Ariana finally decided. The discussion could wait until tomorrow, they both needed to actually sit and talk through this, sober. She watched him close the distance, she felt his touch and she bit her lip when he prompted her to know what the hospital had said. His lips on hers was a surprise because lately they had been so estranged, strangers living together in a house that was once a home. She didn’t resist. He wanted to know about the hospital. But it was fleeting because he then requested they forget about it for a night. Maybe that wasn’t such a bad idea? One night of neither of them worrying or overthinking. It was easier said than done and her mind for a second went to the wine in the fridge.
“Alright. For tonight.” She said to him quietly, not really registering she was pinned between the wall and Gary. One thing Gary had never done to her, was frighten her. She reached a hand up and cupped his face gently on one side, running her thumb over his jawline. All her grief and sadness, had it really reduced them to this? Had it reduced Gary to this? Late nights, worried to come home to her. In that moment though, there was something else.
Her gaze didn’t falter, the close contact pushing aside thoughts of anything else. Despite everything, they were still a man and a woman. She closed the distance between them once more with her lips, meeting his and kissing him softly before pulling back with a small smile. No matter what had gone on, she couldn’t deny for them to be locked in a moment was something she dearly missed with Gary. She missed him, all of him. She also need some courage for the impending moment and what was so wrong with the two of them just enjoying one another before reality crashed in on them tomorrow? She gently slipped away from him, pouring herself some wine, taking a sip. If he wanted her to forget then she needed a slight help. She didn’t want to ply him with questions, or worries tonight. She wanted him to have this night, for both of them to have this night.
“You really hate interns, huh?” She remarked, meaning his past statement as she took another drink, eyes dancing over him with every passing swallow of wine. Normality, they were actually speaking, touching like any normal couple would. She sat on the couch with her wine in hand and gestured for him to join her.
“Tell me about it.” She invited him, although his day was not the only thing playing on her mind. This time she actually wanted to hear him speak, she had been missing his voice. She should have text him and asked but her day has been busy too. She drained her wine glass, her thin frame already starting to feel the effects of what two glasses of wine in a day could do. But they had agreed a truce for the night. She wouldn’t start anything or question him or pile on any more worries and given his state, she doubted he would start anything either. She watched him, watched how his features made up everything about him. He was a strong man, Ariana thought, not usually one to let things keep him down and she admired that. She wanted to be like that, she’d always been the worrier of the two. She liked organisation and plans whereas Gary had been more spontaneous and care free most of the time. She missed it, she missed him. She missed talking to him until late into the night and solidifying their love later still.
When the door finally opened, Gary stood there for a few long moments, right up until Ariana's voice cut through the buzzing in his ears. It was as if she had unchained the silence, because it was suddenly so deafening, he could hear his blood rush in his head. Her words seeped through with meaning and Gary staggered further inside. His bag dropped to the floor, slipped from his slack grip. A heel was shoved against the door to close it back up. In the twilight of the ill-lit hallway, Ariana looked as beautiful as she had the first time they'd met.
"Robert ditched an intern on me," Gary explained with a thick tongue. He didn't fail to register the disdain in Ari's voice, but then, she'd never liked it when he went out and got drunk. And he was drunk, wasn't he?
She certainly wouldn't like finding out that he'd driven himself home either, so he neglected to mention it.
Dinner was in the microwave. If he got hungry.
"Right..." he breathed, giving Ariana an imperceivable nod and a heavy blink of his eyes. Through narrow slits, he watched her, watched how her posture changed and her muscles plied themselves to become a wall of defensiveness and bolstered hurt. He didn't need to be sober to read the woman he'd been with for so long.
"Why? It's Friday," Gary pointed out. There was no reason for Ariana to 'need' to go to bed. He was taller than her. As he closed the distance between them, it became more apparent. Her glance was one of pity. Or disgust? He wasn't entirely sure. Gary pressed his hand to Ariana's cheek, shoulder resting against the wall to prevent himself from swaying in place, in a repeat performance of last night.
For a moment he just stood like that, trying to wrap his drunken brain around the discrepancy of Ariana saying she would leave him alone -as she usually would when he was like this- and her staying. All the sorrow that she'd felt upon hearing their baby would not and could not survive seemed to be reflected in her eyes anew. It was nothing like last night's resolve.
Had she done something?
It dawned on his inebriated brain that she'd call the hospital today.
"What did they say?" he drawled softly. He'd just had a few too many and he certainly wasn't daft. "What did they say, Ri?" Gary asked again.
He became distracted by her lips. A finger strayed, touched the corner of her lips. So soft. It'd been so long since they'd laid together in a sexually mature fashion. Anything more than a stray touch, a finger brushing against a hand, or a soft, careful touch, seemed to be able to shatter the brittle defences Ariana had built for herself. Gary wasn't sure what would happen if there were only shards left. He didn't have the strength to put back together a broken woman and himself at the same time.
Gary kissed her then.
"Can't we just forget that for a night?" he begged her when they parted. He'd pinned her to the wall, near enough. Gary wasn't even aware of it himself.
