Bryna Peebles Cofrin-Shaw


My wife’s friend—​my friend too, she reminded me—​was coming over to conduct some nude drawings. Maybe conduct isn’t the word. She was coming over to look at my wife naked, for a while, and I was told it didn’t matter if I was around or not. I had errands to run. It was a Sunday, after all; I’d be in and out, in and out. Tate was her name. Like the museum? I’d asked her once. Tate had shrugged, like maybe she hadn’t even heard of it. Strange, because she was an artist. An upscale furniture maker, doing wooden sculptures on the side. Well, first Tate would draw, taking stock from all directions. Then, back in her studio maybe, she’d carve. Someday soon a dead log would take the shape of my wife, knotted breasts and rings cinching through her soft belly. Fine, that’d be fine.

Tate was standing outside the front door, looking down at her phone, when I stepped out to take Andy for a walk. Flustered, you might say.

“Oh hey, Jake. I’m a few minutes early.”

“No problem, how are you? Good to see you.”

“You too. And well! I’m well.”

“And Sandy?”

“She’s good! Yeah, real good. You two should come over for dinner once it gets warm enough to sit on the new porch.”

“It’s done?”

“It’s done.”

Maybe it was the circumstance, her bag being full of tools to draw the image of my naked wife. There was an awkwardness to it. Tate and Sandy have come over for dinner plenty of times. This was different. I told her to go right in and quit standing outside like a Jehovah’s Witness. I said I’d see her in a few.

When I came back from walking Andy, my wife was naked. She was sitting on the dark blue rug with her legs kicked out to the left and her hand reaching down on the right. Her white bathrobe lay beneath her like a picnic blanket. I thought about the first time I took all her clothes off outside. Two striped towels formed a blanket over the tall grass. I had a vision of little black spiders climbing onto us the second I entered her. I couldn’t get rid of the thought. When I finally finished it was like a school opening its doors to summer. All that brainpower, trying so hard not to think about those little black spiders with my wife’s legs tight around my hips.

Tate arranged her pencils. The square of white was empty in front of her. My wife looked up at me without moving her head.

“Did Andy do his business?”

“Shat all over the Greggorys’ lawn.”

The dog was barely trained, still a pup. We never used phrases like “do his business.” This was strange coming out of my wife’s mouth, like she’d aged twenty years in front of me. The light from the southern windows fell over her in pinstripes. I wanted to cup the little fall of her belly in my palm.

“Well, I’m off to the grocery store,” I said. “Do you want me to take Andy with me so he doesn’t bother you? Not too hot out there, I can just roll down the windows for him.” My wife is very nervous about dogs in hot cars. It was only May, but I wanted her to know I was thinking about this—always thinking about it, like her.

“He can stay, it’s no problem,” said Tate. I hadn’t been asking Tate, but I nodded. Okay.

I ran into two of my students at the grocery store. It’s a small town, so it happens more than you’d think.

“Looks like you gals have a big night planned,” I said, eyeing their boxes of brownie mix.

“Just a regular Sunday-night Marlon Brando marathon,” said Erica. I let out a big fake laugh. We’d just finished Heart of Darkness the week before, and I’d made them watch Apocalypse Now for Friday’s class. You think you’re doing a nice thing, letting 15-year-olds watch a movie for class, but they hated it. Talked the whole period. Every time the camera panned to Marlon’s blank face one of them would jump in to narrate his thoughts. About drove me nuts.

“Funny,” I said to Erica. Erica was one of the good ones. Some teenagers just know how to keep up their end of the conversation with adults. It’s refreshing—rare, too. You don’t think about that unless you’re a high school teacher. Her friend Eleanor, also my student, wouldn’t look me in the eye.

“Well,” I said, “gotta get back to”—and then I held up the box of Sudafed in my hand—“the lab.” It was a joke; it just came out. Like, the meth lab. I shouldn’t have said it. Erica smirked, like she got the joke. I wished she hadn’t.

“Anyhow, I’ll see you girls tomorrow,” I said, and we all parted, thank God. I had vegetables and cheese to pick up, too; I should have grabbed a basket.

