“Why do you have the lights off, Skinny? Everything okay?” Marty was backlit in the kitchen doorway, lurking in his bathrobe. Not lurking, making tea, I reminded myself.
“Shush! She’s outside again.” I half whispered this and he sighed. A heavy one but not his heaviest. A 6.3 on the Richter Scale. Impressive for a little guy.
“What is it?” I wasn’t asking because I wanted to know, and his “fine” told me he knew that.
Why was she here? It was late. We hadn’t gone anywhere for days, and the weather was off. Standard Vancouver. Not that cold, but so windy with the rain. And we were in what Marty liked to call “shitty space.” He had a bunch of expressions like that that he said with special emphasis. Really precious.
“I feel like taking a nap. Is that okay?” Baby was so stressed. Waiting isn’t easy for anyone and he was not someone to ask for things. Really it was my fault. I knew if I said no to anything then he would feel I was saying no to everything, but you can see where that would prove problematic in some ways. Like, suppose I didn’t want to wear a dress, or have a chicken salad sandwich?
“I am sure that would be fine.” Now I was the one being weirdly formal. His stress was partly a question of when we were going to have sex again. If—not if—but it might be a while, it might take a fight. I felt tired most of the time. And I couldn’t help but feel like he was testing me. The truth is I was pretty low. For months I had been saying everything would be fine, but—you know. He was screwing around on me but convinced I didn’t know. I tried to think of the last time I believed him when he said where he’d been. But it was different after I started reading his chat logs and IMs. When it was a suspicion, I felt insecure, but somehow I didn’t mind so much as when I knew. Maybe it was seeing their faces, reading their profiles and seeing which events they attended, the schools they went to, which causes they supported.
I thought about confronting him, but what would that do? I had no illusions. He lied about hating my new shorter haircut, but he did. He’d let drop, as if it were nothing, that it made me look androgynous. It was supposed to sound curious and interested, even supportive. The fucker. My body had been falling apart for a while—it’s a thing that happens when you stop drinking and smoking and being young. And I still liked—something about being with him. Not just the security, because there wasn’t so much of that. Being necessary, even if not wanted? The feeling of wanting him, needing him in a bodily way, even if I didn’t want sex?
The last time we’d left the house it had been for shopping. He’d woken me up earlier than usual, around nine-thirty, insisting I drink my coffee and eat some peanut butter toast with him. I was near catatonic but didn’t put up a fight. Turns out he wanted to have “an excursion. Just Eaton’s—nothing special.”
I didn’t buy anything, just took my time drinking in his body while he tried on new things. Stretchy jeans, mainly. Stuff that showed off his tight ass and long legs. One of his favourite activities, but not only his. I do like to look at him, but it still sometimes strikes me as perverse to so enjoy being with a man that vain. I was almost at the point of making some ironic faux ’phobe comment to let off some steam when I overheard two North Van mums muttering nastily about the pair of fruits in the little boys’ section. Then I got all melancholy wondering if his new schoolgirl friends liked to call him faggot the way I did.
“Hey babe. What’s up?” he asked, more attuned to what I was feeling than I expected, but I brushed him off anyway. What could he do about it?
I got out of trying things ’cause, so pregnant now, and well … I—we—hadn’t even known that was possible. A forty-three-year-old tall girl, and I now I was gonna be the mommy. Ha.
We had been hiding from my parents—my mother really—for over a month now. It had been so long since I’d seen her behind the wheel that I didn’t even know she still had her license. Bad enough when she was being brought by my dad, but I was really freaked out by her seemingly newfound ability to drive herself over the bridge and find her way to our doorstep.
If they’d lived close, Marty’s folks might have been just as bad, but Judy and Hiram were conveniently planted in Montreal, half a continent away. We’d see when the baby came.
It used to be that I thought my mother’s inability to leave the house was a sign of senility. But it turns out this was much worse. Now I couldn’t help but feel our own thoughts were getting more distorted from the hiding.
