When the Bough Breaks
The air was thick with hot humidity. I wiped a bead of sweat from my upper lip
as I entered the apartment. It was not much cooler inside, but any relief from the sun
was welcomed. I called to my wife as I slipped off my shoes.
“Naomi,” I said. “I’m home.”
I walked to her usual perch, the living room couch. It was empty except for the
book opened like a butterfly, spine pointed towards the air.
“Naomi.” I said again, this time more assertive. I heard giggles in response. I
walked to the bathroom where they seemed to be coming from and opened the door.
She jumped, startled by my presence.
She was laying in the bath, covered in soapy bubbles, and our black cat,
Brontes, laying on her chest.
“What is going on here?” My face tried its best to hide its disgust.
She didn’t bother looking at me as she spoke, just continued petting Brontes.
“Well, I was sitting in the bath and he was looking at me like he usually does. I called to
him and he just climbed in. Isn’t that so cute of him?” As if to prove her point she used her hand to scoop up some of the bubbles to put on his head and laughed.
My eyebrows furrowed. “Do you think it’s a good idea to bathe with him? Isn’t it
just… a little strange?”
“You wouldn’t understand.” She scoffed at me, saying what had become her
mantra as of late.
I looked at them for a few moments longer before making my way to the kitchen.
Behind the boxes of generic cereal hid my vice, a half-opened bottle of Jim Beam. I
poured into a coffee mug to avoid any unwanted lectures before I drank a mouthful and
breathed out a sigh of release. On the countertop was a picture I couldn’t bear to see,
every time I was in its vicinity it was like a hole was burned deep in my chest.
We’d gotten Brontes when we first moved to this apartment. We’d moved to a
new city, hotter than we had ever experienced before. When I was at work, she was
stuck home save for the few days the school called her in to substitute teach. I wanted to
help cure her loneliness, and she had talked about having a cat as a child and the happiness he had brought her.
She’d loved him at first glance. If it were up to me, I would’ve gone for a more
conventionally cute cat, but she said she always loved sad looking things. He was
skinny, shiny, and black. He had been in some kind of accident before the shelter
received him that took his right eye. The same accident had messed with his jaw, so one
of his teeth jutted from his mouth perpetually.
He had become very attached to her since his introduction to our family. It
started off with him clawing at the bathroom door when she was in there, sometimes so
hard it sounded like a banging. Bam, bam, bam. He would sleep between us at night,
with her armed wrapped tightly around him. I’d offered to get him a nice bed next to
her on the floor but she has refused.
The first time I tried to pet him, he stepped back, almost like he smelled
something he didn’t like. I tried again, and he bared his teeth at me with a hiss. Our
relationship had never been mended and he spent his time with me watching me with a
I sat down in front of the television and absentmindedly flipped through the
channels. I landed on the news, the weather report called for heavy rain and possible
power outages. My cup ran empty and I refilled it in the kitchen. Naomi stepped into
the kitchen as I was walking back to the couch. I jumped, startled by her sudden
presence. Lately, we rarely occupied the same space.
“I’m going to bed now.” She said, a white towel covered her body and another
wrapped around her hair. In her arms was Brontes, swaddled in a pink towel, not even
looking at me, just staring at her face.
“I’ll be there soon,” I responded as I sat back on the couch. She padded towards
our room, gushing to the cat in her arms.
My stomach was now warm and my body felt heavy, but in the way that I like. I
craved the numbness alcohol provided.
The nightly news ended and I stumbled my way to the room. I didn’t drink
enough to get drunk, just enough to feel the buzz. She was still awake when I arrived, which was unusual. We both tried our best to stay away from each other lately. She was
sitting up in bed playing with Brontes, who was lying on his back, paws up above his
head. My god, I thought. She’s tickling him. They both looked at me like a deer in
headlights. The second I saw the eye, that damned eye, something shifted inside of me.
All the anger that I had repressed came bubbling up to the surface and spewed from my
mouth like sour beer.
“I wish you loved me like you do that damn cat,” I mumbled.
Her smiling face contorted to anger. “What did you say?”
“I said I wish loved me like you do that damn cat,” I said, sharply.
“That damn cat? He’s everything to me.”
“I thought I was everything to you,” I retorted.
She looked at me with disdain. “Every time you look at me, it’s with disgust. I
just wish you would’ve latched on to me after everything instead of the cat. I need you
“You need me? You weren’t even there, Dominic. I needed you and you weren’t
Tears welled in my eyes. “I thought you said you wouldn’t hold it against me! I
had to go, for my job. I didn’t want to leave my pregnant wife home alone. But, what
was I supposed to do? They needed me. We could’ve never kno—”
“They needed you? I was the one bleeding. I was the one laying in that hospital. I
was the one who was alone when they told me we lost her.” She was yelling now.
