Andrew had barely spoken to Harriet in three weeks. He worked longer hours now, just to avoid it. Not her, he wasn’t avoiding her (mostly), rather he was avoiding everything he has said to her that night. He regretted saying it aloud, but he that didn’t mean he didn’t believe what he’d said. So he kept his distance because he knew that if he was around her too long, they’d just start up again as they had when he got back early the next day.
Andrew now sat in a recliner reading the paper and drinking coffee, the morning cartoons on the TV turned down into a blur. He had a distinct feeling he looked like Dr. Thatcher without the large dog at his feet. He’d woken up to a cold bed just as he had for weeks. He worked late so that by the time he was home, Harriet was already asleep. They refused to not share a bed, but it seemed better for the both of them if they didn’t go to bed together. She had already left to work long before Andrew had arisen.
The house was empty and cold. It hadn’t changed too much in the past five years, that was, it still seemed like the Jettsons. It was a lot emptier now though. Jacob was at work so was Harriet. Em had left last week and he’d only just forgiven Andrew for scaring Harriet like that. Chris and Martin were gone, there were no little cousins running around visiting. Apparently Uriah and Alan were the next set of cousins meant to move in after both Harriet and Jacob were gone. Andrew didn’t like them.
The newspaper was in full color and made of good quality paper, a rich people thing he supposed. In it he skimmed the article about the black-tie charity fundraiser Harriet had turned down the invitation to. Curiously it mentioned that over one million dollars was made, but did not mention what charity it was supposed to go to. There probably was no charity, Harriet would probably say. They were just using it as an excuse to show off their money. Andrew had to agree, though the cocktail dress the main lady wore in the picture was rather nice.
Ten minutes of absent minded scanning later, Andrew found an article talking about a runway show that was to take place at a country club on the water. First up on the list of designers that were to appear was Andrew Bapson. It spoke of how he grew up a poor kid in the slums of LA, barely a penny to his name. It even had a quote he never said about how eager he was to even be in the presence of the people who inspired him and blah blah blah. Andrew tossed the paper onto the coffee table. He was already dreading that damned show enough without being made out to be Cinderella.
He tapped his fingers on the arms of the chair in agitation, looking around for something do to on his self-allotted day off. Only the house was chronically clean and dusted and swept as if by the magical cleaning fairy his mother always insisted didn’t exist. There was nothing to fix around the house and even if something was broken, Andrew was almost positive he wouldn’t have the skills needed to fix it. Even though it was plenty hot outside, he didn’t particularly feel like swimming. Pools weren’t really his thing. He grew up in the real salty ocean, not a salt-water pool. He didn’t feel like driving out to the beach either.
Finding nothing that he could do on his own, he went into the kitchen into the bottom drawer of the fridge and got a cold beer before returning to his seat. He turned up the TV and sat back to watch the Warner Brothers. Oh, and the Warner Sister too. Quinn loved the Animaniacs, it was probably his favorite cartoon, though their mom was a spaz about it. There wasn’t much she could do about it though. She had given orders for him to only be allowed to watch certain things, but Andrew may or may not have bribed the nurses. Quinn wasn’t a person to repeat random violence off TV. No, his random acts of violence were all his own. At least he wasn’t in solitary anymore.
As he drank and watched, his mind kept on going back to that conversation.
DON’T COME CRYING TO ME.
DON’T COME CRYING TO ME.
DON’T COME CRYING TO ME.
But when it did happen—and it would happen—he prayed desperately that she did come crying to him and not do what he almost did.
“How much to you think vasectomies cost?” He asked Yakko. If a Warner Brother was to know, it would be Yakko, right? “Do you think Harrie could do it? I don’t really like people that aren’t near my balls near my balls.”
Yakko just chased the nurse across the screen and Andrew laughed. “Ditto.”
Two and a half beers later, he found himself wandering up the stairs and toward his room where he planned on taking a long nap. Or at least, that’s what he meant to do. Instead he found himself standing in the entry way of a blue room. The magic cleaning fairy must have come clean here too because it was exactly how he had last seen it a year ago.
The hand-made crib with the blue Teddy Bear liner and grey stuffed bunny sitting in there looking so lonely. The car shaped toy box was sitting in the corner under the window, untouched and unused. The dresser drawers that were once filled to the top with onesies and overalls and pants and socks and bibs…they were all closed tight, a little green dinosaur painted on each blue knob. Most of them were empty now. They decided a while back to give up the clothes to a homeless shelter and second hand stores, but some of the things they hadn’t managed to let go of.
Andrew lowered himself into the green arm chair. He could see how Harriet had spent almost two months just sitting there. It was cushy and the arm rests were in just the right place. It had excellent back and neck support and the padding on the little green footstool warmed quickly under his socked feet. He sank in deeper and rested the bottom of the bottle on his thigh.
Everett would be seventeen month old now. Andrew wondered what sort of words he would have known, if Harriet’s baby-signing idea would have worked. Would he have been a super genius like her or more like him, whatever he was? Andrew wondered how good he would have been at walking by now. A quick-to-walk like Andrew at eight months? Or a slow-to-walk like Quinn at a year?
He wondered how many pennies and other tiny objects he would have tried to swallow by now, how many he’d achieved in swallowing. Would he have been one of those kids that drew on the wall like Quinn? Would he have BEEN like Quinn? Would his son have had shadows and monsters looming around every corner? They would have handles if it he had. They would have been good parents. Wouldn’t they?
