Marie Anderson: Change of Color
Her eyes closed, Rose lifted the white plastic stick from a cup filled with her first morning urine. Her hands shook.
“Please,” she whispered.
Rose opened her eyes, kept her gaze on the ceiling. “Please,” she whispered again. She looked down. The stick had changed. The stick’s tip had changed from white to blue.
“Oh!” Something hot and fierce swept through her, and when she looked in the mirror over the sink, she was astounded at the pink color blooming in her cheeks.
Pregnant! At last!
It was 8:15 in the morning, and her husband was still sleeping his well-earned Saturday morning sleep. The firm got nearly all his waking hours.
But right now no jealousy squeezed her heart. The green-eyed monster had been slain by the blue-tipped stick.
Rose smiled at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. “Devin,” she murmured, “we’ll have a lot to talk about today.” She splashed her face with water and wiped away the eyeliner that had smeared when she’d cried last night. She’d fallen asleep crying.
She knew it was silly to cry just because her husband was too busy at work to respond to her texts and voice messages.
She’d tried to wait up for him last night, even though he usually returned from work too tired to hear about her day or share the details of his. He wanted to make partner at his law firm.
Mornings were better. Every morning before work, he whistled while he shaved. Every morning before work, he talked while he dressed, telling her about briefs and depositions and billable hours. Once the coffee was ready, he’d retreat behind the newspapers.
At night, back home with her, he’d shush her while they watched TV.
Rose decorated cakes at a bakery. While Devin was in law school, she’d worked three jobs to pay the bills: a dental receptionist during the weekday, behind the cosmetics counter at Macy’s in the evenings, and at a bakery on weekends.
Once Devin started making good money after law school, she’d kept only the bakery job. She liked piping pastel flowers and cheerful messages on cakes, but now she pulled her cell phone from her robe’s pocket and phoned the bakery. She told the owner she was sick. A fever. She wouldn’t be in.
It wasn’t exactly a lie. She studied her face in the bathroom mirror. Her normally pale complexion was infused with color, with the feverish glow of life.
She hurried to the kitchen, removed a sheet of blank paper from their printer, colored pencils from the desk, and sketched a message for Devin.
She put the sketch on the kitchen table next to his coffee mug, where he’d be sure to see it if he got up before she returned from buying the newspapers.
Once he saw the sketch, he’d be anxious for her to return. He’d want to kiss her like he used to, because he loved her, and not just because he had to jump-start himself into the business of procreation.
Rose tiptoed into their bedroom. Devin was sprawled under the covers. She pulled a sweater and jeans from her dresser.
He did not respond. Well, maybe that was for the best. She was not ready to deflect the lawyer in Devin. He’d say it was too early to get happy, things happen.
But she’d already waited so long. She was not going to behave as though the outcome was uncertain. She had the right to enjoy motherhood every moment she was a mother. Even now, when their child was just a crimson speck nesting in the pale lavender lining of her womb. Her heart leaped, recalling that poetic description of a 7-day old cluster of cells in her Becoming Happily Pregnant book.
Rose dressed, then left their apartment to buy the newspapers. The sky was tossing snow pellets, and the wind honed them so that they cut, sharp as broken glass, against her face.
She was glad, now, that Devin had resisted her push to buy a condo after his last raise. They had only a lease on a vintage apartment. They’d be able to flee Chicago much sooner. They’d get a house in a suburb where the morning papers could be delivered reliably and stay on the sidewalk unmolested until she retrieved them. She wouldn’t have to battle the elements just to get Devin his papers. He was old-fashioned that way, wanting newspapers with his morning toast and coffee.
Surely Devin would agree that they’d want safety now, not great restaurants, a crowded lakefront, martini bars, edgy theaters. They’d want neighbors whose children would walk with their children down leafy, quiet streets, past a playground and a church to the good public school. They’d want a front porch and back yard big enough for swings and a hammock and a sandbox.
Oh, they’d have so much to talk about today!
Despite her down-filled parka, she shivered. The morning was gray, but colors spun like a kaleidoscope inside her head. Pink or blue? Devin’s red hair and freckles? Maybe her large, round brown eyes? Her eyes were her best feature, though she’d endured severe myopia for twenty years until she’d had Lasik surgery last year.
Now she had perfect vision. Now she could see everything clearly.
She approached Hotel Carlos, Transients Welcome. In front of the hotel stood a man with a candy-striped face. As she got closer, she realized that the candy stripes were blood. He was muttering to himself. Circles of blood speckled the sidewalk. Spaghetti strands of yellowish snot hung from his nose.
“Baby!” he called to her. He winked and smiled. His teeth were yellow and crooked and dwarfed by purple, swollen gums.
Rose walked briskly past him and bought the Trib and Sun-Times from the vendor in the subway station near the hotel.
Today they would check the classifieds, in the papers and on-line. They would check out the homes for sale in the suburbs. Hinsdale, where Devin grew up, or La Grange, not as uppity as Hinsdale, a healthier mix of white and blue collar families, but still good schools.
