She closed her eyes and there he was again. The way he smiled at her, flesh toned lips parting wide to reveal pure white teeth all perfectly aligned. His hazel brown eyes kept her gaze, even as his soft brown hair fell gently on his face. She wanted so desperately to touch him; feel the warmth he so generously exuded. She could feel her own smile start to stretch across her face, but she was careful not to open her eyes; his presence was so clear now as he came closer to her. It was almost as if he were gliding. She felt his breath on the side of her cheek as he leaned in, careful not to touch her as he opened his lips to slip a secret into her ear. The number “eighteen” escaped him and put a knot in her stomach. She briefly turned her head in shame, when suddenly he began to ascend away from her. A sharp pang of desperation grew inside of her as she helplessly reached out to pull him back down. She sensed the horror on her face as his whole being began to fade; darkness filled the world behind her eyelids as she was left with nothing but the hope of seeing his angelic smile once again.
She opened her eyes at the sound of her name.
“Did you hear anything I just said?”
Her husband looked over at her from across the kitchen table where he was reading the newspaper.
“I’m sorry dear, do you think you could repeat that one more time?” She cooed softly as she knew that this tone always made Mark feel guilty for getting frustrated with her. Mark silently rolled his eyes before he repeated himself.
“I asked if you would mind going to the dry cleaner’s later today to pick up my suit?”
She stared at him blankly, processing the trivial and mundane question he had just asked.
“Of all days…” she muttered under her breath.
“If you can’t do it then you can just say so,” his tone sounding strained and annoyed. “Mr. Hall has been all over my ass at work lately and I need to get this project done by this evening. So forgive me if I ask my loving wife to do one god damn thing for me.” His anger filled his lungs and caused his cheeks to turn red.
Eve kept her eyes down at her untouched bowl of cereal so that Mark wouldn’t see the tears welling up in her eyes.
“Consider it done, my love.”
Eve pushed her chair back and silently dismissed herself from breakfast. As she walked away from the man sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper, she felt every muscle in her body tighten.
Going to the dry cleaner’s was always an unpleasant experience for Eve. The small, one-room establishment smelled of bleach and sweat, a combination she never quite understood. The fluorescent lighting made her dizzy and she was always asked to wait one moment while they located the clean items; however, this process always lasted at least thirty minutes, as if they waited to do any dry cleaning until she walked in to retrieve her items. Eve had been waiting already fifteen minutes in one of the stiff chairs lined up against the wall opposite the front door. There she began to flip through a magazine to pass the time. A minute later, she heard the front door open, accompanied by the high-pitched ring of a bell. She looked up and saw a petite blonde woman enter, holding the hand of a little girl with adorable blonde pig-tails. The young child clung to her mother’s very round and pregnant body. Eve couldn’t help but stare. The woman gave her a warm smile and Eve felt her cheeks get hot at the realization of being caught mid-stare.
“Are you excited?” Eve knew that was a dumb question but she felt she needed to fill the uncomfortable silence and make up for her rudeness.
“Oh yes, I’m so excited! These two have become my whole world.” The dainty new mom walked up to the counter with her mini-me, and Eve closed her eyes; she remembered the way she felt when she was expecting her whole world to join her and Mark.
Eve looked down to try and see her feet over the mound that was growing out of her, a fun little game she played with herself while waiting for her obstetrician, Dr. Bachman, to welcome her into his office. As time ticked by, Eve grabbed a magazine and opened it on her belly, which had become the perfect mini table upon which to rest such an object. It had taken Eve and Mark almost two years to get pregnant, and now she was finally on her way to having the family of her dreams. In just a month and a half, all of Eve’s dreams would come true, and life would finally begin.
“Mrs. Black? Dr. Bachman is ready to see you now.”
Eve looked up startled, “Great!” She waddled behind the nurse, Mark in tow, and followed to the office she had grown to love over the past eight months. As she plopped herself onto the reclining chair she took a deep breath and inhaled the smell of air fresheners and cleaning supplies, a smell she thought all hospitals ought to have.
“Hello, Mrs. Black. How have you been since we last spoke?” Dr. Bachman said it with a joking smile as she knew he was being sarcastic due to her constant calls and unnecessary visits anytime she felt a minor change. In fact, she had just called him the other night, in panic mode, before realizing all she had was gas.
“The little one and I are doing great!” She beamed. “I know I’ve been saying this whole time that we don’t want to know the sex, but Mark and I just can’t wait any longer!”
Dr. Bachman let out a laugh,“ Well all right, I suppose I can tell you, if that’s what you want.”
“Oh wait!” I don’t know, don’t tell me!” Eve let out a nervous laugh. “Oh all right, tell me, tell me!”
Dr. Bachman paused for a minute to let her make up her mind in fear of what she might do if he told her right before she changed her mind. Eve looked at him impatiently, waiting for him to change her life.
“Mr. and Mrs. Black, you will be happy to learn that you are going to have a son.”
At that moment, everything became clear to Eve. She saw his room painted a calming powder blue, like the lake her father would take her fishing to on Sundays. She saw toy trucks and action figures strewn across the floor, baseball trophies and medals stacked on the shelves, photos of the three of them hanging on the walls grinning and embracing each other, never to let go.
