The nights seemed to go on forever. The swell of my stomach seemed to grow larger beneath my hot fingers. I thought of our baby’s eyes, open in the dark. I dreamt of pyramids, desert storms, bridges over raging torrents, stars dropping into firmaments, the earth tilting, the baby elephant separated from the herd and wandering alone in a trackless desert.
You used to pride yourself on your constancy.
I lay next to you, listening to the hum of crickets and the sighing of the wind weaving through the walnut tree. Just before dawn, when the night became enormous and silent, I would fall into an exhausted sleep.
You, alerted by the stillness, would stir and mumble, What, what, what.
Nothing, I’d say. I’d wait until your breath slowed once again.
Six months and 9 days ago, I heard the roar of sirens. The day had hardly begun. We’d heard sirens before: the city was just across the sound, the twin buildings edging that narrow tongue of water. The sirens’ wail always seemed more acute as summer wore on. I would imagine hydrants spraying water into the blistering heat, pavements curling and buckling, scarcely able to bear the weight of millions of feet.
I thought: this is how it will always be. 4 a.m., your breath in my ear.
After that day I seemed capable of going without sleep, weeks at a time. The sky was murky; with each breath I inhaled dust from the towers. Her dust, I thought. In me. Her dust.
Papers still occasionally made it across the sound. A page from a desk calendar, once. “Mailed to Ron,” one said, dated August 16, 2011.
The sheets smelled dank. Heat seemed to cement our skin to bed. The garden smells were rank. My belly hurt, but just on one side. Child that was growing there, head curled under an arm. Child with eyes wide open in the dark, wondering what world is this?
I tried to push my thoughts one way. You know you don’t want it, you said one night, tears in your voice. This kind of world, you know you don’t want it.
I thought of the strawberries in the garden, the beagle’s toenails scrabbling against the hardwood floor, your skin.
You were the only one who was late to work that day. Ed, Simon, Niles, Will, David, Harriet, Holly, Sam, Steve, Lexy—even the young receptionist who two days before had announced she was pregnant with her first child—all were at their desks at 9 a.m. sharp.
She must have taken extra time with her make-up, because you had the reservation at the hotel for afterwards. You were always late. How many times did she look impatiently at her watch?
We’d had another argument. You grabbed your briefcase and almost ran to the car. I saved your life. Me and my big mouth. Me and my quarrelsome ways. You can’t bear to admit it, but it is so.
I knew when your thoughts started changing, I knew exactly when. July you became something dark and deep. My suspicions grew, fed by the silence of the hot nights.
In the train, on the way to work, you stayed angry with me. You thought: Why this? Why now? You checked messages on your phone. There were two from me, five from her. Where are you, she typed.
She was already at her desk. Afterwards, I could imagine your anguish, standing at the foot of Tower One. You imagined her, up there. Perhaps she looked down at you, like Rapunzel. Oh if only she could lower her hair! The sky that moments before had been cirrus blue was suddenly clouded, and each breath was like a stab.
You tell yourself she would never have jumped. But she took Steve’s hand and together they flew out the window. Steve was the Deputy Head of Investment Banking. He would have comforted her. He would have told her, You can do it. He must have been the one who took her hand.
You found out over six months later. There was only a shred of one of her fingers. A fireman had picked it up. After a year, there was something else. A ring. Plain gold. Of course, they gave it to Michael.
Did Michael know? I keep asking myself. Did he know?
Then, not even 10 years later, that fireman who rescued you, who gave you closure, was dead, too. Lung cancer. So many rescuers developed that, after.
Who knew wavering would be such a virtue?
You never forgave.
There are times you still say, “I want to die.”
There are those who say you will come back to me. There are those who tell me I must stay strong.
Ten years later, who would have thought? Together, we share bitterness.