by Jill Witty
“Love,” says my husband when the game show host asks, “What’s something that fades?” The TV contestants have other guesses. Ink… curtains… photographs… a suntan. Not love.
I dump chicken wing bones into the white-and-red bucket, stack the Solo cups, sweep the potato chip crumbs from the coffee table onto grease-stained paper plates. We’ve been stuck on disposables ever since the dishwasher broke—some part that can’t be fixed. Now, everything goes in the trash.
On the screen, two contestants’ hands hover above the buzzers. I turn off the TV. My husband’s head bows over his phone, and his thumb flicks up the screen, a bored, continuous scroll.
Once, we’d wanted to buy a piece of art that would last as long as we did. Back then, before the miscarriages, we were cash-poor and dream-rich. Strolling for miles over three days in Santa Fe, we gazed in galleries until our eyes glazed.
In one gallery, along the back wall of the pottery room, we found a “Rejects Corner.” A teapot caught my eye: unfinished desert clay on its rounded bottom, iridescent turquoise enamel dripping down its swan-necked spout and graceful lid. Only later, back in L.A., did we spot the chip in the teapot’s rim. He joked the teapot was like us, and I thought he meant how the shiny blue and the rough red paired so well together.
I windstorm into the kitchen, trash spilling from my hands. The chicken bucket clips the edge of the counter and topples, sending greasy bones across the floor. Crouching on all fours, I pick them up, under the stove, beside the fridge, my fingers catching on the lip of the torn linoleum, where the smooth surface gives way to rough plastic edges, sharp enough to pierce through skin.
I will him to find me like this, to take the rag, to clean the grease from the floor. I play a grim game: if he doesn’t come, it’s because our love has faded. A newlywed, glimmering with gossamer hope, would come.
Not long after Santa Fe, we moved in together, into a converted loft on the edge of downtown. The teapot stood centerpiece on our kitchen table. I prepared travel mugs of English Breakfast on weekday mornings; he fixed us Sleepytime after dinner. On weekends, over steaming mugs of smoky Lapsang Souchong, we fantasized bucket-list travels and baby names in the same breath, before strolling uncertain streets in search of flea market finds.
When I got pregnant, we moved into a quiet rental on a safer street, a one-bedroom with room for a crib. We imagined a baby with my auburn hair, my husband’s sapphire eyes. To save for the future, we both picked up extra shifts. We lost her at twelve weeks. Her brother at fifteen. A year passed, then two. My tea-drinking, now solitary, became purposeful: black cohosh to boost ovulation, nettle and dandelion and red raspberry leaves to fortify my womb.
The pounding of shoes grows louder. He’s coming, our love hasn’t faded. His head pokes into the kitchen, atop a barn jacket. “Be right back.” I can’t read his tone.
“Where are you going?”
“For a walk.” He’s already halfway down the hallway. He didn’t invite me to join him.
Nobody walks in L.A., except when we used to, years ago, when the cars rushing past thrilled us, when walking a narrow, broken sidewalk in the dark was a risk we took, together.
After the fourth miscarriage, the obstetrician ran some tests. I had a heart-shaped uterus. There’s always surrogacy or adoption, she said.
My husband tried to console me, but he didn’t understand. His wasn’t the body that failed us. That dissolved our red-haired, blue-eyed dream.
I stopped drinking tea. I switched to drip coffee, bitter and burnt, from a cheap glass coffeepot. I’d challenge myself to drink the whole pot, to see if my stomach was up to the task.
The teapot might be tucked in some closet, in a box we’d never unpacked since the last move. He’d been promoted to management. We’d moved closer to his office, away from the good school district.
I curl on the couch, empty with missing him, with missing us. I pull up my phone, start scrolling. Our best college friends, married the month before us, are getting divorced. They were our reflection, taking the same steps on the same timeline, until they’d had kids. I want to call him, to tell him this news. But he’d left, he’d chosen to walk alone.
His cheeks are ruddy when he returns. He clutches a plastic bag, and his mouth bites down a grin, like the times he used to surprise me. My heart flickers, a candle near the end of its wick.
I open the bag, see the green box, the tired bear in front of the fire.
“Can I make you some?” he asks.
I take his offered hand, follow him into the kitchen. He sets water to boil in a saucepan. We sit at the table, across from each other. Waiting.
“Did you see about Dave and Carrie?” he asks.
“What would you have said?” he asks, holding his palm up to mine. “Name something that fades.” He bends his top knuckles to cover my fingertips. They don’t look like they’d fit together, but when we interlace our fingers, the bond feels tight.
Hope, I’d thought, when the game show host asked. Hope fades. But those two words weren’t meant to be together. Because, despite everything, I’m still hopeful.
“I love you,” he says, and I finally understand.
Later, under the bin of wedding albums, I find the teapot wrapped in a yellow baby blanket his mom knitted for us. The turquoise glaze shimmers, interlaced with a gold I don’t remember. I trace the chip in the rim, finding the familiar groove and settling there, my fingertip cradled in the imperfection.