Friday, February 4, 2011

FICTION: Annie By David Jacobs

     In the darkness James could see the shape of his wife on top of the bed covers.  The curve of her hip, the swollen belly, her small arm that supported her head as she lay on her side.  She was staring out at the lights of the city: white from the headlights of the cars below, yellow from the windows of the surrounding buildings, red flickering on the antennae of the distant skyscrapers. 

     James dug into his pockets and tossed the keys, wallet, and cell phone onto the nightstand.  He removed the pistol more carefully, placing it quietly in the drawer of the nightstand. 
     On the bed, Rita stirred.  “I wish you wouldn’t bring that gun in here.”

     He kicked off his shoes.  The bed creaked and bounced as he slid next to her. 

     “It helps me sleep,” James said, swinging an arm around her shoulder and gathering her up close to him.  “Besides, don’t you think it’s sexy?”

     “Nope,” she said, but there was a lightness in her voice that told him there would be no argument tonight.  Most of the arguing had occurred years ago, when the limits of what he could hide in a marriage had forced him to reveal certain things.  She had, he assumed, learned to accept these things.  But it was a grudging acceptance, the kind that that led to her pressure him in a subtle, friendly way, into becoming a different person.

     “Annie doesn’t like the gun either,” she said.

     “Oh,” he laughed, “is that her name now?”

     She nodded, and slipped her hand down to her belly.  He reached down and found her belly too, and rubbed the cool skin that was exposed between her t-shirt and sweat pants.  Four weeks until delivery, or was it five?  Or even six?  He wanted to ask but knew enough not to. 

     Annie.  He turned the name over a few times in his brain, said it out loud.

     “So, what does that make her real name?  Anne, Annette, Annabelle . . .”

     He heard her breathe in the silence.  Then she giggled.  “Annie is not a nickname for Annabelle.”

     “Sure it is!”

     “It is not.”

     They were interrupted by the squeaking and honking of a parade of emergency vehicles that raced through the streets nine stories below.  When the sirens faded, he asked, “then what is?”

     “Ann-a,” she said, emphasizing the end of the name.  “Anna is short for Annabella.”

     “Ah,” James said.  He had, of course, realized his mistake earlier.  But why not be playful?  Right now, as they held each other on the bed, there was a suitcase with forty thousand dollars in unmarked, non-sequential bills sitting at the bottom of the closet.  Rita didn’t know about the suitcase, and she never would.  But as he tightened his arms around her and felt her little heart beat in her chest, he couldn’t help thinking that this suitcase, the latest in a long line of things he had kept hidden from her, was going to be the end of him.  So, he would be playful, and nice and sweet, for her and also for himself.  

He squeezed her tighter, and she sighed and snuggled up against his stomach.

     “So, do you have any other names?” James asked.

     “Hmm, yes.”

     “And do you want to tell them to me?”

     “No,” she said in a way that made him forget he had just been rejected.  “Not yet.”


     In the distance, he heard the rhythmic thumping of a helicopter beating the air with its blades.  James pushed his face closer to her hair, caught a few light strands in his mouth, and blew them out.  He closed his eyes and was surprised at the brightness of the city, its lights managing to evade not only his eyelids but also the head of his wife that he had tried to duck behind.

     “Do you have any ideas for names?”

     “Oh yes,” he said.

     “Like . . .”

     He lifted his head slightly and brought his lips to her ear.  He whispered, “Princess.”

     “Ack!” she squeaked, pushing him away, “that’s horrible!”

     “I know,” he laughed.  “I know.  I was only joking.”  Still laughing, he pulled her closer to him.  She laughed a little, too.

     “Be serious,” she said.

     “Don’t you want her to be a princess, though?”

     “She will be,” his wife said.  “She’ll have us.  She’ll have you.”

     Another wave of sirens flared in the streets below.  James thought of the suitcase, and the almost-certain doom that it represented.  Somewhere, in the city below, there were men looking for it.  He thought about telling Rita.  He wondered what would happen if he started with some of the older stuff, maybe try a test run by explaining what he was doing in Russia during the early eighties or why, exactly, he had a jar with 90 pills of potassium iodate in his medicine cabinet.  How much did she know already?  Surely she didn’t think he was just a security contractor.  And what was she hiding from him?  James flashed back to the bar on the Upper West Side where Rita had hurried him out after claiming to have spotted one of her ex-boyfriends.  She had never mentioned him before.  And was it really normal, James wondered, to want to leave an entire bar just because of an ex-boyfriend?

     “Sweetie?” Rita asked.

     “I’m here,” he said.

     “What about your names?” 

      James thought for a while, settling into the comfort around him, the softness of the bed, the warmth of his wife.  A while ago, he had decided that all couples kept secrets like this, and he affirmed that decision now.  Rita probably went through the same calculations that he did, comparing the harm that telling him would cause against the harm that would result from not telling.  They had both managed pretty well, so far, although Rita’s calculations must have been off because James didn’t care about any of her ex-boyfriends.  His calculations, on the other hand, had been correct, with a few small exceptions.  Like Russia.  He could tell her about Russia.  That was so long ago.
     “I like Anna too,” he said.

     “You mean Annie?”


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