| Home Safe
by Selena Jardine
Traffic had slowed to a halt on the Beltway. I was tired. I
wanted a shower; Sarah would probably make me shave; I needed a
drink. As far as I could see in front of me, the jeweled highway
was blinking: diamonds of headlights and rubies of taillights
reflected in the cars' own August heat. No one was honking.
These were all professional two-hour-a-day commuters, like me,
NPR-listeners, hands-free cellphone freaks, feverish book-on-tape
consumers, and they knew it was pointless.
There had probably been an accident, some fenderbender that had
snarled into hundreds of microwaved dinners and frantic
reschedulings. Or maybe there was some construction up ahead. A
pretty woman I knew at work told me that she called the
Department of Transportation every week so she could avoid the
scheduled construction that seemed to commuters year-round.
I remembered thinking at the time how smart that was, how I
should do that and shave a few minutes off my drive home. I
remembered looking at her full breasts, then down, away, at the
high, rounded curve of her belly. She'd be taking leave soon,
she said, for the baby.
Tonight I was in no hurry to shave minutes off my commute, to get
home to Sarah and our quiet house. Tonight I was content to sit
on the Beltway and postpone the dread for half an hour, forty-
five minutes more. Tonight was sex night again.
It had started two years ago, with a flush and a bad pun: Sarah
and I had watched together as she'd sent her birth control pills
down the toilet. When she was done, she'd looked up at me with
those laughing brown eyes and said, "Oh, baby." If I hadn't been
standing so close to her in the tiny bathroom, I might not have
noticed that she was breathing as though she'd been running.
I bent down to her, my own pulse so loud in my ears that I
wondered if she could hear it, and lifted her, her legs wrapped
awkwardly around my waist, and carried her to the bed. Sex that
day was an impossible surprise, an urgency, a responsibility that
pushed us off into unknown waters. We hadn't even bothered to
pull back the covers, and Sarah'd had the marks of the chenille
bedspread on her fair skin for hours afterwards. I'd suckled the
nipples that might one day feed my children, and when my body
stiffened in impending orgasm, pouring like quicksilver into her,
it was Sarah who cried out, "Yes! Yes!" and laughed aloud.
That month, though, she had her period, regular as clockwork.
She was philosophical about it. "Nobody gets pregnant on the
first try, Adam," she said.
I was sitting on the edge of the bed, my off, one shoe in
my hand. I knew that as well as she did, and she knew that I
knew. It was the first in a series of tiny false notes, the
first sign that she was going to pretend she didn't need
reassuring, not Sarah Wilson. Though that first barrier was easy
enough to step past: I stood up, awkward in one shoe, and took
her in my arms. It only took a moment's hesitation for her to
relax, unhappy, into them.
"It's okay," I said, hoping it was true, holding her body close.
"I know," she answered. "I just hate the feeling that when my
body does exactly what it's supposed to do, it's betraying me."
Her voice was muffled against my bare chest, and the feeling of
her warm lips moving against my skin was giving me a hard-on. I
ignored it -- not coming on to your when you're supposed to
be comforting her is an important relationship nugget -- but
Sarah looked up at me. Her lashes were wet, but her dimples were
showing. "Well, hello there," she said, and laced her fingers
through my belt-loops. She began rolling her hips slowly against
mine, point to point, feeling my hardness, making me harder. My
hands came up to cup her breasts, and I kissed her, forcefully
enough to a little. Maybe I was relieved that the crisis
seemed to be past. When we surfaced for air, it looked like she
was fighting giggles, or maybe more tears. "Enjoy the freelance
while you can," she said, and pulled me by my belt-loops onto the
bed, where relief came in a different form.
The next month, the poetry and booklight on Sarah's bedside table
made way for a thermometer and a temperature chart. She'd been to
websites, she'd talked to friends. "We have to be scientific
about this," she kept saying.
"Okay," I said, and meant it.
