Hesitation Marks

by Sean Ruane

There was a couple who couldn’t have children so one day the woman went outside and collected a pot of dirty snow. The husband asked her what she had in her hands, which themselves looked like the razed stems of Japanese Knotweed, and she said that she had a frozen uterus, did he forget, and that she was going to grow a child. She brushed past the husband, grabbed an ice cube from the ice box, and planted it in the pot. Use two, said the husband, in case one doesn’t take, and she said ‘no’, she didn’t want twins; she had been a twin, she reminded him, and there are always shadows cast about a twin, one always looked like a slightly diffracted version of the same accident. When you strangle your shadow, she warned, be sure it belongs to your dead sister.

The husband began scratching his neck with a knife and making noises like a dreaming dog. Put in another cube to help the first one incubate, said the husband, seeming to know an awful lot about sex. She patted the snow gently with her trowel. Just one will do, she said.

The tea kettle whistled; she told the husband that it was the sound of a developmental milestone being celebrated in a parallel nursery, and then she wept. This was a bad idea, thought the husband.

The next day the wife returned from the pharmacy and gave the husband a medicine dropper; once a day he should fill it with Kayro syrup and feed the child. The one in the ceramic pot, steeping in carbon and sunken car fumes? he asked. The wife gave him a look. It would be good if you tried to connect with it, she said, as she combed the dog’s hair with a plastic fork. She called sweaters dogs because the Animal Society never approved any of her adoption applications. She stabbed instead of combed.

The tea kettle whistled, signifying hot water.

The husband’s face was smooth but his neck was covered in course hair; it was like carpet on a boat’s deck. He seldom shaved below the chin, and whenever he did, the wife would comment on the number of nicks and cuts that he left behind. Your neck is breathing, she’d scream; you have gills everywhere! He’d stand in front of the mirror, trying to squeeze his ears together with the palms of his hands, hoping for the dizzying concomitants of having gone too far.

The wife never realized until she watched a forensic show that they weren’t gills. His neck will keep him warm, she thought, during the long winter of his fatherhood.

On day six the wife saw a bud, an inchoate leaf of ice sprouting from a small crystalline tube, and she screamed, that is, she danced.

A leaf; great, mentioned the husband, grabbing his neck hair by the roots. He was now expecting this morose ice stalk to grow and start dropping children like blighted oranges. On birthdays he might stack the falling snow in relation to the child’s chronology; his wife suggested a snowball fight with the afterbirth. That suggestion made his neck itch even more; I will scratch it for you, if you’d ask, said the wife, holding a pastry cutter and smiling, not at her husband but at her child, the lethargic white snow bulb.

One morning the wife slapped the husband’s hands. You fool, she said, you are killing our child; look, the stalk, it is bending! And indeed it was; the husband was inducing labor in long smooth strokes, shaving it down with the blade of an ice skate. We want him robust, if not clean shaven, do we not?

Oh–yes, yes, but alive, said the wife, shouting like a tea kettle, signifying motherhood.

If he has your weaknesses, he will be bullied by the sun, warned the wife.

If he has your strengths, said the man, he will be a string of somber Tuesdays. Either way, the child will shine our faces up with pride when it grows up, continued the husband, now gliding the skate across his own neck, delirious with hesitation.

Sean Ruane is the author of Unknown Categorical (Cow Heavy Books, 2011). He has been published in Mudluscious, Eyeshot, Sien Und Werden, Storyglossia, Elimae, and other places. He lives in Baltimore and is currently working on a collection of short fiction called Heteroskedastic.

Back to Issue Ten: Winter 2011