a difficult time
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And Then There were Three
by KJ Hannah Greenberg



“I’m pregnant, Chet!”


Chet stared at his hands. On each of his ten fingers there were lines where knuckles were placed. He admired, in turn, his metacarpophalangeal joints, his proximal interphalangeal joints, and his distal interphalangeal joints.


When he was eight years old, he had taken up the oboe and had continued with that lovely instrument until the middle of his undergraduate days. All things being unequal, he had been a poor musician. Even his extraordinarily long digits had not helped him stay in tune with any of his schools’ orchestras.


“Did you hear me? I’m telling you life-changing news!”

Chet’s father, unlike Chet, had been a talented oboist who had been forced to give up his beloved hautboy to earn money through set design. Set design paid; woodwind quintet did not.


“I can’t believe you’re ignoring me. What type of husband are you?” Dorothy began to cry.

She wrapped the sofa throw around her, but only after pulling it out from under Chet.


Even though his father had had to stop playing the modern shawm, that man had urged that instrument upon Chet. He had also, albeit indirectly, taught his son about proportion, color, line, texture, shape, and more.


Consequently, Chet’s appreciation of the arts extended beyond aural expressions to visual ones. During his adolescence, Chet learned to discern among velvet and velour and to inspect lace for its degree of delicateness. Whereas Chet earned his income editing technical documents, his passion remined fashion.


“I hate you!” Dorothy whimpered a bit more and then fell into a deep sleep.


Chet nodded at his wife, having rubricked her emotional outburst as hormone-driven. There would be three trimesters, or, more accurately, two and change, to discuss the impending impact of their child on their lives.


After Chet’s mom had died, his father had not remarried. Rather, he sufficed with unbounded flirting, with a massive collection of recordings of oboe music, and with being regarded as a dandy.


Withersmith trotted in, sniffed Chet, and then sniffed Dorothy. He jumped up onto the sofa, which was an amazing act, given his short legs, and nestled on top of her. Soon, he was drooling almost as much as his mistress.


Chet’s father had written copious amounts of poetry, nonetheless, he had had only a single assemblage published. What’s more, he had demurred when asked if he had hired a vanity press.


Rudford waddled into the living room. Chet placed his hand, palm up, on the floor to allow that hedgehog to be lifted to the sofa. The urchin was skittish, but there was no harm in offering it a comfy perch.


Withersmith opened one eye to regard his prickly brother and just as quickly shut it.

Rudford curled up into a spiny ball on Dorothy’s other side. He did not like cuddling with Withersmith. He did not like drool.


Three days, two bouquets of flowers, which had, in succession, been thrown at him, and an expensive subscription to The Journal of World Intellectual Property, later, Chet had been forgiven. He still was troubled by the idea that he was becoming a father. Dorothy, however, had no problem regularly reminding him that she was becoming a mother.


To wit, between midnight and one in the morning, daily, for weeks, she asked Chet to source anchovies. He had taken to relying on the neighborhood tavern, which also sold pizzas. No grocery stores were open during those hours. Additionally, Chet had had to daily “confer” with Mr. Henry as Dorothy had insisted that pregnant women ought to stay far away from litter boxes.


Mr. Henry had not been amused by the behaviors of his manservant. The cat had hissed every time that Chet approached with a poop scooper and had howled every week when the litter, itself was changed.


Beyond litter duties, Chet was now in charge of spring cleaning as not only the smell of coffee or of eggs made Dorothy barf, but so, too, did getting within feet of the cleaning supplies closet. Instead of enjoying his favorite breakfast, Chet spent most mornings fighting dust bunnies, admiring cobwebs, wiping away bathroom-sourced molds and mildew, vacuuming and mopping.


Once a week, he treated himself to bagels at a shop within walkable distance. It was tough not to be able to brew joe in his own home.


Nancy Lynn was a regular visitor. The tyke almost always came with a basket of food cooked by her mother. While Dorothy objected to Chet’s scrambleds, she adored her neighbor’s gifts of quiches and of frittatas. Most of ten, she’d eat an entire pie or loaf by herself, burp up awful gas, and then smile at Chet concurrent with claiming that at least her neighbor cared about their child’s development.


Their little visitor’s favorite pastime was looking, with Dorothy, at pictures of women’s innards. Chet’s wife had ordered, online, a few dozen books on pregnancy and childbirth. Although it was shocking that she labor in their home, it was that much more staggering that she felt talking about the birds and the bees to a young girl was not an issue.


Chet couldn’t understand why Nancy Lynn’s mother didn’t object until he remembered both that she worked as a nurse and that she was on the board of the local Waldorf school. Certainly, when Chet had come of age, his father had subjected him to no such lurid pictures. Plus, Nancy Lynn was hardly of age.


When Dorothy achieved her second trimester, that is, when she began her fourth month of gestation, Chet feted her by purchasing another pricy subscription, one to The World Intellectual Property Organization Journal; he didn’t want to be hit over the head, again, with roses or carnations. He figured, as well, he could safely purchase a subscription to Cybaris for Dorothy’s third trimester present and could gift his lovely partner with a subscription to The Harvard Journal of Law and Technology as a push present.


“I hate you! You don’t care about me, about our animals, about our home, or about our baby’s life.”


“Tough day at work?”


“No. I mean ‘yes.’ Of course, ‘yes.” They don’t understand pregnant lawyers.”


“I thought one of the partners had four children.”