Her chin went up. "You don't have to keep track," she said,
calmly enough. She was sitting too far away for me to hear her
"Sarah, dammit," I said. Started over, keeping my voice even.
"Sarah. I want to be part of this. I *have* to be part of this,
but I also want to." I waited for a response. Nothing. I felt
helpless. I wanted to ask her not to leave, but that was
ridiculous. "Just -- keep me with you, okay?" Ridiculous. She
lowered her brown eyes, as if considering, then nodded
noncommittally. She didn't say a word.
Three days later, I was reading in bed. Sarah rolled toward me,
put a tentative hand on my thigh, and said, "It's time, Adam."
Startled, I said, "What?"
"I'm supposed to be -- it's time."
"Oh," I said, catching on, "oh, good! Great," and, putting my
book on the floor with one hand, I put my hand on her waist with
the other and pulled her toward me. Her color was high on the
fair skin, and she came hard and long, clenching her fists on the
sheet beneath her.
Two weeks later, she had her period.
After eight months of trying with no success -- all shake and no
bake, as Sarah memorably put it -- we went to the doctor
together. The doctor, a woman of about thirty-eight,
asked questions we had both anticipated, and we gave smooth,
practiced answers. Yes, Sarah's temperature charts indicated she
was ovulating. Yes, we practiced intercourse on the recommended
days. No (I answered with a large, insincere smile), I was not
wearing "tighty whiteys."
The doctor drew blood from Sarah's arm, the two female heads
together, one dark, one light. I got a sterile jar and an
antiseptic room to beat off in. I thought of Kathy Dieter from
college, her sweet tanned haunches in front of me, the way I went
without textbooks and would cheerfully have gone without food to
afford condoms for our noisy, sweaty, carefree fucking.
All the tests came back normal, we were told on our second visit.
The pathways seemed to be clear; my sperm was within normal
limits; Sarah had all the right hormones.
"There isn't much we can do," said the doctor, raising her hands,
apparently to show the futility of modern medicine in these
mysterious affairs. Sarah sat beside me in a blue dress and
sneakers. Her hands lay in her lap, soccer Madonna. "Sometimes
it just takes some time and no one knows why."
Afterwards, in the car, we sat for a moment in silence. Then,
unexpectedly enough that I started in my seat, Sarah hit the door
with the side of her clenched fist. "No one knows why? Jesus
Christ, some expert she is. I bet she didn't even send off that
blood for testing." She hit the door again, harder this time.
"She probably just eyeballed it and decided nothing was wrong."
"My sperm, too," I said helpfully. "Probably has a little
collection in her freezer. For the *special* cocktail parties."
Sarah snorted, and her shoulders relaxed a tiny bit, but she
didn't really think it was very funny.
That night, after I finished a long run, I went into the bathroom
and started running myself a bath. I was achy and tired, looking
forward to the water, as hot as I could bear it, on my sore
"What are you doing?" said Sarah from the doorway. Her voice was
"Running a bath," I said, looking at her.
"What do you mean, running a bath? A hot bath?"
"Of course, a hot bath." The mirror was starting to steam up.
What was she talking about?
"Don't you even *want* a baby?" I was starting to feel angry and
punch-drunk, my calves trembling with exhaustion. Then I
"Sarah. There's nothing wrong with me. With my sperm. The tests
"Well, there goddamn well will be if you boil it," she said.
"And are you saying that there *is* something wrong with *me*?"
"No! Jesus!" But she was gone. We made it up, of course, and
she cried and I held her. But I quit taking baths. One more
thing under suspicion. Or two, if you meant my balls.
Every month after that, Sarah spun a little faster, and her focus
became a little narrower, and her loathing for the Kotex pads
under the sink became a little blacker. She wasn't crazy. She
wasn't even obsessed, not really. But some of the light went out
of those brown eyes, and she walked too fast, past playgrounds
full of shouting kids and past certain topics of conversation.
