The bruises, bumps, and otherwise harmed spots on Frank Rawley's body were healing very slowly. It had been a month since the attack, and still he could not bear to sleep on his left side, where the bruises were worst. He also told Jane he could not bear to be touched, but that was more an excuse to avoid her touches than a concrete truth.
Frank knew he needed Maurice's help, desperately, but he also knew he would never receive it; he had damaged his relationship with the old man far beyond repair. The irritation and helplessness colored his every interaction, his every waking moment, at his office job and at home; his boss noticed, his coworkers noticed, and everyone did their best to avoid the sulking, brooding man Frank had become. And Frank noticed their avoidance; it made him moodier. He skulked around like a pouting vampire, and did his work feverishly and quickly, annoyed by its very presence on the desk before him. At home, he barely looked at Jane, or at her belly, which continued to grow; and he went to bed as early as possible every night. He was a miserable coworker, and a miserable man.
Frank could not help being miserable. Stress, from future events that had yet to pass, threatened to override his every conscious thought. Fear, and its charming bedfellow, annoyance, zipped down Frank's every nerve, electrocharging him into a constant foul mood. For without Maurice's help, Frank could do nothing about Jane. He could not cure her; he had no hope of that. If she began to vomit again, he had no way to help her. If the baby was born, and was—Frank shuddered to think of it—the same as Jane, Frank would have no one to turn to. And the worst possible thing: without Maurice's help, he would certainly be trapped with Jane for the rest of his life.
He needed the old man's help, his guidance, for Maurice was the only one who even vaguely understood anything about Jane. But when Frank, hoping to mend things with the old man, had gone to see him one night after work, he had been greeted by a beating within an inch of his life. Maurice had gained a strength and a fury that Frank had not seen in him before, and he had not used his frail fists to attack Frank: he had used a thick, brass cane. Frank had never had a chance.
He began to be tormented by terrible dreams; he dreamt awful things, each and every night. He would flail and kick, throwing the covers away, and sweated so profusely that, when he awoke in the morning, the sheets would be soaked through. He dreamt of bloody, horrible babies which would come forth from Jane, screaming, with one giant eye pulsing in their forehead, cloudy and unseeing, and the rest of their features a pale, fleshy lump of nothing. He dreamt that he was the one in the hospital who was meant to give birth, not Jane, and the doctors mutilated and tortured him even as he screamed that he was not pregnant nor a woman, to no avail. He dreamt that his will was taken away, that he was sent into a prison of his own mind, that everything he had worked for in his life, all his dreams and desires, were undone, taken away by a merciless and greedy god.
Jane did not sleep in the bed with him any longer—he unwittingly would have kicked her bruised and bloody if she did—and that, in itself, was a small blessing. She sat in the chair in the corner instead, watching him all night; he was unsure if she ever slept at all. Her belly grew daily, till it protruded out so far and so vastly that Frank harboured a secret terrible suspicion his wife might be carrying twins. She found it hard to walk, and waddled back and forth when she did, and preferred to sit most of the time. Wherever Frank was, she would find a chair and sit. And watch him. She would not stop watching him.
Frank had worked things out for himself. He believed that Maurice's potion had done its job too well: it had returned Jane to her regular state, which, after so many months of being under the potion's spell, was perhaps set at the default of gibbering idiot forever now. At least, that was the suspicion he had developed, with the lack of Maurice's guidance to shed any light on the subject. Any improvement in Jane was completely invisible now; she no longer had flashes of difference, no moments where Frank wondered if the potion was fading. She was herself—that is, the new Jane—in full force.
In any case, Frank had flubbed, had made a mistake so monumental that the rest of his life would be spent trying to live it down. He was imprisoned. She would not leave him. He could order mercenaries to kidnap her and fly her to Timbuktu and strand her there without a passport, and she would still find her way back to him within the month. She was unstoppable and undeterrable.