Fidgeting was something Ariana seemed to fall back on when she was nervous and thinking. She couldn’t keep still, she needed to stay busy because last night she had been bold and finally edged towards taking that first step. It had been so close, within reach and in the space of a few hours, snatched away by a different kind of trauma. She had to do something, because if she didn’t then she would end up calling Gary at work and he didn’t need that. They needed normality and he was going to go out drinking again, she never wanted to be ‘that wife’, the one that always called or text. And she knew he would just end up coming home and they would talk and it would probably end in disaster. She wanted to pretend that it was okay, even just for a few hours. She stuffed the notes from Dr Harriet into a drawer, out of sight therefore out of mind.
Delicate hands were kept busy making dinner, of course Gary’s was placed in the microwave in case he was hungry when he got in. It was still early and she looked to the digital clock, watching it flash with every second that went by. She didn’t know what time Gary would roll in at but she couldn’t sit still or do nothing because if she did then that meant she would have to think and she would have to accept everything that happened today. She had mananged a few forkfuls of her own dinner, although it didn’t taste of anything in her numb mouth.
“There’s still a chance.”
“You’re partner couldn’t join us?”
Phrases dashed too and from her mind and her wine had been forgotten about as she sighed softly and looked to the stairs and to that room. What good was it now? Maybe Gary could use it as an office? She drew in a deep breath, draining the remainder of her wine before pushing open the door. It smelled odd in there, like settled dust. It was so bright, colourful in comparison to everything that had been happening. Maybe it was shock or the need to keep busy but before Ariana even knew what she was doing, she was pushing tiny clothes into boxes, dismantling the cot as best she could and shoving it all into a wardrobe so it was out of sight. Whatever setting she was in, it needed reset to factory because she wasn’t thinking, she was avoiding everything about the situation even though she knew she would need to tell Gary when he came through that door later. The smell of polish was sickening by the time she had dusted, the hoover droned on as she ran it over the carpet. And then she left the room, with the door open because the contents inside were now enshrined elsewhere.
It seemed an age before she heard that rattle of keys, she knew Gary was in a state before he even opened the door because she could hear him go through several keys. She looked to the door, almost like a rabbit stuck in the headlights of an incoming truck. What would be the point in telling him tonight, when he was like this?
“Busy interview?” Perhaps that was more scathing than she wanted to let on but she only waved the thought away.
“There’s dinner in the microwave if you get hungry, more beers in the fridge.” There was a definite distaste towards his drunken demeanour but what was the use in arguing over it? She was glad she hadn’t text him, maybe tomorrow they would speak about it? And Gary wondered why she felt so alone all the time, whilst he found solace in a bottle with far more pleasing curves than her apparently.
“You-uh... you have fun. I need to go to bed.” She said quietly. She avoided eye contact because one look into those depths and she would want to apologise for her situation, and that would mean telling him and shattering the illusion. She didn’t want to be pushed tonight, as she glanced over Gary almost with pity in her eyes. She would have to check on him later if he didn’t come to bed, throw some blankets over him, maybe clean up some sick or help him get undressed. She didn’t move though, seemingly stuck to the spot in the hallway, she should tell him but there was something stopping her.
In the end he didn't get much done. Every time he tried to start on an article, or to work out one of the interviews he'd done earlier that week, Gary was distracted by Ariana's words, echoing in his head without tether or reason. Another child. The implications of that suggestion were too vast to comprehend. For one, he didn't think Ri was ready for it. On the other hand, perhaps she was finally able to leave this all behind, though somehow Gary had difficulty imagining Ariana's smile.
Even as she'd said it, her expression had remained obscured by shadows and the twilight of their bedroom. Even her touch was hesitant. Gary leaned on his elbows and dug his fingers into his hair.
He bit his lip, tightly. His fingers trembled. After a long few seconds, Gary took a deep breath, shook himself and the thoughts off, reached for his beer and downed it all in one go. How had it all gone downhill so fast? They were lined up for happiness. For a happy family. He'd longed to be complete with another person so badly, had envisioned the three of them together and to have it so cruelly taken was just-
It was just too much to bear.
Work didn't happen in the end. Sleep apparently had, because Gary woke to his phone's beeping early in the morning. He found himself on the couch, surrounded by one too many empty beer bottles.
A moment's disorientation was replaced with a nervous energy familiar to him; the kind that came from too little sleep and being too wound up for too long. Gary cleared the table, packed his things and retreated to the bathroom to get ready for another day of work.
The commute was faster than the route he'd taken to get back home. A spark of hope had been ignited however. At least Ariana was open to a new future. To stop being stuck in the grips of one fatal moment and move on. It was what he'd been waiting for all that time and still. It didn't sit well. It didn't feel right.
"Jenkins, you're doing that interview tonight?" Robert boomed from his office. The man was holding several sheets of papers, talking to his assistant at the same time. A young bloke was stood next to him, small in the shadow of their chief editor.
