Bill had been an accountant before he quit his job. He had mistakenly thought that his exacting nature and slavish attention to detail would translate well to his new career as a fiction writer. Perhaps researching nonfiction works, dealing with facts, statistics, matters of historic record, would have been more appropriate. When writing fiction, he had found that there was no real right or wrong. He could not come up with a proven method of quantifying the success of a sentence or paragraph, let alone an entire book. It was approaching the level of mania, the constant edits and rewrites.
Seeing as she was awake, Eva decided to go check on the baby. She pulled on her dressing gown and felt her way down the hallway in the dark. Every time she entered Gaby's room, the same thought occurred to her - it smelled so nice in the baby's room. Sort of a mixture of talcum powder, freshly laundered linens and that smell all babies seem to carry with them. Something akin to graham crackers mixed with warm milk. She peered into the crib and saw her little one sleeping soundly on her back, her stomach gently rising and falling.
Despite the fact that the baby was sleeping peacefully, Eva reached into the crib and hefted her little form to her shoulder. Gaby squirmed for a moment and then settled against Eva’s body. Eva lowered herself into the rocking chair and stroked Gaby’s back gently as they rocked. At moments like this, Eva couldn’t help thinking of her daughter’s future, and whether she and Bill could work out their issues before Gaby was old enough to be cognizant of any upheaval in the house. She certainly hoped so. Eva herself had endured life with an unemployed and often inebriated father.
Though her father was never abusive in any way, neither verbally nor physically, Eva still bore the stigma of having a father that was regarded as the neighborhood drunk. When she was younger, she just thought that her dad had a wonderful sense of humor and was always a bit more jolly than most. His intoxication was, as it were, intoxicating. As she got older, she had a hard time understanding why the looks from neighbors and passersby seemed so critical. In her opinion, he provided love and affection enough to make up for what they lacked in worldly possessions.
As time wore on, however, Eva’s resentment grew. She understood why others clicked their tongues and whispered behind her father’s back. He drank whatever wages he earned, passing precious little on to the family to use for food and clothing. His antics could only keep her spirits up for so long when her stomach was empty and her shoes were falling off her feet. Rather than confronting him, Eva simply drifted away, getting a job as soon as she was able and searching for the man that she hoped would be a more suitable provider than her father had been.
And Bill is a kind, decent man, she thinks, as her breath falls into rhythm with that of Gaby’s. They rock silently back and forth. In the study downstairs Bill has the first thirty pages of his manuscript laid out on the floor around is desk. He’s not entirely sure why he’s done this. Perhaps just to get a better sense of the scope that he’s dealing with. Maybe seeing the pages set out so that all of his words are visible at one time will help him to stop fixating on every little detail and see the bigger picture.
Bill takes a deep breath, stands up from his chair and walks to the center of the study. He turns slowly, a full 360 degrees and then gingerly lowers himself to sit on the floor among the pages of his novel. At that moment he cuts a startling figure. The epitome of the writers’-blocked stereotype: hair a mess, clothes rumpled and two days’ worth of stubble on his chin. He runs a hand through his hair, sighing again, but this time the breath comes out in a sort of stutter step. Tears form in his eyes and panic sets in.
He reaches down, picking up one page at a time, being sure to keep them in the proper order. His breathing is still rapid, his heart has not yet slowed to a normal rate. He still feels panic. Once all the pages are gathered together, he taps the stack firmly against the desk, evening out the edges so that no single page is poking out farther than the others. He is tired, he is dejected, but he simply can’t toss it all and start over. Or, at this point, his preference would be to toss it all and give up.
There’s a light rapping at the office door and Bill turns to find Eva standing there in the dim light. Seeing the expression of concern on her face, he looks down and takes in the image before her: her disheveled husband, standing in his study with a stack of papers in one hand and more laid out on the floor around him. There’s a moment where twelve year old Bill wants to emerge and claim, “I didn’t do it.” It never worked then with his mother and it won’t work now with his wife. He most certainly did do it.
