In her night dress, Lucy raced down the stairs to reach the phone before it beeped over to answer machine. It could only be Alec calling this late and he hated to leave messages.
“Hello babe,” she said, the brightness in her voice a little hollow.
“Hi sweetheart,” Alec slurred, “did I wake you?”
“No,” Lucy looked at the clock, “It’s only just half ten.”
“I’m on the train.”
Lucy breathed out, not quite huffing.
“I left the car at work. Had one too many.”
“No problem,” Lucy said, trudging back upstairs with the phone.
“Great. My train arrives just before eleven.”
“I’ll be waiting,” she started to say, but her husband had already hung up.
She dressed quickly, grabbed her coat and keys and headed out to the car. The rain fell heavily and she was glad she hadn’t asked Alec to walk home from the station. She flicked on the car lights and wipers and switched the heaters to demist the windscreen, tapping her fingers on the steering wheel as she waited for it to clear. The windscreen fog retreated slowly from the hot air vents and she wiped the inside of the glass with a tissue to hurry things along.
She reached the station in time to see Alec lumbering across the car park, his briefcase held over his head to deflect the pelting rain. Lucy leaned over to pop the passenger door for him.
“Thanks for coming out,” said Alec, leaning from his seat to kiss Lucy on the cheek. “You weren’t in bed were you?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
Lucy stole a look at Alec while checking mirrors, glimpsed him brushing rain from his hair with the flat of his hand.
“You said you were coming straight home tonight to talk,” she said, her eyes fixed on the road.
“That was tonight?”
Lucy stole another glance. In the poor light from the street lamps she couldn’t tell if Alec looked genuinely surprised.
“I thought we said tomorrow.”
“No,” Lucy exhaled.
Alec placed a hand on her knee.
“We’ll do it tomorrow. I promise I’ll be home by five and all yours for the entire evening.”
“Promise?” she said, at once annoyed at the neediness in her voice.
“I said so, didn’t I?”
Lucy smiled as Alec leaned back in his seat and yawned.
By the time she woke the next morning Alec had already left for work. Stepping out of the shower, Lucy could hear the steady beep of her mobile phone. She tapped the alert off, opened the medicine cabinet and retrieved her pink sheet of pills, taking them with her into the bedroom.
Sitting on the bed, one towel around her head, another wrapping her body, she twirled the half used packet with the thumb and forefinger of each hand. Every now and again she stopped and stared at the empty pockets around the edge, the foil popped from the inside as though the pills themselves had punched their way out. The remaining tablets rattled as she returned to twirling the sheet.
Lucy watched the small white shells in their day labelled air pockets as they flicked in and out of sight, finding if she did it fast enough they would almost disappear. She stopped, popped a pill from its casing, placed it on her tongue and washed it down with a desperate gulp of water.
Lying back on the bed, she placed her hands upon her tummy, pressing lightly with her palms through the plush of the towel. She felt heavy, her body turning to stone, sinking into the mattress. Closing her eyes, light playing across the inside of her eyelids, she allowed herself to escape into a doze.
That evening, well before Alec was due home, Lucy cleared away all evidence of her efforts in the kitchen, the luxurious smell of lamb the only clue that a major enterprise had been undertaken. Happy that the food was okay for a few minutes, Lucy took the wine and reached for the corkscrew, hesitated, decided to wait for Alec and returned the bottle to the fridge.
Alec arrived home a little after eight. She had long given up on trying to save the food. The lamb shank sat cold and black in the belly of the oven, pans of overcooked vegetables cluttered the hob. Lucy sat curled in an armchair, staring at the television.
“What’s that I smell for dinner?” he called through from the hall.
Alec stepped into the front room, all smiles and bearing a small bunch of pink roses.
“What was that, love?”
“Dinner’s ruined. It was ready hours ago.”
Lucy marched past Alec, ignoring the flowers. In the kitchen she began clattering dirty pots and pans, draining mushy vegetables and scraping their drowned remains into the compost bin. The smell of decay wafted out of the small plastic tub and Lucy opened a window to clear the air.
Alec stood at the kitchen door, poking his head into the room, a boyish look of supplication on his face. She took a deep breath, counted silently to ten as she began to load the dishwasher.
