Do you remember when we were just starting out?” She asks as they get into bed. Blue light from the television screen drapes over the furniture and casts shadows along the far side of the room.
“We could barely afford a mattress. We had to sleep on the floor for months. My back remembers.”
“It wasn’t so bad. At least we had each other. Sometimes I think about what we’d give our kids if we died. That’s something we should be planning for.”
“We don’t even have kids yet,” he says and turns the television on mute. “We should plan that first, before we worry about willing our hand-me-downs to them.”
She twists around to face him. She can’t make out his expression with the television burning bright behind him until the news program cuts to a commercial, and a darkness falls over everything. Just before her eyes are allowed to adjust, the commercials begin again, and the artificial light swallows everything before her. “How often do you think about having kids?”
He doesn’t answer. The blankets rise almost imperceptibly, then fall again, as if the bed was some sort of amoeba and they were trapped within it, waiting to be digested.
“Are you sleeping?” She asks.
“That means you were.”
“You tell me first,” he says. “Do you think about kids often?”
She rises in bed and reaches for the glass of water she placed on the dresser. It’s too far away and too cold, and she feels something pinch when she stretches that far, an old injury. She sinks back, the pain radiating throughout her midsection. The dresser wobbles and the water teases her. She sighs. “The thing is, when I do think about kids, I fixate on being a parent when they’re a little grown. Like, not little anymore. You know, the early years, that sounds fun to me. It’s long, time-consuming work, but it’s easy. Definitive. They have a problem, there’s one correct answer in solving it. All you have to do is find it. But what about when they start middle school? You remember middle school? Everything becomes a problem, and nothing’s black and white anymore. So do you help them, even when they don’t want your help, or do you force them to help themselves, even when they do want your help? How do you know you’re making the right decisions?”
“Sounds like you think about this a lot.”
“I guess I do. Sure seems like it now that it’s out in the open.”
“That’s OK. I think about it too. But when I think about having kids, I never get too far. What scares me is if the kid will be born healthy or not. What’ll we do if he’s like my brother? What’ll we do if he’s born … different?”
“Don’t worry about that. We’ll figure that out.”
“What if we can’t even have kids? What then?”
They share their silence while the television flickers on one side of the room. She reaches for the glass of water again. This time it seems closer. She almost has it when the television cuts to black and everything expands away from her. There’s a tiny fear snaking through the darkness, she can hear it approaching. She gives up the water and moves to embrace him, but in the darkness he seems further away then she remembers, further away and comfortable with his own distance.
— Mason Schoen is a creative writing graduate student.