This story is by Catharina Hof and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I look at the blue strip, an anxious knot in my stomach that seems to enlarge every second.
Just when I have to courage to leave, just when I told him I am leaving.
Ian went out in a huff last night after I told him, he hasn’t returned.
Last night I packed my bags, filling my car with my most important items. I want to leave before he returns. I think he wants me to have left when he returns.
He went to the pub to drink, I suspect. God knows where he spent the night.
And now this.
I stare at the blue strip. I become aware I’ve been holding my breath. That won’t help the situation. Mind you, neither will standing here in the bathroom, the minutes wasting away.
I don’t even know why I bought the test. I try to think of the reason, what went on in my mind, but can’t remember. I didn’t expect this.
Should it change my mind?
There’s a reason why I’m leaving. There are many reasons. The question is whether this is reason enough to change my mind. Can I do this on my own?
I never wanted this. I never thought I would want to do this, let alone do it alone.
Then again, staying in an unhealthy relationship wouldn’t be good either. It wouldn’t be fair on the child. Is it fair on the child when it grows up with only one parent, because of a choice I made?
Could I even support a child? It is scary enough to make the decision to leave without considering the expense of a child.
I’ve been thinking of leaving for a while. For a long time, I ignored my discontent. Even when I felt it I told myself I ought to be content, happy even. The sense of being stifled, alone and unsupported grew under the surface.
I never thought I could feel so lonely in a relationship. His mates are more important than me, as is his job, his sports, He even goes away on his own. He tells me I wouldn’t enjoy fishing or mountain biking anyway. The point is, he often doesn’t even tell me he’s going to disappear for the weekend to do these things.
It feels like we have separate lives.
In the beginning I liked it that we each did our own thing, as well as stuff together. It’s just that these days we only do things apart, never together. He seems to still have a bachelor life and I end up at home feeling lonely and alone. Almost single, except without the advantage of being available.
Of course, if I leave now as planned, I will be single and unavailable. The only difference is the reason for being unavailable has changed.
Is that a good enough reason to stay though?
My mind is a jumble.
My back is aching.
I look up from the blue strip and my eyes meet my own in the mirror. Tired bags under my eyes, in a pale face. My eyes are listless and my mouth seems to have straightened into a line. I used to smile a lot.
What happened to me?
I hear the sound of a key going into the lock downstairs.
I throw the test into the bin. It’s a relief not to look at it any more. I feel lighter already.
I gather my remaining toiletries from the bathroom.
It’s a strange thought that I will be using a different bathroom, without his male toiletries in it.
The door opens downstairs and I tense my shoulders in response.
I look around the bathroom. I inspect the bedroom one last time before going downstairs.
‘You still here?’
He is in the hallway, and looks surprised to see me coming down the stairs.
‘Sorry, I meant to have left.’
‘What’s taken you so long?’
He stares at me. I feel uncomfortable and guilty for not having left yet, which of course I am.
I don’t know what to say to that. I tell myself I’m being silly. Even if I leave and decide to do this on my own, Ian should know. Yet, I stand, my mouth ajar, a bag of toiletries in my hand and my handbag on my shoulder.
‘What’s wrong with you?’ He asks. ‘You’ve changed your mind?’
Still unable to speak, I manage to shrug my shoulders.
‘For goodness sake woman, make up your mind.’
He turns around and walks up the stairs, leaving me standing in the hallway, much the same way I stood upstairs.
My back still aches from the prolonged standing earlier.
I bend down and pick up the last bag to put into the car and move to the front door.
Before I close the door behind me, I glance down the hallways one more time.
I walk to the car and put my bags on the passenger seat. My car looks like I’m going camping for three weeks.
‘Hey,’ I hear Ian’s voice. I turn around to face him. He looks pale, his freckles more visible than usual. He shuffles his feet and looks to the ground and waves the blue strip in front of me.
‘Is this the reason you’ve changed your mind?’
We stand, awkward and silent. I wonder when we became strangers to each other.
‘Does it change anything?’ He breaks the silence.
I don’t know,’ I admit.
We stand in silence again, neither of us moving. I don’t know what to say or do.
‘I’ve felt alone for a long time now.’ I explain in the end.
‘But you haven’t been alone.’
‘I have, you were never there for me. We’ve just grown apart I suppose.’
He nods. I can’t tell if he agrees with me or whether he’s absent minded and it’s an automatic movement.
‘You want to come in for a cuppa?’
I nod. ‘I suppose it’s a good idea to talk about this.’
‘It doesn’t mean anything,’ he says, a sudden urgency in his voice.
‘I know,’ I reassure him. ‘Just to talk.’
He makes the tea in silence.
I’m aware of the lack of noise. He usually has the telly on. The silence highlights how little we have to say to each other.
‘Have you changed your mind about leaving?’ He asks again as he places a steaming cup in front of me on the table.
‘I don’t know. It does change things.’ I choose my words with care. ‘I don’t want to be a single parent and yet I feel I will be regardless of whether I stay with you or not.’
‘I’ll chip in,’ he says.
I look at him willing him to see the scepticism in my eyes.
‘I don’t think you will,’ I sigh in the end.
He shrugs his shoulders. ‘Sounds like you don’t even want to give me a chance.’
‘You’ve had plenty of chances.’
‘But this is different.’
‘Would you change your life to accommodate a child even though you never accommodated me into your life?’
‘It’s different with a child.’
‘Yes, a child demands far more attention, time and effort than I ever have done.’
He falls silent and looks down at his cuppa.
‘It can’t be that bad.’ He looks up to me. Our eyes meet.
‘I suspect it is a bigger change than you can imagine. No weekends away on the drop of a hat. A lot less time to spend with your mates, and far less watching sports.’ I reel off a few things that will change.
He looks down again and does not speak.
‘Have you thought of getting rid of it?’ He looks up into my eyes when he says it. I think he is serious.
‘I only found out ten minutes ago,’ I say, indignant.
‘But would you?’
Now it’s my turn to be silent. I didn’t think about it, but should I? I didn’t think the conversation would head in this direction.
‘I don’t want you to,’ he volunteers, his cheeks redden.
I look up. He looks serious.
I feel indignation rising. ‘How dare you put that on me,’ I start. ‘You don’t want to change your lifestyle for a baby which means that I will be doing this on my own. And then you have the audacity to tell me you want me to keep it?’
I get up, knocking the table. My tea splashes on the table.
‘It’s my body, my life. I will decide what happens with it. Not you.’
I pick up my bag and walk straight out of the door. The knot of tension in my body grows bigger still. I can’t believe I’m doing this. And yet, I know it’s the right decision however hard it will be.