One night, I was too tired to do anything, but not tired enough to actually fall asleep, so I played around on the internet. I don’t have any particular love for reddit, but I find that the writing sub-reddits are really amazing. There’s always lively discussion and writing going on. It’s just the perfect amount of interaction for me, too.
So on this particular night, I came across this writing prompt:
So… I started thinking… and thinking… and then, I started writing (which is why I love those writing subs!). Here is what I came up with:
by Amanda Carr
“If anything was enough to drive a lady crazy, it’s the thought of having a baby, right?” Marla asked.
Jim stared at the red light out of the car’s windshield. He thought to himself, “Jesus. This light has a four and a half minute cycle, at least. At 6 AM, it shouldn’t be more than ninety seconds.”
“Jim? Honey, what are you thinking about?” Marla asked as she gently poked Jim’s hand on the stick shift. She thought to herself, “He had better not be spacing out on this conversation.”
Jim started. Marla’s voice sounded so sweet, like a little songbird on the first spring morning after a long, long winter. “Oh. I didn’t mean to be distracted. What were you saying?”
“What were you distracted by?” Marla asked.
“Just thinking about the traffic. What did I miss?” Jim tried to remember where the conversation was when he trailed off.
Marla said, “There’s literally no traffic. We are the only traffic on the road. What were you really thinking about?” Marla’s voice was beginning to show her resentment of this habit of his.
Jim sighed. “Where did I lose the thread of our conversation? I remember that I was enjoying it before…”
Marla wouldn’t let it go, though. “Don’t sweet talk me, all of a sudden, like you’re going to get off that easy. Tell me what you were thinking about!”
Jim rolled his eyes. The sweet sing-song nature of her voice was replaced with a bitter, sour tone. “This again? Really? I was honestly thinking about how long the light cycle is. We’re past the light already. I’m sorry I got distracted. What were you saying? I really want to pick up where we left off.”
Marla didn’t want to start a fight, and so she relented. “Well, I think you’re a liar… but I was saying that if anything could drive a woman crazy, it’s the thought of having a baby, isn’t it?” Marla said.
Jim was struck by the impossibility of his situation. He could either rehash the decade-long fight with his wife about his innermost thoughts or he could rehash the decade-long discussion of children. On the one hand, his innermost thoughts were mundane and usually involved numbers—counting stairs, counting steps, timing light cycles, and other fascinating connections that Marla never once believed. Even when he’d excitedly pointed out that a plate that read 3663CF was a numeric palindrome and the letters corresponded with the third and sixth letters of the alphabet, Marla had harassed him for not bothering to come up with a decent excuse for ignoring her.
…and on the other hand, Marla’s quirky, spontaneous nature quickly turned to nothing short of psychosis before their honeymoon was over, and as much as he wanted children, he would never risk passing on Marla’s disposition to his children. Even if it wasn’t genetic… he didn’t want any child of his being raised by a woman who was so clearly bat-shit crazy.
“You’re right about that!” Jim said, “Thinking of having a baby is enough to drive anyone, even husbands to distraction. When do you think we’ll have enough of a nest egg saved up to start trying for a little one?” Jim should hate himself for stringing Marla along, but he didn’t. He didn’t want to fight with her over whether or not to have children when just waiting until they had a little money in the bank was more than she could handle. Every time she wanted a little extra money for lunch with the ladies at work or a new work pants, he’d been more than happy to fork over the cash. In this endeavor, he was too happy to see the value of the joint savings account creep up too slowly.
“Well, at the rate we keep spending, NEVER, EVER, EVER,” Marla said, “But that’s why I’m the best wife EVER, EVER, EVER! I’ve been saving extra without telling you. I opened my own account at First Regional, and I’ve been putting away a little over $1,000 a month for almost 18 months. At this rate, we’ll have over $25,000 by the time the baby’s born!”
“What?! You what?!” Jim shouted.
“I know! I know!” Marla squealed, “I’m excited, too! You have no idea how hard it was to keep this from you. I scrimped and saved everything that I could. I sold my gift cards to coworkers for cash. I shopped for clothes at the thrift store and saved the extra clothes money.”
“I don’t understand…. How?” Jim began counting the stripes on the road. This could not be happening. Marla’s hands were all over him. She was trying to get to his pants in broad daylight. She squeaked and squealed. She cooed, and her voice took on a slinky quality. She was talking, but the only thing that mattered at the moment was the number of stripes on the road. His mind raced. How could he possibly delay this nightmare?
“Oh, Marla. I can’t believe what you’ve done.” Jim pulled both of Marla’s wandering hands into his right hand and held them close to his chest, away from his groin. “When do you want to start trying?” he asked.
“Today! Well, not today, but next month! I should be ovulating on April 14,” Marla said, “but I can’t wait to practice! Let’s do it now. You can pull into an empty parking lot while we still have a little darkness left!”
