wait, if you don't mind."
"Sure, darling. We can wait."
I ignore the hurt sigh she makes, like she knows what I'm really feeling.
Bobby frowns at everything.
I sigh in return. Ugly little bastard.
"Brownie, off the couch."
The poor dog ducks his head and meekly obeys. He's still stung from the time my hormonally furious wife smacked him in the nose.
She sits herself down beside baby and me. "So, Daddy. What do you think?"
"He's…" Gingerly lifting Bobby off my lap and raising him for closer inspection as if it's absolutely necessary, I search for the least offensive word to describe the child I feel no paternal affection toward at all. "Small."
My wife's smile grows worried and sad. "Is that all you think?"
I feel the walls closing in.
I still say nothing.
Finally she lays a hand on my shoulder. "Please, honey. I know that this will be a little hard at first. But he's ours."
"No, he's not." I feel annoyed all of a sudden. "He's yours."
"Nonsense. You're the father because I love you and you love me, and we're married. And either way, having a baby would've been impossible for us without-" She hesitates admitting her affair.
"I know," I answer quietly. "I couldn't ever give you a child."
"But that's okay. We have a son, now. Bobby's a blessing. Remember that whenever you feel angry at me, or out of place with him. You and I will raise this little boy into a good man and we'll be so proud."
I don't care for anything she's just said. "Why did you do it?"
She blinks, her face registering hurt. "Honey…"
"I have to know. I didn't wanna ask before, but now I can't hold it in." Unwilling to face her, I turn back to the baby in my hands, so tiny and helpless, still glaring at me like I've farted. "Why did you sleep around? Was I neglecting you?"
"Does it really matter?"
"Yes. It fucking does matter."
"Marriage is a sacred bond. We already broke the rules by being two women, then you go and cheat on me like that, and you get pregnant. It hurts."
She's quiet for a time.
"The man I met was charming and attractive. I've always been bisexual, dearest. He struck my interest. I was stupid, and I acted on it. I'm sorry."
"Was alcohol involved?"
"A little. We met at my sister's birthday party-"
"I wasn't home that night – away on a business trip," I interject before she can say anything more, my grip on the baby tightening until he kicks and scrunches up his face further. In the beginnings of his sniffling I ask my wife of twelve years, whom I love so much, whom I've stayed faithful to, "Did you bring him here while I was gone? Did you invite him into our house?"
"Once… twice. Please, careful with Bo-"
"Did you fuck him in our bed?"
"Did you – fuck him – in our – bed?"
Is that why I get so little sleep?
She can't answer that question, but her silence speaks volumes.
His spirit still lingers.
I feel it seeping through the sheets.
Smell him on my pillow.
Imagine his body pressed into my wife's.
Grunt. Pant. Thrust.
And now a baby.
It's too much today.
I hand Bobby back to her before I launch myself off the couch, thoroughly burnt, cheeks wet, teeth gritted painfully.
She gazes back up at me with regret. "It was a mistake. But we have a son and-"
"I trusted you. How c-c-could you even think of doing that to me?" I hurriedly wipe my eyes on my sleeve. "I thought we had m-more than that." But she loves me. She loves me. She does she does she does.
She loves me.
"Honey, please, let's not fight." She holds her son to her breast and he calms down now that his mouth is full.
I can't help but think it's so disgusting. I don't want to be here to watch this. Not right now. "Brownie, come."
"Wait! Where are you going?"
"For a walk. Brownie!"
The mongrel quickly finishes his pissing on the flowers and scurries after me as I grab my jacket off the hook, marching out the front door with my loyal dog in tow. And the saddest part is I love her so much. I could never do what she's done to me. I'll be back to make dinner, so my family will get fed. I begin to cross the street.
Needed to pick up some bacon, anyway.
Somehow I don't notice that car coming until I feel it kiss my hip, and I am weightless.
I'm lying in the street in a picturesque pose, Brownie crouched over me protectively as people crowd around us.
"Someone get that dog out of here. And call an ambulance!"
"Is she going to be all right?"
"A leg's not meant to bend that way, man…"
"Fuck," I whisper to the pretty blue sky, unreflecting of my stormy mood.
My wife is sobbing so hard I fear her eyeballs might pop out.
Brownie places a big paw on the edge of my bed, his doggy face miserable.
Bobbie is absent, being watched by my sister-in-law.
The ceiling is white, and it's almost like a reassuring smile.
Don't blame yourselves.
And I feel oddly calm, at peace with the wheelchair waiting for me near the door. At peace with the knowledge that thanks to my own carelessness, I'll never walk again.
"But maybe the doctors are wrong," says the kindly ceiling.
You think so?
"Wait and see."
Bobby smiles at me for the first time one day.
On another his first word is Daddy.
Later on he toddles into my broken, numb lap.
I finally let my wife touch me one cold night, and although I don't reach my peak, she feels better for trying.
I'm sad when the cactus dies unexpectedly, flowers still bright after the fact, before they themselves shrivel and fall.
I've given up now.
Just smile and wheel myself to the computer so I can do some work for the office.
Today is a new day.
And I'm a father.