Shattering glass jolted him awake. Raising his head, he strained to listen. His wife stirred beside him.
“Did you hear that?” he whispered, placing a hand on her shoulder. Her body tensed.
“Shhh! Listen. Someone’s downstairs.”
Peering through dusty bands of light that slipped through the blinds to streak across the ceiling, closet, and crib, he heard a sound like teeth rattling in a cup–glass fragments raining on hardwood.
“Stay here. Call 911.”
She nodded, her eyes shining cat-like.
He crept toward the crib, where stuffed animals, plush and safe, sat in a row, their plastic eyes reflecting the silvery pre-dawn glow. The toys weren’t cheap, but he understood; the woman was nesting, creating the perfect environment for their child. He fumbled in the closet for his old high school bat, but the bat wasn’t there.
Damn, she’d been cleaning again, rearranging his shit, driving him…well…bat-shit. It didn’t matter that the bat wasn’t hers; when she decided something was out of place, it disappeared. Then she’d forget she’d touched it and would not be held accountable for its loss. Which was why he’d entered the twelve-step program.
Actually, the why was his inability to cope with all of life’s little issues. Friends, relatives, in-laws, co-workers, everybody stressed him out; stress made him drink; drink made him abusive, violent: the last time just days after learning she was pregnant, because she’d moved/lost his professional poker set.
Her ultimatum: “Get help or get fucked.”
He got help. Found a sponsor, started taking responsibility–already he’d clocked sixty days sober with the token to prove it. When the baby arrived, he’d be six months dry. Then he’d surprise her with it–like a birthday present.
He took a breath, focusing on the threat downstairs, wondering which window had been broken. Having just painted the nursery–hedging their bets with alternating panels of sky blue and pink–she’d decided the whole first floor deserved a makeover too. This was fortunate–plastic tarps made noise.
He heard footsteps, definitely on plastic, probably in the kitchen. He started down, visualizing the layout. The lower he descended, the clearer the noises: another step, a drawer sliding open. Definitely the kitchen.
Skirting plastic, he slid along the living room wall into the dining room to crouch behind the hutch. When the intruder entered, he’d focus on the stairway, leaving his back exposed.
Shards of light rippled off the plastic like moonlight off the surf. A shadow slithered over the shimmering surface–a shark stalking the shallows–and he tensed, wishing he had his bat.
Movement on the stairs caught his eye–his wife tiptoeing down. He waved her back, but she stood there, stupidly, leaning over the handrail, staring directly at him.
Then he heard the rustle of plastic, followed by a familiar whoosh…and the world blazed startlingly white.
* * *
His eyes groped the darkness amid swirling stars–pinpoints of light eddying across the void. Gradually, dizzyingly, the darkness resolved into man and woman.
The woman handed the man a lunch sack. “Twenties, like you said. Now give me a minute.”
The man pocketed the sack.
She knelt by her husband. “I’m sorry, sugar. You just get so ugly when you drink. I did it for the baby.”
He blinked, slowly comprehending, and tried telling her of his progress, but blood and broken teeth garbled the message.
“Shhh,” she said, gently pressing his chest. “It’ll be over soon. I promise.”
“Could shoot him,” the man said, shouldering the old high school bat. “Be more humane, less splattery.”
She shook her head. “I told you. It has to look unplanned. Like he had the bat, but got it taken from him. It has to be the bat.”
Her husband shut his eyes, thinking again how fortunate they’d put down plastic. Then he wondered what their baby would look like…who it would take after more…would it be a boy or a girl…
As if reading his mind, she caressed her bump. “You forgot the ultrasound yesterday. But it’s okay; I went alone.” She tilted her head. “Want to know?”
His eyes searched hers.
“Okay, darling,” she whispered, beaming, “but then you have to go…”