“Please. Every night I fall asleep with tears in my eyes. I think about her, about how you
must have felt that day. Please don’t use that against me. You promised you never
would.” I pleaded.
“It’s not something I could ever forget. I know I said that, but it’s so hard to look
at you and not think of that horrible day. Even when I came home, you just let me be
“I only did that because I thought you needed space. You told me to give you
some time. Do you know how badly I wanted to be there with you, holding you, instead
of you holding him.” I said, sourly.
“Please, stop making everything about Brontes. This is about us! I couldn’t look
at you, let alone touch you. I’m still healing. My body is still healing. I look at my
sagging stomach and think to myself, ‘you couldn’t even house a child, the thing women
are built for. You are a disgrace.’” She was crying.
I reached out to her, holding onto her arms. “You did nothing wrong. The doctor
said it was the chromosomes. There was no way for the baby to be born.” She laid her
head on my chest. “I love you so much. If there was anything I could do to make your
pain go away, I would in an instant. I’m so sorry for not being there. I wish I could go
back to change that. But, I can’t. Please just forgive me.” I sobbed.
She raised her head and looked deeply into my eyes. Her gaze scared me, it felt
empty. She smiled at me. “I forgive you, Dominic. I just want us to be the way we were
before. I just want a baby more than anything in the world.”
“I will do anything in my power to give you what you want.”
I kissed her, a deep passionate kiss. And, for the first time since the miscarriage,
I held her in my arms tightly, afraid to let go. We drifted off to sleep with our bodies
pressed against each other.
That night I dreamt of blood. So much blood pooled at my feet and reached my
ankles, rising steadily. I tried to run but the liquid slowed my step, it was now at my
belly. Naomi was next to me, still pregnant, looking at the floor wondering what was
going on. I tried to scream, to yell at her to run, to get away, but the thick warm liquid
coated my lips, my tongue, and my throat.
I awoke out of breath. My forehead was slick with sweat and I felt as though I
had just taken a run. I walked into the bathroom and flicked the lightswitch.
Nothing happened. I tried a few more times before I realized the power was out. Outside thunder boomed so loudly it shook the house.
I returned to the bed and realized I was alone in the room. I felt a sense of panic
as I slipped on clothes and grabbed my phone plugged in beside my bed. As I reached
the hallway, I saw light under a door. I walked to the door and took a deep breath.
The battery operated mobile twinkled its song as stars danced around the room.
There were candles lit enough for me to see the room was just how I’d last seen it, the
crib in the center of the room with pink blankets and plush toys inside. The walls were
egg shell white with decals spelling out our dead daughter’s name hung up for display. If
I were to open the drawers, I would find baby clothes and diapers we haven’t had the
courage to go through. My heart was beating fast at what I was seeing. Naomi was sat in
the rocking chair, swaying back and forth, softly singing with the mobile. In her arms
was Brontes, wrapped in a blanket, his face in her chest.
“Naomi, what’s going on?” I was nervous for the answer.
“Dominic!” She smiled at me. “I’m so glad you are here. I had the most
wonderful dream last night. Before I fell asleep last night, I watched you sleep. When I
was looking at you, I thought about everything we talked about. I thought about her,
about Stephanie, and I thought about our loss.”
My heart skipped a beat at the mention of her name. I braced myself with the
door frame, gripping it so tightly, my fingertips turned ghost white. “I thought about
everything. About how I felt this— I don’t know— resentment because I had to miscarry
alone. But, as I was sleeping, I dreamt of Stephanie. Only, she didn’t look like her. She
told me, ‘Momma, I’m in heaven but I sent somebody else for you.’ I didn’t know what
that dream was. I woke up and I couldn’t stop thinking about it, about her.”
To my horror, I realized then that her breast was out. There was blood trickling
down into her shirt. The cat was nestled close to her body, his face pressed against her
breast, suckling. My knees buckled. I dropped to the floor and buried my face inside my
“Don’t you see Dominic? God sent me a baby, he just doesn’t look like us.” Her
voice rang in my ears.
Alli Tschirhart has moved around a lot in her life, but is glad to call Portland her home. She writes fiction and nonfiction. This will be her first published work, but hopefully not the last. She will be attending PSU in the future for a degree in English and Writing. She enjoys reading and her three cats.