Without Maurice's help, Frank had become a desperate man. There was no one else on Earth—that he knew of, or could ever find, anyway—that could help him in the slightest. He was trapped, and he was desperate. Frank had even thought of—no, he'd never do such a thing. Never. Murder was out of the question; he was not a killer. And he wasn't quite that desperate, anyway. Jane was a prison, that was for certain, but not one so miserable that Frank would risk losing his freedom to a real prison to get rid of her.
Some days, looking at the empty-eyed girl who carried his growing child inside her, Frank even felt a small twinge of guilt, somewhere deep within his hardened heart. He recalled the girl Jane had once been, and the contrast was severe—night and day, black and white. He had taken everything from her, as well, he reminded himself.
But no, between the two of them, things were definitely worse for him. He was shackled to her against his will, after all. As for her, she was willingly here, obsessively here. She wanted this prison. She wanted to be with him forever. Yes, Frank definitely had it worse.
Frank escaped through fantasies. At work, he spent every single moment of free time imagining a life without Jane. He would go out to pubs and bars, and spend time with a group of friends, without fear of Jane calling the police in terror, or smashing an antique vase against the wall in frustration, as she had done once when Frank had failed to return at nine p.m. precisely. He would date other women—oh, the other women! He conjured them up like a magician's tricks, perfect and beautiful, and, oh, smart. For God's sake, he could not help but imagine spending five minutes of time with a woman who was not practically catatonic. Not that any woman had paid him any attention before Jane, but… If he were free of Jane, he'd pursue other women—normal women—so doggedly that they'd have no choice but to pay him some attention.
This other life, he lived it vicariously, vividly. It became his refuge. It was practically all he had left.
And still, Jane's due date approached, as quickly as a speeding train to whose tracks Frank was tied. She grew enormous with child. The date approached.
One night—two weeks to the day—Frank returned home from a day at work so exhausting that all he could do was walk into the house, head straight for the dark bedroom, and throw himself down on the bed without even removing his shoes.
Jane opened the door a crack, and her face, sheet-pale from a long time spent without going outside, peered in; a bar of light from the door pierced into the dark room and cut a slice across the bed and Frank's leg. She said, "Are you alright, honey?"
"Fine," he grunted. "Go…make some tea or something." He didn't want tea, but it would keep her away from him for a while, and he could just play asleep when she came back.
She didn't move, but pushed the door open and entered the room instead, closing the door halfway behind her. Due to the odd light, he could only see her silhouette, with the belly in front as though she were carrying the moon before her. Sometimes, in the darkness, Frank imagined he could see a very dull pink light shining through Jane's skin: the neon blood in her veins.
She said, "Frank, I'm worried. It hurts."
He immediately sat up. Oh, God, she wasn't giving birth; he prayed not, anyhow. "Hurts where?"
"Here." She pointed at her belly.
"Where in your belly? The whole thing, or just a part, or—?"
"The whole thing. It aches, and aches. It's been like that forever. I just didn't wanna worry you, honey."
Frank fell back down onto the bed with a thump, the fear in his chest dissolving away into annoyance. "We went to the doctor about that, remember? It's normal."
He couldn't quite see her face, but he could imagine its blankness. "I don't remember that."
"Well, it happened. Go make some tea." He closed his eyes, and counted to ten, hoping that when he opened them, she'd not be there.
He opened them. She was there.
She said, "You're awfully tired, aren't you? I don't want to worry you."
"Then don't," he snapped with annoyance; "just leave me alone." He rarely snapped at Jane—he tried not to, anyway—but sometimes he could not help himself. She was so unspeakably dense.
To his shock, she started to cry. Her belly shook and heaved; she choked great gasping sobs and lifted her hands to her face.
"What? What is it?" He was more annoyed than worried.
"I'm sorry," she managed to say. "I just—I don't want you to hate me. Whatever I did, please don't hate me for it. Don't yell, don't be cross. I'll make it better."
