“He Waits, Wants”

He shows her the calendar: it’s Day Fourteen, so they must have sex. Doctor’s orders. His cycle changes each month, but this morning when he held the stick between his legs and peed, the window showed two lines for imminent ovulation.

In the mirror he stares sideways at his abdomen for signs. He gropes his flat, hard pecs for tenderness. His hopes rise and fall with the moon. She murmurs, Next time.

He’s already told her what color to paint the guest room. Best that he’s not around the fumes. The paint, a designer concoction specially mixed at the superstore, is a sunny yellow. He corrects her: Gladiola. Hands her the paint chips and an instructive list. Gladiola, he repeats.

Some nights, she’d rather keep her clothes on and watch Lost. Or slip out to the corner bar. In the dusk, the birds will twitter at her, sounding surprisingly like the music in her head. She tries not to skip down the street. Turn the corner, the bar suggests, and you disappear. Your house can’t see you.

It’s Day Fourteen. The pharmaceutical company in Waltham, Massachusetts, manufacturer of a variety of sticks you pee on, trumps biological instinct. She could tape Lost. She could go to the bar afterwards. But post-coitus, he must remain flat on his back for fifteen minutes; won’t she stay? For once? In the past she’d jump up to use the bathroom, make a snack, open a beer. She hates how he raises his pale legs in the air, as if her juices need gravitational guidance to marinate his hidden impenetrable barren places. Legs like white flags, surrendering dignity.

He complained, lying prostrate, “I just saw the future. I’m tied down and you can roam.” She didn’t correct him, only said, “Back in a minute.” She returned carrying two drinks, and an inward sigh of relief. He was right, that wasn’t her future. She spilled a little gin on the good sheets, toasting: “At least you can still drink.” He eyed the droplets. “At least it’s clear,” she said.

The programmatic sex regimen makes her forgetful. Check the calendar. Light years from their first summer together, when they made love wherever and whenever she, both of them, wanted. Now he takes his temperature each morning. He alludes to mucus in places she doesn’t want to think about him having mucus.

The Meyer kid got knocked up at sixteen. Jealousy swallowed her each time she saw him mowing the lawn shirtless, his pregnant belly taut and tanned, hanging over his cargo shorts. Even if she’ll never have that, she wants to take her top off outside. To expose her paleness to the sun. To walk bare-chested in a summer downpour, rivulets of water running between her breasts.

Meanwhile, he monitors himself. He waits, wants. He can’t know: she used to still does always will want a baby more than he does. This is her secret, like cells multiplying inside her, what she carries instead of their child.

Sarah Layden

About Sarah Layden

Sarah Layden's debut novel, Trip Through Your Wires, is forthcoming from Engine Books. A graduate of Purdue University's MFA program, her fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in Stone Canoe, Blackbird, Artful Dodge, Reed Magazine, PANK, Ladies' Home Journal, The Humanist, and elsewhere. She is a lecturer in the Writing Program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.