After the baby finally stops crying and falls to sleep with little hitches and sighs, she remembers how she used to love being half naked in public. She wore shorty shorts and halter tops all the time if she could. A tinkly gold charm anklet and her toenails painted fire-engine red.
Now she’s sitting around in an old sweater and jeans waiting for Charlie to come home. Waiting sucks. Charlie said he was going out, be right back, and that could mean anything. It could mean fifteen minutes or an hour and a half. He could be picking up a pack of cigarettes or some diapers.
He could have a stocking cap pulled over his face, threatening a store clerk. The clerk sweating and fumbling with the cash. “Please, man. Here. Please, I got a kid.”
And Charlie would probably say, “The fuck? I’m not going to shoot you. I got a kid too.” Ha ha. He thinks he’s being funny.
There’s not much you can do to make a two rooms homey but she tries. Plants on the fire escape when the weather gets warm. Blue throw pillows here and here. When the case worker visits with her tidy notebook and sprayed black ponytail she blinks and looks around and around. She asks, “How about this? This domestic situation?”
When Charlie gets back he’ll smoke his single lonely cigarette in bed. The blue light pouring in from the window. Glass shattering on the street below them. She’ll stand in that blue light and pull off her sweater. The fabric of her old bra straining against the weight of her new breasts. Every morning she leaks milk across her fingers and hides in the bathroom to taste its sweetness.
She doesn’t care about the gun in the dresser drawer, tucked far back beyond her good panties, doesn’t even think about it anymore because she knows how Charlie’s bones ache for one last hit. She knows how he still feels that pull in his guts and across every inch of his skin. That he resists and resists is the bravest, coolest thing ever.
When he gets home she’ll crawl under the covers with him, her flesh warming from the heat of his hands. Already she’s thinking; I forgive you. There’s nothing to forgive. We have a whole lifetime of doing the right thing.
(Marylou Fusco is a writer living in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in Swink, Carve, and Rumble magazines.)