"Yes, sir, at eight," Gary acknowledged from where he stood rested against the desk of one of their female colleagues. He needed her to give him the last review on what he'd written last night, so it could go out today.
Rober put his meaty hand in the young boy's neck and carted him over, "this is Jones, take him with you."
Gary stuck out his hand.
"Gary, nice to meet you," he introduced himself.
"Jones, likewise." A shy smile. "I just started my internship here," he explained.
Gary gave Robert a look, but the man was already preoccupied with something else. Honestly? They were sending him out with another rookie?
In the end they decided to meet in the parking lot. The interview didn't take long. Half an hour's wait, another half hour to actually get everything ready and then the actual deal. Jones was clever enough to keep to the shadows and behave.
Gary checked his phone. Nothing.
A hand on his back.
"Ray," Gary smiled.
"Who's that?" the camera-man nodded at Jones.
"Intern," Gary replied with a small sigh.
"He looks green. Let's do something about that, huh?"
One bar turned to a handful. They visited the regular. Informants, the people with the juicy information, the rumours and the friends, the 'private' connections, the people that liked money or just wanted some information in return. Or something to drink.
There was maybe too much to drink.
Gary checked his phone only several hours later and squinted at the screen. Ray laughed at him and nudged his shoulder.
"Hey, careful," Gary protested with a snicker, only just managing to salvage his phone from a plummet down the sticky floor of bar number six.
"Wife calling you?" Ray sneered. The man was bigger and had always been the better drinker out of the lot of them. Gary rolled his eyes and put his phone back. He reached out to nurse his drink, only to realize it was already gone. He licked his lips, then decided it might be time to go home instead.
It still didn't sit well. What Ariana said the previous night didn't sit well.
"Take care of 'im," Gary thumbed at Jones, who was barely keeping steady against the bar.
Ray gave him an understanding nod and tipped his drink back.
"Take a cab," Ray advised him.
His head was light when he stepped out, but he didn't feel particularly drunk. Loose, maybe. Relaxed. In the end he didn't take a cab. Luckily, it wasn't busy on the roads he usually took. A sidewalk was the only victim he made, before he sloppily parked in the usual spot. Getting the front-door keys to the house out was the greater challenge. Gary leaned heavily against the side of the door and tried to sort which key was which, trying several at random before finding one that worked.
This time it was Gary who fled her. Ariana couldn’t exactly sleep either but she very rarely left their bed, mostly because she knew Gary worked hard so disturbing him would be detrimental to his job. His fingers had left a foreign feeling on her cheek and she guessed she had been longer without any physical contact than she wanted to admit. She didn’t stir when he left her, just lay there in silence as the bed became colder. She did wonder if it was her presence he fled, or something else? Ariana squeezed her eyes shut against thoughts like a child, blocking it out and ‘if I can’t see it, it can’t see me’. She managed a couple of fleeting hours before her alarm woke her and she rubbed at her tired eyes, sitting up and pulling on some clothes. She patted down the bed for her mobile phone, figuring it must have gone missing in action.
Cold water splashed her face, a brush moving through her hair and she figured she look alive at least. Teeth brushed, perfume applied, Ariana exited the bathroom and went downstairs, dialling the number for the hospital unit she had been referred to.
“Dr Harriet, it’s Ariana, I’m phoning-“ She was cut off by the older man,
[b “Ah! I have your results here. Could you be here in the next hour? I can help you understand them.”] His voice was always steady, she figured doctors had to be like that right?
“Of course. I’ll be right in.” She said quietly and she honestly didn’t know if it was normal to be called in so quickly. Probably just protocol, she told herself as she slipped into some shoes and took her coat from the back of the door, shrugging into it and an extra scarf for good measure. The hospital wasn’t far, her little car was hardly anything special to look at but it was reliable. She grabbed her handbag and put her keys and phone in as she locked up. Gary was usually gone before her, most mornings unless he had a morning off which was rare.
The hospital was clinical, too white and smelled of strong disinfectant, even in the waiting area. Ariana fiddled mindlessly with her fingers, waiting was horrible in these places and she hoped she didn’t catch any bugs from the sick people in the vicinity. A TV buzzed from a corner, mounted on the wall, a dim chitter filled her ears as people mumbled to each other and flicked through magazines. She hated these places.
“Ariana-“ Ariana was up before they could finish, giving a small smile to Dr Harriet as he lead her down the corridors to his office. She sat by his desk.
“How have you been, Ariana?” he asked, starting off gently.
“Well enough.” She said quietly to him, but her physical state to the doctor spoke volumes more than she wanted to confess to.
“Your partner is not joining us?” He asked but did not pursue the matter as he clasped his hands and looked to the woman. He hated his job, some days.
“We ran several tests on you, I’m sure you recall. I need you to listen very carefully. Ariana, the tests showed that you are going to experience many obstacles getting pregnant. Now- whilst it is not impossible it is very slim chances.” Ariana stared at him from across the table.
“I can’t have children?” She breathed.
