There was a student in the fall semester. A young woman named Brianna. She’s very bright, Sanderson told me. Her technique is rough, but inspired. Sanderson would call me in the afternoon, sometimes as late as five o’clock, to tell me that he was going to miss dinner. He never lied about where he was. He’d say they were going for drinks, grabbing a bite. He was helping her with her portfolio. One night he took her to Flip’s bar. That’s how self-assured he was. Flip told me that he saw them share a plate of calamari. That the woman fed him a ring from her fork. He said, The way she leaned across the table, Anne. I don’t know.
I have always known this about Sanderson. He’s one of those men who can keep his loving in separate compartments. He can love two women at once and not feel that he’s betraying either of them. But when we got married, we promised that we’d tell each other about our attractions, that there wouldn’t be any secret affairs. I can understand having a crush. It’s lying about it that bothers me.
It’s eleven o’clock when we sit down at the wobbly kitchen table to eat. The pasta should have been cooked for another five minutes. It sticks to my teeth like masking tape. But the four of us are so hungry we finish most of the noodles anyway, use up the whole pot of sauce to cover the piles on our plates. Flip mops up the last of it with a slice of garlic bread. Sanderson is quiet, possibly craving a cigarette. Shona is the only one who has wine left in her glass. I wrap my ankles and feet around the cold metal chair legs and silently will Sanderson to not open another bottle. It’s cold in the cottage, even though the candles on the table make it look cozy. I could go put on some socks, but Sanderson already took my bag upstairs and I’m too lazy to go up there. My belly feels full and tight from too much pasta and bubbly water.
So, have you picked any good baby names? Flip asks me.
I heard someone in Calgary named her daughter Lexus, I answer.
I think it’s exciting, Shona says. I’m living vicariously. Flip looks at her. You want one too now?
This is how it happens, Sanderson says.
Shona looks at him. What exactly do you mean, she says.
We all want meaning in our lives. We all want to feel significant. Why else would we choose to have babies? It’s our mortality thing.
Flip says, You have a mortality thing happening already?
Shut up, says Sanderson.
I try saying this out loud: I just think it’s time. I feel ready. I don’t want to wait until I’m old to have a baby. I want to be a cool mom.
Shona says, I hate to say this, sweetie, but I don’t think a mom will ever seem cool to a teenager.
What do you think is old? Flip asks.
I just feel ready right now, I say.
Sanderson pushes his chair back from the table. He says, If I’m not ready now, I’ll never be ready. It’s time to throw cotton to the wind. He picks up his plate and brings it to the counter, plugs the drain, and turns on the hot water tap. Did we bring dish soap?
Shona points. Underneath.
Caution, I say.
Everyone is quiet for a moment. Then a round, hollow, and breathy sound comes from Flip, who is trying to hide his laugh in his wineglass. It sounds like the fossilized call of a loon. Shona rolls her eyes at him.
It’s throw caution to the wind, not cotton, I say.
You know what I mean. You don’t have to make fun of me, he says.
No, it makes sense. You just throw cotton to the wind. It starts blowing around, right? Because of the wind? I start laughing, knowing that I should stop if I don’t want to start another fight.
Sanderson ignores me. He looks in the cupboard under the sink and finds a bottle of green dishwashing detergent. He squirts some into the sink and there is a sweet apple smell. A white foam begins to grow on the water. Flip and I make ourselves stop laughing. We all sit at the table and watch Sanderson do the work.
You’re going to quit smoking when the baby comes, right? Flip asks him.
Sanderson looks pained. Yes, Flip, of course I will.
Shona gathers the rest of the plates on the table and stacks them in front of her. She places the three forks on the top plate, which is covered with splotches of red sauce like a lurid Rorschach test. I think it would be nice, she says, for our babies to grow up together. She rests her hands on her belly.
Flip stares at her. I think we should wait, he says. Until you start teaching. You’ll get maternity leave when you have a job. He touches his upper lip with his thumb. We could get a dog first.
Like Janine, says Sanderson.
Janine’s dog is a baby replacement, Shona says. I want the real thing.
Flip holds the edge of the table with his hand. No, no. I’m way too irresponsible.
Shona sighs when she brings the stack of plates to the sink. You’re just a scaredy-cat, she says. If I got pregnant, something would click for you. You’d get another job.
I say, What’s wrong with working at a bar? Bartenders are respectable people.
You know what a baby means, says Flip. The money. There are those trust funds, those babies with the little graduation caps. No. Not until my own student loans are paid.
Shona laughs. Stop it, you’re killing me. Paying off our student loans!
Sanderson turns off the tap and swishes the water with his hand. There’s the bumping sound of plates swimming against stainless steel. Shona is beside him at the counter. She puts an arm around his waist and leans against him. He braces himself against the counter with one hand and holds her weight. Look at Sanderson, she says to Flip. He’s not a scaredy-cat. I bet he still has student loans. Don’t you, Sandy?
I glance down at my stomach, the way it makes a small ball of itself when I sit. It looks flat when I’m standing, but there’s a little roll when I’m sitting down. I fix my posture in the chair. My belly changes when I straighten my back, but it still rests in a small lump on top of my legs. It’s not a pregnant lump, it’s just a weak abdomen, too much for dinner. But I try to imagine what it would feel like. When you’re carrying a baby, you must feel like you’re always carrying around a little Christmas present.
I’m actually all paid up, says Sanderson. But I had scholarships, so.
Flip stands up and fills my field of vision with his long legs, his green plaid torso. Sanderson is older than I am, he says. He’s much more mature.
Don’t you forget it, Sanderson says. Now excuse me, all of you, but I’m old, and I need a cigarette.
Don’t turn on the porch light, I tell him. You’ll attract the moths.
When he goes outside, I reach over the table for what’s left of Shona’s wine. Flip waggles his finger.
Oh, drink it, Shona tells me. It’s not going to hurt anything. If Janine were here, you’d be drunk by now anyway.
To be continued…