Abby usually did the laundry, but on the rare occasion that John did, the smell of the detergent took him back. Back to a time they had both erased from their memory. A time they promised to never speak of again. But the detergent had been only the beginning.
They had been so excited, after a year of trying it finally happened, they couldn’t believe their eyes. But there it was, two pink lines staring back at them. John grabbed Abby in an embrace, both crying. Their labrador retriever, Brody, circled their legs.
The next few months were typical. Abby was tired and nauseous but nothing serious. The doctor’s appointments went well, the baby was growing as expected. John doted on Abby; making sure she rested, ate right, and took her vitamins. He had never been so happy.
Then around the seventh month Abby developed cravings. John started making late night trips for ice cream and Doritos and black licorice. He thrilled with the sight of Abby, who had once been concerned about her weight and only eating organic, now propping a bowl of fried pickles on her large tummy, eating with reckless abandon.
One afternoon when she was doing laundry, John came into the kitchen. She was holding the scoop of powdered detergent up to her nose, her eyes closed, and her lips parted, a dreamy look on her face.
“What are you doing,” he asked, coming up behind her.
“Don’t you ever just want to eat it? It looks so gritty and crunchy and salty,” she asked, taking a deep inhalation of the powdered soap.
“Babe, don’t even think about it,” he said, half laughing, half nervous. “Those are just pregnancy cravings. I think it means your iron is low or something. Lets ask the doctor and maybe they’ll do some lab work,” he said taking the scoop out of her hands.
But they went to the doctor the following week, and the levels were fine. He started buying liquid detergent, just in case.
A week later John came home from work early.
“Abby? Abby you home?” He called. As he walked into the living room she was sitting on the couch, pushing something under cushion. “Oh, hi honey, you’re home early,” she said nonchalantly.
“What was that? What are you doing?” He asked nervously. Brody sat next to her on the couch, cocking his ears at him. Brody had been John’s loyal companion since before he met Abby, but now he seemed to prefer her; following her around the house, sleeping at her side of the bed. Traitor.
“Nothing,” she mumbled with a mouthful. He ran to her and flipped the cushion over, expecting to see the laundry detergent. But instead, there was a hole in the cushion, the size of a baseball, with the stuffing torn out. He grabbed her face with his hands.
“Spit it out,” he yelled at her. She reluctantly opened her mouth and spit the bits of white fluff into his outstretched hand.
“You’re going to choke. This is not healthy for the baby.”
“It’s not not healthy, its only cotton,” she said, her voice muffled, as she calmly spit the last of it out.
“You could get an obstruction or something. I don’t know. I just know it‘s bad. You can’t be eating the furniture!”
“Okay. I’m sorry.”
“Promise me you won’t do it again.”
He turned to go upstairs. He could feel them staring at him as he walked away. For the first time ever, he was concerned about his wife.
That night they went on their nightly walk before dinner. Brody pulled on the leash, Abby’s arm stretched. “Here let me do it. You’re going to hurt your arm,” John said, taking the leash from her.
“Oh honey. You worry too much. I’m fine.” Maybe she was right. He didn’t want to put any added stress on her. He promised her he would try to relax and enjoy these last weeks it was just the two of them. They held hands as the sun set, Brody leading the way back home.
After dinner the following night John took a shower while Abby got ready for bed.
“Abby. I’m sorry I was so hard on you yesterday. I know it can’t be easy being pregnant,“ he called out from the bathroom. She didn’t answer.
“Babe? Are you there?” Then through the bathroom window he saw the motion light in the backyard go on. He went downstairs, still dripping, his towel around his waist.
Through the backdoor he saw her. She was on her knees, feverishly digging with both hands, stopping only to bring handfuls of dirt to her mouth. The backyard was illuminated, showing off dozens of small holes. He stepped out onto the patio, stunned. Hearing the backdoor slap shut, her head snapped over in his direction. Dirt stuck to her chin and under her French manicure.
“I’m sorry honey. I just can’t help it,” she said, dirt falling out of her mouth onto her business blouse, her pencil skirt pulled up over her knees. He walked over to her, took her by the hand, and brought her into the house. He was scared, for the first time in a long time.
“Well the doctor said it won’t hurt you but you need to stop doing it before it does. It’s actually somewhat common he said, it even has a name; pica,“ he told his wife as he entered the living room. She sat on the couch she had once eaten, acting as if everything was perfectly normal. Brody’s head rested on her lap as she pet him.
“I’m sorry. I just can’t help it. It’s like something comes over me and I can’t control myself.”
“Well, honey. Please try. You could get very sick. You’re very lucky you haven’t gotten sick yet. The doctor said he’s had cases like this before, he said to try substitutes for the cravings. Like instead of dirt, try ground cookie crumbs,” he said cheerfully as he sat down next to her. Brody raised his head, irritated.
“Ok. I’ll try it,” an appeasing smile formed on her lips.
“I’m not mad. I’m just worried about you. And the baby,” he said pulling her into his arms. “It’ll be okay,” he reassured her. As he hugged her, she fingered the cushion behind his back.
The next night John came home from work as usual. He found Abby cooking dinner, her apron tight against her round stomach.
“Mmm, smells good. What’s for dinner?” He asked, feeling a semblance of normalcy he hadn’t felt since before she got pregnant.
“I’m making a nice fall dinner. I love this time of year. Soups and stews. Everything pumpkin spice,” she said smiling at him. He opened the oven. “Wow biscuits too.” He came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist.
“Great job, babe. I can’t wait. I’ll take Brody for a walk while you finish and then we’ll enjoy this dinner.”
“Brody, boy where are you?” he yelled as he clapped his hands for the dog. “Honey, have you seen Brody?”
“He was in the backyard last I saw,” she said looking up from the stew. John went to the backdoor.
“The back gate is open! He must have gotten out,“ he yelled looking to Abby.
“Oh no,” she exclaimed.
That night they scoured the neighborhood, calling for Brody, asking the neighbors. There were no signs of Brody anywhere.
“After dinner I’ll make fliers and post them to the telephone poles,” he said. “It’s ok. It’s not your fault. These things happen,” he said covering her hand with his. She gave him a sympathetic smile.
After dinner John took the trash out. He flung the bag into the trashcan and as the lid closed something caught his eye. He reached in and pulled it out.
“What? No. It can’t be,” he said to himself, beginning to panic. It was Brody’s collar. His heart banged against his chest. He ran inside.
“Abby? What the fuck! What the fuck is this?” He screamed.
“I’m sorry honey. I really am. I just couldn’t help it.”
A week later they welcomed a healthy baby girl and the cravings stopped. They never spoke of the incident again, and they became ‘cat people.’