“I’m not saying that.... I’m saying you will have difficulties carrying a child to term. It’s not impossible but it would be a great challenge for your body and for the child- The likelihood is your last month would be spent in hospital and you would undergo a Caesarean section for your safety and the child’s. Now- Whilst I’m sure you want to try again for a child, come-“ he gestured her to stand on the scales, Ariana obliging in a daze.
“You’re very underweight. You’re obviously not eating enough. Taking care of yourself, lowering stress levels, eating healthily can all help, what I would suggest is if you try, carry on as normal....” He seemed to fade out as Ariana’s head span.
The rest of the appointment was a blur. Ariana scarcely remembered making it home. She had spoken of finally moving on last night. Dr Harriet’s notes were gripped in her hands and a wine glass that was half empty was in front of her. How cruel was it that she could get pregnant, even if by a slim chance, but the likelihood was she wouldn’t carry the child to term? And how the Hell was she going to tell Gary? She drained her wine glass, mustering some sort of bold courage. She looked to her phone and wasn’t sure about texting him. He wouldn’t be home until late. She wasn’t crying, she wasn’t sure what to really feel? Shock of course, fear because Gary might not even want her at this point, helpless?
Gary sighed out, his expression twisted into something hovering between exasperation, disbelief and desperation.
"Ri, you know they wouldn't make you do anything that won't work for you. These days therapy can be tailored to specific needs and-" Sleep. He ought to sleep. Frustration built, the kind that always seemed to simmer just underneath his skin these days. Fingers brushed by his cheek, starting him enough that all that just melted away. Somehow he'd forgotten that Ariana could do that. That a single touch of hers could bring him to his knees and that's why he'd chosen her, those years ago.
His eyes were wide with surprise still when Ariana propped herself up and looked at him. His eyes traced her lines, the fine lines that'd turned ever finer and graceful, until the point where they'd started to become unhealthy. It was obvious she wasn't taking proper care of herself. Maybe if he'd forced her to eat a little more or take it easier. Maybe if he had done something, they wouldn't have lost their child. He should've been there for her more.
Confusion narrowed his eyes.
Think about what? Another child.
"Ri?" He didn't have the words for it. Gary blinked in the darkness, trying to put what Ariana said in its proper context and place. Yes, it'd been almost a year, and yes, he wanted her to move on. But another child? This quickly?
Yet they'd both wanted it so badly, hadn't they? And according to most doctors there was no reason why they couldn't try again.
"Yes," Gary said, after being stumped for far too long. Yes, they could think about that and yes, he wanted to have a child with Ariana. Perhaps another child would make her forget -no, not forget. Give the lost child a place in her life. A place in the past and not their future. He allowed himself a smile, though it was fragile.
"We'll think about it," he said softly, a hand reaching out to touch Ariana's cheek.
"Just. Get some sleep, okay?" They'd wait for tomorrow's results and then see what they could do about their current situation. Gary removed his hand and turned in bed, head still reeling from what Ariana suggested. Why now suddenly? But it was good news. It meant there was progress, somewhere. Would that mean they'd forget about their first child? The child that never came to be?
Gary couldn't sleep. He laid on his back for what felt like hours, turned and tried to get comfortable, but failed. In the end, he got up and padded downstairs. He grabbed another beer and brought out his laptop. If he couldn't sleep, he might as well prepare for the interview he was meant to take the next- no. Today. In a few hours. Give or take.
It wasn’t long until Gary joined her. Their bed had become quiet, silent and cold for the most part. If Gary was out later than usual drinking, Ariana would be in bed and she would pretend to be asleep, for fear of an argument starting especially with drunk or tipsy Gary. His hand on her shoulder was a surprise, physical contact wasn’t really their thing anymore and she missed it, honestly. She knew what he meant by ‘that place’. Therapists and grief groups. She didn’t want to go sit with a group of women who compared dead baby stories, she was almost sure that would make her worse. She didn’t need to talk to a professional who would probably shove some happy pills her way because that was the easiest option. The thought of being put on drugs to keep her cheerful was something she dreaded.
A breathy sigh,
“I don’t know, group therapy seems awful and seeing someone will probably mean medication.” She said quietly through the dark with rain tapping against the window in the background. Maybe she wouldn’t be this bad if Gary acted like a father who had lost a child rather than being so logical and factual about it. She felt like she was doing twice the amount if grieving for the child. She stayed quiet though, not wanting to spark an argument in bed. She watched him in the dim light for a few seconds, before speaking,
“You should sleep, Gary.” As if by some sort of routine or left over tradition, she brushed her fingers over his cheek gently and looked to the window. Sleep was a fickle mistress to tame, it wasn’t that she was sad at night, as far back as she could remember, sleep had always been with Gary as a partner not a stranger in his bed. So often, she had fallen asleep in his arms, entwined together, both content with just being together. Now there was a distance, space between them in a bed.
Ariana propped herself up slightly, looking to Gary and thinking carefully about her next words.
