by Christopher Acker

For the first time in weeks I wake up without the sheets sticking to my skin like plastic wrap. Fall is coming.

His side of the bed is empty and probably explains the comfortable state I’m in. His body gets so hot. I can’t take it. My husband’s absence doesn’t bother me, although I briefly wonder if it should. But this quickly passes. I roll out the cracks in my ankles and slide one of his pillows between my thighs.

I can only hold out for so long before I start brooding over each of Charlie’s possible whereabouts: in the kitchen smoking a joint, watching the Mets play on the west coast, jerking off in the basement. It depresses me I cannot enjoy the rarest of cool nights without worrying about my husband.

What I first perceive as the sound of a radio coming from downstairs clearly becomes music traveling through the open bedroom window. I lay still to let my uncovered ear interpret the sounds I hear. I almost don’t recognize the twang of Charlie’s guitar. I thought he gave up on that.

I pull myself out of bed and lumber to the window. His worthless deposit drips out of me. The rest has already dried up on my leg. I press my head against the screen. The mesh bows outward. One of the corners pops out of the frame. It will need replacing soon. Add it to the list.

I have the words ready in my mouth: Can it, Charlie. You’ll wake the neighbors. I’ll say it just like that to let him know I mean business. But I’ll make sure to soften it. I don’t want to upset Henrietta. She’s having a hard enough time adjusting as it is.

The other day Charlie joked he’ll sing her a lullaby if that’s what it would take to get a good night’s rest. I was okay with a little more coffee in the morning, so the whimpering outside our window didn’t bother me as much.

I watch Charlie sit next to Henrietta’s pen, working his slide up and down the guitar’s strings. I don’t get the allure of the blues. It sounds like racket to me. Almost prehistoric. But to an alpaca, who knows what wonderful delights those strings bring to her ears?

The whimpering has stopped. Henrietta’s eyes turn heavy and she eases herself into a pile of straw. Sleep approaches.

I hurry into the bathroom before Charlie returns. I reach for the light but I stop myself before any damage is done. I don’t want Charlie to think his act woke me up. I don’t know why but I don’t think I was meant to be a part of it.

Before the toilet welcomes my bare thighs and I release my stream, I reach into the cabinet under the sink, knocking everything over in the process. Behind my pads and cotton balls, I grab the box of pregnancy tests. Not the box Charlie knows about in the medicine cabinet but a hidden one to conceal how many tests I really go through each week. I lower myself onto the toilet seat and then tear open the plastic wrapping with my teeth. I know nature doesn’t work that fast. Still, I slide the test between my legs and soak the spongy end.

I wait. I listen to the world. The crickets, the hip-hop blasting out of a car careening down the street.

Oh, Jay Z. Please come back.

A minute passes. I wipe up, wash my hands. With that, the back door opens. I quietly rush back into the bedroom and over to the window. I hold the stick up to the mesh screen so the moonlight hits it. I read the results when Charlie makes it to the top of the stairs. I jump in bed, drape the bed sheet over my naked body, and toss his pillow back on his side.

Charlie works his way into bed like an amateur philanderer. My back faces him so I cannot see what type of expression he wears. But the strong sigh he lets out suggests relief that something is behind him. He brings with him not only an arm around my body but also a whiff of marijuana. He lightly rubs my left elbow. A few inches away from his fingers is the pregnancy test I still hold. To dampen the sound of the stick hitting the floor, I simultaneously turn over and embrace my husband. We kiss. Both of us pretend we’re too tired for anything else.

Christopher Acker is a full-time husband, father, and clinical social worker. Somehow, in his busy schedule, he finds time to write short stories. His recent fiction has been published in The Molotov Cocktail,  No Extra Words and Firefly Magazine.