written by Stephanie Renae Johnson | illustrated by Jia Sung
Sophie dropped the sentence into the room like flour. It formed a thick, white cloud that, once spoken, she could not wipe from the table. There was an empty chair where Robbie should have sat. While the ice machine crunched in the corner, Sophie’s hands grew into the table. People getting their morning coffee didn’t notice her.
“Sometimes,” the Reverend said, “you must protect your marriage from other people. Sometimes you’re fighting yourself.” Elsewhere in the cafe, a couple on their first date squirmed through conversation. He touched her hand, and her cheeks became fondant pink, like a cupcake still in the bakery case.
Sophie tried to tuck her feet in as he carried her over the threshold, but her open-toe slingbacks still smacked the sides of the door frame. White shoes met wood — thwack! It echoed in her nerves. The wine smacked the bottom of two hotel room glasses — thwack! Her head bumped the headboard — thwack! His hand slapped her ass, her cheeks growing red gloves, the fingers pointing out towards her hips. Thwack, his lips on hers before he fell asleep. Thwack, thwack, thwack, all through the night. Thwackthwackthwack went her fake eyelashes against the pillowcase.
Divorce was an outbreak surrounding Sophie. The streets were littered with the custody battles and court dates. Every week, there were new whispers. Just this Tuesday, Margaret Anderson had found a bra that wasn’t hers, a shrapnel ballet of cups and hooks. Margaret’s voice when she called Sophie was an atomic bomb siren: shrill, meant for the neighbors to hear. Sophie and Robbie kept quarantined behind their veranda and lawn devoid of tricycles.
Sophie had never considered what to do if Robbie took a mistress. Not while signing her name to his bank account, not while sewing hydrangeas into her hair before promenading down the white silk mile. Her crinkled mother had hung her own bristly marriage to her father on the inside of the pantry door. Sophie knew how men looked after aging — bulging potatoes, content with their own tumors and bruises. Women sunk inward, bananas gone bad, fruit flies of the always younger flying about their heads.
There had only been glances, hot and wet, but nothing more. Nothing strong enough to build a trench. Enough only for Sophie to remember that she was not a castrated stump, enough for her to recall that she was a woman with arms beyond her elbows, legs beyond her knees. Marriage had not amputated her from desire. But Sophie was determined she would not declare battle with a new man.
The baby was pulled from the woman like the two of them had been playing tug of war. She finally lost. When they saw him, Sophie and Robbie marveled at his black hair that belonged to neither of them. The room was an orchestra of beeping machines. The mother was wheeled out; her small hands clutching the armrests of the chair. A tattoo on her left shoulder peeked out from the edge of a hospital gown, the name of a boy that hadn’t been there.
That night, while Robbie slept, Sophie pretended her breasts held milk. She undressed, draping the balloon skin of her bra over the rocking chair. The child’s face was warm on her nipples. It felt like holding a stranger.
“I promise I will always — ” Sophie whispered, but couldn’t find the words to finish the sentence.
About the artists:
Jia Sung is a painter and illustrator, born in Minnesota, bred in Singapore, now based in Brooklyn. In her spare time, she is a professional cephalophore, chronic complainer, whinger extraordinaire, velocipedestrienne, flâneur, domestic sensualist, and bon vivant.
Stephanie Renae Johnson is a freelance writer living in Asheville, North Carolina. Her work has been published by Danse Macabre and Parenthetical. She is also the editor-in-chief of The Passed Note.