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A.M. Gwynn

We Could Be Happy

He wanted to leave the sweat of steel at the front door. Push it open to find dinner warm on the table, the baby gurgling in his swing, Lyudmilla in her pink dress or the black one without sleeves that hung low on the right side. She would open her arms and her mouth to him. "Did you have a good shift, darling?"

The house was dark. The baby on the floor--exhausted in the attempt for attention--tried to catch his breath. The sink of old food and dishes from the night before mingled with the sour of diapers. He turned on the lamp and picked up his son. "Daddy's here, sweetheart. It's all right now."

The baby buried his head in his father's neck with a shaking sigh.

He found her in the tub with her clothes on, the bottle of Jim Beam sucked dry. "Goddammit, Lyudmilla I should kill you." He said it low, behind his teeth so his son wouldn't hear his father threatening his mother.

He pushed her shoulders, tapped her cheeks. Her snores erupted like burps. Emptying the toothbrush cup, he filled it with water and splashed her face. She didn't move.

He carried his son to the nursery and sat with him in the rocker, humming the only lullaby he could remember. The baby was soft and hot. He blew cool breaths against his tiny forehead, stroked back the sweat of his hair. Finally at peace, the baby lay in his crib, tucked in with his flannel blue trucks and green turtles.

He returned to the bathroom and shut the door. With the toilet lid lowered he sat studying her. The crescent hollows under her eyes were purpled. The thinning hair and translucent skin reminded him of a fleshless bone. It only took her six months to become this again. He tried to believe in her after the first time and the second. The baby was going to make it better. She could have settled down, found the happiness that had so far eluded her.

Her stomach was hard. He lifted one eye-lid, the white of her eye webbed with bloody veins and he thought of his mother falling; opening up her right cheek on the nightstand, unable to break her fall. She laughed when she saw the blood on her hands. He saw her and cried, frightened she would die. She slapped him. She wanted another drink. She wanted another and another until she had finally drowned in the bottle. They had tried to make her clean, but she was filled with too much dirt. She would never be clean.

Lyudmilla shifted in the tub with a cough, the yellow phlegm sticking to her bottom lip. He lifted her and removed her tee-shirt, then her skirt. He turned the knob of the faucet to a slow drip, the gentle ping off of her forehead dotted her cheeks. He opened the tap until the water streamed full force, but she was in dreamless stupor, and he hoped wherever that was, it was somewhere happy.

He stopped up the tub with the plug. Filling it until the water covered her shoulders, he stroked her hair, rubbed her arms and legs to give them life again. Her body ignored him. "Goddammit, Lyudmilla." He pushed her face down under the water and held it there. He wanted her to struggle so he would stop, maybe feel the spark of believing again.

His son's cries called out to him behind the door. He lifted Lyudmilla from the tub and rocked her in his arms. "It's okay, sweetheart, I'm still here." She coughed into his arm and smiled.

A.M. Gwynn writes poetry and short fiction. Her recent work will be featured in a forthcoming issue of War, Literature and the Arts and Fiction Southeast. Her work has also appeared in Grey Sparrow Journal, Boston Literary Magazine, Nailed Magazine, and Muddy River Poetry Review. She resides in Germany.

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