3. Like a Dog

Elena woke shortly after 3am. Anton’s side of the bed was still made. She walked down the hallway into the dim light of the living room. Anton was holding a copy of Kafka’s The Trial in one hand and a bottle of pinot noir in the other. On the coffee table in front of him, the handle of a knife protruded from a block of cheese on a plate like an axe that had been thrust into the stump of downed tree. He held the bottle upside down and watched the last few drops fall into his wine glass.

Elena sat down next to him on the sofa. “A book? I expected to hear the clicking of computer keys, not the turning of pages.”

He put down the bottle and read from the book with an imperceptible slur that only Elena would have noticed, “You don’t need to accept everything as true, you only have to accept it as necessary.”

Elena lied back and tucked her feet under Anton’s leg to warm her toes. “Depressing view.”

“Ah – a beauty and a scholar. Yes … The lie made into the rule of the world.”

Elena leaned over and picked up the glass of wine. “They sound like somebody’s final words.”

The book fell out of Anton’s hand and he fumbled to catch it. He looked wide-eyed at Elena with disbelief.

“Did you memorize the whole book?”

Elena took a sip of wine.

Anton reached for the glass in her hand. “I’m sorry, love, but you’ll have to wait a few more weeks. Even longer if you’re breastfeeding, I think.”

She held the glass high, out of Anton’s reach.

He smiled sympathetically at her. “Okay. I know, I know. I have to cut back. I swear I won’t have another drop until we can both enjoy a glass together – to celebrate, okay? I Promise.”

Elena fixed a cold stare into Anton’s eyes and guzzled the entire glass of red wine.

“Hey, come on now. That wasn’t very smart.” He reached out to touch Elena’s belly but jerked his hand back as though he had received an electric shock. He stammered, “W… uh … where? … what? …” His eyes flashed around the room.

Elena looked puzzled. “Are you okay?”

Anton was frantic. “Elena, where’s the baby? What happened? Did … Did something happen?”

“Was that your first bottle?”

“Elena. Where is the baby? We need to get you both to the hospital.”

Elena sat up straight. “What are you talking about? What baby?”

Anton read her face. There was no humor in her eyes, no levity in her lips.

Panicked, he ran to the bedroom and turned on the lights. He pulled back the covers to examine the sheets, feeling around in the bed like a blind man. He ran back out into the hallway. “Elena! Where did you … ?”

He sprinted down the hall to the bathroom, slid open the shower door and peered at the clean, dry, tiled floor of the stall. He squeezed his head with his hand like a crab covering a rock, then repeatedly smacked his forehead with his open palm. “Think. Think. Think”

The thinking produced a thought that turned his blood to slush. He stood frozen in place. For a moment the smallest of movements demanded a strength of will beyond his means. Then, with superhuman effort, Anton turned slowly and looked down at the closed lid of the toilet.

He listened without breathing. He closed his eyes and searched the air for any sound; a whimper, a breath, any hint that would put the baby anywhere other than in the toilet. The air was still except for the thunder of his own heart smashing its way through his rib cage.

He knelt down. Slowly and reluctantly he lifted the seat, readying himself for whatever was about to confront him. With his eyes still closed, he reached into the bowl and swirled his hand around. The water was clean and clear. He collapsed into a crumpled heap on the cold tile floor, gasping for air.

His fear and confusion was rapidly transforming into frustration and anger. After only a few seconds of recovery he opened his eyes and sprang to his feet, darting out of the bathroom, back down the hallway to the living room.

Elena sat on the sofa, strangely calm, bordering on annoyed, listening to the crystal tones produced as she tapped her wedding band against the side of the empty wine glass. “Are you ill?”

Anton grabbed her by the arm and yanked her up to her feet. She struggled instinctively as he forcefully pulled up the front of her nightgown and roughly palpated her lower abdomen. Panic had set in.

She shoved him away. “What the hell is wrong with you?” She grabbed the knife from the block of cheese on the coffee table and pointed it at her husband. “Stay the hell away from me.”

Anton was becoming catatonic. He stumbled towards Elena with his trembling hands slowly rising, reaching out to touch her face, imploring her to offer up some explanation. Meaning only to push Anton away again, Elena accidentally shoved the knife between his ribs, deep into his chest. He stumbled backwards and sat clumsily on the edge of the coffee table for a moment. His strength spilling out through the gash in his chest. Speechless, he eased back at first onto his elbows, then flat onto his back.

Finally, lying supine on the table, Anton looked up into Elena’s horrified face looming over him and moaned, “Like a dog.”