Once, we were at a party for someone at Sarah's office, and a
woman we were talking to started a smiling question, "So, when
are you two --" She never got the chance to finish. Sarah
tripped on an invisible line in the carpet and spilled her drink
everywhere. We left shortly after that, Sarah needing to change
into something clean.
I didn't bring it up, after the party. It wasn't easy for me to
be part of Sarah's spin, wondering whether I was expected at any
given moment to be intuitive, clairvoyant or tougher than a
fifteen-cent steak. Easier, much easier, not to have noticed her
narrowed mouth, the breathing that was almost panting, before the
incident got lost in the apologies.
Our sex life got narrower, too: the important part became the
carefully-timed coupling three or four times mid-month, followed
each time by an hour in bed to let my sperm make its way through
Sarah's womb. I would lie beside her, looking at her cool,
remote profile, her chin pointing at the ceiling. Sometimes I
would close my eyes and imagine the child we hoped for. Usually
it was a who looked exactly as I imagined Sarah had when she
was a baby, with coffee-brown eyes and hair. Just once, half-
dreaming, I saw a tiny with my own blue eyes looking back at
me. He opened his mouth. *It hurts,* he said, and I suddenly
woke to find Sarah looking at me in the twilight, an unreadable
expression on her face.
It had to break sometime. One day I was lazily masturbating in
the bedroom, thinking I was alone for an hour at least, and she
walked in on me. She stood in the doorway, her eyes round with
disbelief and something else, and the something else grew as my
dick wilted. She waited as I zipped my pants and then turned and
went into the living room. Good, I thought. Take it out of the
bedroom for a change. But it didn't turn out that way.
"Adam, I just don't even know what to say to you."
"Because I was jacking off? Oh, come off it, Sarah."
"It's sex night *tomorrow night*."
"And I'm supposed to be a monk or something? Sarah, it's been
almost ten days since we had sex. You can't just ask me to
abstain except for three days a month."
"Why not? I don't exactly ask you to do very much on those three
days, do I?"
"No, that's exactly it," I said. I wasn't shouting, but I was
standing very close to her, and I could feel the tendons standing
out in my neck. "Exactly it. All I am any more is a boner. A
boner and a donor. Night deposit. Not a husband, not a partner.
And all because I can't be a father." Or because you can't be a
mother. It hung in the air, unsaid.
"Be a father?" She almost spat the words. "You don't even make
me come any more."
I was so angry I could hardly see. I'd fought her on that,
showed her studies that said female orgasm could help conception,
that it might even be the purpose of the whole delicate business.
She'd refused, been immovable, said she'd read it could force
sperm out of the body.
I didn't raise my hand to her. But I didn't sleep with her that
night, either, or the next, or the next. We nursed our bruises
and our distrust under the same roof, slowly recovering from what
had been said, and what had not. One night I found that the nest
of blankets I'd made on the couch was gone; I took it as an
invitation. Things were fragile, friable around the edges, but
the center seemed all right still, to me. I didn't know how it
seemed to Sarah.
It was dark by the time I finally made it through the traffic
jams on the Beltway and pulled into the driveway. I switched the
car off and sat for a moment, listening to the tick of the
engine, rubbing at the delicate skin under my eyes. Two years.
I was starting to feel all but superfluous. This seemed to be
Sarah's argument with herself, something I was less and less a
part of. I thought again of my coworker, her and belly,
the way she'd abruptly admitted to me one day over coffee that
the baby had been an accident. She was happy now, she hastened
to assure me, smiling, but at first!... An accident.
These thoughts were too familiar. I pushed them away and went
inside. I noticed on my way through the garage that Sarah's car
wasn't there, and the house was dark and still. I tried to
remember: was this her night for ballet class? I found a note
stuck to the microwave: "Out. Eat. Love. S.", and I took a
sandwich into the den with me.