“Do you think- maybe after tomorrow and after the room, maybe we could think about-“ it was still fairly hard for her to say, because the thought felt like a betrayal to the lost child but she was almost sure the promise of another child, another chance at mothering and parenting would fill the emptiness she felt.
“About trying for another?” She finally managed to get all the words out. Would Gary think she was some kind of monster for wanting another child after what had happened? Part of her felt uneasy but maybe Gary had been right, it had been a year, the lost child wasn’t coming back and everyone kept telling her how it wasn’t her fault and things like this just happened. Maybe it was time to start repairing and putting together what was broken now? Of course she could have no idea what the doctors would say tomorrow.
A new baby wouldn’t fix all their problems but it would no doubt help Ariana to move on, give them both something to look forwards to, and maybe this time it would mean so much more to them.
For once Ariana ate without complaint. Gary glanced at her, then focussed on his own food. It was hard enough to lose an unborn child, but watching Ri wither away as she was, was an even greater challenge. Not even just physical. Mentally as well. When was the last time she'd gone out with her friends? At first he suspected she didn't have the energy for it, then perhaps the pain of losing their child would make it difficult being in the close proximity of happiness. Gary suspected it might even be envy that withheld her from continuing on with her life. It only took one little reminder to bring back out the waterworks. He finished his plate quickly, then washed the food down with the beer.
He watched her get up and discard the leftovers, then wordlessly allowed her to retreat. Did his company feel overbearing to her? They hadn't even touched. Gary closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. He couldn't afford to be overwhelmed, because someone had to keep things together for the both of them.
How much longer were people going to be patient with Ariana, if even he couldn't do that much? He was disappointed, with himself more than anyone. Of course she wouldn't be able to clear out that room. Maybe he shouldn't make her do it. She'd find another excuse Monday. Maybe he could say yes. Or he wouldn't be there to actually help her clear it out. Gary took a deep breath and flipped channels. It was still early.
There was nothing on television.
Gary got up and locked their house down, switched off the television and flicked off the lights. It was going to be a long day tomorrow, so he might as well give in and tuck in early. Their bedroom was quiet, safe for the gentle patter of rain against their window. In the semi-darkness of the room, he undressed and found some old shirt to wear to bed. He didn't know whether Ariana was already asleep at that point. It almost seemed to be, and frankly, disturbing that serenity would only lead to arguments.
He slipped into their bed with a sigh, turned on his side and just watched the woman in bed with him. Had it been worth passing up going to the pub? He wasn't sure. There wasn't much he was getting out of this either, except for a hastily put together meal and half an argument, that'd only been diluted due to Ri's lack of energy.
"Ri? Why don't you just ask for that doctor to refer you to that place?" he started softly. Gary put his hand to her shoulder, as if that would somehow connect them. They'd talked about this at numerous occasions too. He believed Ariana needed the help of a professional to deal with the issues that held her back. A psychiatrist. Someone. Someone that wasn't her mother.
Ariana listened to him, and although she knew fine well that he was right and she couldn’t really argue with his point that she would continue to find excuses, that didn’t make his words any less of a sting.
“It’s all very well and good you’ve moved on, just don’t expect me to wave it off.” She remarked to him quietly and stirred her tea, leaving the words hanging there as he sat and watched television, with his beer for company. She watched him and nursed her tea, thing fingers wrapped around the mug. Making the first move would be so difficult.
“I’ll let you know, tomorrow, I promise.” She gave him her word and this time she had every intention of sticking to it. She loved Gary dearly, even through everything, but sometimes she wished he was a little more understanding. She checked the simmering dinner before sitting beside him on the couch, tea in her hands as she looked to the television. There was nothing on, and she wished she was excited for Christmas but the thought of visiting family, going Christmas shopping or even watching happy Christmas films seemed so daunting. She looked to Gary, he was as handsome as ever, since the first time they had met all those years ago. He had always been the far more logical and straight thinking of the two. Her mother hadn’t really approved at first, but eventually had come around.
Her mother was going to be a nightmare, she would witter on and on about how it ‘just happens’ and ‘it’s not your fault’. Maybe she was making her feel worse by constantly bringing it up? Ariana didn’t know but she did know they couldn’t keep up all this. It was damaging to them both but Ariana didn’t know how to start building the bridge and she did feel very alone. Gary was out late all the time, he coped differently but that didn’t make Ariana feel any better. Dinner was starting to smell good and Ariana finished her tea and got up, serving up two plates. She reached into the fridge and got Gary another beer, passing him his plate and the beer. She took her own plate and sat beside him, food was still a bit of a task but given she had forgotten to eat all day, this time it looked good. Instead of pushing it around the plate, she managed to eat the majority of it, only neglecting a few forkfuls. An early night didn’t sound so bad, honestly.
Once finished, she got up and scraped her plate, placing it in the dishwasher. She rinsed her cup and rubbed at her tired eyes.
