Adam was fastidious about his looks, his vehicles, his entertainment system, and his insistence upon birth control. While I hungered for babies with his features, he was not yet ready, not until we had paid off the furniture, the truck, the big part of the mortgage. I thought we had talked about this before, that he wanted children in his future, but I was unwilling to make the bed a battleground over progeny. I tried, for the most part, to be a good Catholic woman, and that was supposed to mean no artificial birth control. But I was not willing to alienate my husband, who said he was fearful of not being able to provide for offspring, and thus was not willing to engender them. I think the first lie I ever told him was that I was unable to take birth control pills as they made me gain about 30 pounds immediately. In fact, I had never tried taking them, but garnished my lie from stories I'd heard at the office and at college.
Adam didn't want me to get fat, you see. He loathed sloppy women, he said. Perfect excuse, except that he was lying, too. I'd seen some of his other women.
The only times I was able to make him forget his 'protection' was when I deliberately got him stinking drunk and seduced him. Yet I swear, the bastard had studied the natural methods all on his own and never let himself get soused and screwed except in the safe days of my cycles. In fact, I think he arranged his long-distance schedules to coincide with my fertile times!
I was desperate to have a child right up to my thirty-third birthday, when something clicked off in me, the switch that says "Get you some babies." For me, it was a strange kind of relief. I'd always wanted to have kids, and loved my little nieces, oh, and wished that I could have little ones to grow up with Jesse's. But it wasn't going to happen. Chances of problems with birth and baby health increase rapidly as first-time pregnancy occurs later in the mother's life, and the risks were beginning to outweigh the benefits. And then that odd little clickoff in some hormonal timer. I didn't feel a need to be pregnant any more, stopped feeling like an unused porch in summer, and just felt good to be strong and healthy and in control of my life.
On a weekend in July, when we lay sweating and satiated on our bed, I licked the salty taste of his sweat off Adam's chest and slithered myself against him to get his scent all over me. "Are you happy, my love?" I whispered to him.
"The only thing that could be better than it is right now would be to have a cold beer to top off my dry throat," he said. "You've just about killed me."
Of course I rolled out of bed and brought him an icy beer, and one for me, too. "What I meant was, in life, you beast."
He took a long swallow of the beer, and another, and said, "Yeah, I'd say this constitutes happy." He put the bottle on the night stand, his head back on the pillow, and fell soundly asleep. There was just enough dim light from the streetlights on the next street over to show me his naked, magnificent body in the darkened room. He was a feast, an excuse for looting in the streets, an aircraft carrier, a national treasure. I never could get enough of seeing him, so I sipped my beer from its little bottle and devoured him, soaked him up, violated him with my gaze.
I'd come to accept that he was a pig, but he was one fine pig, and he was my pig, come what may. I'd talked about him with my friend Madeleine, one day quite a while ago when he was out of town and I was weepy and sorry for myself over his waywardness. Madeleine was well acquainted with waywardness. Her golfer husband was like the original Loose Dawg, and made Adam look chaste and discreet by comparison.
We were wading through the irrigation water, adjusting the inlet gates of the pastures of their little ranch. The sky was beautiful evening blue, a skifting of wispy clouds over the western mountains, just enough to give a bit of color, and it reflected off the water standing in the fields. Magpies and crows were still congregating along the edges of the rising flood, to swallow up any moles or voles or grasshoppers that were rousted out of their grassy habitat.
I'd told Madeleine about Adam's cheating, knowing that she would have some words of wisdom for me, given Harley's habits. "Well," Madeleine said, sloshing along in her wading boots, "you can either ditch him or just hope you don't catch anything off him. I told Harley that he had damn well better keep himself clean or I'd shoot him in the head. I know he's never going to change. I guess I knew he was a horny, two-timing son of a bitch when I met him. You know, the sad thing is, when he's between girlfriends, he's a regular asshole to live with. When he's got a girlfriend on the side, he's just as nice as pie."
"But you're not jealous?"
"There was a time when I was, but being upset and angry about it didn't help me any, and Harley just couldn't care less. He figured jealousy was my problem. Should I leave him? And give up this beautiful land? Look there," she said, pointing at three white egrets flying overhead in the direction of the river. "Should I move out and get an apartment and leave this to him, or to be divided up and sold? Why the hell should I leave my home? If he wants to leave and go live with his girlfriend, whoever she may be at the moment, he certainly can, I won't stop him." Her eyes turned hard as saw blades. "But I guarantee the bastard won't be coming back after."
We splashed along to the irrigation gate and shut it down, cutting off the flow of water to this section. "I can't up and give you advice," Madeleine said. "But I can give you a question to ask yourself: would you miss him if he was gone? I look at Harley every day and think, what if he didn't come home again? Some days I think it would be nice, but most of the time I have to admit that as big an asshole as he is, there's still no one else like him, and if I had to rely on someone to handle my livestock, well, I've just never met anyone who knows horses and cattle like he does. Isn't that pathetic? Oh, well."
Would I miss Adam if he was gone? Just the sound of his voice, the sight of his face, the touch of his hands, the smell and taste of his skin. I finished my beer and gently slid to his side, glad to have him in my bed, glad to know that he would be there in the morning.
"You're in a good mood," Adam said to me the next morning, watching me smiling as I made our bed.
"Yes, I am. Life seems pretty good to me. I've got a gorgeous husband," I said, watching him pull up his pants. "A nice home, a stable job, and more paid vacation than you can shake a stick at. At first it seemed scary to think about getting older, but now I don't think middle age is going to be that bad. I'm going to pretty much be able to do what I want to do, in the prime of my life. A lot of women my age are turning gray and neurotic fighting with their teenagers. Listening to some of the women at work is like reading the worst Monday morning headlines."
"Middle age?" He raised one golden eyebrow skeptically. "When does middle age start, for God's sake?"
"Thirty-five. In seven months, I will officially be middle aged. You get another couple months, you sweet young thing. Should I retire in my dotage and come with you on the road?" Even though I knew that suggestion would not be particularly welcome, and only asked to make him squirm a little.
He furrowed his brow. "Are we that old already? I thought we were going to have ten kids or something."
Both my eyebrows went up. "Very funny," I said. "Having Baby Number One in my mid-thirties doesn't sound all that appealing. I would need to start working out and taking supplements to try to head off any possible problems ... the older a woman is with the first child, the greater the risk, y'know. But if you wanted to get started right away ... I guess I'd be open to getting started with the health regime this week ... " I had a sudden surge of excitement, thinking about deliberately making a baby with him, both of us united in purpose as well as body.
Adam sat on the bed, and then fell back to lie on it, looking up at the ceiling. "That's why you haven't been pestering me lately to get pregnant." His face had no expression, and my cheerfulness drained away.
"Honey, it's okay," I offered, wanting him to smile and sparkle again. So much for the idea of babies. "We didn't get to have the speedboat or the helicopter we wanted, either."
He bounded up off the bed, grabbed a shirt, and began to stride from the bedroom, buttoning the shirt. "But we can have breakfast," he boomed, "Come on, I'll take you out for your weirdo corned beef hash and eggs. And then let's see an early movie, okay? What do you want to see?"
"Let's check the paper, I'm not even sure what's out." I followed him along the short hall to the kitchen, apprehensive now. He hadn't looked at me since he rolled off the bed; with Adam, lack of eye contact was a very bad sign.