But I wasn't really hungry. And I couldn't concentrate on the
ball game. Where was Sarah? She was always home when I got
home. I got up and walked around restlessly. Maybe she'd waited
for me to get home and decided I was being late on purpose. No,
she knew traffic around here. And as if giving in to something
that had been there all along, I wondered, with a sudden
desperate unhappiness, if she was with someone else. Someone who
could give her what she wanted so badly. I stood for a moment,
my head lowered, my thoughts full of this idea: some other man's
prick in my wife's cunt, some other man's child in my wife's
belly, some hunger satisfied. Then I shook myself, as if coming
out of a dream or a fever. Sarah was shopping, or she was out
with a friend, or she was at a movie, or she was watching the
goddamn Chippendales, for all I knew. She would tell me when she
got home. I was going to sit on the couch and eat my sandwich
and watch my baseball game and be sensible. So I waited.
I must have fallen asleep in front of the television. I awoke
with its blue light flickering over me in the dark room, aware
that it had suddenly fallen silent. "Shhhh," breathed a warm
voice in my ear. What? I thought. I felt half-stunned. And
then a warm, wet mouth enveloped my earlobe. I drew breath
sharply and tried to turn my head, but felt a fierce little nip.
"Shhhh," said the voice again, and warm lips began to trail open
kisses down the tendon in my neck toward the hollow of my throat.
I had an erection already. I couldn't remember the last time
she... the last time we had been like this.
I closed my eyes and raised one hand toward the weight beside me
on the couch. Terrycloth; a warm scent of skin and soap;
finally, one warm falling sweetly into my hand like a ripe
apple, with a nipple almost painfully hard. I could hear her
breathing, fast and light, as I moved my thumb over the nipple,
flicking it with the nail. Her hand rested at the inside of my
knee for a moment, then moved up over the fabric of my pants,
over and over, light strokes up my inner thighs that just grazed
my balls. My cock was throbbing, pushing at my zipper.
I fumbled for the tie of her robe and opened it to find her other
breast, but she stopped me when I tried to slide it off her
shoulders. "Ah ah," she whispered warm in my ear. "I need that."
Then her fingers were at my waistband, freeing the button and
letting her knuckles slowly drag the length of my cock as she
slid the zipper down. One heartbeat, and then the wet heat of
her mouth was hungry on the head of my cock. I groaned aloud.
It had been more than a year since Sarah had tasted me; not a
useful position for conception. My buttocks clenched as she
began: Sarah was very good at this. Her tongue swirled around
the head, vibrated for a moment on the underside of the swollen
glans, tenderly stroked the length of my cock. Jesus. Suction
now, with tiny dancing movements of the tip of her tongue that
sent pulses of pleasure through me. I couldn't stop gasping. My
hips were beginning to thrust involuntarily.
Sarah's suction stopped. I froze, and her mouth left my cock.
Right, I thought, trying to control my breathing, my mind almost
clear for a moment. It's sex night, can't come like this.
Then I heard a crinkle.
I opened my eyes. By the flickering light of the television, I
could see my wife's serious, lovely, focused face, concentrating
on something in her hands. A condom. I shut my eyes again before
she could catch me looking at her, my thoughts whirling. What
the hell was she doing? Why-- but then I felt one of Sarah's
hands gently cup my balls, stroking, and then slide up to caress
my throbbing penis, and all questions fled.
She didn't say a word of explanation. Her touch was not
tentative. For each millimeter she rolled the condom down, she
stroked back up the length of my cock, apparently checking the
fit and ensuring quality control. Down a little, back up again.
Down a little more. I was gritting my teeth, sensitive almost
beyond bearing, the pressure in my balls growing each moment.
When the ring of latex finally reached the base of my cock, I
made a sound in my throat somewhere between a sob and a growl,
and pulled her to me, onto my lap, straddling my thighs. I
reached between her legs, my warm fingers finding her center, and
separated her lips, releasing a flood of her slick wetness.
That was what I needed to know. This was not just about me.
