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Harold snaps open his eyes. His fingers twitch. On the screen in front of him, centered in the monochrome field of lines and squiggles, is a gray rectangle containing words that slowly, dimly enter his conscious understanding.
Error. No help is available here.
He drives. She stares.
The silence is loud with Dionne Warwick, prepsychic, Bacharached thick with strings. The look. Of love. It’s on. Your face. The look. That time. Can’t era-ase.
He drives. She stares out the passenger window. There are no sights to be seen there. On other drives, she has always ignored the view as she speaks and speaks, rubbing fabulously floral-scented lotions on her hands, checking and rechecking her makeup in the visor mirror, talking and talking without pause, all uppercase and exclamation points. But today she is silent, staring, the glass two inches from her nose.
He drives. The suburbs of New Jersey blur past in the blue of evening. Her neck is twisted just a bit too far for comfort, just enough to make it clear to herself and to him that she looks away. Away from him.
He knows why she’s angry. He knows and he sympathizes. He can’t blame her. Any woman would be angry to learn that her husband doesn’t want children with her. The words were never said, and he will never say them, but he knows that she knows, because what else could his behavior mean?
His two kids from his first marriage are difficult enough; why add more pain? This is one part of the swamp like resistance he feels, although he can’t put it into those words. He won’t admit the concept into his awareness because when it comes to his son and daughter, he’s cemented into a defensive posture: a concrete linebacker, ready for a hit. He loves the pair with a blind, helpless devotion, which just adds to the bewilderment he feels every time he attempts a conversation with either of them.
The other part he has the words for, but he can never, never say them. Her continual, escalating criticism of his kids—they are hopeless sociopaths, future criminals, and he’s to blame, he with his sycophantic connection to his malevolent first wife—all this has finally worn a nasty little sore on his invisible innards. It hurts every day, and he has come to the conclusion that, with her, he never wants to be a parent.
Now, the radio blares Dionne and neither of them speak. They are driving home from an aborted journey, a sweet task gone sour. Rather than leaving his sperm sample at the medical lab for a fertility test—the two of them together, all full of romantic hope that the miracle of science could fulfill their cute if unproductive new couplehood—they had instead been humiliated.
“I will not jerk off in their bathroom looking at Penthouse,” he had announced a week ago. “I just won’t do it.” So she had volunteered to help out. She went to the lab, picked up a sterile container, and offered to help him summon up the juices, after which she would deliver the precious vessel back to the lab. But she included a dire warning that the results could be faulty if too much time elapses (“Remember, this Jersey traffic…”) between ejaculation and testing. Feeling guilty in the face of her generosity—after all, she had undertaken all the complicated but inconclusive tests of her own reproductive powers without any help from him—he made an impulsive offer.
“They have evening hours, right?” He hugged her and murmured in her ear, “How about we pretend we’re high school kids fooling around in the car, something we never got to do? We’ll go park in the cemetery next to the hospital, climb in the back seat, do some fun stuff, fill the jar, and scoot for the lab.” He didn’t mention the extra benefit: that his plan would mean he wouldn’t have to take any time off work.
She caught the vision, gave a low laugh and kissed him with a probing tongue and a hip press, and they made a date for the next evening as soon as he got home from the office.