“Is everything ok?” he asks. “Is the baby alright?”
“Yes, she’s fine. Sleeping soundly. I was just up rocking her a while. I woke up and you weren’t there. I couldn’t fall back to sleep so I sat with her for a while.”
“Are you ok? Why couldn’t you fall back to sleep?” he asks.
“Well,” she says with more bite in her voice than she’d planned, “I suppose I should be getting used to waking up to find my husband isn’t there next to me. But when I do, I still have a hard time falling back to sleep.”
Eva runs her hand across her forehead and wipes the errant wisps of hair there behind her ears. “I’m sorry,” she says quietly. “I didn’t mean for it to come out like that.”
“How exactly did you mean for it to come out then?” asks Bill with strained patience in his voice. Surely she saw that things were not going smoothly, that he was under pressure and quite honestly about ready to crack.
But Eva just stood in the doorway looking at him. After a protracted moment of silence, she says “Ok, I guess I won’t wait for your apology.”
“I’m going back to bed,” she calls to him as she walks back into the hallway and heads up the stairs. Bill watches the billow of her gown as she leaves, looks up at the ceiling and heaves a huge sigh. He massages his tired eyes until they water, hoping that will help ease their stinging. He knows that the situation calls for him to go after her, talk calmly with her and offer her a series of “I’m sorry’s” until she begins to soften. This however would require a level of effort that he is not able to muster.
Eva ascends the stairs, feeling her throat tighten and her eyes start to sting. Her face breaks into a grimace, but she does not make a sound. If her childhood taught her anything, it was how to stifle her negative emotions. Disappointment, sadness, hurt and fear were quelled the instant they made their presence known. She steps into the bathroom and turns on a small lamp there, which throws just enough light to illuminate her tear-streaked face in the mirror. She splashes cold water across her eyes, tamps her face dry with a towel and goes back to the bedroom.
She hangs her robe back on the hook behind the bedroom door and climbs into bed. She tugs the comforter up to her chin and lies on her back, staring at the ceiling. In another couple of months, she thinks, Gaby will be old enough to be left at home with her father. Eva’s mood lightens noticeably at the thought of getting out of the house every day, even if it’s just for a short period of time. Even if it’s just to take a walk in the park by herself or sit in a coffee shop reading a book.
The thought occurs to her that she could get a job. Maybe something part time at first, but if all worked out well at home with Bill keeping an eye on the baby while he wrote, perhaps it could lead to a full time position. She could not only take the immediate burden off of Bill, but being able to contribute financially to her little family’s future would give her a much needed boost in self worth. So many of the stay at home mothers she met in the neighborhood seemed perfectly happy just striving to be the ideal mommy.
And before she got pregnant, when she and Bill were first discussing the idea of starting a family, that’s what he had wanted too. Or at least, she wanted to want it. With her pregnancy being as smooth as it was, with practically no morning sickness, no excessive weight gain or any of the other unpleasant side effects that often accompany the condition, she found it easy to make peace with her role. And the constant compliments on her radiance and maternal glow helped too. She was a very striking pregnant woman, always neatly turned out and made up tastefully.
And the early days as a new mommy also provided her with an important sense of value, of being needed. Having a little one depending on her so completely brought her great joy, and watching her daughter grow and begin to discover the world around her was humbling, to say the least. Once Gaby switched to baby food, Eva felt her value begin to dwindle. And that was just the start. When none of her duties necessarily had to be performed by her, from the feeding to changing and bathing, she found herself already becoming detached from her young daughter.
But it wasn’t really the detachment that bothered her. It was the fact that she enjoyed the detachment. She would look forward to leaving Gaby with Bill’s mother during her trips to the grocery store. Her excuse was always that the trip was much quicker and more efficient without having to mind the baby. But in reality, the trips became much longer when she was on her own. After the weekly food was purchased, she would drive the short distance to the department store, where she’d ride the escalators from floor to floor, looking at the merchandise and other shoppers.