“April 14. Isn’t that your…”
“BIRTHDAY!” Marla erupted in a gleeful cheer. “It’s my thirtieth birthday, and hopefully the day we’ll conceive. I thought that would cheer your number-crunching heart!” Marla recalled the day they met. She was at a friend’s party, and someone asked about birthdays. Jim overheard Marla say her birthday was April 14, and she should have known then… about the numbers thing. Jim popped right up to her and told her that her birthday, 4-14, was a palindrome, and then he explained what a palindrome was, without even waiting to see if she knew.
Jim sat in stunned silence. He did not feel like breakfast at the diner anymore. He never wanted to eat again.
Marla mistook Jim’s silence for a happy kind of shocked. She ignored the fact that he had rejected her offer of a quick romp in the backseat, and she just enjoyed the feelings she felt. A baby to come… and Jim held her hands to his heart so intensely. Her love for him overwhelmed her, and she felt tears sting her eyes.
On the morning of April 14, Marla woke up early. Jim pretended to sleep, but he had not slept at all the entire night. Marla tried wriggling down under the sheets to wake him, but Jim intercepted her. He said, “Let’s save it for later… for tonight.”
Marla rolled her bottom lip into a pout. “Why can’t we try now and tonight? Let’s have it both ways!”
Jim countered, “As much as I hate to deny you anything on your birthday, especially your thirtieth birthday, we have somewhere to be.”
Marla asked, “Is it far away?”
“Not too far,” said Jim.
“Is it a place with a bed?” Marla asked.
“Yes, actually,” Jim smiled. He felt slimy for his deception. “But I don’t want to play 20 questions. Let’s just take it slow, okay?” He wished he could make her be quiet for 20 minutes. She talked in her sleep for half the night and now she wanted to believe he was taking her away for a romantic baby-making weekend.
Marla checked in on the spare bedroom while Jim warmed the car up in the drive way. The spare room was clear of all the clutter and junk. She had closed her savings account and moved the money into their joint account the week before. She loved that Jim was excited about purchasing items for the nursery, and when he insisted on holding onto every receipt, she found herself surprised that each one would be such a precious memento of this monumental life change.
“Marla! Are you ready to go?” Jim hollered from downstairs.
“Sure am! Are you sure I don’t need an overnight bag?” she asked.
“I’m sure, for the fifth time already. I just need you in the car,” Jim said.
Marla bounded down the stairs, locked the front door on her way out, and practically hopped into the passenger seat. “Alright, Mister Silent and Mysterious, take me where you will and have your way with me!”
“It would be better… um…” Jim’s throat felt tight, “Um… ahem… It would be better if you closed your eyes. And no guessing, either!”
Marla played along. She giggled and she reached for Jim’s hand. She would have made conversation, but Jim turned up the radio. Marla let it go, and she sang along to herself.
After a short while, the car stopped, and Marla heard Jim talking to someone. With her eyes still shut, she imagined Jim giving a valet special instructions. She could have opened her eyes, but she wanted Jim to see the look of surprise on her face. She imagined the romantic destinations that they could have arrived at in this time.
Finally, Jim opened her door and said, “Marla, please be very calm when you open your eyes.”
Marla opened her eyes. She noticed a beautiful tree with magnolias blooming. She noticed a large building, like a hotel. She noticed an elderly person in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank. The expectant smile on her face melted. “What’s going on, Jim?” she asked, “What the hell is this?”
Marla stood up to face Jim. Two men in scrubs grabbed her. “Jim… What the fuck is going on? What the fuck is this place?”
Jim said, “It’s Pine Woods, Marla. I’m sorry, but you’re just not stable anymore. You need help, and I want you to get help. I knew this was the only way.”
Marla’s rage exploded. When she was younger, they said she had an Irish temper, but that was just a nice way of saying that she was given to fits of unbridled rage. “I’ll kill you, you fucking bastard. You’re the crazy one! With your god-damned numbers, counting every fucking thing. How many times have we fucked? Have you kept count? I will cut off your two balls with a rusty spoon and two take away two is zero. How do you feel about those numbers, you cunt faced shit fucker?!” Marla fought the men who held her, and she never even felt them stick her with a needle. Within minutes, she was suddenly very, very sleepy.
Jim filled out a mountain of paperwork, but he had already called ahead of time to discuss Marla’s condition and to find out what would be required to involuntarily commit his wife. He had insisted several times that it was impossible to get her evaluated before committing her. He knew that the second he asked her to consider getting help, she would escalate and become a danger to him and to herself. She had just proved him right. When he was done with the paperwork, he thanked the hospital staff and went home to the nursery full of things he would never need.
As Jim finished packing up the last box of items to be returned for a full refund, a small spider skittered away from him. Jim thought to himself, “Spiders with their eight legs eat insects with six legs. Eight minus six is two. Unfortunately for the spider, two legs are at the top of the food chain.” He grabbed the spider quickly and for the seven hundred forty-third time in his life, he popped it into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully before swallowing.