The Horizon Has a Horrible Way of Disappearing

“You probably weren’t going to get pregnant anyway.”

He meant it to be reassuring but it was a horrible thing to hear—the finality of her husband’s statement. What was the point, after all, of announcing a thing that wouldn’t happen?

She lay on the bed, damp from the shower. So many cares taken not to be careless and now this! Her instinct sharpened to knifepoint, a feeling so decisive it amounted to fact, a steely realm entirely beyond doubt’s undertow. To have the matter decided in a moment after years of leisurely appraisal was a shock in itself. She’d leaned against the shower door while her husband stood on the other side of the glass. This man she’d married, so boyish he had to be reminded to brush his hair, wanted to be of use, but all he could do was watch and hold her towel. Now he was off to the all night pharmacy. His manners even then were kind to a fault: “Can I get you anything else?”

All the years’ designs dissipated. No more the chatter of what she now knew had always been a fiction: children long ago dreamed into being and already named—that invention a marriage hinges on, for the idea of children can float for years in a couple’s imagination, neither happening nor decisively not happening. She rolled onto her back and counted the blades on the overhead fan until she was numb with numbers. Too late she learned that what one added could be divided endlessly until all that remained were parts of the whole. She’d spent her adult life waiting to become someone else.

So here she was, herself and alone. It was her body again. For a time they had shared it. That was all. She turned the fact first this way then that in her head. How to explain once wanting to be here and now not, one decision erasing the prudence of the other? No prescribed rules governed her set, only expectations she followed precisely as dance steps with the finale always the same: a husband reeling her in for the big dip.

Her father-in-law called in the prescription. On the Midwestern plains, pearl-handled in moonlight, her mother-in-law must have checked the clock and calculated what the young woman knew: there would be no grandchildren, a hope they’d banked on against the steady progression of years. Children promised a future recognizable from here. How many cocktail hours had the family spoken of it in their living room glittering with crystal? Meanwhile, the young couple’s contemporaries went on Populating the planet, names and birth orders growing fuzzier until each new name served only as shorthand for another gift unsent.

For the young woman the destination had been clear: a yellow doorframe of light she walked towards, never asking herself whether she wanted to live inside in that choose to be on the outside looking in—who could be that brave? And anyway, here he was, her husband returning in his pajamas and overcoat, his hand emerging from the rustle of a plastic bag. He’d made that embarrassing phone call and gone out into the night to insure her freedom. From what, neither was ready to say.

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Jennifer Key is the author of The Old Dominion (University of Tampa, 2013), and was previously a Diane Middlebrook Fellow at the University of Wisconsin. She is a John and Renée Grisham Fellow in poetry at the University of Mississippi.