by Philadelphia Tuesday
She steps outside before the sun rises, wet hair sticking to her neck and her face; she's defying her mother's admonition to stay inside until she's dry if she doesn't want to catch pneumonia. It's cold, and it's silent. She stands there for a long time, her wet hands under her shirt, cradling her belly, trying to discern signs of life that aren't her own.
By the time she returns to the bedroom, the sun is up. It's Sunday, his day of rest, so Jonathan is only now beginning to stir. He smiles at the sight of her in one of his old flannel shirts, gestures for her to join him in bed. She returns the smile but doesn't obey.
She prepares herself for the task at hand, dressing in her own clothes, and following her mother's advice: clean underwear, just in case. One step back, two steps forward for Mrs. Clark's legacy.
She combs out her hair, buttons her blouse, and kisses her husband goodbye.
She's had a lot of practice with the art of duplicity, but she's never taken it this far before, and she'll be relieved when this is all over.
She spent weeks on her cover story, being careful to put one together that wouldn't sound suspicious after the fact, being careful not to come up with a reason to leave that involved him; she didn't want him to blame himself for what would happen next. The story also couldn't involve something Jonathan could just as well have done himself, because she knew he would forever agonize over that tiny detail. Nor could it involve meeting with anyone else who might be contacted afterward and, by expressing his or her surprise, inadvertently reveal that her story had been untrue.
So she had gone the extra mile, scheduling a meeting in the city to pitch the idea of stocking the Kents' organic produce in a small chain of grocery stores; she knew he wouldn't want to accompany her, he hated that sort of thing. Then she called back to explain some manufactured conflict, with an apologetic proposal to re-schedule for Sunday. Later, she smiled at Jonathan and said, "Nobody takes Sunday off in Metropolis anymore."
As farm roads fade into the freeway, she considers turning back, fixing her boys pancakes, forgetting this whole ridiculous idea.
She wishes she could simply tell him how she feels. She wishes she didn't have to do this. If she had been honest from the beginning, this wouldn't have to happen. She could have told him that this would be the first nail of many in her coffin, a chain around her neck, binding her to him and the farm and this life for the rest of her remaining years.
When she received the news, she hadn't felt elated, not even for a second. She'd felt confined, trapped, paranoid, afraid. She'd been careful to maintain an appearance of calmness, careful not to let on that anything was different. That night, while she made dinner, while they made love, while he slept, her mind never stopped racing: should she tell him? Should she keep it to herself, take care of it, let him never be the wiser?
Somewhere around 3am, her eyes wide open, the terrible thought whispered itself into her ear, wrapped itself around her throat: there's another way, a better way, one that lets you control your own destiny... and that's finally what you want, isn't it?
She nearly laughed out loud at the audacity of her own suggestion, and rejected it immediately. But later, as dread began to seize her stomach and send a chill through her veins every time she faced him, the nagging whisper presented an easier way out, and she hated herself for the surge of relief she felt every time the words repeated in her head like a schoolyard chant. Soon the idea threatened to pour out of her mouth every time she spoke.
And she wishes she could have just told him the truth from the start, told him she didn't want this, but the look on his face when he found out was exactly the reaction she expected from him. He'd be overjoyed, and he would never understand why she wasn't. So she pretended for as long as she could, but the whisper became a song she couldn't escape, the song became a shout, the shout became a scream.
As she approaches the Metropolis city limit sign, she closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. She tries to remember how it goes: thy will be done, forgive us our trespasses... something. Jonathan would know, but he isn't here, and maybe it doesn't matter anyway.
The first thought to enter her head when her eyes open isn't one accompanied by distinct words; it's just a vague feeling of disappointment.
Dr. Bryce squeezes her hand in a manner intended to be comforting, and already she can tell this is all wrong.
"What happened?" she asks, her voice hoarse and cracking.
"You were in an accident."
She pretends not to remember.
"The... the baby?"
"The baby's fine," Dr. Bryce assures her.
She can't help it; for once she can't control her expression. The doctor mistakes it for relief, and smiles indulgently as her aching shoulders begin to shake.
Later, after Jonathan, Clark, and various other visitors have departed, after Dr. Bryce has gone home for the evening, after the nurses have left her alone, she stares at the ceiling with dry eyes, her fingers locked across the widest part of her swollen belly, feeling out any signs of life.
But there's nothing but silence and stillness, and in the disturbed peace a new plan strings itself together inside her head; it whispers in her ear, repeats in her head like the chorus to a pop song with unmemorable lyrics. This one is simpler than the last. All she'll need is some privacy and some courage. Yes, this is what she should have done in the first place, but she wasn't ready to accept it then. She's ready for it now.
Maybe tomorrow. She won't be able to wait any longer.
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