If I swallow hard, the synthetic punch of his body wash is still in the back of my throat. My skin still puckers into gooseflesh. The heat of the shower is behind the closed door but I can feel how it ribboned out to meet me.
And I can still see everything, all at once.
Me, standing one arm slack at my side and the other holding the bathroom doorknob. There’s his wide, wet Appalachian back, a constellation of freckles and tendrils of steam rising from his shoulders. His hand, pressing against the shower wall, fingers splayed, his head bowed and his other hand out of sight, but working a rhythm. He must have been making noise: the whimpering, jagged breathing I know, but I can’t hear for the buzz of my body and the pressure in my head even though my thinking is big, big.
For the too-loud bathroom fan and splat of water on the shower floor.
Time feels slippery like that.
I pulled the door closed, quietly, and stared into the grainy expanse of the repurposed barn board. We picked the door together, he and I, at a weekend pop-up antique market in a church parking lot. We laughed at how cliche we were becoming—purchasing overpriced antiques—something we promised would never happen, but also, something that felt inevitable.
Cliches exist for exactly that reason, he had said. Because in part, they’re truth.
And I smiled and nodded, yes, even though, even then, I thought the truth may be too fine, too fleeting to be this easy to hold. I agreed because it helped make everything—the door strapped to the roof of our hybrid, the peripheral blur of other Sunday small-town tourists, the $400 dollars we’d just spent and the twenty-grand on IVF—seem natural. Seem less like we were giving in, already.
And we swore we’d never do that.
The wet smacking sound of his hand pumping against himself.
A sickening slosh in my stomach. We had salmon for dinner because he read somewhere that it was good for my ovaries.
His furrowed brow and slick fish-lipped focus in the shower. My legs spread wide in stirrups, body bare under a thin blue gown and the heavy demand for more of me: more tests, more transparency. My eggs growing gills and the small store of dark mouths I have left inside me.
So it’s my problem, my fault and all this time, it always has been.
I’m trying to remember why I went upstairs in the first place. I was standing at the kitchen sink, soaking curled and browned salmon skin off a baking tray. It was almost dark outside. Just a split-lip sunset and the deadweight of Sunday evening, like a broken promise.
I went upstairs instead of for the walk I told him I was going to go on because I wanted to see him. And I opened the bathroom door without thinking about how we never close it because my mind was on my bobbing ovum. And I was about to say something about wanting to wait for him to walk but I stopped with the words on my tongue, my mouth opening and closing.
This is what he does when he thinks I’m gone, when I never kept a thing from him.
Absence is something you can feel because of the way it bends you. The picture I have in my mind of the stubbled back of his neck and the hunch of his shoulders: an intimacy he never meant to share with me.
I rest my forehead against the door's sandpaper finish and the water stops.
“Babe?” he calls.
I shift to the balls of my feet and try to bound downstairs, weightless.
“Babe?” His voice follows my bubble trail, bound after bound, like I’m on the bottom of the ocean.
Hollay Ghadery is a writer living in small-town Ontario. She has her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph. Her fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have been published in various literary journals, including The Malahat Review, Room, The Antigonish Review, CAROUSEL, Grain, and The Fiddlehead. Her memoir, Fuse, was released with Guernica Editions’ MiroLand imprint in Spring 2021. She tweets @Hollay2