The sound of the key opening the lock roused her. It took her eyes a moment to adjust to the dim light. She heard Jim setting down his briefcase and slipping off his shoes. She considered getting up for a moment, but the thought of movement exhausted her.
She closed her eyes against the bright lights as Jim flicked the switch in the nursery. She gave her eyes a few moments to adjust before making eye contact with him.
“Emma’s asleep?” He asked, looking toward the crib against the wall.
“For now,” she replied from her seat in the rocker.
“Looks like you’ve been sleeping as well.” Jim crossed his arms and regarded her with a half smile and one raised eyebrow.
“Babe,” she said as she rested her palms on the arms of the rocker, “I’m so tired.” The smile left Jim’s face. He turned and left the room.
She checked on her infant daughter before following him into the kitchen.
“Honey, is something wrong?” She leaned against the doorway. Jim did not answer. He stood at the counter smearing spicy mustard on a slice of white bread.
“Why would something be wrong?” He continued to focus intently on his sandwich. She saw the American cheese and ham out beside the open loaf of bread. Her stomach growled, a sure sign dinner time had come and gone.
“I-I don’t know.” She debated moving closer to him, but opted to stay leaning against the doorway. “I’m just so exhausted to-”
“You’re tired?” Jim interrupted. He dropped the butter knife into the sink where it clinked against the other pieces of silverware waiting their turn to be washed and placed back into circulation. “You’ve been home all day Clara. You’ve been home all day for the past seven weeks. Here I am working full time and bringing in our only salary only to come home and have to listen to my wife complain about how tired she is.”
Clara found herself at a loss for words. The incision site on her abdomen still ached. Each time she checked it she swore it seemed as red and angry as it had the first day. She rested a hand lightly over it. “I am tired.”
“Tired from what? Staying home? Not cleaning up around here? I had to wash that knife off to make a fucking sandwich.”
“I’m home with our daughter, Jim,” Clara said. Her entire body seemed to ache. Her abdomen where the doctor had had to cut her open once labor had gone on for too long. Her breasts, heavy with milk.
“Yes,” Jim said. “You’re home with our infant. Aren’t infants kind of like cats? Sleeping 18 hours a day or something like that?” Clara felt stunned. Jim had been so sweet all during her pregnancy. He even drove to the next county to pick up items from the 24-hour Walmart. Now, he seemed to feel only contempt.
“There are plenty of women at work who are mothers. Somehow they manage it. But not you, Clara, you’re staying home because you feel it’s important. But you can’t even manage to do basic upkeep around here and watch an infant.” Jim sneered. He muttered something as he pushed passed Clara with his sandwich held firmly in his hand. Clara stayed rooted to the spot. His words hurt.
Clara had dreamed about being a mother from the moment she met Jim. They started trying for kids as soon as they were married. Six years later, Emma finally joined their family. For the last few weeks of her pregnancy and for the first few weeks of Emma’s life, family surrounded Clara and Jim. Strangers who saw them on the street, neighbors they had never had a reason to meet before, personnel at the doctors’ offices all showered them with attention. But now, their parents had returned home and Clara spent long days inside with Emma.
She caught a glimpse of her husband eating his sandwich in front of the glowing t.v. as she headed back to the nursery.
Emma stirred slightly. She felt so fragile in Clara’s arms. Her head still lolled around, inciting a flare of panic each time Clara lifted her out of the crib or placed her back in. It had seemed wrong to walk out of the hospital with Emma in a baby carrier. Clara had been so tempted to ask the nurse what she was supposed to do next. Clara returned to the rocker and closed her eyes.
As soon as she drifted off a shrill cry pierced the air. Clara glanced at her watch. Emma’s feeding time. One of Emma’s feeding times. She sighed as she pushed herself out of the chair to retrieve her daughter. Emma’s cries continued as Clara tried to get the infant to latch. She breathed in deeply in an attempt to calm herself and stall the tears she felt gathering in the corners of her eyes.
Jim frowned at her from the doorway. “Aren’t you going to make her stop?” Clara paused to look up at him.
“I don’t want to hear it, Clara,” he said. He turned around and roughly pulled the door shut before he walked away.
What have I done? Clara thought as she looked down at her daughter. Emma’s small face was scrunched up in displeasure, her toothless gums clearly visible. Her small hands were balled into firsts as she screamed. Please latch, Clara begged. Please. Emma continued to bawl. Clara had to force herself to keep her hands from tightening their grip on the infant. From shaking the baby to get her to stop. She gently rocked back and forth in the rocker, using the balls of her feet to determine the speed.
As Clara rocked Emma continued to cry. Clara heard a door slam from somewhere else within the house. She winced. Jim did not respond well to tears and screams. He said it grated on his nerves.
Clara felt utterly exhausted. She had wanted this. She had chosen this. She desperately wanted her infant to latch, to remove some of the pressure she felt building up.
At last Emma’s small mouth managed to latch onto her mother. The shrill, desperate cries found themselves replaced by a steady suckling.
Clara sighed with relief. She stared at the crib as she continued to rock back and forth. With any luck this would satisfy Emma long enough for a proper nap.
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