Irritation swelled in him, a desire to just make her shut up and leave, but he also heard a small, still voice within him, a voice that spoke of pity and guilt. He rose to his knees on the bed and shuffled over to where Jane stood, at the very edge of the bed. "It's all right. Don't cry," he said, making an extraordinary effort to keep his voice soothing and friendly. "You haven't done anything wrong. I'm just snappish."
She looked at him, and now that he was close to her, he could see her eyes: fearful, full of tears, and wetness dripped from her nose as well. She said, "I feel sick, Frank. I don't know what it is. I just feel weird. I've felt weird forever. I'm scared I'll die, and I won't be with you anymore."
Apprehension hummed to life in Frank's chest, a bad feeling, a portent of things to come. "What do you mean?"
"I feel weird. I don't know. I feel sick all the time, and my chest has these weird feelings, and I just—I don't feel good. I'm so worried that I might not be with you anymore. Tell me I'm wrong, Frank. Tell me I'll be all right. I can't bear the thought of not being with you. I don't care if I go to heaven—if you're not there—" She began to sob again on these last words.
Frank put his hands on her heaving shoulders, trying to comfort her, trying to work out a response. "It's just pregnancy. You're not going to die. I promise." But he was not entirely sure of these things himself.
Her voice rose to a screech. "It's not! It's not just pregnancy, and I—don't tell me it is, because I—I'm not stupid! I know it's not just because I'm pregnant! The baby has nothing to do with it! Don't lie to me, Frank! What's wrong with me?" Her voice cracked, and she began to hiccup-sob, with great streams of tears running down her cheeks, and snot streaming from her nose, and her face scrunched into a hideous crying-mask.
Frank kneeled there at the edge of the bed, hands limp at his sides where they had fallen from her shoulders, with his jaw on the floor. Jane had never—never—had an outburst like this. This had no precedent. This was a new Jane.
Frank scrambled to respond to Mad Jane, who, frankly, frightened him. "I—I'm sorry. I don't know what else to tell you," he stuttered. "I'm not a doctor."
"Then take me to one! Take me to one who knows what he's talking about! I won't die and leave you, Frank. I will not die. I'm so scared." Her voice trailed off from a shout to a whisper, so abruptly that Frank felt as though he were watching a bad actor in a high school play. "I'm sorry I yelled," she said, sounding sorrowful indeed, and put a cold, cold hand on the side of his face, her thumb stroking the spot just below his eye. "I'm really sorry, honey. I didn't mean to yell. I'm just so scared."
"I—yes, I understand, and I'm sorry too. I'll take you to the doctor if that's what you want." Anything to get her to act like a reasonable human being again, or whatever reasonable human behavior looked like for Jane.
She was the old Jane again; as quickly as the change had come, it was gone. Her voice was monotonous again, with only the smallest hint of fear. "It's okay, honey. If you're tired, don't bother tonight. We can go tomorrow. I'm sorry I shouted. Do you need anything?"
Frank spoke past a large lump in his throat. "Nothing. Nothing, thank you."
"Go to sleep, then, hon. I'll watch over you." She went to the chair in the corner—her usual haunt—and sat down, hands on her belly, her face turned toward him. He could not see her eyes very well, but imagined them staring at him through the dark all night, as luminous as a cat's.
He laid down, turned away from Jane's dully piercing eyes, and pretended to sleep, but truly did not. His eyes were wide open, staring into the blackness; he could not close them. He felt fear, as sharp as though a thousand swords ran through him. He had never been afraid of Jane before, not really—annoyed by her, wary of her, but never afraid.
But now—something he had seen in her had awoken a primal fear of him, like prey fears a predator. He had always thought, fundamentally, that he was the predator, and she was the prey—at least, in some way. Certainly he had hunted her down and caught her, even if she had turned out to be more of a curse than a catch. But now…he imagined her watching him all night as he slept, and the metaphor of Jane as a cat seemed stronger than ever, with her eyes in the dark. Only now, Frank had a larger sense of his own role. He was the mouse.
