He hates mornings when the evidence of past lives and old moisture pushes upward from the carpet and hangs heavily in the air. After they moved in, he had purposed to remove the once maroon number but several other projects took preeminence. “Delay continues to bite me in the ass,” he notes and hurriedly ties his laces in anticipation of the outdoor refuge. It had rained and Bradley was hoping for the crisp open air drizzled with the freshness of wet grass wafting to his nostrils. Instead, the rain exacerbated the distinctively acrid odor of dog urine that now threatens to stifle him. “This block has too many damn dogs.” He laments as he turns onto 9th Avenue. He was never a dog person, often watched other folks with their canine friends and wondered if they'd lost their minds or fell at birth. He could not imagine owning any animal other than his Canadian Sphinx, Luanne. And might have reconsidered purchasing the Brownstone if he knew the block had so many dogs. But he loves the coffee shops, bakeries, myriad of restaurants, Prospect Park within walking distance, mothers jogging with strollers, dads with the baby strapped to their chest dynamic of his neighborhood. He and Abidemi had thought it would be fertile ground to plant roots. A sentiment he still holds dear.
He feels it coming, the wash of memories, and breaks into a jog to prevent them from hijacking his legs. Brad hears the thud of soles on concrete pavement, feels the build up of lactic acid in his thighs and zeros in on it. “You’re a living thing, Bradley. A living thing.” he reminds himself between breaths. The lights begin to change on 10th Street. He quickens his pace but is too late. “Another almost. Another freakin almost,” he mutters as he runs on the spot. The light changes again. Sprinting to the park, he avoids the joggers’ course. They ran there. Now he maneuvers the tiny pathways within. If one route curves to an abrupt end, he runs across the green until another appears, until he is back where he started, outside the park and wrapped in the dog piss scent that irritates him. He does this today but makes a brief stop to get bagels with cream cheese before the throng of parents, children, human and dog lovers flock the area.
Once again in the house, he tries to air the rooms then brews a pot of Blue Mountain Coffee. Abidemi had introduced him to it’s addictively mild flavor and lack of bitterness. He wanted to know why she spent such an exorbitant amount of money on coffee. Sometimes jokingly accused her of being a coffee elitist. To which she had replied, “anything I consume, should taste good.” He remembers that day; the mocking expression on her face, the hint of Vertiver soap and the frankincense oil he watched her place on each chakra marry and dance in the immediate space around her. He remembers the rise of her breasts and sharp nipples pushing against the baby yellow tank top and his left hand pulling her close to kiss her forehead. A gesture he also employed to communicate the wealth of emotions that swelled his heart on Blue Mountain’s summit. The trip was a gift from Abby for his 30th birthday. They stood enveloped in each other’s arms watching the North and South Coasts of Jamaica, the outline of Cuba in the distance and the ocean beneath them. Luanne’s purring against his leg breaks the reverie. He dispenses some dried food into her bowl. Reaching for a mug to pour his joe, the bright orange cup in which Abby loved drinking her coffee, seizes him. He suppresses the torrent of memories and reaches behind it for a plain white mug, grabs his bagel and heads for the garden level.
It was the only floor they had finished renovating. The first half served as Abby’s dance studio and the other, his office. He would sit at his desk and watch through the glass doors that separated their space as her lithe body made abstract images. Images that inspired many of his award winning drawings. He loved sketching her in motion or in a quick pose then imagine a beam or a structure, sometimes a building in her form. Eventually creating a unique body of work that led critics to dub him an avant-gardist. Taking a bite of his bagel and two sips of his coffee, Brad wills his thoughts to gather in the present. “Power up your computer” he commands himself. These days he thinks out loud and encourages himself even for the simplest of actions, for he is afraid to forget how to function. He needs the encouragement and serves as his own pep squad. Another bite of his bagel. Another sip from the mug and he roves through his Gmail account, sending mails to his partners at the architecture firm, a few clients, his assistant, then stumbles upon a notification for an upcoming show by the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. He considers cancelling his subscription then weighs it against purchasing a ticket, palms his face, sighs, then runs his hands through his hair. It resurrects the feel of her voice, her fingers tracing his scalp and another torrent of memories barrel towards him. She liked quoting ‘A Night without Armor,’ and in one particular instance, she called him “her blonde hurricane.”