“I’m going to head up.” She said to Gary, tiredness and just wanting to lie down taking over from any concerns or threats of arguments right then. She wanted to stick to her word this time, as soon as the results came in, she would agree to the room being dismantled. She headed upstairs, changing into a loose t-shirt and underwear, climbing under the sheets, listening to the rain start to patter on the window. How did it ever get to this? There was a time she and Gary had stayed up until 3am talking about their future, laughing, pillow talked until dawn and walking in the door after work had been a joy.
A deep breath. A faltering sentence. Gary looked at Ariana as the woman tried to work up the thousand-and-something'th excuse of that month to not do anything about that room and move on. Just exactly what was the expiration-date on grief anyway? He knew, realized that it might not be a few weeks or months, but it'd been almost a year now. If they'd moved on, they could've had a second child, alive and well, right now.
"Could what?" he tried to help her along, perhaps a bit too eager and sternly. Gary looked down at the beer he'd opened, still sat on the counter after having taken one sip from it. The bitter taste seemed to suit their current situation quite perfectly.
Wait until the test results are back.
Gary gave her a look, a bemused, almost resigned smile playing on his lips.
"Sure, let's wait another week...another month? Ri, I've been waiting for over half a year to clear out that damned room," he stressed. Maybe even Monday. He rolled his eyes and stepped back, exasperated. "You always find another excuse. Monday you'll not be ready, nor the Monday after -Ri, you'll never be ready for this, so why wait?"
His gaze was serious now, a simmering determination blossoming behind the cool steel-blue of his eyes. This time, he wasn't going to back down. It'd been long enough.
He narrowed his eyes at Ariana. Did that mean she wouldn't want a second child? Or even to try and have a second child? The possibility stalled him in his tracks for a few seconds.
Only if the results were bad, wasn't it?
"Tomorrow," he pointed at her. "Tomorrow you're going to let me know," Gary decided. One more day. He'd give her a damned day to sort out her feelings and whatever wasn't currently in her. If he wasn't busy. The undertone to that one was one Gary didn't miss, but he only shook his head, took his beer and left her alone in the kitchen.
He went and sat down on the couch and flicked on the television. There wasn't anything exciting on there either. Just the news, commercials and happy inspiring messages about Christmas. Gary was already dreading having to visit family and see all the supposed happiness and pitying looks directed their way. You'd think people would've forgotten by now, but no. Especially Araina's mother seemed to remain overly concerned. At first it was a nice relief, but now Gary started to think the older woman was only perpetuating Ari's behaviour.
"No," he said mindlessly, flicking to another channel.
Now that he had the time to sit down, his anger slowly simmered down.
"You know I don't mean it like that," Gary said softly. He looked back over the couch at Ariana. Finding nothing there, he turned his gaze back. A sigh. Why couldn't things go right for a change? Why did it have to be this difficult?
"Let's just have dinner and go to bed early," he suggested.
Ariana listened to him as she pushed ingredients together into a tray and placed them into the oven, hoping the end result would resemble some sort of lasagne. It was quick and something she could easily put together. She glanced to him when he said he would be home late again tomorrow, was that supposed to surprise her? At least he told her this time so she wouldn’t be waiting up or worrying for him. He didn’t get much of a reaction from her until that last question. He had asked it before, they had been over it before. Ariana knee the room held nothing of importance, it wasn’t as if the baby had died in that room. But facing taking down a cot? Erasing the entirety of what could have been, it was a lot for her to try and get her head around. Perhaps he had moved on, but she hadn’t. Not yet. She wanted to, and she wanted him to understand that she wanted to move on but every time she tried there was a nightmare or something small that just brought everything crashing back down around her. She was equally as frustrated with him, because he had moved on, he had forgotten what they had lost.
She took a deep breath as she clicked the kettle into action. She was not one for confrontation, she wouldn’t challenge people but Gary never had any issue with that.
“Could...” She faltered slightly as she learn on the counter, she was too tired to fight with him or match his challenges. Her hair had started to dry, edging off into the thick set curls she usually straightened out. She cleared her throat,
“Can we- maybe wait until the test results are back? It’ll only be a week more, maybe even Monday, Gary. Please.” She was always asking for more time, finding another excuse whenever she could.
“I know you’re ready, and you want to move on.” She said and finally faced him, straightening up.
“But I’m not.” She said quietly, that sudden front of facing him seeming to dissipate and dissolve under his steel blue eyes. She could see his frustration, their years together had given her a skilful ability to read him most of the time.
“After the results, we can... we can take down the cot and put it away or-or sell it even.” She said to him, half trying to convince him that this time she was being honest, and half trying to convince herself that she could do this.
“I’ll even phone the hospital tomorrow, see if they have any results back, okay? If they do, I’ll go in, go through the usual routine and then... even this weekend, if you’re not busy.” That last part was scathing. She wasn’t stupid, he worked late but she could usually smell the alcohol on his breath whenever he came home after his long days. There was a deep set jealousy that he had dealt with this so differently from her. He had dealt with it his way, and he didn’t seem to understand that she wasn’t dealing with it, she was dealing with everything her way and that was mostly her clinging to the possibility that it was all a nightmare and it wasn’t real. Except it was real. It was cruel and twisted, but it was very real. She poured a cup of hot liquid that turned a deep amber as it mixed with the teabag in her mug, looking to Gary,
“Do you want one?”
