“Steps Taken towards Breakdown”

When the young Husband returns from the lot with a black SUV that can only be described as compact. How the Wife holds her palm to the slight swell of her belly and says, It’s the wrong color, the wrong assemblage of angles and steel.

When at first the radiator goes and the bill totals $484. How the Wife says, See, I told you so. Listen to the Husband say that he did his research, his homework, that it’s not his fault. See the Husband fill a tumbler with crushed ice and blended scotch.

When the Husband attempts to change the oil, his knuckles busted and bloody. Watch the pool of oil spread down the driveway. See the Wife observe from a crack of doorway, her accusatory finger a javelin to the Husband’s chest. How together they do their best to clean, but few words are exchanged. Listen to the silence.

When next the alternator breaks and the bill totals $736. How the Wife says, Lemon. How she forms her fingers to the outline of a lemon and puckers her lips as if to say, sour. Listen to the young couple argue through the night, first about money, then about expectations. Listen to the smack of skin hitting skin. Now understand the Wife, broken, a fractured shell on the hardwood floor.

When together the Husband and Wife install a baby seat that refuses to lay flat. How the Wife says, You’re doing it wrong. How the Husband says, Here, no, you’re doing it wrong. Listen to the couple go back and forth about the baby, about where the baby will sit and be safe. Understand the frustrations of a pregnant mother and expectant father. How the Wife says, Hey, we have to make this work. Our baby needs protection.

When on their way to a second trimester checkup the SUV shudders to a stop. How, still a half-mile from the doctor’s office, the Husband tells his Wife: Get out and walk, just go. Watch the Wife walk along the roadside, the sun hot and pressing. Notice how she holds her belly like a basket of eggs. Now, an hour later, see the Husband arrive at the office. See with him the doctor talking to the Wife, how the doctor touches his fingers to the bruise on her cheek.

When next the engine block cracks and the vehicle is lost beyond repair. Understand the financial burden of young parents to be. How the Husband pounds his fist on the table and turns. Watch the Wife take a step back. Listen to the anger, the misguided proclamations of hate. See the Husband raise his open hand. Now listen to the Wife when she says, No. Not again.

When the young Wife returns from the lot with a yellow Bug on fresh chrome. See the baby seat snug in the rear. Watch the Wife pass by her Husband as she collects her clothes, books, and photos of family. See the Husband stand aside and drink beer from a can, his expression one of defeat. Listen to the Wife say, There has to be a better way. I cannot stand one more minute, one more second. Watch the Bug as it accelerates down the street, first taking a left, then gone, a yellow dot speeding along the horizon.

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About Pete Stevens

Pete Stevens is the fiction editor at Squalorly. His work has appeared or is forthcoming at Blue Earth Review, Word Riot, Yemassee, Hobart, and SmokeLong Quarterly, among others. Currently, he is working towards his MFA in fiction at Minnesota State, Mankato. More at petestevensfiction.wordpress.com.