“Then you’re my South African beauty,” he offered.
“Your South African beauty? I’m not even South African, silly!” she jokingly replied.
“I know. But you bald your head like them.”
“Yeah, because I don’t want to worry about my routine and a hairstyle. Plus, black girl hair has a lot of politics. Either way, I don’t wanna be bothered.”
She was always definite in her decision making. Something he had grown accustomed to and unknowingly took comfort in. So, on the day he knelt between the legs of her sitting form perched on the edge of the tub in their sunlit bathroom, and heard her say, “I’m keeping it,” he felt and believed the finality of her words. His mind whirred; they needed a nursery, some of the designs needed to change in order to accommodate a growing child and the furniture needed to be child safe. He kissed her belly and the bedazzled ring jingled. She giggled. They called family and friends to share the news. She craved hummus and would sit in front of the television scooping spoonfuls of it into her mouth. Some days she was a burst of sunshine. Others, she was a hormonal tyrant from the gates of hell. Together, they made waist beads for her expanding belly and an album of sonograms. He watched motherhood tattoo it’s marks on her derriere, she worried it would stretch to her abdomen. He kissed it when they made love. They named her Isoke, satisfying gift, and counted the time until her birth in days. Months seemed eternal.
Towards the end of her second trimester, Abby’s energy level became substantially low. When she wasn’t agitated, she was withdrawn. Brad thought it was part hormones and the construction noises. So he spent less time fixing things and more with her in the park, at home, or on dates. During one of these excursions, her eyes filled to their lids with tears, she remarked “I am in over my head with this.”
“Honey, you’re not alone. I’m here with you.”
“Yes and I appreciate it but it’s too much.”
“What can I do?”
“Nothing more than you’re already doing. You’re fine. That’s the problem. You’re fine.” she sobbed.
He got up and went to her side of the table, hugged and assured her that they would get through it together. The next day she told him she made an appointment with a therapist. He offered to join her but she insisted on going alone and for three weeks she did. Some days she was herself and others she was worst. Those days frayed his nerves and they fought.
“I know it’s hard on you but don’t you think it’s hard on me too?” he bellowed
“What’s hard on you Brad? Being supportive to me?”
“No! Not that! seeing you like this!”
“Do you think I like being this way? I don’t!”
“I know you don’t. But there must be something I can do.” he softly inquired.
“I told you no. You're fine. It’s me! I’m the defected one. ” she said between tears. “Why can’t I be like the happy pregnant women?”
“Honey, just 3 more months and it’ll be over.”
“I can’t do this anymore. I feel like an alien in my own body. It’s as if it doesn’t want me in it!”
“It'll be over soon. 90 days honey. you can do it. we can do this...”
"No! I can't! Not anymore!"
"What do you mean?"
She paused then said, “A late term abortion.”
“What do you mean a late term abortion? The nursery is almost finished. We already named her. She's got a name. God Abby, please don't do this. Don't kill her. I love her. Please.” He pleaded between tears of helplessness.
“I’m sorry. But I can’t Brad, I can't…” she cried.
Luanne stirring on his thighs breaks his concentration. Blinking, he furtively wipes the calving tears as if there is an audience from which he wishes to hide his sadness. Grabbing his hair, he makes a voiceless scream as the tears stream down his face, hot and broken. Luanne jumps from his lap, he bends his head and lets it escape in loud bursts. On the day of the appointment, he had knelt before her, arms wrapped around her swollen belly, his cheeks pressed against it with teary pleas for a change of mind, promises to throw up every time she vomits, anything, everything. She cried and begged for absolution. He could not go to the hospital but an hour after she left, he wondered if she was alive. He dodged in and out traffic to sit in the waiting room.
In the months that followed, he watched her breasts leak onto the pillows, watched her place warm rags around them and amidst the love and sadness, an abhorrence built within him. She saw it too and even though she was a seemingly better version of herself, many times he saw her standing at the door of the nursery buckled over and sobbing. They would do this for 4 months until she said she needed to move in with her parents. He almost begged her to stay so that they could lean on each other’s sadness. Instead, he drove her to the airport and promised to mail the things she could not carry.