March 2021’s short story of the month (super-duper late)
“Maybe the doctor was wrong,” Annie said, though her voice cracked revealing her disappointment.
I ran my hands through my hair, trying to calm myself. “He wasn’t wrong.” I didn’t want to have this argument again. I tried to steady my nerves, but it wasn’t working. My hands were shaking, and I was dripping sweat. Lately my anger was getting the better of me, and I needed to find a way to not let that anger out at home. It was just too much at once.
Work was becoming increasingly difficult. Being a water mage was always stressful during droughts. It was like the world was blaming all the water mages for manipulating water and droughts were our punishment.
For the record, we didn’t cause the droughts. People did, normal people, magic people, all people. Mages were not at fault for the damages to the environment, not entirely. Everyone had a share in that blame.
Despite the global calamity, right now, those problems seemed to pale in comparison to my home life. But I couldn’t deny that the stress from one wasn’t making dealing with the other more difficult. My wife and I were having a rough time.
“This is the third specialist we’ve seen. All of them have said the same thing.” I kept looking at my hands, avoiding making eye contact with her. I knew she would be tearing up, but she needed to accept the truth. “We can’t have children because you are barren.” I didn’t mean for it to sound so cruel, but she needed to hear it.
I looked up just as she was getting to her feet. She left the room slamming the door. I could hear her crying. She cried loudly and openly without trying to calm herself. I didn’t know someone could cry for that long without stopping.
I said it and I meant it, and I was right. Still, I wish I could take it back because there’s no way I can make it up to her, no way I can ever make her feel like she isn’t failing as a wife.
We’ve been trying for years to have a baby. Last year we decided to consult a doctor about it. We went through the tests to determine the problem. After the first round of tests, my wife didn’t believe it when the doctor said she had zero chance of getting pregnant.
I didn’t like the way the doctor talked to her, so I’d agreed to get a second opinion. After the second doctor said the same thing, though with a much better bed side manner, my wife still didn’t want to believe it.
We’d fought so many times after that. For months, if we were home together, we were either fighting or silent. Eventually I’d agreed to see one more doctor.
Today had been the final straw. The doctor we’d seen was not only a trusted and expensive OBGYN, but she was a mage, like us, with healing magic. She literally specialized in helping magic families create stronger magic bloodlines. I knew my wife would listen to her.
The crying finally stopped. As Annie came into the room, she said, “It’s not my fault.” Her face was splotchy, and her eyes were bloodshot.
I quickly went to her and wrapped my arms around her. “It’s not your fault.” Even though I said it to comfort her, the words felt hollow. I knew it wasn’t her fault, but I also knew my family wouldn’t accept that.
I am the oldest son of an extraordinarily strong line of water mages. I’d broken with tradition to marry Annie, a time mage. If my family found out about this, they would be furious.
As I stood there with my arms around Annie, I could feel her anger and sadness pouring like waves out of her small frame.
I was being incredibly selfish. I knew she was blaming herself and feeling like a failure, and all I could think about was how my family might react.
I needed to do better.
I pulled away from her and looked her in the eyes. “What do you want to do?” I asked.
She shook her head. “I don’t know.” Her shoulders sagged and she turned to walk away.
I stepped in front of her. “Whatever you decide, I’m in. All in. You don’t have to figure it out today. Take your time. Think about what you want.”
She nodded and sighed deeply as she walked past me to head upstairs.
The weeks after that day became a blur for me. I was at work longer and longer hours. There were too many droughts worldwide for the number of water mages we currently employed. We were doing what we could, but it wasn’t making that much of a difference. Sometimes nature had its own plans and we just needed to accept it.
At home, things were not great. Annie barely got out of bed and she said very little. I didn’t want to push her.
I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep living in what felt like a holding pattern no matter where I went. Something needed to give.
As I came into the house, something was different. I could feel it in the air.
The smell of roast and potatoes hit me in the face as I walked through the foyer. I turned the corner and saw Annie setting the table. It was set just for the two of us. There was a centerpiece with candles and freshly made rolls. She even smiled as I took my seat.
“How was work?” she asked.
“Ummm…” I was trying to act like nothing was wrong, but this entire scene was such a stark contrast to the person I’d been living with for so long now. “It was about the same as always.” I shrugged.
“Hopefully it will get better soon,” she said as she took a dish out of the oven.
I couldn’t wait any longer. “Annie, what is going on?”
She shook her head. “Let’s eat and talk about it after dinner.”
“I think maybe we should talk about it now,” I said.
She stopped what she was doing and turned to face me. “Okay. I suppose that’s a reasonable request.” She stood up a little straighter and said, “I’ve come to a decision.”
“That’s great. What have you decided?” I asked hoping for the best, but honestly, I was prepared to fight.
“We’re going to adopt.” She continued to prepare dinner.
I sat there dumbstruck. I didn’t have a response to her decision. It was a perfectly reasonable idea. I just didn’t know how to feel about it.