He felt, deep within him, that if he did not give her what she wanted, her claws would emerge.
This strange woman in his house, prone to outbursts like this, unstable, who watched him all night… How could he not be afraid?
The next day at seven-thirty in the morning, Frank called his office and convincingly faked a cold. By nine o'clock, he and Jane were in the pristinely-white emergency room of the nearest hospital, St. Michael the Archangel.
Jane sat on an ugly brown chair, staring at the white wall across from her. Frank sat beside her. She clutched his hand in her lap, tight enough to cut off all circulation. He imagined he'd need the hand amputated when she let go.
They had been waiting for an hour for a doctor to see them. Jane, now that she was at the hospital, seemed to have infinite reservoirs of patience within her; she sat still and unmoving, simply staring at that wall. Frank, for his part, was annoyed by the wait. His free hand tapped against the arm-rest of the seat, faster with every passing minute; his brows made a scowling slash over narrowed eyes. He wished that damned doctor would just get out here and look after Jane so they could leave. He was missing work for this, after all—a valuable day's pay.
He realized, suddenly, that Jane was staring at him now, instead of the wall. She said, "Frank, the baby's kicking. Feel."
Tentatively, he lifted his hand to brush across her enormous stomach. The baby was indeed kicking; he felt its blows, as though someone was striking his hand from the other side of a trampoline. Before he had felt little about the child except a sense of inconvenience, but now, despite himself, he felt a thrill through him—perhaps of love, responsibility, paternity?
That baby was his: his flesh, his blood in its veins, his parents and their parents and their parents and all their history inside its every cell. His child; his responsibility. He wondered what it would be: a boy or a girl? Something in him hoped for a little girl. Frank was not a particularly good-looking man, but Jane was a beauty. Perhaps the girl would take after her mother. Hopefully, in that way and no other whatsoever.
Jane regarded him. "We'll be great parents. You'll be the best father," she said. "I can't wait to see you. Changing diapers, singing lullabies. Looking after my baby for the rest of your life."
Something about the way she said those words caused nervousness to bubble up in his chest. He looked his wife in the eyes, and saw something that made terror scream to life in every pore in his body. Her eyes. Her eyes. They were not blank any longer. There was a flash of—of—humanity, of intelligence, of—oh, God—it was Jane Coolidge. It was her again. She was back, after years of absence, looking at him with a gaze as frosty and deathly-cold as ever, eyes full of hatred, her mouth pressed into a rock-hard line. The old Jane, here, in the flesh, with full knowledge of what he had done to her—
As quickly as the moment came, it was gone. The blankness returned. The change was so immediate and so complete that Frank could have no doubt what he had seen was real.
She said, "What's the matter, honey? Why're you looking at me like that?"
His mouth opened and closed. He looked away from her, towards the wall, staring with wide eyes at the plain white plaster. He could not muster a response.
She began idly rubbing her belly. "He kicks so hard. It's like he's saying: I want out now."
"You think it's a he?" said Frank distractedly, licking his lips in nervousness. Was the potion fading? What was happening? He was tumbling into a spiral of confusion and fear, a never-ending pit that went down, down, down, like Alice's fall to Wonderland.
"Of course. I want it to be a boy. He'll look just like you." She took in a sharp breath. "Oh, I wish he would stop kicking. He's hurting me."
"Mr. and Mrs. Rawley?" A blue-outfitted female nurse was approaching them. "I'm sorry for the wait. Dr. Brown will see you now."
Not long afterward, they were sequestered in a small, curtained-off room. Jane lay on the hospital bed, which looked madly uncomfortable, but she didn't seem to mind. She stroked her belly, while Frank sat in the folding chair beside her, twiddling his thumbs and praying for the doctor to hurry up, goddammit.
