It is too hot for a sweater, but I can’t reach the clasp on the back of my dress to close it; so fuck it, I’m wearing a sweater. I try to tell myself that drinking more gin and tonics will keep me cool and not make me look like a lush at a baby shower. I shuffle in my seat and sip my drink.
I know four people here, plus the dog. I feel guilty drinking, even though I am successfully convincing myself these G and T’s are keeping me cool when in reality I am actually drenched in sweat, with clammy hands.
There is a tap on my shoulder and a voice yelling in my ear, “Dance with me! Dance with me!” Lia, my niece – who is six – demands.
I smile and stand up, careful not to spill my drink. I twirl Lia around and smile at the strangers in the garden. I go through the motions of casually shaking my hips to appease Lia. There is no music playing, just the sounds of twenty adults, one child and a dog at a baby shower.
I tell Lia I have to go to the washroom and I make my way into the house. I put my hand on my stomach and squeeze my belly fat. I try to take deep breaths. I’ve been taking a lot of deep breaths lately.
I make my way up the stairs only to be greeted by Tasha and her pregnant belly. Tasha is my sister, but she’s ten years older than me so growing up she always seemed like that cool babysitter who you always wanted to be friends with but you never were. Now I’m trying to be drunk at her baby shower and she’s almost doubled her weight thanks to pregnancy.
“Hi love!” She beams at me. I beam back. The gin is kicking in.
“You look amazing.” I say and mean it.
“Oh, thank you! Oh, one of them is kicking – want to feel?” Without waiting for an answer Tasha takes my drinkless hand and guides it towards her belly. “This is Thomas.”
“Thomas.” I repeat it like it’s a secret.
“Thomas and Lynnea.”
“Oh! I love those names. Like Tasha and Luke – sticking with the theme.”
Tasha nods and beams some more.
“Have you seen my sweet Lia?”
“She’s outside, sorry, I have to pee so badly!” I try to squeeze past Tasha on the stairwell so I can get up to the bathroom.
“Oh god, just imagine what it’s like to pee when you’re pregnant with twins. I feel like I’m in the bathroom all the time.”
Tasha laughs and makes her way down the stairs, and I smile and force a laugh. I try to run up the stairs as fast as I can in heels. Once in the bathroom, I slam the door closed and dump my drink down the sink. I pour myself some water, careful to avoid looking at myself in the mirror. As I chug the water, some of it drips down my chin: sweet cool relief. I place the glass of water on the ground and sit down to pee. I grab at my belly fat again.
It is not late when I stumble home, but Marcus is already reading on the couch. It is nine o’clock. He is thirty-one going on eighty. I am okay with this fact.
I tell him I stayed to help clean up, then I kick off my heels and zig zag into the kitchen. A handful of gin and tonics is enough to make me zig zag.
I pour a glass of water and begin to unzip my dress.
“Shit.” I stammer as I trip over something.
“You okay?” Marcus yells, not overly concerned. Marcus doesn’t look up from his book, he’s used to me by now.
“Yeah, just the dining rooms chairs.” By dining room chairs I mean the chairs that we have squeezed around our kitchen table, which we have squeezed into our tiny kitchen. I don’t know why we don’t call them kitchen chairs, maybe we’re still holding out hope that one day we will wake up and our four-hundred-square-foot one-bedroom apartment will suddenly have grown.
I enter the bedroom, place my water on my bedside table and throw my dress across the room. Then I get deep under the covers, even though it is summer, and I shut my eyes.
Suddenly I feel Marcus’ lips pressed against mine. I open my eyes and stare at his closed ones.
After the kiss he looks at me. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
“I’m setting the alarm for 7:15 – is that okay?”
I nod as I say yes.
“Let’s get some sleep, hun.” He kisses my forehead as my hands squeeze my belly fat.
Marcus turns out the light and I stare up at the ceiling, up into darkness.
I tap my fingers on the cover of my hardcover book. Tappity, tap, tap. I try to read, but I just stare at the words until they all bleed together. My other hand is glued to my stomach, like holding it will make this feeling of dread go away.
I try to take deep breaths.
Marcus looks at me and reaches over and squeezes my knee. A quick kiss on the lips, my hand remaining firmly on my stomach.
“Kara.” I look around for a moment before I realize that’s me; they’re calling my name.
Marcus nods and I quickly throw my book in my bag and get up. I walk through the doorway and it closes behind me. I am ushered into a sterile room where the doctor sits across from me. She smiles and asks me how I’m feeling.
“Okay,” I say. My voice cracks a little. I blame it on the fact that I’ve barely had any water since last night and on the five gin and tonics I drank, not that I’m in a doctor’s office about to have an abortion.
She pricks my finger and walks me through the steps. I smile and nod. She asks about birth control, I say I’m already on it. I wonder if she saw Marcus, a grown man sitting out in the waiting room and wonders why we’re doing this. Marcus is five years my senior almost to the day. We both have full-time jobs; there’s some money in the bank – not much – but some. On paper, there’s nothing wrong, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have this…I can’t say it, because if I say it out loud or if I write it down, it seems that much more real.
Outside of the paper, outside the lines of the drawing are two people who are still figuring their shit out. Having a cat is a big deal to me. I can’t keep a succulent alive. Sometimes I dream about selling drawings on the Venice Boardwalk. Sometimes I think about giving up my day job and learning to become a pastry chef; I could dream in butter all day long. The late nights, too many glasses of wine, the dishes that haven’t been put away, the anxiety of my daily life – sometimes I look around and want it to stay exactly like this forever.
It happens quickly. I am escorted from one room to another. I am in the room and then I am not: I am lying on a make-shift bed in another room where they offer me cookies and ginger ale. I say yes to both. I lay there, one hand on my stomach, one hand ushering tiny bites of a chocolate chip cookie into my mouth. The crumbs spill onto my lap. I don’t brush them away. I lie back and close my eyes, letting the pain and the sedative wash over me.
The only thing Marcus and I say to each other after is “I love you.” It’s the only thing we know how to say right now.
We drive home in silence, no radio, just the hum of the engine and the buzz of the breeze whipping past the car. It doesn’t feel real: I don’t feel real. I feel like a lump of a human, a shell that’s been cracked open, and yet there’s a part of me that feels nothing at all. Marcus, sensing me slipping, grabs my hand. I squeeze it back, harder than I should and I don’t let go. I don’t let go for a very long time.