After an excruciating week of meetings in New York City, my husband was to arrive back home via bus. Noon sharp, he’d told me. He said he would taxi from the station to our house, but I didn’t see the need. I spent the morning readying the baby for his return, knowing that there wasn’t much I could do to take away from her jutting chin and deep sunken eyes. Ella – that’s what we called the baby – was nearly three months old but held the worldly, wrinkled features of an elderly maid. Neither my husband nor I found her particularly beautiful, but as a mother, you can’t help but love the thing. Her inhumanly maniacal wails I endured resentfully.
That morning I scrubbed little Ella’s body till her skin was raw with cleanliness. She was
already crying before the bath; though I can’t say the washing improved her temperament.
Gideon will see how clean you are and tell me what a wonderful job I’m doing as a first-time mother, I thought excitedly. I dressed the baby in a lacy white bonnet and a soft pink dress. I wiped her nose and straightened her eyelashes with my mascara wand. I pat her fuzzy dark hair back with Moroccan oil. Maybe she isn’t so ugly after all, I thought as I strapped her into the car seat in the back of our van.
Next, I struggled to fit her stroller into the trunk and thought, Gideon will notice how organized I am when he sees the stroller in the back. He’s going to believe me to be the best wife in the world.
At the time it was only ten o’clock in the morning, and one couldn’t be expected to wait two hours in the bus station parking lot. The July air had a sickly heat to it, one where the absence of a sunhat, sunglasses and ice water could bring on a debilitating migraine. On the radio I heard children were burning the soles of their feet when stepping barefoot onto the pavement. So as not to expire from heat exhaustion, I decided to visit the shopping mall beside the station. I struggled to pull the stroller out of the back of our very nice family van and bump it across the Mojave Desert of a parking lot. When I entered the mall, I was met with the immediate relief of air conditioning. Blessed be the genius who came up with this, I mused.
First, I got myself a drink, a refreshing pink lemonade, and thought how nice it was that the baby had fallen asleep. Not a peep escaped her. Then I meandered from one shop to the next, checking the time regularly in anticipation of my husband’s arrival. He’s a businessman, very analytical. I would hope that since the baby lacked my refined features, that she will at least inherit his good mind. I went into a bookstore and found a nice children’s book about baby chickens being hatched by the Easter bunny. I could read it to the baby tonight, and Gideon could see what a caring mother I am, I thought excitedly. I am in fact a very selfless mother to buy Ella a book when I could just as easily have bought one for myself, I confirmed.
At this point, it was ten minutes until Gideon’s bus arrived and I quickly paid for the Easter Chicken book and left the mall. I bumped back across the sweltering parking lot, praising Ella for her amazing temperament during this stifling summer warmth. As I neared the terminal, I even considered crying from sheer sweatiness.
I removed a compact from my pocketbook and quickly checked my makeup as Gideon’s bus pulled into the terminal. He didn’t know I was meeting him here. But what kind of horrible wife would force her husband to taxi when she can just as easily greet him with love and the comfort of his own car? I’m a very considerate wife, I thought proudly. Gideon exited the bus in a sleek grey suit, the one I gave him for his birthday two years ago. Dark pit stains were evident even from the distance I stood. Behind him came a graceless young thing, wearing a black dress with a white collar and a string of pearls. Gideon turned to her, bending down swiftly to give her a kiss on the mouth. I didn’t say a word, and neither did they as they parted ways.
Gideon then went to hail a cab, but instead locked eyes with me.
“Darla?” He said.
I tried not to cry; I really did. Maybe I had misread the situation. Gideon approached me cautiously, releasing a quick tender kiss on my cheek.
“I told you I was going to taxi,” he said, as if in his defense.
“We were going to surprise you,” I replied, forcing a thin, teary-eyed smile.
“We?” he asked, opening the stroller and peering in quizzically. I came around to his side and gazed into the empty stroller, fanning my face as perspiration collected on my brow. I had never taken the baby out of her car seat.