Like, about an hour ago, Marty was taking a shower, and I just knew he wanted me to join him, even though he didn’t say anything. I was reading, and I could hear him running the tap, waiting for the hot to start before he flipped the knob so that the water would be directed up to the showerhead. I was sitting on the couch, reading—well, not reading, glancing at—an old issue of EVAH, one of my mom’s activist zines and wondering how she ever got into that shit. Then he came out and crouched down by me, didn’t say a thing. I could hear the taps still running.
“You running a bath?” I asked.
“Oh, no no,” he mumbled.
I looked up him, then. “Is everything alright?”
He swayed, the slightest rock forward and back. Didn’t say anything, just looked at me, a bit of distance in his eyes, and a smirk edging his lips. The look was a little cruel, I thought. It wasn’t fair that he was so pretty.
Was that supposed to be seductive? I almost said this out loud.
He could tell. His face made a grimace, shamed, but also baffled. I swear he didn’t know why he was still with me, except—he hadn’t planned on being a father either.
Is it on the down low if everybody knows? I just felt like one of those sisters in a Shirley Jackson novel, but you know our parents weren’t dead and I was the eldest so it didn’t really hold together.
The house was old before its time. No ancestral haunt—it was just a run down, co-op unit, right off the Drive, one that had seen much better times. Still, Marty sweet talked me—until I had agreed with him— that at the end of the day, we could summon the narcissism, the big production of us in it. Never mind that when he wasn’t holding my hand, I could only see it as hubris, the sad shape we were in. Things were falling down a lot, but we could find or borrow the money, put in the work, fix her up. That was what he said. And I knew he had done that with his last girlfriend, the one he almost married but that just on the eve of the reno completion, she’d dumped him and said she wasn’t into Jewish boys because they were too needy.
I don’t know if he was really needy, but it’s like I said to my therapist: right after we got pregnant, he wouldn’t let me out of his sight any more than he had too. Didn’t want me working, didn’t want me doing the dishes. But man, while he was off fucking his bitches, who else would?
My mother came round and the usual thing was as soon as we could hear her coming up the steps we turned off the lights and pretended not to be there. I knew I shouldn’t lie to her like that but she’d been acting like the worst bloodhound, sniffing around for trouble. We’d had lots and I didn’t need the headache of her finding it out. That was what I was thinking while he boiled the water for his tea. If she found out about the girls he was screwing we’d be finished. I’d lay good odds she’d hit him, maybe hard enough to knock him down. Like me, my mother isn’t exactly petit and she has serious arms. After her cancer, training for the dragonboat races became almost an obsession. The breast cancer fundraising was one of her rare concessions to liberal feminism and “the charity-industrial complex.” My mother “simply abhors” ideological inconsistencies but that doesn’t mean she is immune to them.
Marty was still standing there, his bathrobe half open, holding the steaming tea close to his lips but not sipping it yet. How to get him on board without letting him know I knew? Hell, maybe he already did, the way he left his cell lying around.
My mother had a criminal record—minor political stuff like spiking trees—but it had already been established that the States wouldn’t let her in.
“Marty, she’s driving me crazy—it’s like she thinks the baby is hers and it’s still in the belly. My belly. I think we should go to the States after it’s born. She can’t follow us then.” I was whispering, but I couldn’t help but imagine her somehow able to hear me through the door.
Marty nodded, but he wasn’t really there. Of course, I knew he would never leave town with me. I followed the line of his gaze to where his half-open laptop was perched on a pile of books.
It is disappointing when you figure out your guy is like a special guest in your life, but on his way out. I started feeling teary, so I went to the window, pulled back the drapes slightly. Outside it was darker than I expected. I could hear Marty settle into the couch behind me with his laptop. My mother was already making her way down the steps, shaking her head slightly and muttering to herself about the dump we had moved into, I’m sure. How it wasn’t safe for a baby was one of her favourite themes. She wasn’t wrong.
Born in Halifax, Trish Salah is the author of the poetry books, Wanting in Arabic and Lyric Sexology, Vol. 1. An assistant professor of Gender Studies at Queen’s University (Kingston, Ontario), Salah is currently working on a book of short fiction and a collection of essays on trans literature.