“Shut up!


“Hi Withersmith, come to Mommy. Daddy’s a jerk.”


The dachshund faithfully shuffled to Dorothy.


“Chet, you’re a logical positivist.”


“Ah, okay.”


“I need a man with more of a hermeneutic approach to life.”


“Yes, Dear.”


“…and I need you to make me some French fries smothered in peanut butter and a bowl of gelatin with heated pickle relish.”


“Yes, Dear. Have you had your urine checked recently? I hope your kidney function…”


“You idiot!”


“Yes, Dear. Snackies coming right up.”


For comfort, Chet had taken to wearing his tuxedo shirt around the apartment. Even when he was washing and drying dishes, reorganizing closets, dusting off books, or moving furniture (Dorothy insisted on “nesting” at least twice a week), he treated himself to that garment. Plus, he had surreptitiously ordered a replacement shirt, online, to wear to their child’s birth.


Unfortunately, Mr. Henry had articulated his displeasure with Chet’s service by spraying Chet’s favorite ascot. That piece of cashmere goodness was too expensive to immediately replace. Chet would have to make do at the forthcoming festivities with ruffles.


In between editing white papers and user manuals, Chet mopped the bathroom, the kitchen, and the sun porch, emptied all of the garbage cans, soaked the cat and dog’s toys in a tub of soapy water, and patched the screens. When he had suggested that they ask for a housekeeper or baby nurse as baby gifts, he had not been thinking of Dorothy.


One day, Rudford waddled up to Chet. Without the benefit of coffee, the technical editor and writer was pushing himself to stay awake until he reached the end of the document on his screen. That the little bush pig had entered his workspace gave Chet new vitality. In no time at all he completed his task.


When he bent to pick up the little prickly guy, though, the thing threw up on him. A panicked Dorothy insisted that Chet take her delightful small familiar immediately to the vet.


Weighing his wife’s shouting against the resources involved in driving roundtrip, waiting in the companion area, and then bravely holding Rudford sufficiently still to be examined, Chet quickly grabbed the cat carrier, the hedgehog, the car keys, and his coat.


When he had at last returned, Dorothy was again asleep on the sofa with Mr. Henry curled up by her head. A “to do” list,” penned by her hand, awaited him on the living room table.


Despite the fact that Chet had intentionally omitted cleaning Mr. Henry’s litter box that week, Dorothy had underscored that item on her list.  Sighing, Chet donned his balaclava and a pair of cooking mitts. Both items were more washable than his face and hands were resistant to Mr. Henry’s claws.


Upon discovering that Chet had completed more than half of the requests on her list, Dorothy could not stop praising her husband. The more that she lauded him, the more that she cried.


“You’re the best husband in the world!”


“That’s why you married me.”


“I mean it.”


“Me, too.”


“Wait! You didn’t tell me I’m the best wife.”


“You know it, already.”


“Do not. You hate me. I hate you!”


Dorothy snatched Mr. Henry and, slamming the door behind her, sobbed on her and Chet’s bed.


Chet’s wife cried even more the next day when she had returned from work. Her“ best friend,” Aviv, a buddy from law school who worked in corporate law and who hid neither tattoos nor piercings under her work clothes, had given Dorothy the side eye when the two of them had met at a lunch place.


“All I did was ask for and eat a bowl of pitted olives. How can she be so cruel? How can anyone be so cruel? The world is cruel. “


“Well, Dear…”


“Okay, maybe she got huffy not after the first bowl, but after the third.”


“What did your nutritionist or your midwife say about your salt cravings?”


“I hate you. All you care about is science. No wonder you’re a science writer. To boot, you’d never make it in literature. Your poetry stinks”


Once more, Dorothy locked their bedroom door behind her and cried herself to sleep on their bed. She emerged less than an hour later as she was very hungry and she had finished all three boxes of crackers that Chet had placed in their bedroom, for her, that morning.


“Low blood sugar? I think the crying’s related.”


“Shut up! I still hate you.”




“Would you order pizza with pineapple for me? Please make it a large with extra cheese and double spinach, too.”




“While the delivery’s en route, would you make me scrambled eggs with cherry jam?”


“I thought eggs made you nauseous.”


“Used to.”


“Can I return to making coffee, then?”


“Don’t you dare!”


Dorothy easily ate her extra-large pie. Chet ate his small one, quietly.


He told himself that friends like Aviv were above suspicion, since they, themselves, had never been pregnant or had benefitted from the on-the-job training that Chet was enduring. Besides, Chet no more wanted to confront one of Dorothy’s girlfriends than he wanted to face down Mr. Henry. Maybe, his bride would forget the incident.


He reached to pat Dorothy’s hand, at the same time as saying, “I love you very much. I feel sad that you feel ill. I wish I could snap my fingers and magic away other people’s insensitivities.”


Dorothy began shredding her pizza’s empty box. She made pointed airplanes from that cardboard and flung each of them at Chet. After four had hit him, he retired to their bedroom. He did not lock the door.


Withersmith wandered in. He nuzzled the only part of Chet that he could reach; Chet’s legs were dangling off of the bed.


“Well, friendly, furry sausage, I know my poetry rots, but it would be nice for my wife to pretend otherwise. Is it really so difficult to be pregnant?”


Withersmith looked up as far as he could see, which was Chet’s knees. He whimpered and then sat down, resting his head on Chet’s feet. He wagged his tail in reply.




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