The urban pioneer life was not for children.
On her way back, she again passed the hotel. The man was gone, but his blood remained, bright red circles on the gray sidewalk. Without the man’s disturbing presence, it was easier to marvel at his blood. So beautiful, like melted rubies.
She stopped and looked at it, saw how it trembled in the wind. Amazing that such beauty spilled from such damage. Had a mother ever loved him? Impossible that such a damaged creature could ever have been a beautiful baby.
But of course, he’d once been exactly that.
The blood seemed alive, trembling in the wind. It was almost as though the wind would swirl the blood into flowers and cheerful messages across the icy gray cake of sidewalk.
A man burst through the door of the hotel. He carried a bucket of water and rags. Huge vinyl gloves, yellow, thickened his hands. He crouched and began wiping the blood, smearing it, turning it ugly.
She couldn’t stop herself. “It looked like melted rubies,” she said. “So pretty.”
He looked up, blinked bloodshot eyes bulging over purplish cheeks and a red, swollen nose.
“Yah, well. Could be some virals swimming ‘round in this pretty, sweetheart. Don’t want no one trackin’ this pretty into my hotel, know what I’m sayin’?”
Rose hurried away without responding. “If Devin is still sleeping,” she whispered to herself, “I’ll wake him with a kiss.”
Devin had opened his eyes as soon as he'd heard Rose leave their apartment. Now he stood in the front window looking down on the street.
He'd lost track of where she was on her basal temperature charts. He hoped this wasn't a morning she'd want him to perform. But what else could she have meant by that sketch she'd left on the table? Real cute. A pink and blue smiley face attached to a handle like a baby's rattle. Probably her not so subtle way to tell him that she wanted to get down to business this morning.
But after last night, he had nothing left.
He was glad that he'd prevailed against buying a condo after his last raise. It would be so much easier to make the changes he knew they had to make. He had to make. And it was for Rose's benefit, too. He'd tell her he respected her too much to let her be stuck with a husband who was such a scoundrel, who'd let himself fall in love with someone not anywhere near as wonderful as Rose.
"Rose," he rehearsed to the window. "You deserve someone better than me."
There she was. He watched her stride toward their building, newspapers tucked under her arm.
She was so tiny! Her smallness had once made him feel large and strong.
He recalled his paralegal's long legs spilling out from her scarlet miniskirt last night, and miraculously, he felt himself stirring to life. He touched the tender spot on his lip where Letha had bitten him, and absently scraped the scab. The wound leaked.
By the time Rose burst through their front door, he'd wiped away all traces of blood.
"Papa!" Rose shrieked. "Congratulations, Papa!" She threw the papers on the couch and rushed toward him.
Devin staggered even before she pushed into him.
"Wow!" he exclaimed. Oh my God, he thought.
The cold on Rose's parka stabbed through his tee shirt.
Oh god oh god oh god. She was pregnant.
"Hallelujah!” she sang. “We finally did it!"
"When did you find out?" he asked.
She stepped out of his hug. Her eyes were liquid chocolate. "Just this morning. You know, I had a feeling. I've just been feeling different the past few days. I've already calculated our due date and ...."
On and on she went, her voice scraping his skin, a tornado whirling through his gut, she was crying now, blubbering, her nose running.
His eyes burned. His vision blurred.
"I called in sick," she said. "We have a lot to talk about."
He nodded. He had to be strong, he told himself. Children deserved parents who loved each other. And it was so early! Didn't a lot of pregnancies miscarry in the first trimester? Not that he wanted that to happen. He would do his duty by a child if it came to that. But he loved Letha. It would be dishonest to stay married to Rose. It would be disrespectful to Rose. It would be unfair to Rose. And to their child.
If it came to that.
A wave of dizziness slapped him.
"Devin!" Rose laughed. "Oh honey, you better sit down. You're pale as vanilla icing! Don't faint on me now, Papa!"
Don't call me that, Devin wanted to say. But instead he sighed and sank into the sofa. "I am feeling a little overwhelmed. My mind is spinning."
"Mine too, Devin! So many things to talk about! I love the name Lily, Lily Rose, for a girl. You should pick the boy's name! And we've got to start thinking about where we'll move. And who should we tell? How long should we wait before we tell? This day won't be long enough for all we have to talk about!"
Devin patted the sofa. "You sit, too," he said. "Take off your coat. Please." He was grateful that, despite his hammering heart, his voice sounded lawyerly and calm.
He waited until Rose settled herself next to him. He patted her knee. “First, I do love you, Rose.” He felt his face blush.
She laughed. “And second, counselor?”
He closed his eyes, slipped his hand under her sweater, and pressed his palm against her belly. Of course, still soft, still flat. His heart settled back into its usual unobtrusive rhythm.
“Let’s not,” he said, “talk just yet.” DSS
This story about a married couple leaves the reader wondering what comes next. To keep these good stories coming, donate here to Downstate Story.