Creative Writing. / Short Stories  / Empty Nest

Empty Nest

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I’m seated on my couch pretending to watch the current episode of Scandal. My cellphone is on the floor. It’s ringing. I don’t know why it won’t stop ringing. I can’t tell who would be calling me at this hour or why they have been trying to reach me for the past hour. The clock says it’s half past midnight. The carpet spread from one end of the living room to the next makes the house warm; and a little dusty when the sun’s heat loosens the dust from the unpaved path outside the gate. It also helps with the unwanted phone calls because having my cellphone ring on the floor reduces the startling vibrations and constant buzzing.
The bottle of Le Filou is half empty. It’s funny how I downed it after staring at many such bottles in the refrigerator and reaching for the broccoli or tomatoes instead. It’s David’s favourite. The only time I taste it is when he kisses me after he has had some with his dinner. Thursday night. Every Thursday night I roast some beef, a T-bone steak which has sat in rosemary marinade for twelve or more hours. I quit red meat years ago, but started to join him from time to time after the wedding. Our wedding. I don’t even know where the pictures are. I guess you stop showing off your wedding pictures to friends after a while. After your friends get married and have babies and your pet dog runs away and your child dies because she was born with a hole in her heart.
David is a typical sweetheart. He likes to help people. Runs marathons, is a volunteer with the Red Cross, teaches first aid at the local hospital, goes for the food drives for elderly citizens, squats while talking to kids, takes his clean car for a wash at the Autism Awareness Society stand while I shop at the Capital Centre. I got a good man, I know.
When we got our first pregnancy scare, I was in my final year of college and he had been working at a non-governmental organization dealing with intellectually challenged persons for six years. He got on his knees at the coffee shop and touched my tummy. I was so embarrassed I started crying, begging him to get up. He did, eventually. Then he threw me a private party complete with a kilo of red velvet cake and balloons and a new batch of keys to his house, office and car. I was a little overwhelmed and embarrassed all at once. Sometimes I told myself that he would change his mind or find someone more mature or someone as thoughtful he was and less driven than I was. Yet he stayed and I finally graduated and got a job too and moved with him.
When Ella was born, we had no idea that she was so sick. The doctors let me go home after a day and she was a normal sleeping and screaming little baby. Then she stopped gaining as much weight as she should have after a year and a half. I saw a nutritionist and gave her multivitamins. She ate and slept and played and gained weight slowly. Six months later, I assumed it was the terrible twos and the picky appetite that comes with it. She had no fever, but she started to play less and tire more easily. David and I took her to a Pediatrician. That’s when I overheard him talk to a nurse about a heart murmur. They put my baby through a series of tests and a picture of her chest indicated a hole in her heart. The only time I cried so much was after her funeral. The surgery went well, but she lost too much blood and became one of the rare cases where her heart was stopped and would not start again. Part of me died when Ella left us. David tried what he could as a good human being, but it was difficult for us both. He got into the shower with me and did not ask when I got into bed and looked away as soon as he turned in. He got me Reginald Brown’s Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. It was the just right thing to do at the time. With each page read I realized that my life was not over. With each chapter reread, the tears only lingered instead of streaming down my pillow. I started gardening, went back to work, started talking to my family again. We had our friends come over for Sunday lunches and the lost light began to return to our home. We turned Ella’s bedroom into a library and stocked it with old books I had collected from my campus days. That evening, I invited David to join me in the shower and he gladly obliged me. It was the first time we made in love in weeks and it was something out of a romance novel. He was gentle and held to me with such purpose, as if I would somehow slip away if he didn’t. We talked about our pain and I realized then that he too had been grieving. He too had lost a child whose milestones had hardly begun. As the weeks passed, I started to listen to him more and let myself be less upset around him. When the words came out wrong, I would tell him that I was sorry and I started, it seemed with practice, to mean it.
Last year, David was voted in as his company’s representative for their corporate social responsibility projects. It was such a big deal for him I thought to throw him a party and have his friends and his brother come over from across town. When I saw the boys seated together with their beer and David with his glass of brandy, I wished I had thought to do this more. To celebrate him for the wonderful man that he is. It occurred to me that I could show him in little ways that I still cared for him deeply and was glad that we had survived our mutual loss. I started to come home early so we ate less pizza during the week. On weekends, I spent more time in bed in the mornings and started to bring him breakfast in bed. Shopping took less time and I would read in the afternoons when he was helping a neighbour with their website or some computer problem.
I was hardly prepared for all the traveling that David’s new position had in store for him. It had been obvious, of course, that he would need to be away a few times in the year when he would be doing public appearances and launching events, but then I started to miss him. He was hardly home for dinner, was always up before me and slowly converted my library to his home office. I was furious and he could tell. The attempts at winning me over with white chocolate and silk scarves worked for a time. When I saw the pattern drawn over his well-rehearsed apologies and vegetable curries from online recipes, I felt sick with disgust. I started shutting him out, raising my voice and meeting up with the girls on weeknights. Then I discovered a television series about a woman who fixes people and gets to have an affair with the present of the United States of America. David traveled more and I started to stay in on weekends, watching Suits and Scandal and lusting after chiseled and maliciously power hungry men in expensive suits who made knowledge of the law seem necessary for everyone with half a brain.
By the time he sat me down to say that he thought we needed space, it felt as if I had already moved on. I had managed to fight the temptation to buy toys for pleasure from an online store. I had started to lose the weight gained from several rainy nights spent in the company of chicken nuggets, popcorn and smoothies. He noticed. With his politely worded statements and empty compliments he had noticed, but I didn’t care anymore. I tried to imagine what it would be like without him just as he offered to give therapy a try. As it turns out, he thinks I need help. David Nziza thinks that I, his wife of twelve years, am troubled. In my books, and having shared my personal space with a psychologist for so long, that is the code word for needy or detached. I would not let him pin it on me, but I also realized that I was not ready to hand him over to another woman. And refusing to oblige him would literally mean passing him on to another woman. He is still so perfect; good on both the inside and outside. Tonight, he sat me down to talk. I thought about how we met, about Ella and all that happened since then. My tears drew an unexpected reaction from him. He said that he was no longer in love with me. He left to stay at a hotel close the airport and said that I could call him if I needed to.
After all this time, I am not sure I know how to love someone else. Now, after watching him pack a small bag and leave, I realize that I don’t understand what happened or how we got here. Something has changed. I have changed. So has he. Still, I cannot begin to understand how or why I am losing the man I love. He walked out without stopping to explain things like he always has. I wish I had tried to stop him. Well, I did try, but the words would not come out. The tears did, though. Freely and without summoning until they ceased as suddenly as they had started. But David did not see them, would not stop to see them so they would change his mind.
The bottle is empty now. I’ve run out of both tears and wine.
©S.Ogugu 2014
Sharon Ogugu
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