This story is by Jasmine Lamothe and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“I can’t do this anymore, I feel horrible,” she sighs holding her stomach and pacing the room. Her hair is disheveled from the way I’ve been running my fingers through it the entire night. We lock eyes and a faint blush splashes across her cheeks.
I stand up and walk over to her, cradling her face in my hands. She does this at least twice a month. How bad can you feel about something if you continue to do it? She can’t maintain eye contact with me after. She grasps my hands with hers and I feel the moment my wedding ring touches her skin.
She stiffens in my arms.
“When are you going to leave her anyway?”
I sigh. “After my son is born, how many times do we have to go over this?”
“This is just too much for me! How is this so easy for you? I can’t compartmentalize the way that you do,” she says dropping my hands and taking a step back.
I reach out for her and against her better judgment, she allows herself to be held.
“The way that I feel about you is what makes this easy,” I say kissing her cheek.
It’s not true, I’m sure on some level we both know this but women believe what they choose to believe. When I get home late for the third night this week, my wife is going to choose to believe that I was working late. When I come home smelling of another woman she’s going to choose to believe that it’s just a coincidence.
I can’t be held accountable for the choices that she makes.
She breathes out and I already know that at least for tonight this is resolved. We kiss passionately at the door before I leave.
When I arrive at my car a man is walking around it whistling.
“Nice ride you got here,” he says admiring it.
“Thanks,” I respond cautiously. This man is short and stumpy, impish in size. He’s hunched over but even in the street lights, I can see how red his skin looks. Almost as if he were suffering from some kind of allergic reaction.
“It’s a very unique car for the area. You must be well off.” He states as he continues to circle the car. I’m not worried. I know I can take him in a fight. I just don’t know if what he has is contagious. I don’t want to have to touch him. “I’ve only seen this car here once a week,” he continues, “could never pin down the owner but then I saw it again in front of a hospital only this time you weren’t the only occupant. There was a woman, a pregnant woman!”
“What have you been following me? What the hell is going on?”
“I just know you’re married to the woman at the hospital, I know it, and yet you leave this woman’s house a few nights a week…”
“Alright, this conversation is over,” I say walking over to the driver’s side. He doesn’t budge. He stands up straighter and that’s when I see his mouth. All his teeth were like shards of broken glass. I’m momentarily impressed with how well he can speak before I realize he’s still not moving. “I don’t have time for this, get out of my way,” I say before pushing him out of the way completely.
His body hits the ground with a thump and I climb into the car and peel off. I can see him laughing and shaking his head in the side mirror as I make my way home.
My wife is awake reading a book when I walk in, which is a rarity.
“Hey,” she says looking up at me with a tenderness in her gaze. The book is balancing atop of her very pregnant belly and her glasses perched on her nose slide forward ever so slightly. “Why do you have a red handprint on your sleeve?”
I look down noticing it for the first time myself. That weird guy must have grabbed me.
“The weirdest thing happened to me before I came home. There was this very short man, his skin was red like he spent the entire day burning in the sun. And his teeth were long and sharp. He was admiring my car but then he started to get weird, speaking as if he’s been following me around town for weeks.”
“Sounds a lot like the Nain Rouge,” she says offhandedly.
“The what?” I ask
“The Nain, it’s this old myth they have around Detroit. The Nain is this weird little creature almost goblin-like with red skin, long nails, and super sharp teeth and it’s said to bring misfortune to anyone it interacts with. My dad used to scare us with it as children so we wouldn’t do mean things to other people.”
“Sounds like a bunch of B.S. to me.”
“I don’t know, it worked on us. As the tale goes, the Nain is especially rough on anyone that’s struck him. But you’re probably right,” she says yawning, “it’s just another town myth. I’m going to bed sweetie,” she says taking off the light and turning over.
It starts so small that I don’t even notice it at first.
The next morning my toast burns, and I chalk it up to my being distracted. Then there are the grinds in my coffee. I’ve been doing the same thing every morning for 3 years and this has never happened to me before. Still, I dismiss it and make the instant coffee in the cabinet. It isn’t until my car won’t start that I begin to get suspicious.
I figure I must be thinking about it too hard and hail a cab to work. After fifteen minutes he drops me off outside and I hand him my card to pay.
“Declined,” he says handing me back the card.
“Run it again,” I say dismissing him to make an appointment with my mechanic.
“That’s not possible,” I say pulling up my bank information into my phone. “Give me a second.”
The screen loads and what I see baffles me so much that I climb out of the cab immediately. I can hear the driver yelling and cursing at me before peeling off. My account isn’t just empty, it’s in the negatives. I’m on the phone with my bank before I can even step into the office.
“It seems like there may be fraudulent activity on your account. We can open an investigation but it can take up to five weeks before it’s resolved.”
“So you’re telling me I’ll be broke for five weeks?”
“We can open up a new account for you and send you a new card in the mail but please be advised if the issue isn’t resolved in your favor you are liable for the fees accrued on the account.”
“Okay fine just send me a card.”
“It should arrive in 7-10 business days, sir. If you are satisfied with your service today please remain on the line to complete—
I hang up the phone once I’m at my desk. I’m not even seated for a full two minutes before my boss asks for me to come with him to his office.
“Unfortunately due to budget cuts, we have to make some adjustments to the team so we’re going to have to let you go.”
“I was the highest earner for this entire fiscal year, and you want to let me go?”
“If it was up to me, I wouldn’t be letting anyone go, but this call came from the big guys upstairs, I don’t have a choice.”
Before I’m even conscious of what I’m doing I’m in front of her house with my office supplies in my hand.
“What are you doing here so early? You weren’t supposed to be by until tonight.”
I open my mouth to respond when I hear a man’s voice in the other room.
“Babe, can you bring some water on the way back to the room? You’ve got me working up a sweat in here,” he chuckles.
She at least has the decency to blush.
“This isn’t how I wanted you to find out. I was going to tell you tonight that you should just focus on your marriage and the baby. That I found someone,” she whispers.
I don’t even respond, I just turn around and leave. As I’m making my way down the street I get a call from the hospital.
“Your wife has been in an accident we need you at the hospital right away. She’s in labor.”
I run all the way there, I’m panting and gasping for air by the time get to the room as a nurse is coming out.
“Just wait right here, mom and dad aren’t quite ready for visitors.”
“Dad?” I say looking through the window to see my brother kissing my wife’s forehead.