She would touch the fabric on dresses she couldn’t afford, would try on clothes she would never dare to wear in her conservative suburb. It was like trying on another life – one where she didn’t have to rush home in time for her mother-in-law to hand off the baby so she could get home to make dinner for her own husband. As these excursions became longer and longer, and her apologies to Bill’s mother more fervent with each time she arrived home late, Eva realized that she could not keep pretending. She had chosen this life, and it was hers.
But this new prospect, of having a job and interaction with people outside of the family and neighborhood, give her hope. As she hears rustling downstairs, her mind returns to the here and now. Bill’s footfall on the steps signal her to roll over, face the wall, waiting – either for an apology or for him to simply join her in bed, more than likely with his back to her and not a word of greeting. As a newlywed, she used to feel so sorry for her single girlfriends. How lonely it must be to go to bed alone every night.
This, however, was a completely different brand of lonely, one that didn’t require being alone. Now, on the odd occasion that she’s able to get together with these still single friends and have real adult conversation (strange, how she almost never brings up her husband or child), she sees their small but cozy flats, with books neatly stacked in shelves and no toys scattered across the floor, as warm and welcoming. Not sad and lonely at all, but places of peace. So little distraction from whatever activities a person might care to pursue, whether reading, listening to music or anything.
Bill enters the bedroom, slips his clothes off and pulls the cover back on his side of the bed. Without a word to his wife, he lies down and closes his eyes. The office downstairs now tidied and displaying no signs of the chaos from earlier that night, Bill rests, but does not sleep. He doesn’t toss and turn, not wanting to alert Eva that he’s awake and still somewhat troubled. His mind races and no matter how hard he tries to calm his nerves and focus his thoughts, he’s only able to relax for brief moments before tensing again.
Tomorrow he’ll make another go of it. He’ll send Eva out with the baby so as to have the house to himself. He’ll organize his research, put a fresh ribbon in the typewriter and will banish any thoughts that enter his head and tell him that he can’t succeed. Once he gets himself into the right frame of mind, he thinks, the words will come to him. The story will flow and evolve and his only problem will be keeping up with the myriad ideas that spring forth. This must be the way it happens to the really successful authors.
Bill makes a mental note to call his sister in Virginia tomorrow. Maybe she can invite Eva and the baby out for a few weeks. It would do them both some good to have a nice big yard to play in and some open space to enjoy. Their home had taken on a claustrophobic feel to him lately, and surely this affected Eva and the baby as much as it did him. With them happily spending their days down south, he’d be able to make some real progress and have a solid, finished product to show her upon her return.
As these thoughts give him some relief and a tangible goal to work towards, his mind and body begin to relax and he drifts off to sleep. Eva notices the change in his breathing. She counts to two hundred and, still seeing no change to the inert body next to her, she carefully slides from her side of the bed, placing her feet onto the hardwood floor. She shuffles along across the boards so as to make as little sound as possible and heads to the baby’s room. Her daughter sleeps peacefully, her rosebud lips reflexively making little sucking movements.
Eva lets a hand hover above her daughter’s head, just barely touching the peach fuzz there. The apartment’s dry heat causes a static charge that makes Gaby’s hair leap up to meet her mother’s skin. The child’s coloring and features are all Bill. Eva would tell the other mothers in the neighborhood that her role as incubator should have garnered her more in the way of genetic inheritance. But comments like this always did more to alienate than endear her to them. Eva turns to the baby’s closet, where she finds the small overnight bag she had stashed there yesterday.
She pulls on the jeans, t-shirt, jacket and shoes there and tucks her nightgown and robe into the bag in their place. As she walks out the front door, she’s startled by her lack of regret. For anything. She never for a moment regrets the marriage or having her daughter. She doesn’t lament her years as wife and mother. Some would see this as a sign that she’s meant to stay and continue fulfilling these roles. But as she idles the car down the drive and to the end of the street, the thing she regrets the least is leaving.