Karen blinks once. Twice.
The two red lines don’t disappear, or somehow magically morph into one red line, like they’re supposed to.
She stares at it in shock, her eyes falling slightly out of focus.
It had all started about a month beforehand. Little things… things that she easily overlooked as stress or a weird cycle or even indigestion. Her breasts hurt… they felt heavier, but they sometimes did that depending on what time of the month it was. She felt sick after eating sometimes, but she’d written it off as some sort of stomach bug. But it wasn’t until she realized that she was two weeks late and aching all over before she decided to “ease her mind” and take a damned pregnancy test.
Because of course she wasn’t pregnant, she’d thought. How could she be? “Protection” was Frank’s middle name. And she wasn’t some airhead who’d let him forget. She had a memory of steel. She never missed a pill.
Frank didn’t either.
“Did you take your pill today?” he’d ask and she’d laugh and roll her eyes because of course, I’m not an idiot.
And yet – there it is. Those two, tiny pink lines, standing out very clearly against the white background in the little view window.
She has two entirely different minds about this. Before, she hadn’t even given any thought to having a baby. Maybe when she was younger – dreamier – but when her life picked up in the city, she barely had time to spare a thought towards any of that. Her compass never really pointed in one direction. Not even when Frank, quite literally, bulldozed his way into her life.
But now the concept of “future” and “family” glares back at her from the tiny piece of plastic she just peed on, and she can’t help but bury her head in her hands.
Because the other mind she has about the scenario is Frank.
She imagines every single possibility for his reaction and none of them are good.
She imagines him worried that having a new baby will be like replacing his old kids, and erasing them somehow.
She imagines him panicking that he won’t be any good as a parent now. He’s done too much, seen too much…
She imagines him thinking that having a new baby means eventually losing a new baby, because he won’t be able to shake the idea from his mind that something will happen like before and he won’t be able to stop it.
And then… and then she imagines him leaving her. The thought makes her fling the pregnancy test across the room and stand up, struggling to keep her balance through the sudden wave of nausea she gets, the way her vision blurs.
After she empties the contents of her stomach in the toilet (which doesn’t make her feel better, but makes her feel like she’s suffering from the worst kind of sea-sickness with an empty stomach), she sits down and strategizes.
There has to be a way to do this without ruining everything, she thinks.
She opens a blank document on her computer with the intention of listing out ideas, but it just reminds her too much of work and deadlines and ends with her fingers curled in her hair and her forehead resting against the cool wood of her desk. So instead she grabs a notebook and jots down some options there, crossing several out before circling one word: spaghetti.
So, she heads to the grocery store down the block. When Rajish asks her if she feels alright, because she’s looking a little clammy, she just nods and smiles and helps him bag up all the cans of crushed tomatoes and boxes of pasta. She snatches a couple more tests as well, just in case.
Oddly, spaghetti is Frank’s favorite. Between massive mouthfuls of it the first time she made it for him, he muttered something about how it reminded him of his Grandma’s. Tonight, she thinks, is definitely a spaghetti night.
As she boils the noodles, she considers whether or not she should feel bad for buttering him up like this, but she needs some leverage. She needs him to be happy, to be relaxed, to be in a state of mind where she can bring it up and he won’t blow up.
She browns the sausage and the peppers for the sauce, trying desperately to think of a way to phrase it.
So… don’t freak out… I’m pregnant.
So it turns out that I’m pregnant…
I’m having a baby.
We’re having a baby.
She slices her finger while trying to dice garlic and sticks it in her mouth to stop the bleeding, like she’s done since she was a toddler, but suddenly the iron-bitter taste of blood overpowers her and leads her to sprinting to the bathroom and vomiting again. She hopes desperately as she brushes her teeth for the third time that day that she can keep dinner down. Puking her guts out while trying to breech the subject with Frank doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun.
She takes both of the other tests while the sauce simmers. The two little pink lines appear on both. The last one even seems a little darker than the others as if to say, get over it, sweetheart, you’re knocked up.
When Frank gets home he’s tired. She doesn’t ask what he’s been doing all evening – she never does – and he doesn’t tell her. He simply slips into the kitchen smelling like gunsmoke and coffee and slides his hands around her waist, bending over so he can bury his face in the crook of her neck. She reaches up and cards her fingers through his hair in greeting, turning to brush her lips against his temple.
“How’d you know I was craving spaghetti? You psychic or something?” he mutters against her skin and she can feel the vibration of it all the way down her spine.
“I might be,” she musters a smile and allows him to brush the hair back from her face and nip at her earlobe before walking off to shower.
When he returns, she has dinner on the table. After she dishes them both up, he scoots his chair closer to hers so he can hook one of his socked feet under hers while he shovels pasta into his mouth, only stopping to ask her about her day.
Not yet, she tells herself, give him more time to relax.
“It was fine,” she twirls some pasta around with her fork absently. He gives her an amused look.
She notices him glancing over at her every so often with a look somewhere in between concern and confusion. She’s never been a very good actress, when it comes down to it. She can feel herself shaking with the anxiety of it all and Frank catches her several times staring off at the wall adjacent to them, her brow furrowed and her lips pulled into a tight line.
“You feeling okay?” he says, quirking an eyebrow.
“Yes,” she says quickly, feeling the unspoken words trying to break past her lips as she does so. She bites at her lower lip and holds them back with all her might.
They eat in silence for a few more moments and Karen feels like she’s drowning. It’s too much.
No, not yet.
She bites her lip.
I can’t keep this from him. I can’t hold it in any longer. Dammit.
She sets down her fork and puts her hands over her mouth, feeling tears well in her eyes. Frank looks up, startled in his way, with his jaw clenching and his eyes narrowing in confusion.
“I’m pregnant, Frank.” She looks into his eyes, her hands still clamped over her mouth, and waits for something, anything.
It’s pathetic how fast he goes to pieces. Breaks up completely, going rigid in his chair, his mind screaming so many things at once that all he hears is static. And then, there she is: his girl. His Lisa. Dead in his arms. He can’t remember what she looked like the first time he held her, in that hospital, past the more recent memory of the blood and meat that had been where her face once was. And he can’t imagine. Can’t picture holding another baby, maybe with her mama’s bright eyes. Can’t conceive of doing it again when he has no right, when his first baby girl, his first baby boy, are still dying in front of him every time he closes his eyes.
Karen is watching him.
“Frank,” she says, so close to a whisper, trying not to break him. Too fuckin late . . . “Frank? Please, say something.”
He shakes his head. She reaches for his arm and he jolts. Jerks his whole chair back, knocking his ankle against hers under the table. Stepping on her toes. The chair scrapes across the linoleum with an ugly, groaning screech.
“I can’t,” he chokes, and then he’s muffling his own words with his hand over his mouth, “I can’t do it. Fuck, I can’t—”
And she’s out of her chair. She’s out of her chair and she’s coming after him, chasing him down when he tries to run from her, like always—making him better when he doesn’t know how. Karen takes hold of his temples in her soft, pale hands and pulls him forward in his chair, laying his head against her stomach, just below her breastbone. He breathes the cotton and detergent smell of her blouse. The floral of her perfume. She presses her lips into his hair.
“It’s ok,” she says.
“No,” he chokes, again, the word muffled by her body.
“Yes,” she says, “it will be. We’ll . . . figure it out.”
By which she means she won’t be doing this alone. She means, if he can’t get his shit together, she won’t be doing it at all. Maybe that should relieve him. Instead, he has to excuse himself, lock the bathroom door, lean over the sink, splash cold water in his face, and try not to vomit.
When he reemerges she’s in bed, pretending she hasn’t been crying.