He’s in the shower. My mouth and throat are like sandpaper. My hands are clammy. My eyes are stinging. I was up late last night writing my final letter to him. The pounding in my chest is harder than usual. Or is that my head? The baby starts to cry in her high chair. Oh, shit. The cereal. The water has been boiling, what’s wrong with me?
“Mommy’s coming, baby! Here comes your num-num!” I tell her, as I mix the Gerber baby cereal with her little pink spoon.
“Foh me too, mama, foh me too?” my toddler’s voice is suddenly looping around the kitchen. “Of course, sweetie!” I tell her, grabbing another bowl. This stuff smells so good, it reminds me of when my mom used to make cream of wheat for us. The thought of eating now makes me nauseous. I hear the bathroom door open. He’s coming out. I rush out of the kitchen and into the living room, which is also our dining area.
I’m blowing on the cereal softly and can see him from the corner of my eye, stepping into the bedroom, and shutting the door. Baby is opening her mouth, waiting for her breakfast. Toddler’s got her eyes fixed on the TV, watching what’s-her-face on Treehouse. Dory? No. Dora. Do you have to explore so loud today, Dora? Shut up!
“Sweetie, remember to eat your breakfast!” I tell her in my trying-to-be-calm-but-not-actually-calm voice. I can’t believe this will be our last time eating breakfast here. My phone buzzes. New message. I turn it over. My throat feels even drier. Do I even have any saliva left? The bedroom door opens. Fuck, he’s coming.
“Yummy, num-num, baby!” I say in my sing-song voice, spoon going in. Baby smiles, cereal all over her little pink gums. Am I really ready for this? Yes. Yes, obviously, you cando this and you willdo this. I hear the jingle of his keys. He’s getting ready to leave.
“Sweetie,” I whisper to toddler, “go say bye to daddy.” She obediently gets up from the mini-table that he built for her, and runs to the den. “Byyyyeeeeeeeeee dadddaaaaaaa!” He’s lifting her up, hugging her. She gives him a kiss. My vision gets a little blurry, but I blink it away. He comes around to kiss baby’s head. As always, I’m invisible. The front door closes, and the lock turns.
I quickly pick up my phone and type: ‘He just left. Come up in ten minutes to be safe.’ Should be enough time so they don’t pass each other in the elevator. I hop over to the bedroom and open the closet door to start grabbing empty bags and see his long-sleeve, collared shirts hanging there. I’m transfixed on them when I hear the lock on the door turning again. Oh no. I scramble back to my chair next to baby and pick up the cereal bowl with trembling hands. He’s back. He marches into the living room.
“Where’s the car seats?” he asks, looking directly at me now.
“Oh,” I manage to say. I never was a good liar. “I brought them up to clean last night. There were milk stains,” I say, trying to maintain eye contact with him. He doesn’t seem convinced. What if he knows? Please just leave.
As if he hears my thoughts, he walks back towards the door without another word. Leaving a trail of fire behind him that I cannot put out. Not this time. I grab my phone again. New message: ‘I’m here. What do I do?’
I respond back: ‘Wait a few minutes. He came back.’ Now I rush over to the window to see his blue Nissan leave the parking lot for the last time.
Trying to remember to breath, I open the front door and look towards the elevators down the corridor. She’s here.
My mom looks terrified. She quickly walks over to our unit, pushing a trolley of empty suitcases. We’re too nervous to even hug each other. Once she’s inside, she hugs and kisses the girls.
“Do you think he’s going to come back again?” she asks me, quietly. I shake my head. “I don’t think so. I hope not. Let’s get going.”
Within a few hours, we’ve managed to pack up the pots and pans, some dishes, all of our clothes, and the girls’ toys and books. I had already packed shoes and other things over the past few weeks and hid the boxes, knowing we wouldn’t have much time today.
“Whey we goin’, mama?” little toddler asks, looking around the condo unit as it quickly gets emptied out. “Just on a little trip,” I tell her, “just us girls!”
“Yay!” she cheers, hugging her stuffy to her chest.
Once the movers have taken the last of the luggage, I sneak into the bedroom and place the letter on the dresser. I take my engagement ring, and then my wedding band, off my finger and place them next to the letter.
“What? You’re not keeping your rings?” mom exclaims.
“No,” I tell her, exhaling for the first time in a long time, “not keeping them.”
I can still hear his voice, slithering into my ear, telling me, “as long as that ring is on your finger, I can do what I want to you.”
Definitely not keeping the rings.
At long last, we are leaving. I look around and exhale again. I’m breathing. I’m actually breathing. As I lock up, I realize that I didn’t get around to cooking dinner. Oh well. He’s got something else waiting for him tonight.