SENSES • by Desiree Wilkins

She’d rather it was a tumor.

Rachel drove her hands deep into the cool meat. When she squeezed her hands tight, she felt the soft thickness work through and surround her fingers. She set one hand free and cracked an egg on the side of the stove. The texture of the shell made her cringe but she worked the egg out until it slid like snot into the bowl of hamburger. She broke the yolk with her hand and laced it into the meat and bread crumbs. The smell of garlic and red meat wafted up to her nose and she wondered how she might break the news to Roger. For a moment she felt faint.

The increasing aroma of chocolate told her that the brownies only needed another five minutes. It was a smell that recalled her mother’s kitchen in Ohio. Her mom would hand her a spoon dripping with the smooth batter. It was cool and sweet on her tongue and her mom said you knew the brownies would be delicious if the batter tasted good.

She was starving. She couldn’t stomach anything for weeks and now everything tempted her. But she knew it wasn’t her. Maybe the chocolate craving, but red meat, no. She gave up meat ten years ago and never looked back.

The red meat must be what it wanted.

After another minute of kneading the hamburger, her hands felt raw. She nudged the sink nozzle up with her elbow and put her hands under the water, feeling its warmth on the edge of her senses.

It was supposed to be menopause. That was the idea she was starting to accept. She sipped wine with her sister and talked about how surprised she was to be depressed at this stage in her life. Because she felt like less than a woman. Well, she’d gone and proved herself wrong.

Could she feel it? Somewhere in her, swimming around, growing and changing? Did it have a texture at this point, like the meat? Did it have any of its own senses? Or did it silently and smoothly roam around, using hers, taking over her body a little at a time?

She returned to the stove and pinched the hamburger. She rolled a small amount in her palm, barely touching it, and soon it became a perfect ball.

They always talked about it in terms of food. It’s the size of a grape; it’s the size of a tomato; it’s the size of an avocado. It was probably the size of this meatball.

So little and about to ruin everything.

By her calculations, fifteen weeks, the whole length of summer break. The date was circled like a scarlet letter on her wall calendar. Michael’s going away dinner! Dinner, ha! If only it had just been dinner.

The nurse practitioner set an aggressive plan. Because of her age they would do an anatomy screening immediately. If it cooperated they could tell her the gender. And she needed to schedule appointments for every two weeks. Rachel could only sit there and stare, her mind both numb and spinning wildly at the same time. All she could say was, “But I have to teach. I have my own schedule.” And the reply, “Well, you’ll have to fit this into your schedule now.”

If it were twenty years ago, yes, she would be thrilled. She would stockpile books and buy tiny socks and picture frames. She would start a scrapbook. Lord knows they tried, just after they knew she was getting tenure.

But now? Long after they knew there was no chance and went on with their lives and were comfortable, beyond comfortable, in their careers and their hobbies and their social life?

And worse, long after she and Roger stopped being intimate in that way with any kind of consistency. So, depending on his reaction, there would be the scandal.

Roger was a good man, yes, but she couldn’t ask him to do this. And if he did, well he would be a saint to her and noble, but he would also have to be soft; nobody else would know but he would and she wasn’t sure he could live with that.

And the other option – a fifty-one year old woman, professor in a small college town, raising her new bundle of joy, alone. Hires a live-in nanny. Never speaks about it but everybody knows. Or would she leave town? Let Roger keep all their friends and all their connections and all their possessions.

He could have anything he wanted. She would give him anything lest her guilt swallow her up.

She coated the pan with oil and sparked the stove. Each meatball hit the pan with a pop and a sizzle. A droplet of grease hit her cheek, a moment of burning on her skin. She moved back to the sink, eager to be clean.

It was ONE time. And the memory, a blur. In those fuzzy moments there was too much wine and the giving into temptation, and Jesus, saying, actually saying not to worry because she already went through menopause. Who lies like that? Who but lustful teenagers who say anything to get into bed? But at the time it was all the assurance they needed. And she would never see him again anyway. He was happily heading to the west coast; happy to finally be made a dean. Michael’s going away dinner! Then, bye-bye forever.

The door clicked open and startled her from her thoughts. The smoke alarm wailed, the brownies burnt. Roger rushed in, waving his hands around and turning on the stove vent.

He smiled as she turned to him. “Whatever’s in there didn’t turn out so well.”

She felt her eyes moisten. “Roger,” she said, “you have no idea.”

Desiree Wilkins lives near Philadelphia with her husband and their son. Her fiction has appeared in the print literary magazine Happy and online at First Stop Fiction and Cleaver.

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