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The Final Test
It had been snowing all night. I had watched it fall, sitting in the nook of my bedroom window, my knees pressed up against my chest, the test sitting on my lap. I watched the night drag on like a loop as small white feathers sleepily fell to join the blanket of white on the ground. I felt like a teenager here, sure any second Mother would rush in and tell me I would have ugly bags under my eyes if I didn’t get in bed. But I couldn’t sleep; I couldn’t think. I could only stare, and slightly jump in my seat whenever my husband occasionally snored.
I sat there for a while, completely numb, but after a while I turned to look at him in the darkness. In the faded glow of the moon that peeked through the snow, he looked so normal, like a person who found nothing wrong with the world. He was sprawled across the mattress, covering most of my empty side. He was so relaxed; it puzzled me how he could just be. I frowned as I looked at him, my eyes widening and my stomach twisting. Of course he was relaxed. He was a man who still didn’t know he had married a complete mess.
~ ~ ~
In the morning when I woke and blinked up at the ceiling, my head was fuzzy and heavy from lack of sleep. I couldn’t remember the time I fell asleep; I could only recall how I crawled into the cold sheets, pulled my knees into my chest, and faced away from Harry. I did not know when I moved from my nook. I couldn’t even remember where I put the test. The test. Suddenly, I was awake. My body convulsed and I was immediately upright. Cringing, I turned my head, and let out a sigh as I saw that he was still there, fast asleep, face distorted by the pillow and mouth wide open. My eyes turned to the window, now completely illuminated by the morning sun. Thank God. It was still there, sitting almost like there was a spotlight on it. How fitting, I thought as a light chuckle escaped my lips.
I quickly left the bed, using the twist-keep your legs together-and stand method Mother had badgered into me from age twelve. I tiptoed across the cold wooden floor in my floral nightgown, trying hard not to step on creaky panels. I snatched the little white stick and once again hopped past the four-poster bed. In the bathroom connected to our bedroom, I quickly bent down to shove it under the sink. As I stood, I let out a deep breath, and when fully upright, I found myself in the mirror before me. My mother would not have been impressed with this look. My hair hadn’t been in rollers, so it looked like a nest all the way down to my shoulders. My pale eyes were tired and sunken in, and my mouth looked oddly tinted from the pounds of bright red lipstick that had touched my lips over the years. The rest of my body, well, that always seemed to be a disaster. My shoulders turned in as if I was always shying away from something, and my arms were gawkier than what was probably normal. I thought of the girls at bridge, their confident posture and perfectly shaped bodies. I shook my head slightly, wondering what I looked like to them.
A subtle noise broke the concentration I had on myself. Harry had stirred. My mind suddenly exploded into thought. Do I tell him? Now? It’s very early, surely not now. My eyes intensified in the mirror as the gears in my head churned, but I didn’t have enough time. A light knock startled me, and I swiveled around to turn the doorknob. Peeking my head around the door, I saw him, giving me the sweetest, tired smirk. I grinned shyly and he broke our silence with a chaste kiss on my forehead and a kind, “Good morning beautiful.”
“Good morning,” I squeaked as my face flushed, the smile still stuck in place. I stepped aside to let him in and then quickly skipped off the tile back onto the dark hardwood of the bedroom.
“I’ll go make breakfast, dear,” I chirped, trying to sound normal. As I closed the door of the bathroom behind me, I shifted slightly, and leaned up against the floral wallpaper of our room. I looked at my surroundings, at our tussled bed, the vanity in the corner, the dresser topped with pearls and prim pictures of our wedding. So simple, so perfect. I leaned my head back against the wall and sighed. Just be happy, I pleaded. You have it all.
~ ~ ~
I heard him before I saw him. The familiar sound of his polished shoes tapping the wooden steps added to the symphony of the crackling radio in the corner of the counter and the bacon sizzling violently. He placed his briefcase down in the doorway of the golden kitchen before he made his way over to me, wrapped his arms around my waist and planted a gentle kiss on my head.
“Smells good,” he said, as I turned in his arms to see his face.
He glistened in the morning light coming through the window, made brighter by the snow I’m sure. He smelled delightful, a mix of aftershave and hair gel. I smiled up at him, nuzzling his chin with my unruly hair. He chuckled, and released me to grab a mug from the pale yellow cabinet. Our moment had passed. He deftly poured coffee and sat down at our small wooden table, and I moved around him, grabbing spices here, plates there, trying not to burn the eggs or the bacon.
When I sat down to join him at the table, I still didn’t know if I was going to tell him yet. I’m sure in the back of his head he knew an answer was coming soon. Couldn’t I let him be hopeful for a moment? I quietly contemplated as I began my breakfast, taking small nibbles from a piece of toast. He looked up from the newspaper he had just started, and once again flashed that sweet smile at me. “What are you thinking about?”
I stuttered for a moment. “Um, oh. Oh nothing Dear, just waking up still. Do you think you’ll make it into work with the snow?” I responded, deciding to ignore the issue for the time being.
“Oh yeah, I’ll be fine. Don’t you worry, Honey. But Dear, don’t go to bridge today. I don’t know if you’ve ever driven in something like this,” he said cheerily but with force, picking up his mug with one hand and returning his gaze to the paper.
I looked down at my plate, a nicely painted sunflower sitting in its center, and chuckled only on the inside. I lived in Massachusetts for four years, I said to myself. We sat silently for the rest of the meal, a comfortable, loving silence we always respected in the morning. Harry flipped page after page in the paper, and I partially listened to the radio, still deep in thought about what to think about last night’s results and what I was going to say to my husband about them.
