Anything but Emptiness

I was in love with your cousin that summer. She was staying at your parents’ place after her divorce because her own parents wouldn’t have her. She lived in the basement, playing records and drinking wine from long-stemmed goblets.

From time to time, she’d come wandering upstairs to wash her hair in the hallway bathroom. We’d be watching movies in the rec room, or that was what we told your parents we were doing, and she would be a ghost crossing the threshold, silk nightgown trailing along the floor.

She never locked the bathroom door behind her, and once I followed her in while you were trying to pick the lock on your parents’ liquor cabinet. She had her head under the tub faucet, not minding the water splashing onto her nightgown. There was a glass of wine on the counter that I sipped from.

She said: Hand me a towel, would you?

She looked like the kind of girl who rode in long, black cars and never needed to retouch her lipstick. I put the towel into her outstretched hand. She came up from the tub, winding the towel round her head like a turban.

Don’t let him get you pregnant, she said.

I won’t.

Hmm, she said, and put her wine goblet to her mouth.

I’m pregnant, she said. It’s not my husband’s.

She said: My parents said no, but I’m going to keep it.

She let me put my head up to her belly, do you hear anything, but I didn’t, brushing my mouth against her nightgown, pulled taut over her skin, as I pulled away.

I’m not sure it’s really there, she said. Maybe there’s nothing.

I knelt before her, put my head to her belly again.

No, I said, now I hear it. Now I do, and the water from her hair dripped onto the floor, and her hand rested atop my head, and I listened, listened for anything but emptiness inside of her.

Cathy Ulrich is a writer from Montana. Her work has been published in a variety of journals, including Rappahannock Review, Wild Hunt, Jellyfish Review, and Booth.