Her hair was wet and limply tucked away, clothes tossed on carelessly. She barely had a shade of colour on her cheeks. Worry shot through his gut like nerves, but honestly? They'd been there and done that whole routine. Ariana would ignore any expression of concern he made, refute it and tell them she was 'fine', or last out in anger, annoyed with the constant inquiry. Even still, Gary already knew the answer. She wasn't fine and wasn't likely to be in the foreseeable future, which was even more frustrating.
When was it okay to tell someone to move on?
'A day'? What did that mean?
From the looks of things, all Ri had gotten up to was wallowing and crying. Gary sighed and decided to leave the matter alone. He'd play along, if she wanted it so badly. Not that that had ever done him any good. Frankly, Gary felt like his back was against the wall. There was not a single silver lining, not a single spark that showed him that Ariana was even in there no more. She'd become a husk of the woman she once was and well, he simply couldn't imagine her to change at the moment.
At some point, he actually thought she might just like being the way she was currently.
"Are you sure?" he asked.
Gary didn't trust it. At the same time, he had to. He couldn't sit idly and let their lives slip by. He looked up, in the direction of that locked room. One of these days he'd find the time to undo that shrine to what had become a bad memory. No matter Ariana's protests.
"Oh, you know, just-" Gary shrugged. "The same," he spun casually enough. Details weren't even likely to stick. He never got the feeling Ri listened these days. It felt like she just didn't care and that was probably true. Gary opened the fridge and searched for something to drink. He found a cooled beer and opened it.
"I'll be home late tomorrow," he announced.
Another interview across town and drinks after, probably. It was better than coming home early to face the dread of a long weekend holed up in their house. Again his gaze drifted to the floor up above. They slept there, showered there and lived there, but barely ever entered that room. As if it was forbidden. Gary felt his frustration build the more he thought about it.
"When are we going to do something about that room?"
His tone was challenging. They'd been here before. It wasn't something he easily backed away from, unlike certain other things. It felt as if that room had become the culmination of their issues. Maybe with it gone, Ri could finally move on.
Ariana had managed a feeble shower, letting the hot water run over her body, rinsing clean any residue. Even the hot water couldn't wash away everything, no matter how strong her desire for such things. There was some level of contempt within her, no matter how deep she tried to bury it. She closed her eyes as shampoo ran down from her thickly lathered hair, narrowly avoiding rushing into her eyes. Her contempt was not with her husband, of course, she never blamed him for what had happened, but she did begrudge that he seemed so quick to move on. The distance between them was becoming vaster by the day and Ariana wasn't sure she knew how to claw back, afraid to lose him in the vast ocean between them. They were both drowning, in one way or the other, she thought, but Ariana didn't know how to take the first breath or how to reach for the life line that would drag her back to shore. She didn't feel in control, she was losing grip on reality, on her sanity and she felt like she was losing Gary. And she didn't know how to stop it. She needed a pause button or a rewind button, anything that would help her just make that move.
She stepped out of the shower, grabbing a towel to ward off the cold from the outside world. She rubbed her face dry and looked at her reflection, wiping steam from the mirror and exhaling sharply, almost disgusted by the image of herself. She heard the door open, hearing Gary in from work. He was late, again, but she didn't have the energy to ask him. A silent part of herself knew she was no longer enjoyable to be around and she didn't want to hear him say those words. She threw on some fresh clothes, at least wanting to pretend she was getting better for Gary's sake. Jeans and a t-shirt, her wet hair left down to dry. She checked her phone and as usual, several messages from concerned family but she didn't have any energy left to spare on assurances for the day. Her mother worried more than anyone, but she was getting on in the years and Ariana didn't want her pressured and burdened by the failings of a daughter. She looked to Gary as she exited the bathroom. She smiled, barely, towards him, a quiet assurance that she was fine.
"Sorry, it's been a day." She excused and rummaged through cupboards,
"I'll cook." She assured him, not wanting to be utterly useless and sometimes keeping busy and her mind off lingering thought was the easiest way.
"How was work?" She asked, avoiding pointing out he was late. There was a time, not so long ago, that he would be home promptly and she would have dinner ready for him, given when she was working, her hours were much earlier. She would need to return to work soon, thankfully they had given her an extended leave of absence with pay but that wouldn't last forever and she didn't want to get to a point where she wasn't earning anything. She knew they never spoke of what happened, they had tried but usually it collapsed on itself like a dying star and it was too much for both of them. So, given the lack of communication, Ariana figured Gary wanted to move on, to be done with it all and not speak about it, whereas she wanted to talk about what had happened, to hear him reassure it wasn't her fault and there was no blame. Deep down she knew he would never think that, but she wasn't herself lately.