Dr. Brown—a short, balding man with surprisingly bright and gem-like blue eyes—arrived promptly, pushing the curtain back with a swish. "Mr. and Mrs. Rawley?" he asked, checking a clipboard.
Frank nodded yes. Jane stared blankly.
"I'm Dr. Brown. I'm reading here that you're experiencing…chest pain, nausea?" He looked up from his clipboard, at Jane's enormous belly. "I think there may be a reason for that."
No one laughed.
Dr. Brown hemmed. "Yes. Well."
He tested Jane's breathing with his stethoscope. Very slight wheezing, but the doctor was sure he'd imagined it. He also—at her insistence—listened to her belly with the same stethoscope. He asked her some perfunctory questions about how she felt, but Frank could see it in the doctor's eyes: Dr. Brown was very quickly chalking this hospital visit up—just as Frank had—to a case of pregnant hysteria.
"I'd like to do some quick and easy bloodwork," said Dr. Brown after slinging his stethoscope back around his neck and writing some things on his clipboard, "but other than that, you seem like you're in perfect health, Mrs. Rawley. I'll likely send you home with a prescription for a baby in two weeks."
Again, no one laughed.
When Dr. Brown approached Jane with a needle, however, Frank had a sudden realization. All the times he'd imagined seeing pink light in Jane's veins, through her skin. The pink blood she'd vomited. No—
He almost lunged forward, but caught himself halfway out of his seat. "Uh, Doctor—" he said, just barely suppressing his sense of urgency. "I don't think we want to do that."
The needle already had entered Jane's limp, complacent arm. Mercifully, the doctor looked away, towards Frank, as he began extracting the fluid inside. "Excuse me?"
"The blood thing, the needles, the—all that. We don't want it. We're, uh, we're Mormons. We don't believe in transfusions or operations or any of that." He stumbled over his words, piecing together a story as quickly as he could. He wasn't sure if Mormonism actually didn't approve of transfusions, but it was the first religious sect that had come to his mind, and he was damn sure going to use it.
Frank prayed with all his might that it wasn't too late as the doctor frowned at him. "Sir, with all due respect, you should have told me that before I—"
The doctor looked down at the syringe. Frank looked at the syringe. He sucked in a breath.
The blood was the shade of a woman's date-night lipstick, of a baby girl's birthday cake, of bismuth stomach medicine. It was absolutely, undeniably the wrong color.
"What the hell—?"
"I'm afraid we've got to get going." Terrified but improvising, Frank rose quickly, grabbed Jane's hand and led her—as fast as a nine-months-pregnant woman can go—out of the room, pushing past the curtain with urgency. The doctor shouted after them, and when he began to chase them, Frank urged Jane into a run, awkwardly half-carrying his stumbling wife. They quickly lost Dr. Brown amidst a maze of winding corridors and rooms, although other doctors and nurses and patients gave them odd looks as they hurried by.
In the end, they managed to escape, with luck on their side. Frank found his way back to the lobby where they had entered, and—thank God—Dr. Brown was not there waiting for him. Out he and Jane went, to the parking lot, to their tiny beater of a car. There they sat, both winded, Frank scowling with annoyance and fury.
"For God's sake, I should have known—this was a bad idea. What'll happen to me now? They have our names, Jane, they'll track us down and take you and study you—and he has your blood—" But truly, the biggest worry in Frank's mind was that the police would come calling. And other things might be discovered: his sham relationship with the woman who was Jane and not Jane; how he had led Wayne Richards to his death. He would be lucky if they only charged him with kidnapping by deception or something as trite and insignificant as that. Truly, Frank was half-liable for murder.
Jane was staring at him. "No, he doesn't."
Frank had lost himself in thought. "Doesn't what?"
"Have my blood. I took the needle." She held up the syringe, clasped in her thin hand and still full of the pink fluid.
Frank gaped at her, with relief flooding him; he had never known Jane to be resourceful before. But perhaps she had just taken the blood by accident somehow.