“I am you know.”
Alec moved between Lucy and the worktop, taking a dirty saucepan from her hand and guiding her to a dining chair.
“Please, sit. I’ll open the wine, sort this lot out and order us some takeaway from Ken’s.”
Alec poured Lucy a glass of white and set about clearing the kitchen.
“You said you'd be back,” Lucy said. “I made your favourite.”
“I know. I’m sorry but it’s not my fault today. I was held up in a meeting plus there was that works tribunal thing to sort out.”
“I want to come off the pill.”
Lucy stared at Alec. There, she had said it. She sipped at her wine and waited for him to turn round from the sink.
“Do we have to discuss this every six months?” He said, clanking pots into the dishwasher, his back still to Lucy.
“I’ve changed my mind.” Lucy struggled to keep her voice even, neutral, but felt resentment seep into her tone.
“And do I get a say?” Alec snapped, finally turning to face Lucy.
“I wanted us to have a proper meal and talk about it.”
Alec poured himself some wine and sat down.
“Am I not enough for you?” He said, taking Lucy’s hand,
“That’s not it at all. I just want us to be a family.”
Alec slumped a little. “I thought we were a family.”
Lucy put down her wine and knelt on the floor in front of Alec, taking his hands, forcing him to look at her.
“This is a marriage. We need a baby to make us a family.”
“You’re only thirty-two,” said Alec, “your biological clock hasn’t wound down just yet.”
“We could wait and leave things too late.”
Alec fell silent, seemed stumped for an answer.
“We agreed we didn’t want kids,” he finally repeated.
Lucy let go of his hands, stared hard into his eyes.
“I’ve changed my mind.”
“I haven’t,” said Alec.
The rest of the evening was spent in silence. While Lucy took a bath, Alec hid himself away in the spare room study. This allowed her the time to dry her hair, dress and pack a bag. Passing the door of the room she had daydreamed about turning into a nursery, Lucy considered knocking or calling to Alec inside. She hesitated for a moment then padded quietly down the stairs.
Leaving the house, she closed the heavy front door gently behind her. She put her bag on the back seat of her car and sank behind the wheel. As she turned the engine over the front door opened and Alec burst out. He was calling something. Lucy pulled away at speed, her foot desperate on the pedal. In her rear view mirror she saw Alec tear down the drive after her, his mouth shouting but silent, his voice drowned in the growl of the engine.
She kept her eyes on the road, compelling herself not to glance again into her rear view as she headed to the end of the road. Before turning, she allowed herself one final look back. Framed in the mirror, Alec stood at the end of the driveway, the poor street light and the distance between them making him little more than a silhouette. She stared hard for a moment, half expecting him to begin running after her again. Instead she watched him turn and slowly make his way back up the drive. Only when he was gone from view did she check the junction was clear and turn left.
Lucy sped down the empty streets and soon reached the outskirts of the village, approaching the traffic lights near the White Horse just as they flipped from green to amber. She put her foot down to beat them but was too slow. Breaking heavily, the car screeched to a halt just over the white line. She looked around nervously; no one to see, no one to hear.
She pulled down the driver’s side sun visor to access the CD carrier strapped to it. A photo of herself and Alec cuddling by the fire, their first Christmas together, stared at her from the transparent document pocket on its end. Lucy tapped the photo with her finger, pulled a disc from the holder and glanced up at the traffic light.
Her eyes moved back across the photo of them both, smiling and somehow so much younger. She closed up the visor, obscuring the photograph, and slid the CD into the player.
The light, still red.
The music began. Lucy readied the car to pull away and waited for the light to change. Surely it must change soon. She needed to be on her way.
The red light held her fast.
-Dan Powell is an English writer living in Germany. Before becoming a home-dad, caring for his young family full time, he worked for almost ten years as a Secondary School English Teacher in the U.K. He writes fiction of all shapes and sizes and recently had his flash fiction 'Impact' published in the charity anthology 100 Stories for Haiti. He can be found at www.danpowellfiction.com.
-Photograph by Christopher Barrio
-Model in Photograph: Lisa Damiani