Fiction · 09/29/2010

Marriage With Time Lapse

The newlyweds step kissing across the threshold of their moon-lit honeymoon hotel room. When the door closes behind them, they see a curled bundle of silhouette near the end of the double bed.

“Someone’s pet is in here.” The woman is in her husband’s arms, and her voice is tinged with laughter, as though this odd discovery will be just one more gift in a day of travel that has been nearly perfect.

“That’s ridiculous,” her husband says.

He lowers her to her feet. They study the motionless shadow. Then, the husband slips his arm around her waist and pulls his bride into a kiss that could easily go anywhere.

She laughs his tongue out of her mouth. “Are you forgetting something?”

He whistles. “Hey,” he says into the gray light.

They wait. After a moment, the husband laughs. Then, he claps his hands. “Hey, pooch,” he says. He looks at his bride’s outline. “It’s a pillow or towel,” he says.

“It’s a little dog,” the woman says. “I think it wagged its tail.”

Watching the small shadow, the husband bends for their luggage that he’d set in the room before carrying her in. He moves the bags into the bottom of an open closet. Feeling along the wall, he finds the light switch and flips it.

Nothing happens.

His bride exhales a giggle in the dark. Their flight had been delayed that evening in Michigan because of ice on the wings. Upon finally landing, she changed in an airport restroom. Wearing shorts and a thin blouse now, she inhales the salty breeze coming in through the window. She bends, sets her palms on her knees, and looks closer. “Don’t be afraid,” she says soothingly.

The flight’s delay had been long enough that the captain had come on and told them that they could use their electronic devices. On his laptop, her husband found a time-lapsed video of scurrying balloonists assembling hot air balloons, impregnating them with air.

“Beautiful,” she said.

“Should we join the Mile-high Club once we’re up?”

She laughed and slapped his arm. “We’ll be there in three hours. You can wait.” Still, she leaned into him. While they kissed, the balloons on his laptop flew in fast motion, landed, and then deflated. Tiny bodies scurried and folded until there was nothing left but the barren field in which they’d come down.

Her husband, giving the foot of the bed as wide a berth as the room would allow, starts toward the lamp on the bedside table.

“Be careful. It looks pretty ferocious.”

“I don’t see you doing anything,” he says playfully.

She laughs.

Each feels buoyed by the idea that they did everything right… long courtship followed by a long engagement. Graduate degrees. No debt.

He lifts his hand under the lamp shade and twists the switch.

The light that fills the room is followed by his wife’s quick, horrified gasp.

At the end of the bed lies curled the bluish body of an infant. When the bride finally steps forward and reaches for them, she finds the tiny fingers dead and cold to the touch.

A hand taps at their door five minutes after the husband calls the front desk.

“How…?” the wife asks.

The front desk manager covers the little body with a towel. “Maybe someone from housekeeping,” he says. “They have pass keys.” He looks at the husband and then at the wife. “Maybe the couple that stayed in the room last. I don’t know.”

“What are you going to do to make this right?” the husband asks.

“Make it right?” the wife whispers.

The front desk manager, standing in his white suit, presses his fingertips together and steeples his fingers, a gesture of being in control taught to him in a management seminar. “The hotel is full, sir… as are all of the hotels on the island.” He bites his lower lip, holds it, and then releases.

“We can’t do anything until the police come.” He opens his hands, palms up. “But, please, come down to the dining room as soon as you are ready.”

“To eat?” the wife asks.

The front desk manager’s lips compress against his teeth. “Again,” he says, “we offer our deepest apologies.”

They are then left alone.

“The police will want to talk to us, too,” the husband says after a moment. “Jesus Christ, this is crazy… everything’s shit, now.” He steps into the bathroom.

Uncovering the child, the wife uses the towel instead to swaddle its tiny body.

The husband comes back into the room. “What the hell are you doing? You shouldn’t…”

Retreating to the writing desk, cradling the bundle, the bride rocks her body slightly, sobbing. Her husband drifts away from her… across the room to the blinds where he stares out the window at the black ocean.

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Jeff Vande Zande teaches English at Delta College in Midland, MI. His stories have been collected in a full-length collection, Emergency Stopping and Other Stories (Bottom Dog Press). Individual stories have appeared in Coe Review, Existere, Necessary Fiction, and Smokelong Quarterly, among others. He has two novels: Into the Desperate Country (March Street Press) and Landscape with Fragmented Figures (Bottom Dog Press). Most recently, Whistling Shade Press released his novella, Threatened Species and Other Stories. He maintains a website at www.jeffvandezande.com.