But Sarah wasn't waiting. She had her hand on my sheathed cock,
and she was wriggling hips and thighs, and she was pulling her
robe out of the way, and -- now -- my cock was at her entrance.
I met her eyes. Her face was flushed. With one thrust I was
inside her, inside Sarah, deep inside, one of her nipples in my
mouth, my first two fingers on either side of her clit, a marble
drowning in oil. Her hands were in my hair, pulling just hard
enough to a little but not enough -- no, never enough to
distract me from this.
"You," she was saying in my ear, "you, you, Jesus keep doing
that, yes, you, I want you, I don't care, I just want you, oh
fuck yes, you matter, Adam Adam Adam I want you just you just you
Adam Adam Adam yes yes! yes!" I was thrusting hard, feeling it
in the muscles in the small of my back, cupping her ass with one
hand and rubbing her clit over and over with the other, and she
was riding me, her thighs working. I could feel my orgasm like a
copper spring, wound tighter and tighter, then ah God sudden
sharp release, and her voice was a husky laughing shriek and mine
was a shuddering ohhhhhh, and then I was holding her tight to me
and it was over, but something had changed.
Sarah kissed me on each eyelid. Her face was serious, but there
was a hint of a smile as she carefully disengaged from my
Semen trickled down her left thigh.
We looked at each other, aghast for one unthinking moment. In the
dim light, my appalled looked about sixteen. "Jesus, Adam,"
she said. "The fucking condom broke."
Then the dam burst. A snicker turned into a giggle turned into a
roar. Sarah's helpless, dissolved, high-pitched gasps sent her
reeling, rubber-legged, for the couch next to me; I sat,
ridiculous with my pants around my ankles, and simply brayed with
laughter. I laughed and laughed, my head tilted back, powerless
to stop, until my stomach and all the little muscles in my
abdomen felt rubbery and weak. Just as I was beginning to wind
down, slowly gaining control with hitching gasps, I could hear
Sarah start in again next to me, and that sent me off again,
whooping. Sarah leaned against me, shaking, and I dimly perceived
that she was crying as well as laughing, her face streaming with
tears. I pulled her close, unable to stop even then; the sight
of the crumpled condom on the floor sent us both into another fit
of hysterical giggles. Two years. What in fuck's sake were we
I wiped at my eyes, a lump in my throat, still hooting a little
with laughter, and looked at Sarah. Her eyes were red-rimmed,
but she was more or less under control, only the occasional
hiccup escaping her. "Sarah," I said. My voice sounded oddly
strained, shaky. "Come on, give. What was that all about?" I
didn't dare say the word "condom" for fear it would set us off
She looked at me for a moment without saying anything, then
shrugged a little. "I wanted a break," she said. "I wanted to
fuck you, just you, not your -- not your sperm, if you know what
I mean. I wanted it to be just the two of us, not the two of us
plus all the shit in the way." She looked at the condom on the
floor, and this time we were in no danger of laughing. "It
didn't work, though, did it?"
I shook my head, but not in negation. "You didn't have to do
that," I said. I pulled her to me, started kissing her face
gently, the corners of her eyelids, the angle of her jaw, her
cheekbones, the tip of her nose. She was crying again, but
quietly now, no trace of hysteria. "You didn't have to do that,"
I repeated. Soft kisses. I was thinking: now what?
Now what? As always, the short questions have the long answers.
For us, here, now, it has turned out to be a daughter, Alice
Namikim Wilson. Alice is the name we decided on for a when
we began; Namikim is the name her gave her back in Korea.
It was a small death for Sarah, I think, giving up a little on
the idea of having a child of our own, but it was a birth, too,
in a way. Alice has Sarah's coffee-brown eyes, even if she
didn't get them from Sarah.
And when she laughs, hooting and pointing, she sounds just like
Comments welcomed and responded to at
Pursuant to the Berne Convention, this work is copyright with all
rights reserved by its author unless explicitly indicated.