On the way home I thought: I really shouldn’t have made that joke. High school teachers have certainly been fired for less. If it came up at school the next day, I could mention my sinus infection, say something about meeting Scott over at the high school, preparing our classrooms, etc. Scott teaches chemistry in a laboratory classroom and we’re good friends; we eat lunch together most days. Scott is older and softer and balder than me, a distinction likely lost on anyone under 19. My wife says Scott’s wife is cheating on him. She met the woman once at a faculty picnic and then came home from dinner with one of her girlfriends saying she saw Scott’s wife—​really! it was her!—sipping wine and whispering something “very sexy” (she didn’t hear it) into the ear of some other gentleman at the restaurant’s bar. I’ve never brought it up with Scott, of course.

You have to understand: my wife’s greatest flaw is that she believes in conspiracy theories. Very few people know this about her; they think she must be highly rational, being as blunt and candid as she is. But she is easily convinced of outrageous things. It’s an okay flaw to have; I am a lucky man, on the whole. But sometimes, you spend too many years with a woman like that, and the world starts to take on a stranger shape. Oblong, you might say. You think it’s round but someone in your ear is convincing you it’s not quite.

After I put away the groceries, I filled up the big plastic pitcher we keep under the sink and started watering the plants. My wife is always complaining about how little I water the plants. Once, I bought a basil plant and added it to the rest of the bunch, but she didn’t water it, just to make a point. She wasn’t trying to be passive-aggressive; she thought it was funny. Jake’s poor brown basil plant beside his wife’s forest of healthy herbs and vines. It’s still infrequent, but here and there I’ll remember to do the watering rounds. Today I just wanted a reason to go into the living room without them thinking I was hovering. Not spying, just saying hello.

“Well that looks really nice,” I said, when I saw what Tate was working on. There were about six little sketches of a faceless body on the paper, each one a little different—​darker, rounder, sharper—​though I could see my wife in each of them. I could tell I’d walked in on the middle of a funny story by the way they looked at each other sheepishly.

“Oh. Yeah, coming along,” said Tate after a long, pregnant pause. My wife was sitting with one leg stretched out and the other bent into a triangle. She is self-conscious of how long her legs are in comparison to her short little torso, and they looked as long as they ever have right there. Her elbow rested in the crook of her knee and she cupped her chin in her palm, as if she’d been trying to stretch, but had quickly given up. I watered the spider plants by the window and smiled at my wife as I left.

Let me tell you: staying in touch with family is important. It’s not easy, but I make a point of calling my parents every weekend. They’re old, my dad especially. After their divorce he seemed to get a lot older. He lives in a nice condo with other folks; it’s sort of like college, really. My wife and I went down there to visit him one weekend when he was performing in the talent show. He called his set “sit-down comedy”—​everyone liked that. Then, at the end of it, he said, “If you all don’t mind, I’m going to read a poem.” And then he opened up a notebook and just sat there, eyes moving languidly across the lines of the page, not saying anything. My wife was the first person to start laughing. She was almost in tears, laughing so hard. A minute went by, then two. He was just sitting up there, reading to himself. Finally, some other folks caught on, started laughing as well. Then my dad shut the notebook, looked up, and said, “Ah, I do love Walt Whitman.”

Well, my wife still talks about that. The two of them get along real well. It’s like a Monty Python movie around the holidays; everything’s a bit. When my wife and I watch movies, we never find the same things funny, but I know exactly what will make her laugh. She’s got a nice laugh, all wild and uncontained, the way little kids howl when you pretend to steal their noses or pull things out of their ears. When she laughs, I do too. I can’t help it.

I brought the phone up to our bedroom. Dad picked up after about ten rings.

“My boy!” he said. He sounded drunk. “Listen, I’m heading out to the pool with a fine woman named Janet.” He enunciated her name like it was a code word between us.

“Just called to see how you were doing,” I said.

“And I’m glad you did! I’ve only got a few minutes, so tell me something good.”

“Let’s see. Well, we’re heading up to the mountains for Memorial weekend—​I told you that, didn’t I? Renting a cabin.”

“Ah, a romantic cabin in the mountains,” my dad said, like the voice-over for a ski resort commercial.

“The pictures looked nice online. It’s got a big red hammock in the front. Reminded me of the house on Long Pond. Smaller, obviously.”

“Mmm, okay,” said my dad. My mother’s sister married very rich, and when I was a kid we used to stay at one of their lake houses, sometimes weeks on end. One summer—​I must have been about eleven—​my dad belly-flopped onto the hammock where I was splayed out, the full weight of him catapulting me off the woven ropes. He did his own version of a concussion test on me before my cheeks had even dried—​reading numbers right to left off a piece of scrap paper—​and passed me with flying colors. By the time I told him about my nausea that afternoon, my concussion score was already finalized and he instructed me to go sit on the toilet. If there’s one thing I know I will never do as a father, it’s to tell my sick child that he just needs to go to the bathroom.