After a while, I heard the ruffle of papers being folded up. Harry placed the paper down and seemed to be taking his final swig out of the coffee mug. Out of habit, I stood up immediately, took his plates, and moved to the sink to clean the kitchen of any trace of breakfast. Harry went to get his briefcase as I turned on the faucet, and he lightly bounded over to me to kiss me one final time. I whispered my goodbyes and watched him walk away to don his hat and coat for work. He flashed me a smile when he was finished, opened the door to the wind, and left. As the door closed, I heaved a sigh. Why do I feel so odd? I thought as I robotically soaped up each dish. It seemed like a normal, quiet morning from the outside, but inside I was a jumble of confusion and unease.
I tried to still my thoughts one final time as I shut the faucet off. You need to get this sorted. Quietly, I left the kitchen, and padded up the stairs to put on my neat little uniform of a dress, pearls, and that familiar red lipstick.
~ ~ ~
I worked hard to figure things out throughout my chores of the day. I decided I was going to tell him over dinner, and I practiced the scenario as I went about each task. Over and over, I said what I was going to say, repeated the truth to myself. It broke my heart again and again to hear it, but I strangely felt a minuscule wave of relief each time as well.
“I’m not pregnant,” I said as I folded laundry.
“I’m not pregnant,” I said as I dusted china.
“I am not pregnant,” I said as I scrubbed the floor, my hands in intensely yellow gloves, my dress folded neatly beneath me.
I only thought of his response the final time I said my phrase, and it hurt me to think about it. I imagined the frown that would fall down on me when I looked up into his sad eyes. I thought of that frown, that familiar sorrow and disappointment in him. It was that look from Radcliffe, when my roommates left the dorm in a hurry with their boyfriends, while he waited at the door for me to finish reading. The same look I received when I got out of a lab late, and he had been standing outside the class the whole time. Must’ve been signs this life wouldn’t work for me.
I gasped. I did not just think that. My arm stopped mid-scrub. No, no I didn’t mean that. Suddenly, I stood up. I was angry with myself. My subconscious fought back inside of me, telling me I was trying to convince myself that I hadn’t just thought the most truthful statement since my wedding day. No! I was joking. My mind exploded, like I was having an argument with myself. No, no, no. I’m just-I’m just just feeling sad.
Stiffly, I picked up my cleaning tools, shocked at everything I had just thought. I shot my eyes at the clock, and saw the little hand pointed just beyond the painted number five. No time to think now. Duty called. I needed to make dinner.
~ ~ ~
As I sat down across from Harry at our table, I took in a deep breath. Beautifully detailed bowls and platters sat before us, filled with mashed potatoes, green beans, and a lovely piece of chicken I had made. They hid me from him. My stomach seemed to possess an entire zoo of butterflies and I could barely make eye contact with him.
He looked at me as he plopped a scoop of potatoes down onto his plate. “Are you all right?” he asked, his voice laden with concern.
I didn’t answer. I just swallowed. It was time. I looked up at him, at his confused, beautiful blue eyes. “I took another test.”
He stared back in response, waiting for answer, longing and doubt filling his gaze, mashed potatoes dripping off his spoon frozen in the air.
“Nothing,” was all I could eek out, but he understood.
His eyes changed, and there it was. The frown. “Oh. Well. It’s okay, Dear. It’s not your fault.”
I sighed. My mouth twisted. Was he really this unfazed? All I could manage was, “Harry.”
“What?” He stated, confused. “You don’t want to stop trying, right? We’re not doomed, Honey.”
I just looked down, unable to stare into that gaze any longer. Once again, I saw that darned sunflower plate.
“Honey,” this time it was more forceful. “You want kids, right?” I kept my head down; my weak shoulders rolled in a small shrug.
“What are you saying?” he continued, although his voice boomed this time.
I tried with all of my being to look up at him, and saw his face, twisting with fear. I could see all of the emotion in his gaze: the disappointment, the confusion. I could feel his love for me draining and draining. This was not like Radcliffe. This was not just a frown.
“I need to go,” the words quickly fell out of my mouth.
I didn’t respond. I just made my way to the front door, and put on my coat as swiftly as possible. He stood up with an aggressive scrape of his chair and marched right behind me.
“What are you doing?”
Again, no response.
“Jess, what are you doing?”
I put on my gloves.
“Jess,” he was pleading, begging.
I stopped for a brief second then opened the door. I did not look back at him.
“Jess, if you love me, you’ll stop. Don’t you love me?”
There was so much in his voice, so much fear, so much hope. He didn’t deserve this. He needed someone better.
The softest, almost undetectable squeak left my lips. “No.” And I walked out the door.
~ ~ ~
I ran down the steps as fast as my small heels could carry me and jumped into the car parked on the side of the house. I backed out of the driveway dangerously fast, and caught a glimpse of Harry at our front door. My heart shattered at the sight of him and I shoved my foot to the floor as the tears came. They streamed down my face in rivers, and I could not stop them. I screamed to myself inside. Why did you say that? I hated myself. The scene of the last few minutes played in my head again and again as I flew by picture-perfect houses and lawns. The soft “no” was the most damaging, horrifying thing I had ever said; yet, I knew it was the only way to leave. It hurt; it tore me into pieces, left me broken and empty. I knew it wasn’t true. That is not what I had meant at all.