He brought her flowers once every week. Velvety lilacs, pink carnations, red roses, and even lilies wrapped up beautifully in sturdy cellophane, held together by satiny purple ribbons. She accepted them with an unfaltering smile—a smile that crinkled the corners of her eyes and lit up her tiny face—before carefully immersing the stems in a water-filled Japanese vase which adorned a shelf in their living room. She loved them better when they peered at her from boughs, swaying to the rhythms of a spring breeze. A flower plucked from a tree or a vine or a bush was a dead flower in her eyes. And yet she knew the value of her smile and her approval, however insincere, in his eyes.
She often wondered how he never tired of the routine or how he never forgot, no matter how busy a week he may have had. The already-dead flowers withered away, obeying laws of nature, but then there were always new ones awaiting their turn with the Japanese vase.
At the end of long workdays, he would pull up outside his own gates, hesitant to take a step inside his own home, mulling over the drudgery of day-to-day life and the futility of trying to elicit any emotion from an ice-sculpture. But in the next very moment he would be congratulating himself on having what he had—the job which paid for the ritzy apartment, their worth accumulating in bank accounts, and she. She was his. Maybe they could start a family. The love of her own flesh and blood would finally smooth away those harsh lines on her face.
It was that easy, he convinced himself, preferring not to think other thoughts.
On some days, as he stepped into their room, she’d be cocooned in blankets, the air-conditioner whirring noncommittally in the background. He would get into his pajamas and snuggle in with her. He had tried to wake her on numerous occasions, trailing his cold hand inside her flimsy nightgown across the warm skin of her belly to the elastic waistband of her knickers. But she would re-adjust her position and continue to sleep or pretend to. He would give up and turn to the other side, pretending to believe she was.
On other nights, she would honor his raw hunger by putting aside her book and slipping a bookmark between the pages, placing it beside the dimmed lampshade and turning toward him to give him one of her vacant smiles which chilled him to his bones. And he would put everything into his lovemaking that he couldn’t put into words. His desire for her even after so many years, his fear of hurting her, his fear of losing her. But then this same fear would morph into a righteous rage and this rage, in turn, would cause him to be rough.
She bore it all. His rage, his love, his terror of losing her, and his desperation of finding his way back to her.
Tonight, one of those nights which ratcheted up his anxiety, he punished her in the only way he knew to punish her because all the other ways he used had been ineffective. He made tender love to the woman whom he once knew as a beautiful, intelligent, happy, young girl. He made her feel the pleasure and the warmth that she had learned to resist a long time ago—the love of the young boy who fought with her family with every last shred of his dignity for a lifetime of togetherness, the love of the young boy which had had ample opportunity of dying a timely death but hadn’t.
And when the last reluctant moan of pleasure escaped her lips and both were drenched in their sweat, despite the steady drone of the air conditioning, sated, an almost inaudible sob escaped from her lips.
He secretly rejoiced at the sound, believing that at last he had disrobed her heart, removed all the fabrications she had begotten to stall his intrusion into her private inner life, the one she guarded with a fanatical zeal.
But then she kept on sobbing.
“Did I…hurt you?” he asked tentatively, knowing all too well he couldn’t have.
She didn’t answer, burying her face deeper into the pillow.
“What is wrong? Tell me…”
Her sobs settled into a steady rhythm after a few seconds, and then her grief poured out in silent tears.
“I am pregnant,” she whispered at last.
He was quiet for a while, unable to find the right words to phrase a coherent response, feeling too full with the implication of this life-changing declaration—too full of anticipation, elation, and terror simultaneously.
But then it hit him with the force of a peal of thunder slashing through the solid, soundless surface of the night sky.
The bed trembled with the force of her sobs once again.
He was too cowardly to ask the question, already wishing he didn’t have to hear the answer.
But she said it anyway.
“It’s not yours.” She managed to get the words out somehow.
Even though he knew in his heart that it was impossible, he thought he could hear the faint withering of the flowers in the still darkness.