I knew my dad didn’t remember the hammock I was talking about. To be honest, I’d mentioned the detail just to prove myself correct. He was old before I was even born, and these days I imagine being in his head is like driving for ten miles before realizing the radio station isn’t in English. I mentioned it to my wife once, after realizing he had no recollection of my being vaguely redheaded as a child and couldn’t recall my being engaged to a woman named Angelica for half a year in college. She cited his comedic timing as proof of adequate cranial activity for a man in his 80s. This I found preposterous. “You’re too sentimental.” That’s what she said. “Not everyone attaches so much meaning to everything, every little fucking memory,” she added. I know that sounds mean; she didn’t say it in a mean way, but I left it at that.

My dad was breathing heavily into the phone, probably thinking of what to say next, now that most of his memory had gone by the wayside. I knew what was coming, because it comes every single time we talk, the one question lodged in his brain like a permanent sticky note, so I stayed quiet and just waited for it.

“Well, I’m sure it will be a fantastic vacation,” he said. “Maybe so fun that you finally make me a grandbaby, ay?”

“Yup,” I said. “We’ll see.”

We’ve been trying to conceive for a few years, with no success. With no urgency either, I will admit. My wife is always saying things like, “I just want to live my life—if I get pregnant along the way, fine!” She’s been saying this for quite a while, in fact. At first this made me nervous—​I want kids, I’ve always wanted kids. But we’d never discussed it in concrete terms before getting married. Then I realized, recently: of course! She’s scared of being a mother! She thinks she won’t be good at it! Her own mother was a menace—totally vacant, often cruel—​and now she’s dead. Well, everything clicked. She wants a family—​we both do—​but who isn’t at least a little bit scared of it all?

These days I don’t bring it up too much. My wife does not like it when I talk about turning the little office that we use as an in-home storage unit into a baby’s room; she gets very quiet when I ask her opinion about a particular name. I try to keep it to myself, now. But if we don’t get lucky soon, I’ve got a list of all the good fertility doctors in a 50-mile radius.

A woman’s voice, presumably Janet, was getting louder in the background.

“Sounds like Janet’s ready to go,” I said. “Mind if I ask what decade she was born in?”

My mother was twenty-two years younger than my dad, but after they divorced, he dated a woman ten years older than himself for a few years. So, you never know. He’s a wildcard.

“Not telling,” he said. “Ha! The pool is calling my name. Thanks for calling, Jakey boy.”

After my dad hung up, I looked out our bedroom window for a while. We’ve got a nice vegetable garden in the back. Eggplants and squashes, tomatoes and spearmint. All the nightshades. Like I said, it was only May, but still nice to look at that patch of ground and imagine it late summer, all ripe and fertile.

I heard my name and turned toward the door, where my wife was standing with her bathrobe untied and hanging open in the front. She had one hand up against the door frame so that the edge of the fabric caught and rested against her nipple. You can see a woman naked every day and still, a sight like that will do something to you.

“What are you smirking at?”

“Nothing. You look very nice.”

“Yeah?” she said, lifting the other arm against the doorframe.

“Rather risqué,” I said. Of course, this is the most clothed she’d been all day.  

“What are you doing up here?”

“I was talking to my dad,” I said, my pulse settling back down.

“Oh? How’s he doing?”

“It seems he’s doing Janet.”

My wife raised her eyebrows. I motioned for her to come over to where I was sitting on the bed. I wanted her to straddle me and wrap her robe around the both of us, but she only touched the top of my head as she walked over to the dresser.

“And what are you doing up here?” I asked. “You missed me?”

“Sandy called so we took a break. I need some socks. Can I wear these?”

She held up my warmest wool socks. I nodded, of course.

“I ran into some students at the grocery store,” I said. “Poet Laureate Erica and her angsty sidekick.”

“Your little muse,” said my wife. I went over to the dresser and put my hands on her shoulders.

“Actually, I believe I am her muse.” My wife’s shoulders went slack beneath my hands. I could tell she was smiling. She rested the back of her head on my chest. Until a few weeks ago, our fridge had featured a poem and accompanying picture of Erica that I’d clipped from the newspaper. I was proud of her for winning the local teen poetry contest. She’d written the poem in my class, after all. My wife hadn’t said anything about it, but then, one evening as we were cooking dinner together, she went to the fridge and pulled off the clipping.

