--IT’S LIKE DRINKING FROM AN EMPTY CUP
The fortune teller says we should keep the baby, that there are different kinds of tears.
When I ask for clarification, the fortune teller shrugs and flaps her veiny hands—we’re done.
We walk home in dull, sputtering rain. There are a hundred cabs everywhere, but we both need the sting of November chill to help center us.
“She knew about my sister,” my wife says. “About the accident.”
“How could she know that?”
“They have tricks.”
“But she radiated something, a weird kind of energy. You could feel it, couldn’t you?”
“I think you were just nervous. I know I was.”
“It was more than that.”
“She creeped the shit out of me. Where were her eyelashes, her eyebrows?”
“I knew we should keep it,” my wife says. “To hell with my mother.”
“Hey, she’s entitled to her opinion.”
My wife’s head swivels fast and I can see how white her eyes are around her pupils. She’d like to boil me alive right now, yet she simmers. “My mom hasn’t exactly been supportive.”
I bite my lip. I want to tell her that I know how horrible this has been for her, but that it hasn’t been easy on me or her family either, yet if I say that I’ll come off sounding callous, a jackass, which is how I feel every time I think about it.
Instead I take her hand and she lets me. I give it a squeeze but get nothing back.
“Do you think I’m crazy?” she asks.
“But do you?”
“Stop it. Of course not.”
She flicks her head toward me as we walk, searching my eyes. “It would help if you’d tell me that every once in a while.”
I look down at the dirty concrete. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I will.” I squeeze her hand again, wondering if we’re broken, haplessly treading, wondering if maybe my wife is right and I am simply pitying her while cowardly wallowing in self-pity myself.
A siren goes off right next to us, making my wife jerk. Traffic is a jammed blood clot. The cop gets on his foghorn telling people to pull over to the side of the street, but this is Manhattan and there’s nowhere for them to go. That’s how I think of myself, with nowhere to go, and just as soon as I think this, I hate myself for doing so. I think: self-centered bastard. I think: heartless sonofabitch.
The therapist we both go to tells us things we already know. It’s expensive. I want to quit the sessions, but I know that’s impossible. The therapist always looks like she’s about to fall asleep. When she does speak she says the words wounds, healing, time and trust, resetting, and it’s all a bunch of hot bullshit.
Seeing the fortune teller had been my wife’s idea. She’d always been irrationally superstitious and into mystical stuff. I knew before we’d gone that she’d get the confirmation she wanted about keeping the baby. I knew it would only elongate the chasm between us.
A few weeks after it happened, word somehow got out that we were considering abortion and hordes of people lined the street below our apartment building, holding signs, calling us the worst things imaginable. When I couldn’t take their chanting anymore, I went down and started swinging my fists. All that did was land me in jail for a night.
A block from our place, with the rain picking up steam and slicing at an angle, my wife stops and says, “I have to know for sure.”
“Will you love it?”
“It?” I say, though I know what she’s asking, me stalling because there’s a new coil of panic running through me now.
“Yeah. Yeah. Of course.” The words come out too fast, too easily, and my wife begins to sob and wail, hugging her arms to her chest, looking like she’s stuck inside a strait jacket. People pass by staring. Car horns blare. A cab driver slows to get a good look.
My wife swings her arm, tamping the night air with her fists, sputtering, “I’d understand if you didn’t.”
We’d always wanted children, trying the last two years, charting my wife’s ovulation patterns, but I was the problem, me with my weak sperm. We’d just contacted an adoption agency when it happened. My wife was jogging Central Park at night. I’d warned her against evening runs, but she said, “It’s Central Park, for God’s sake.” The police said he knew what he was doing, that he’d probably done it many times before. He was fast, efficient. He had a knife and knew where to place it, with just the right amount of pressure to ensure silence. He was a pro.
When my wife found out she was pregnant, she went into hysterics, screaming, wouldn’t come out of the bathroom for hours, no matter how hard or how much I pleaded. She thought it was her fault, punishment for something she’d done, and at night she’d confess every silly sin she’d ever committed, trying to get me to agree. She couldn’t comprehend that random evil just happens sometime.
I take both of her shoulders in my palms and say, “Look at me.”
She tilts her head up slowly. Her face is wet from rain and mucus. She looks so much like a lost, little girl that my heart shatters.
“I love you.”
“I know that,” she says, meaning, there has to be more than love, meaning survival is going to take every single ounce of us, both of us, and do I have that much fight in me?
I wish I had the right thing to say, something strong and affirming, but I’m just as lost as she is.
I take her in my arms and hold her. We stand there, neon light from a billboard streaking us blue, and together we weep and shudder and do our best to reset.