The Women in His Life

Jen promised they’d grow old together, swell into plump bores with matching arthritic socks and a stand mixer sitting idly in the kitchen. He believed her but still never brought her around to meet mom. Mom used to receive flowers, usually from Aunt Beth in Jersey City, once from that former coworker with the doomed crush. Even some from dad that time. Not anymore. She did keep, next to her bed, a deflated Get Well balloon, a sad shiny nothing.

Where are the babies? she wanted to know.

Some in the past, some in the future. Some in the other wing. Take the elevator, turn left.

What about baby animals? she continued. Or baby dolls? It’s weird that I haven’t seen a baby doll in years. Tell me I’m not crazy.

I don’t know, he said. I’m busy thinking.

The thing about Medicaid, she began.

She had many opinions about Medicaid, and a weariness overtook him. He was glad not to discuss the weather but still. He thought mom had the scoop on that one nurse who quit. Maybe or maybe not. He looked at the lifeless balloon. He thought, when the nothing inside us gets even smaller, we have to shrink to keep up. He thought it’s science and explained a lot.

Is that so? he asked. Go on, I’m listening.

Another time, the thaw after a big fight, Jen scrunched up her face, and he wasn’t sure if she looked ugly or beautiful, and anyway it was dark. He didn’t know what to do so he put his hand on her thigh. She leaned into his chest and, nuzzling up to his ear, said, I’ll ruin you. They weren’t old yet, but he knew how to be a gentleman and take her at her word.  

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