"You seemed upset," she said. "I thought it was because the doctor had my blood. So I took it. I didn't know whether it would help or not, but—"
"Yes," he interrupted. "It helps a great deal. Thanks."
"I'm glad. I want you to be happy, honey." Her thin white hands rested on her stomach again. There was no color to her; she had not gone outside the house in many months, at least not for more than a few minutes. She and the sun were thoroughly unacquainted. Jane said, "We ran awful fast, didn't we? I'm worried for the baby."
"Is it still kicking?"
"Yes. Harder." On cue, Jane winced with a blow.
For some reason, the entire ridiculous situation, the penny-dreadful sham that was Frank's life, came crashing down upon him, and he began to laugh. Slowly, at first—ha. ha. ha.—and then with growing hysteria. He gasped with laughter. He clutched the steering wheel and rested his forehead on its center. He could not find air. He clawed for oxygen.
When he finally managed to tame his laughter to a few stray chuckles, with tears running down his cheeks, he looked up to find Jane staring at him, looking terrified. "Are you alright?"
"Yes," he wheezed. "Yes. I'm sorry. It's just…"
"I don't know. Everything's so funny. And horrible."
"What do you mean? Nothing's horrible," said Jane, and put a hand on his shoulder, rubbing soothingly. "We're together. I'm with you. Our baby's coming. And the doctor said I'd be fine. That's all perfect. Everything's good."
Yes, Frank supposed, everything was good. He was balancing his enormous sham-life on the tiniest of scales, but as long as the scales did not break, he could manage. He did not love his wife, but he could stand her. He did not want a baby, but he could stand that, too, if he tried hard enough. His job was not perfect, but it was sufficient. As long as no one became suspicious, everything would be fine. As long as Jane's condition and her pink blood did not become matters of discussion for anyone other than him and her, Frank could put up with his life. The police would not come, and that was the worst thought he could think of. For now, at least he had a job and a home. Things were all right. For now.
He said, "Jane, I've been thinking. We should consider a home birth."
Back at home that night, Frank managed to convince his wife to go to bed without him. Later, he sat in the chair in their living room, studying a phone book under the light of a green-shaded lamp he had inherited from his mother. He searched, and searched, and eventually found what he was looking for. He went to the phone on the kitchen wall and called the number once, twice, three times. "Please pick up the phone, please, damn you," he muttered each time. There was no answer, nor an answering machine. Maurice did not want to be called.
Frank hung up the phone in frustration, and stood there for a moment, unsure of what to do next. Finally he muttered very quietly to himself, "Dammit, I'll go it without him. I can manage."
Frank Rawley went to the kitchen sink. On the steel bottom, with its end poking into the drain, rested the syringe full of Jane's blood. Frank brought the syringe to the bathroom and carefully pushed the plunger, sending its contents into the toilet, which he flushed. He watched the diluted pinkish liquid swirl down the drain, replaced with clear water; it was a strangely satisfying sight.
He laid the syringe on the bathroom lid and attacked it with a bar of soap from the shower, eventually cracking the plastic open. Inside still remained traces and spots of pink. Frank scrubbed the broken pieces for an hour: he scrubbed the needle; he scrubbed any possible fingerprints away; he washed everything down the sink.
Finally, when the remains of the syringe were cleaner than church shoes, Frank carefully wrapped the broken plastic and needle in a ball of toilet paper, which went into his pants pocket. He got in his car and drove for four hours, until he reached a rural area where everything was flat, and the road was dirt, and he could see the first rays of the sun peeking up from the purple-blue horizon. There, he saw the edges of a river, far-away.
He parked his car in the edge of a field, and crossed the field for five minutes, across the flatness and the brown-dead grass. The river was long and wide, and flowed quickly. With all hope, the syringe would be broken into even smaller pieces, and the needle lost among the river-rocks.
Frank threw the contents of his pocket into the river without hesitation.
His freedom was at risk. He could never be too careful.