“Mrs. Black? Msr. Black?” Eve opened her eyes; she felt her face flush as she realized that the man was waving around Mark’s clothing to grab her attention.
“Sorry, I must have dozed off for a minute!”
Eve grabbed the black hanging bag and dragged it quickly out of the store; she didn’t want anyone to see how pale her face had become.
Mark sat at his desk, impatiently staring at the clock and hoping it would magically say 5:00 p.m. As he tapped his fingers and mindlessly stared at his work computer screen, all he could think about was being set free of his hellish day and head to O’Leary’s Pub. Mark knew that Eve would be expecting him around 5:45, but he couldn’t stand the idea of being in the same room with her, especially not today.
Mark could almost taste the rich bourbon sliding down his throat. He craved the burn and immediate warmth that filled his body as the liquor traveled through his body. He didn’t always think this frequently about drinking or the escape it provided, but recently he had needed a quick break, a once a week trip to the pub to sit in solace without being forced to watch Eve as she closed her eyes and drifted away. He didn’t care to notice when once a week turned into once a day. Mark used to wonder where Eve went behind closed lids. She used to slip from reality only once in a while in between the moments of their life together. It seemed to Mark that she too didn’t notice when once in a while turned into once a day.
Mark sat on the sticky barstool in O’Leary’s, already one drink in, mouth watering in anticipation of the next. He didn’t know how many he’d have before heading home. All he could think was that he deserved his own escape too. After his third drink, Mark decided to close his eyes and see if he could escape to where Eve was always going. To his frustration, all he could see was darkness. The blackness that consumed Mark made him angry and helpless. He felt tears welling up behind, threatening to sneak between his lids and expose him and his emotions. After holding in the tears and anger, a wave of calm overcame him as he accepted the darkness. Mark opened his eyes and the world was slightly tilted. Time to go home.
When Eve arrived home she decided to put her mind at ease using cooking as her therapy. Eve prepared Mark’s favorite dinner—her famous meatloaf and potatoes. As she rummaged through the cabinet to look for some spices to season the meal, she noticed a box of cake mix and retrieved it form the shelf. The cake mix made her smile as she decided to add a dessert to the evening’s menu. She set the dinner table with the good china given to them by her Great Aunt Macy on their wedding day. When Eve had finished preparing the food and setting the table, she pulled the cake from the oven, iced it, and left it to cool in the kitchen. Then Eve took her designated spot in the dining room—the seat she had sat in for of the last twenty years since they’d moved there. Minutes started to pass the hour of six—the time that Mark would normally get home. She closed her eyes yet again…
“Mark, what should we name him?” Eve hoisted her rotund body onto Mark’s lap, since he always insisted she wasn’t too heavy for him, and she would never be fat.
“Well sweetheart, we can name him whatever you like.” Mark sounded as if he were gasping for air from underneath the boulder that was his wife. He refused to admit that her ever-expanding belly and weight was too much for him to hold, in fear of both the copious amounts of estrogen currently pumping through her body, as well as his desire to remain in their bed at night.
“Nonsense! This has to be a group effort. He is, after all, 50% yours.” Eve realized she would need to start the list due to Mark’s focus on his breathing.
“What about George?” Eve listened for a well-thought reply but simply received a disapproving grunt.
“Hmm, well how about Andrew?” Another grunt came from behind, so Eve continued to list and list and list, until the name finally came to her.
“His name is David.” Eve said matter-of-factly.
“Don’t you think that’s a bit biblical?” Mark sounded puzzled, as they were never a particularly religious couple.
“Perhaps, but I think I remember someone telling me that it means ‘beloved’ and that’s exactly what he will be.” Eve already loved him with every fiber in her being and knew that it would be eternal.
Three hours had passed when Eve heard Mark at the front door, keys jingling; a clear struggle to get the right key into the lock and successfully open the door. He was drunk. Eve became furious; she wanted to run to the door and open it herself just so she could slap him hard across his despicable face. She chose to remain calm at the dinner table and wait for Mark’s battle with the door to come to an end. When he finally stumbled through the door, Eve could immediately smell the stench of whiskey come right in with him.
“Mark would you like some dinner?” Eve tried not to let out the tears as she yelled to him from the dining room.
“Aw, not now honey. I just got home and the game is on. Can’t I just watch my game?” Eve felt her heart explode. She closed her eyes as the tears began to fall, each drop burning her cheeks and leaving a stained trail behind.
“Where’s the doctor?? Why won’t anybody tell me what’s going on?? Can I please get some FUCKING answers already??” Eve was hooked up to an IV and in a hospital, with one month before she was due.
“I’ll try to find Dr. Bachman, honey. Try to relax, everything’s going to be okay, I promise.” Mark left the room. Eve felt another immense surge of pain in her belly and let out a blood-curdling scream. At that moment three nurses ran into the room and released more painkillers through the IV into Eve’s bloodstream. The meds kicked in and everything began to fade as Eve whispered, “David.”
“Is she going to be okay??” Mark was filled with panic as the nurse pulled him out of Eve’s room.