It was late when he packed up. Only a few lights in the office were still lit and a cleaning-lady was going through her daily routine. They'd learned how to silently appreciate each other's presence, without interfering or breaking any boundaries. She, unlike some of his co-workers, had never questioned why he stayed at work as late as he was. It was quiet in the office, almost serene. Clouds packed outside, creating a moody and depressing atmosphere. In the twilight of a sun obscured by clouds, it felt even later than it already was.
It looked like there might be rain tonight.
Gary checked over his desk, let the tips of his fingers dart across the small ribbon that was attached to the screen he worked on. It was pink. Filled with all the hopes and promises that had never been allowed to be. It was that which he would return to; to a wife, so guilt-stricken and saddened, that she saw no other way out but to die, minute by minute, each day again. It was depressing.
Rather than compassion, Gary felt frustrated. It'd been months. Yes, the death of a child was hard, not just on her, but she selfishly wallowed and grieved for what had felt an eternity now. Perhaps if she would talk. If they would talk.
But he didn't want to.
He wanted to move on already.
Gary sighed and hoisted his bag across one shoulder.
"Good night, sir," the cleaning-lady greeted him in passing.
The drive home wasn't extensive. Dreary roads fled by unnoticed. What people were out were ducked heavily into their coats to ward off the cold that threatened in the air in heavy expectation of the oncoming winter. Soon there might be snow. Gary didn't take any outlandish route, but he did take a roundabout way, extending the time where nothing was expected of him. A time where he could just pretend to be himself and that everything in his life was okay. Of course, it wasn't.
Ever since that day, nothing had been the same.
The quiet extended to the house.
"Ri?" he called out. One day, he'd come in like this and find Ariana might've done something to herself. It was a genuine fear. Sometimes he had nightmares about it too.
"Ri, I'm home," Gary called out a second time and pulled the door shut behind. The boys were out to the pub, but he hadn't gone tonight. Usually he would, but he hadn't been feeling like it this time. He still ended up coming home late however.
Gary walked further into their house and left his bag on the kitchen-counter. It was clean from disuse. Looked like he'd be the one making dinner again, if he wanted to eat. Maybe he'd just call in something.
"Ri, are you hungry?" he started. Where was she?
[b “Ari? Ari- Are you there?”] Her mother’s voice broke the daydream Ariana was in as she gazed to the door of the enshrined room in their home. She had never so much as opened the door since the devastating day. It had been months, she’d seen therapists and doctors and counsellors and every other psychologist who claimed to be able to ‘help’, nothing and no one worked. She knew what was behind the door, a tiny cot with some yellow ducks hanging over it. In the pastel blue paint, on the top corner her thumbprint was there, she had accidentally touched the paint which had been wet.
[b “Ariana!”] Her mother’s more demanding tone broke her away once more from lingering thoughts.
“Sorry.” She said quietly as she tore her gaze from the door, one day she would be able to face the empty room, but not today.
“Sorry, look, I’ll call you back, alright? I’m fine... really, don’t worry so much.” She said and quickly hung up. If it had been a year ago, she would have been unrecognisable. Her hair had been rich and thick, like melted gold, her eyes bright and she had always taken such care of her appearance. Now, she stood staring into empty space, avoiding contact and touch with anyone, her hair thrown up into a bun with no care, wearing loose cotton shorts and a vest that hung off of her. She barely ate anymore, barely spoke. Everything she did, even existing, felt like a betrayal to her lost child. The words ‘I’m fine’ seemed to fall from her lips so easily nowadays that she almost believed them. She didn’t know how to move on, or how to let someone else in. She didn’t think anyone could understand what she had lost.
Ariana had always wanted to be a mother, even in the changing times. She had wanted to hold a baby and when she had fallen pregnant, her whole world had exploded into colour. Everything she had wanted was growing in her womb. At six months, she miscarried in hospital. Of course she blamed herself, sure it was the foods she ate, the stress or something she had done to cause it. Of course there was really no way she could know for sure. No one could. She had been to hospital to have tests and now it was the waiting game. Ariana turned from the ‘nursery’ door and walked into the kitchen, she needed to find motivation or something. Ever since that day, she had felt so alone. It wasn’t anyone’s fault and she couldn’t describe why she felt so alone but she just did. She felt like she had failed as a woman, as a mother and as a partner. A future had been dashed away in a small instant and it was terrifying and full of doubts. She didn’t want touched or comforted or told how it ‘wasn’t her fault’ anymore. She wanted to know why her, why them. Out of all the people on earth, why did such misfortune strike them down in midst of happiness?
It was exhausting and Ariana constantly felt sick and empty, often finding herself miles away, wishing for what could have been. They would have had a son, a bouncing baby boy by now if fate had turned out differently. Perhaps he would have had golden hair and bright sparkling eyes, or perhaps he would have looked more like his father. Ariana stirred a cup of tea she had somehow managed to fix together, stirring more than she needed to as she thought of his face and what it could have been. The silence was dense and heavy, it was cold and unforgiving. She moved with her tea, keeping the spoon in the beige liquid as she sat down.
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