Andrew supposed he would never know.
A hot tear dripped down his cheek as he slipped into a dreamless sleep, beer in hand.
Andrew awoke to the sound of an opening door. He shifted in the green chair to find Harriet standing at the threshold. She held her jacket tight around her over her scrubs. She looked pale. Sick. She looked like she had been crying.
“What are you doing in here?” She asked, her eyes flicking to the empty bottle which was still miraculously in his hand. He must not have slept long. He looked at his watch and found it was just after noon. “I was calling for you.”
“Were you?” It almost felt weird talking to her now. “I didn’t hear. What’s wrong?”
Her face crumbled then and she slumped to the ground, crying. Andrew caught her, having lurched from the chair. He set the bottle on the wooden floor and wrapped his arms around her.
“I don’t know what happened.” She sobbed. “It was going so well.”
It had happened. He knew it would. He just didn’t think it would happen so soon…
“Harrie.” He whispered, rubbing his hands over her back. “I’m so sorry. But we knew this was going to—”
“It was just a normal surgery.” She cried. “Maybe an hour or two.”
Andrew froze in confusion, then he realized what had happened.
“I was almost done and then her vitals just dropped. So fast.” Her whole body was shaking. “We tried to stop it, but she was just…she was just gone.”
“Oh god.” He hugged her tighter. “Harrie, I’m so, so sorry.”
“There was something foreign lodged in her intestines.” She went on. “It was blocking it up, causing infection. I’ve done it a million times before, it’s so SIMPLE.”
He just held her and let her talk.
“It was an eraser. Shaped to look like a vanilla ice cream cone.” Harriet pulled back, staring him in the eyes, damning the world through him. “SHE WAS FOUR YEARS OLD! What kind of people makes an eraser that looks like candy? She just…she thought it was candy Andrew.”
“I know.” Was all he could say.
Her face twisted up and she buried her head in his chest and cried for a long time.
“Here. It’s hot, be careful.” Andrew handed her a mug of hot chocolate with little marshmallows melting on the top, making a swirl of creamy foam.
Harriet allowed the sleeves of her pink robe to fall over her hands before taking the mug from him. She tried to smile as she looked down into it. “Nothing like some hot cocoa on a ninety degree day.”
Andrew gave her a smile back that said he knew her heart wasn’t in the joke. He sat in bed beside her and put his glasses on the night stand and rubbed the bridge of his nose. Andrew had such a soft face. Not tubby or pasty, but just soft, gentle. Not at all like hers.
Harriet leaned back against the cushion and put the mug on her own nightstand. Andrew settled down beside her for the first time in weeks. He had said he was sorry, early on, and a few times sense, but she knew he still felt what he said. She couldn’t blame him. Every time she felt the bug-crawl or got a stomach ache or something touched her belly too hard, she would panic. Even now as she rested her folded hands onto her stomach, she wondered if she was pushing on them too hard.
“How are they?” Andrew finally asked, looking at where she had places her hands.
Harriet smiled a little, or she meant to. “Good I think. At least one is. But I’m only eight weeks. It’s hard to know so soon.”
Andrew’s forehead wrinkled with what she might dare call slight concern. She often forgot that he was nearly thirty years old. He and Em seemed to glow with eternal youth, like children who had just grown larger. But sometimes, like now, he could tame himself into seriousness.
“What’s wrong with the other one?”
Harriet sighed and rubbed her hand over her tiny belly. She was growing faster than she had with Everett, but not as fast as most mothers of twins.
“Baby B—you label them Baby A and B to keep track—is significantly smaller than A. Much smaller.” Harriet felt her chest tighten. “I’ve talked to Delores and Jacob and a couple others and they all seem to think that an…an absorption is possible. Maybe even likely.”
“What’s that? Absorbing?”
“It’s why Em always says he ate his twin.” Harriet explained. “He didn’t actually eat it, he absorbed it in utero. Or the mother’s body absorbed it.”
“Well…” Andrew’s brow wrinkled again and he looked down at the flowery bed sheet between them. “That sucks.”
“Yeah.” The tears were biting at her eyes again and she sniffed them back. “But it might not. Usually it would have happened already with B being so small.”
“Do you mean, like, MIDGIT small?”
“The correct term in dwarf, and they don’t know yet.” She had dreaded the idea herself, though she knew they would handle it if it came to that. “We have to wait to see how the spine grows. And there are some forms of dwarfism that you can’t tell until long after they’re born.”
Andrew scrunched the sheet up in his hand and released it and scrunched it up again like a kneading cat. He didn’t say anything about dwarves after that. She was nervous about it too, but even the specialest of needs child was still a child and she would still be grateful everyday of her life.
After she lost Everett, she never went back on the pill. Well, she had for a couple months after the trip to Europe, but she had stopped taking them after she realized how sick they made her feel. So she’d eased herself off them without telling Andrew and, in all honestly, she forgot she wasn’t taking them. She felt better than she had in years and just simply…forgot. She wanted to regret it now. She understood why Andrew didn’t want to get involved, why even Em had been hesitant about the whole thing. But as much as she wanted to regret it, she couldn’t.
“I have another appointment in a couple weeks,” She told him. “Do you want to come?”
He sighed and nodded, but his heart wasn’t in it.
Harriet just took what she could get and hoped that these lives lived to make up for the one she had destroyed