By Mimi Drop
The automatic garage door screeched to a stop. A car idled inside. David pounded on the closed door. “Mom,” he tried to yell, “please,” but no sound left his mouth. He tried again, and a strangled moan pulled him to consciousness as his heart attempted to thump out of his chest. He opened his eyes. Swallowed. In the bedroom’s moonless black, the clock glowed, 3:17. Dream paralyzed.
The curve of Elaine’s hip was barely visible. Dark hair ruffled the pillow. The scent of mother’s milk, vaguely sweet, lingered on her maternity nightgown. If he could move he’d touch her face, wake her out of a dead sleep. He knew what she’d say, “My God, do you know what time it is?” The imagined rasp of her exhausted voice worked a counter curse. He sat up.
He had a breakfast meeting at 8:00. Showering and dressing took a half hour; the train ate forty-five minutes. Three and a half hours left to live through, to fixate. “Remove your mind from the experience,” Dr. Freedman suggested. He grabbed Elaine’s oversized cardigan and avoided the creaky floorboard as he stepped into the nursery.
A tiny sigh, lips puckering in and out. A breast dream. Adjusted to the dim light, he could make out the matchstick fingers curled into fists. “Mommy’s little fighter,” Elaine would say.
They’d argued last year when the test stick turned pink. “You’ll see the world through different eyes,” she’d said. But he was still looking through the same eyes, the ones that saw only the police lights spinning. He wanted to hide away in Elaine’s arms, always busy holding this someone else.
“Remove your mind from the experience.” Okay, all right, he’d go over his PowerPoint and make sure it was “visionary.” A creative, that’s what they called him, as if the adjective had birthed a noun. In college, he’d aspired to be a novelist. “Use your experiences,” the professor said. He typed up notes about his mother’s suicide, his erased childhood. It felt like betrayal. But for him, there was no other story, only the garage, the bodies, the shut-up house.
Okay, go downstairs; brew coffee; face the day. He flinched as tiny fingers of freezing air blew through the window. It had been windy that night, too. He’d slept over at Jimmy’s. The police couldn’t find him, not until he walked home in the morning, saw the cars, the flashing lights. “Whoa kid, you can’t go in there.”
A year ago, he had himself under control. The baby was a risk he didn’t want to take, shouldn’t have taken.
After choosing the most neutral coffee pod, Morning Blend, he snapped it in. He’d gotten used to coffee because of Elaine, the earthy scent of her in the morning, no longer associating it with the lingering smell of Styrofoam cups littering the desks of the police station where he’d been told about his father, his sisters, his mother. They gave him a Twix bar and he didn’t cry. He didn’t believe them.
He left his coffee on the counter. In the shower, David scrubbed from bottom to top: toes, legs, chest, neck, underarms, hair. The shampoo smelled like lemons and he lathered up twice. He dressed. The black sweater looked all right with the suit pants, narrow at the ankle like a pair of jeans.
His mother turned the key in the ignition, closed the garage door. Did she know about the air shaft? Did she mean to kill them all? Did she forget he wasn’t home, want him to survive? Well, he hadn’t, not really.
Back in the kitchen, he paced. Elaine would be up soon, making her coffee, toasting an English muffin. “Are you okay?” she’d ask.
“Where’s the baby? Is she alive?” he’d answer.
“Do you know how dumb that sounds? She’s sleeping. And call her by her name, Olivia.” That’s what she’d say. She was losing patience. He had to try harder.
Okay, all right, time to check his email. A text popped up, a picture of the baby she’d sent him the day before. Olivia, Olivia, Olivia.
“You’re going to be okay,” she’d say.
He ran up the stairs and found her in the baby’s room, cooing. “Up and dressed already?” She lifted the squirming bundle. “I’m going to hop in the shower.” She stretched out her arms to hand him his daughter.
With the baby against his chest, he examined her tiny lips breathing softly. Two people to love were far too many. He’d told her so.