The evening meal was spread upon the table. A great slab of meatloaf and a bowl of cooked green beans. There was enough to feed a family of five, but only two sat at the table.
Margret was always making more food than she or Rick could eat. It was a habit she had acquired from her mother, though her mother had had seven mouths to feed. Rick would always jokingly ask Margret what she was practicing for. Always he saw the hurt in her eyes when he said this.
Margret was unable to bear children. The two had been trying for the entirety of their marriage. They had visited every fertility doctor they could find. All had said the same thing; that it was Margret who was infertile, and none of them had a solution to the problem.
The two drank red wine and discussed the day’s happenings. Rick worked as a paralegal in a law office, and Margret was a home care nurse for a woman with Alzheimer’s disease. Margret spoke of how the woman was getting worse everyday, and soon she would be permanently bed ridden. The woman’s family wished for Margret to move into the house when this happened or else they would find a different nurse. The family lived many hundreds of miles away, and could not look after the woman themselves.
“So what will you do?” asked Rick.
“What can I do? I’ll have to start looking for another job.” Margret spoke with an air of resignation.
Rick took a pull from his glass of wine. He could feel alcohol in his blood and his face was growing hot.
“Well, you better get on that quickly. We can’t afford for you to be out of work.” Rick’s voice was cold. In it, there was no hint of his frustration.
For months, Rick had been asking for a raise at the law firm. He knew how much the lawyers were making, and felt he was entitled to more than he was getting. He did most of the real work anyway, why should he be making so little?
“I’ll start looking tomorrow.” Rick could see the familiar hurt in her eyes. There was something about it that incited him.
“Of course, if you were pregnant, you being out of work would be an entirely different matter.” Again, he spoke coldly and succinctly and he waited for his words to hit their mark. Margret could do nothing but look down at the plate of food that she had so carefully prepared.
They sat in silence for a time, Rick staring at Margret, Margret staring at her plate.
And then, the phone rang. Margret withdrew from the table and drifted to the handset. She read the number.
“It’s Dr. Berridge.”
“Well, answer it. We already know what he’s going to say, don’t we?” This second part Rick muttered to himself, but spoke loud enough that Margret could hear.
The conversation was short. Margret spoke softly into the receiver, saying little more than, ‘yes’, ‘ok’, and ‘goodbye’. Her shoulders slumped as she returned to the table. Rick could see that she was defeated.
“Well? What did the good doctor have to say? Something along the lines of ‘I’m sorry Mrs. Stone, but there’s simply nothing we can do. You’re reproductive system is shot to shit. I’ve never seen anyone so barren in all my years practicing medicine‘?”
Margret looked up at Rick’s hardened face. A tear appeared out of the corner of her left eye, broke from the duct, rolled down her pale cheek and dropped onto the dinner table. Without a word, she rose from the table and moved to the bathroom.
The door locked with a click and Rick flew to the door.
“All I wanted was children,” Rick screamed into the mahogany, “and you can’t even give me that. What good is a wife that doesn’t give her husband children? WHAT GOOD IS SHE?”
Standing before the door, Rick quaked and waited for his wife to answer. But there was no answer. Only the muffled sound of heavy breathing.
That night, Rick was too troubled to sleep. His thoughts did circles, around his wife, his job, and everything he hated about his life. Over and over, he thought, ‘I don’t deserve this wife. I don’t deserve this job. I do not deserve this life’.
And in the morning, he noticed that Margret’s warmth was not beside him. And neither was she in the kitchen. Nor was she in the living room.
And he moved to the closed door of the bathroom, which was still locked. He knocked and called her name.
But there was no answer.