He was taking the meat in his white, freckled hands, forming it expertly into tight round patties. It takes both strength and dexterity to move with the grace that he did and I watched the muscles in his forearms shift under his skin as he finished the last few. The coals were hot now and he placed as many as would fit on the grill where they began to sizzle. For some reason the sound warmed me a little on the chilly deck. I noticed the fog starting to roll in, creating a shining line of white where it just barely covered the early evening sun. Guests would be arriving in a while.
I loved him. I had since high school. But now, we didn’t live together anymore. I had chosen to move out months before, giving him back the ring shaped like an infinity symbol that he had given me near my birthday. I had thought making such a bold statement about my unhappiness with his infidelities and cutting cruelty when he drank might shake him up, make him stop. Most of the time, he was charming, passionate and kind, everything I wanted, the love of my life. It was just those moments wounded me so much; wounded us so much. Now here we were, at least together again, though I was girlfriend and guest at his new place- no longer room mate and fiance. But hope was there, tentative and fragile. We were growing up. It felt like a sign that he had invited me to be there early, to help greet the guests as they arrived. Maybe things were shifting, maybe we were moving toward each other again. I loved him.
The meat drippings popped loudly into the orange coals and I almost didn’t hear the light knock through the open kitchen door as someone entered his house from the front. It was early still. The house warming wasn’t due to begin for a while yet. I was tired having just come from work and having been up late studying the night before so was feeling more sensitive than usual at the intrusion into what I had hoped would be a private moment for us before he began playing host. At some point, I had hoped to find time alone to talk about the baby. I needed him and I was scared.
Looking in at the back door, still holding the spatula, he called through his smile, “Hey! Glad you could come early! Come on back!” As he spoke, she walked onto the deck holding a plant in her arms. I would be adult. After all, we were together again, a couple and whatever had happened before, he still worked with her. No more blow jobs at work before they opened. They were just friends. Hellos were exchanged….
“Whatcha got there?” he smiled down at her.
“A plant for your bedroom,” she beamed up at him. Then she turned, locking eyes with me yet still addressing him,”Maybe you could put it on the nightstand next to the bed? It would look nice there. Or perhaps the dresser?”
He handed me the spatula. “Take care of the burgers. Flip them in about 5 minutes. We’ll be back.” And they left me standing there, tired down to my very bones with the dampness settling in deeper than it should have.
I heard them go into the bedroom, and through the layer of cotton that seemed to have descended over me I heard the door to the bedroom close. The workday, the classes I had been struggling over, the baby newly growing inside of me, the absence of any family nearby…. I stood watching the coals, utterly lost in them. Time stopped and I didn’t know what to do.
I was picturing myself tiny, like Thumbalina, so tiny and small that were I to want to I could jump down into those white hot coals and disappear. My baby and I could just become ashes. I touched my stomach. Nineteen and pregnant. Working fulltime and yet down to 110 pounds because it costs too much to live here and buy food too, not to mention going to school. Thoughts were racing in my mind now. Suddenly the conversation wasn’t between he and I anymore. The realization struck me that I would be on my own, me and our baby. I could quit school, drop out on my dreams. To be honest, that was the easy part. Even with no school, we would both have to eat, have a place to live… But you can’t take a baby to work with you and you can’t live without a job…. you can’t… I tilted my head toward the foggy sky, watching the silver lining move farther away towards the bay. The trick was to keep looking up until the tears return to you through your tear ducts, then no one can see you cry.
Meanwhile, the burgers burned.