Martha Clarkson


The day after Daniel left her, she began to hear voices. First in the rowing machine at the gym, amid the thumps of the treadmill people and the infrequent clanks of the weight machines. Indistinct, but there.
It was in the kitchen of the tiny condominium she’d inherited where he did the actual leaving. She’d had a busy day at the fertility clinic – as an employee, not a patient – and was expecting talk of dinner options. The usual: baked beans, turkey tortillas, or tuna fish sandwiches. She wasn’t prepared to hear that there would be no more dinners.
He had leaned against the vintage turquoise range they’d bought at Goodwill, his arms folded, a can of Schlitz in one hand. The range was the first major “thing” they’d bought together, a year earlier, when they’d been in the condo only two weeks. Neither had much money – then or now. At Goodwill, Daniel’d used the cash he’d been paid to donate sperm at her clinic. This was how they’d met.
Looking beyond him as he talked about someone named Jill from the Greek deli and the number of boxes already loaded in his trunk, she noticed that all the sofa pillows were gone and Lima, the parakeet, was missing.
After his leaving, the kitchen, her once-favorite room, seemed unfamiliar. The turquoise range looked forlorn and she was suddenly desperate to cook something on the left front burner, which hadn’t worked since they’d bought the range. When the refrigerator’s compressor turned on, she jumped. Its click and grumble reminded her of her crusty grandfather who had made his living selling hair gel to negroes. When she finally brought herself to cook something, the sizzle of the rice in oil sounded like a song of the Munchkins.
For three straight days at work she was asked to run multiple copies of presentation booklets called Your New Eggs and The Joy in Triplets, at twenty pages each. The rhythm of sheets being shot to paper holders and the dance of the collating trays sounded like desperate me, desperate me, over and over again. Or it could have been despise me, despise me, she wasn’t sure. On the fourth day she handed the task over to the high school girl who came in after soccer to do the filing.
She started to bring home takeout dinners and unplug the phone. Her alarm clock became a squawking mynah bird that made her fillings remember foil. Only half her carpet was clean because within the vacuum’s roar she thought she heard all gone, all gone, like mothers say to children about empty candy jars. She turned it off before she started nodding to a home appliance.
The bathroom was the worst – with the shower, sink, and even the heater coming on as she dressed for work. Every other day she took a sponge bath because the shower water chanted you’re shrinking, you’re shrinking, and the possibilities scared her. The stream of water from the sink’s faucet had a tone of admonishment. And there was definitely a message in the toilet’s flush.
She left her job in April, one month since the last time he’d picked up mail and a forgotten orange sweatshirt that she wore on Saturdays. On her last day at the clinic, everyone was gone by six and she stayed, on the pretense of bulk filing. They didn’t know she’d decided to leave. She found Daniel’s file and his donor number. On shelf five, in the back storage room, she located his frozen contributions. She put the cold vials in the skinny compartments of her soft briefcase, the ones reserved for pens. The freezer compressors had nothing to say.

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