"The truth of the matter is that I can't marry you. Not while I'm in love with someone else." The static silence of the phone line burned my right ear. I shifted my weight from my left foot to my right. I could sense the varicose vein behind my knee bulging. I ignored it. "Are you still there?" A brief, barely perceptible sniffle could be heard from that tiny kitchen with its cracked marble floor, its only imperfection. Beyond that, it was pristine. She wouldn't have it any other way. She ate apples with a napkin to catch any stray juice. She cleaned fanatically. But she left the floor. She wasn't the kind of girl who praised inadequacies on their charm or their ability to lend things "character." I'm not sure if she preferred the floor out of nostalgia or what. Sometimes she was a mystery to me. "Hannah? Are you there?"
"Of course I'm still here," she spurted out in a whisper. She never spoke when she was upset. She was too strong for that. She would not have her voice crack and betray her. She would not have the rest of us believe in her humane side. Not for something so trite. "You do have to admit that this is awfully selfish of you."
I heaved a sigh. "I'm aware."
"Then do something about it," she spat. "You're telling me that this decision is for the greater good, I take it? That less people will hurt because of it?" She was calling my bluff. "I don't imagine you're going to end your liaison with her"-she meant Yvonne-"because you're in love with me." Finally, she cleared her throat. She was through crying. It was anger that was in her voice, full-volume. "You're taking the safe road, the easy way out. It's not commendable, I'll have you know. You won't marry me because I would want you to cease your forays with all others and the fact that you're enamored with one of them complicates matters. But you'll spend the rest of your days, a thing as close to marriage as any, with this girl who 'doesn't need to get married.' My dearest, sweetest love, every girl needs marriage. She'll bend and break just like the rest of us did. One day, you'll wake up and she'll be looking at you with that needy stare that overtakes every woman who realizes that age is catching up with her and no matter how much anti-wrinkle cream she uses, her crow's feet will stand in the way of every welcoming tryst for the rest of her thirties and secure her a lonely den well into middle-age. Well, it's not fair. And I won't have it."
"Am I to understand that your marriage proposal wasn't multiple choice?" I ventured.
"I don't have the strength for your facetiousness right now. I really don't."
"Hannah. It wouldn't be fair to you if we were to marry. Any time I would act distant or stay late at work, you'd wonder. You'd second-guess every move I make because you'd know in the back of your mind that I'm not yours alone. Not emotionally."
"Francis," how I loathed her addressing me by my full name, "this is not merely your decision to be made. Besides…" It was now that I felt myself wriggling in her grip. From her tone, I knew she was about to toss down her largest bargaining chip, something that would thwart any argument I could fathom. "…I took a test today."
"Oh?" I asked, fearful. "How'd you do?"
"I did positively. Very, very positively."
My head hit the top of the pay phone. "Hannah. That can't be true. We took every precaution." We did too. She'd make me wait in the dark, after I'd "suited up," as she squirted spermicidal foam into her vaginal cavity. And she was on the pill.
"You took every precaution," she said in a voice which much resembled the one she reserved merely for gloating. "There was the time in the shower." She was right. It was during her placebo. Curse my aquaphilia.
It then occurred to me, "That was months ago."
"Yes. And I'm two months late."
Fuck. Fuck it all.
"Hannah. What you're suggesting. It's wrong. We'll each grow to resent that child."
"I will love you and this child for the rest of my natural born life." Never had I heard a deadlier threat. I was screwed. I was so screwed.
I let out an audible groan.
"Now," she addressed me, "I will start boxing up my belongings and start moving them over little by little."
"Where?" I cried. "Not to my place!"
"You can't be suggesting that we move into my apartment. It's far too small. And I can't be alone during this. Not in my condition." She cooed her condition.
"Dear God, you're enjoying this." There was a silence during which I can only imagine she wore a dawning expression.
"You're quite right," she said. "I am."
She laughed a bit then. And I heard a click followed by the dial tone.
I tried. I did.
I hope you can forgive me. I am, after all, only human.
I do love you, Wendy. More than anything.
But I have to do what's right. I can understand if you'll not be speaking to me again. Please know that those three months with you were my happiest.
PS - Do you think she was right about all women needing marriage? That's sticking in my side a bit.