“Please listen carefully, Mark. There have been some complications with Eve’s pregnancy, and she needs to be operated on immediately. If we try to save the baby there’s an 80% chance Eve won’t survive.” The nurse’s calm demeanor angered and confused Mark.
“What if you just focus on her?”
“That chance goes down to 50%.”
Mark’s entire body froze, his lungs tightened, and the world around him disappeared. He pictured himself coming home from work, leaving his keys in the antique dish by the door, walking down the hall toward the pungent scent of vanilla extract; Eve was always trying out new baking recipes so Mark would always have something extra sweet to come home to. He could hear her humming to herself. She loved Frank Sinatra. It was always, “Love & Marriage” since the tune was easy and always seemed to get stuck in her head.
“Mr. Black, I need to know what you’d like me to do.”
Mark looked to the nurse with pleading eyes. He didn’t know what the right answer was. All he could think of was vanilla extract and Frank Sinatra.
When Eve opened her eyes everything was fuzzy. The bright white lighting stung as she began to make out a face hovering over her. It was Mark’s. Eve felt an immediate wave of relief.
“God, I’m so happy to see you! How long was I out for?”
Eve waited for a response, but Mark said nothing.
“It’s okay baby, I feel better now. You don’t have to worry.”
Eve felt something wet land on her cheek, and she realized Mark was crying.
“What’s wrong? How’s David?” Eve pushed Mark away with what strength she had and looked down at herself. Her bump was half the size she remembered.
“Where’s David?” Eve screamed at Mark as she looked to him for an answer, but he didn’t say a single word. Nothing but tears. It was at that moment that Eve’s life ended, before it had even begun.
Mark saw Eve close her eyes and felt a pang of jealousy for her convenient escape.
“All right, all right” Mark hiccupped, “let’s eat some food.”
The couple sat at their dining table and ate in a deafening silence. Mark shoveled his food in voraciously and began to push back in his seat once he had finished.
“Wait!” Eve’s exclamation startled Mark into falling back into his seat.
Eve pushed back her chair, hit the lights to the dining room and then walked into the kitchen where her sweet surprise was waiting.
“What the hell, I can’t see.”
Mark felt a little dizzy from the sudden change in lighting.
“I have a surprise, I decided to make it while I was waiting for you to come home.” Eve struck a match and watched the tiny flame glow, she delicately placed it over each wick; one by one they lit up, some of the colorful wax began to drip down into the bed of frosting, the sweetness contaminated by the tasteless wax. She looked at her glowing masterpiece, picked it up, and carried it back out to the dining room.
Eve placed the dessert down on the table and closed her eyes, there he was again, smile aglow. She began to softly hum the tune of, ‘Happy Birthday.’ The simple and repetitive melody calmed her, but as she came to the end, the emptiness inside her grew.
“What the fuck is this?” Mark cut off Eve’s haunting rendition of the popular song just before the final verse. She opened her eyes.
Eve stared at him. The light emanating from the many candles shone in her eyes, her pupils dilating into black holes.
“Do you even remember what today is?” Eve whispered.
“Of course I remember what day it is! You don’t think I know? How could I ever forget with you constantly closing your god damn eyes and going god knows where?”
“Today’s the day you stole my child from me.”
“HE WAS MY SON, TOO.” Mark threw the bottle of whiskey he had been cradling throughout the silent meal; its burnt amber contents staining the white wall it collided with, as the shattered glass dispersed between the fibers of their shag rug.
“You were going to die. What was I supposed to do? I couldn’t lose both of you, but I did anyways. Maybe if you kept your eyes open you’d see that you still have a husband, for Christ’s sake.”
Eve stared at him for a while. The bags under his eyes were a deathly shade of purple-blue and the scruff on his face hadn’t been groomed for days. She felt sick looking at him.
“Why are we still even married? You can’t even stand to look at me anymore without closing your eyes and I can’t even look at you without wanting to get a drink.”
Eve looked at Mark and held his gaze; it startled him as he hadn’t looked into her eyes in what felt like years.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t—you don’t know?” Mark laughed to himself, “well that’s just fucking terrific. I shouldn’t have picked you…I Should Not Have Picked You.” Mark pointed repeatedly at Eve on each word for emphasis and then trailed off as he headed to the TV room to watch the game. He sat down on the sofa and left Eve frozen in pain.
After what felt like eternity, Eve walked away and left Mark in his drunken state. As she passed by the cake she left the candles burning; melting into its foundation. She walked through hallways lined with framed pictures: Mark and Eve lounging in the world’s largest hammock in Canada, their trip to the Great Wall of China, relatives’ birthdays and their niece’s wedding last fall, all surrounding her as she headed to the bedroom. Eve crawled onto her bed and curled up into the fetal position. She closed her eyes. There he was again, her handsome young man. This time Eve approached him, she wanted to touch him so badly, to caress his beautiful face. As she moved closer to him she put her lips up to his ear and whispered,
“Happy 18th birthday, my beloved.”
Marisa Haber is a junior at the University of Maryland, College Park, studying broadcast journalism and creative writing. Her favorite pastimes include eating pizza and watching cartoons.