by Denis Bell
“It came out positive.”
It would seem so. The news was surprising to Ruth because Sandra was old. Not Betty White old, but easily old enough to be Ruth’s mom.
“What did Jim say?”
“I didn’t tell him.”
“Sandy, he’s gonna have to know sometime.”
Sandra didn’t even bother to reply to this, just twisted her mouth into the expression of disgust that she assumed at times.
“You ought to go see a doctor. Sometimes those tests are wrong. There was this chick I knew in high sch–”
“It’s not wrong, I checked it out. When they say no sometimes it’s yes but when they say yes it’s always yes.”
Sandra looked down at her stomach, as though she expected to see it expanding. Not yet, after two months. Anyway, she’d always been kind of chubby. She would be chubbier still. Like a balloon. She knew the changes that her body would go through, she’d done it once before. Nausea. Bloating. Back pain towards the end. The sheer strangeness of something growing inside her, a part of her and yet… not. And how sick she had been after… Women were supposed to like it. Did this mean that she was not a real woman?
“Perhaps he’ll be happy when he hears the news. My sister’s boyfriend was when she told him she was pregnant with my niece.”
Yes, thought Sandra, though she assumed that this was something else that he had given up on long ago. Laying around the house all day in his underwear, drinking and farting and picking at his sores. Yelling obscenities at the TV and passed out on the couch by 8:00 pm. That which he claimed to want most in the whole world, their failure in this regard brought out as a club against her time and again, she had the power to give it to him now.
She had the power.
The thought was so strange, it seemed to lack meaning. Meanwhile, Ruth was carrying on nine to the dozen about the sister and it seemed necessary to contribute something to the conversation.
“So, are they?”
“Are they happy?”
“She thought so, for a while. Then one day he just up and left. Told her that he needed his freedom.”
Freedom. This word had so many meanings. Sandra had lived with several men in her time and they always seemed to come up with some version of it when things went south.
“He doesn’t want it, he only thinks he does. He hasn’t worked in three years.”
Sandra was becoming a little distraught.
“How can we…”
Ruth reached out an arm and drew Sandra towards her. “Don’t worry sweetie, it will be alright. You’ll manage, people always do.”
Spoken with the deep wisdom of twenty-four years of life, thought Sandra.
There had been a delivery of muffler parts earlier in the day. Sandra picked up a box and started towards the back of the store with it.
“You shouldn’t be doing that! Call Pete.”
Pete was busy with a customer. Sandra would carry the box herself, and the other boxes too. Tonight, she would be the one doing the drinking in the Krogh household. The booze would help some, but it too would not put an end to this nightmare. There were only two ways to do that and sometime soon she was going to have to choose one.
Denis Bell is a professor of Mathematics at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. He grew up in London, England and studied at the Universities of Manchester and Warwick, where he obtained a master’s degree in statistics and a doctorate in mathematics. He has received several awards for his scientific work, including an Outstanding Scholarship Award from the University of North Florida and a Research Professorship at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley, California. A spinner of small tales for many years, he started publishing his fiction five years ago. His work has appeared in many literary magazines and journals, including Grub Street, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, and the Adelaide Literary Awards Anthology. A Box of Dreams is his first published collection.