You stiffen when his hand slides up your thigh. He tries it the way you prefer: gentle at first, like an accident, but his clammy fingertips give him away. “I think I hear crying,” you say, and slip out of bed.
There have been two arguments already—about what, neither of you remembers, probably something to do with your job or his parents or the thermostat—in hushed tones, just in case infants can be traumatized. You want the twins to see what real marriage looks like, all adoring gazes and suggestive gestures. Lingering glances as you cross paths in the kitchen. Someone touching someone always. Or, surely, at least some laughter?
One puckering mouth is affixed to each nipple and a tiny fist tangles in your hair. “My body doesn’t belong to me anymore,” you say again—words he’s heard for months—and you wonder if he notices the way despair sometimes sucks air from your vowels. But he has always claimed you are the one who controls the atmosphere, the one who says yes or no, and now he often acts as though you are the puppet master of everyone’s bodies: your children’s growth. Your collective degree of emptiness.
When his father calls, you don’t push back your chair and leave the room this time because today the terrible news is slicing up his face. Shifting it completely, puzzling all its features into an arrangement even he won’t recognize tomorrow. You come up behind him with your arms, your hands, you press your face into his neck and say I’m sorry.
At dinner, all you can hear are the forks. You sip from your wine glass and he swallows his meat whole. He reaches for you across the table. There is no hesitation: just your fingers curling around his, squeezing. You clear the plates and drop three forehead kisses in succession. Them, and then him.
No matter what is happening anywhere else in the world, no matter what is happening anywhere else in your head, the babies always need to eat and they always need to play and they always need to bathe. He helps you rinse the bubbles from their skin so no one has to be alone. After they are bundled into their cribs, you unzip him from the chest and peel away the layers until you can crawl inside, maybe not because you are still in love, but because you have forgotten where else to go.
Melissa Bowers is a writer from the Midwest. Her fiction was selected for the 2021 WigleafTop 50 and she is the recent winner of the SmokeLong Quarterly Grand Micro Contest. Read more of her work at www.melissabowers.com.