“This is why I’m never having a teenager,” she said. “So fucking dramatic. Can I please recycle this now, sailor of scrolls?” I laughed and took the paper from her, throwing it into the recycling bin myself.

“That is you, isn’t it?” she asked me, a reference to one of the poem’s weaker lines: sailor of scrolls, my name upon the tip of your red felt pen. Oof. I shrugged and held her grinning face in my wet hands. Based merely on the number of times Erica stops at my classroom just to say hi or ask an inane homework question, it’s certainly possible that I was the object of her poem’s poetic longing. It was even true that I did all of my essay editing in red. Of course, I wouldn’t be the first English teacher subjected to the literary imaginings of a student.

For a while, my wife and I started calling each other sailor. If we were out and about and passed a flower shop or jewelry store, I’d say Should I pick up something for Erica? That always made her laugh.  Not until much later did I finally have the stomach to bring it up, what she’d said that day.

“You’re never having a teenager?” I asked her late one night. She only stared back at me, sideways, like I’d asked her a riddle. She couldn’t recall saying those exact words, she claimed. That was that; she didn’t remember.

At that point, with my sock-clad wife back to posing in the living room, I decided I needed to get out of the house. Maybe, if she had offered me some advanced warning that Tate was coming over to draw her naked for hours, I would have given myself a more robust itinerary for the day. She’d only told me the night before; I hadn’t even left myself any papers to grade.

Until a year or so earlier, we’d lived closer to downtown, in a little red one-bedroom house next to an artisanal bakery. We became friendly with the couple across the street. I didn’t mind the guy, Dan, and sometimes we’d shoot hoops or go to the whiskey bar in town. We haven’t been out to dinner with them since they had the baby. Dan works in the athletics department of the local college. I’m not sure exactly what he does; I’ve never asked, though I imagine it involves ordering uniforms and sending strongly-worded emails to professors who give athletes anything less than a B. Really, I have no idea. Dan had texted me earlier to meet at the park, just to throw around a disc for a while. He’s got a one-year-old at home and is always desperate to get out of the house. I told him I’d meet him there.

I ate some leftover pasta standing at the fridge. Andy was underfoot, waiting for something to fall.

“Go check on your mom,” I said. “Find out if she’s still naked. Report back.” Andy just looked up at me with that hopeful dog grin. I finished off the pasta and peeked into the living room to say goodbye to the girls. My wife was on her back, with her head near the wall and her feet facing Tate and her knees bent up toward the ceiling at a right angle. Maybe I was a little stunned—​maybe that’s why I just stood there staring. I knew what kind of view Tate had, and I didn’t feel too great about it.

All at once, seeing my naked wife so utterly exposed, this memory came back to me—​we’d been dating maybe six months or so. Even back then, I already knew we were going to be together for the long haul. We were lying in bed, naked, all spent, and she sat up, picked up my exhausted manhood like a foreign object, dropped it right back down and started laughing. Of course, I was upset. I tried to play along. It was just so fascinating, she said. So crazy that this organ basically existed outside of my body. And so vulnerable. Then she lifted her arm and brought it down fast in a fake punch, stopping just short of me. I flinched my whole body away from her, which made her laugh even more. Come on, she said, you really think I’d do that?

She kept looking closely, poking it around. Jesus, I didn’t know what to do. Later, she explained that she just hadn’t spent much time with naked men. Hadn’t “socialized in the daytime with a penis.” I remember she put it exactly like that. Maybe she hadn’t dated much in college, I thought. I didn’t care; we hadn’t even hit our mid-twenties—​we were babies back then. Later, she told me she had never much cared for men, until me, I guess. Well, she’s never done that fake punching thing again, thank God.

“I’m heading out,” I said, from the doorway. I guess neither of them had noticed me there because Tate practically jumped from her stool and my wife let out a little “oh!” like I’d snuck up on her.

“Good. Get out of the house,” she said. “Where are you going?”

“Meeting Dan over at Look Park. Gonna toss around a Frisbee. I’ll take Andy.”

“Can you put one leg down, and then bend it so that it goes behind your heel?’ said Tate. My wife did exactly what she asked.

“Well that’s…fun,” said my wife. She has never much cared for Dan. Then she added, “Grab a jar of the granola I made this morning out of the cupboard. For Melanie.”

My wife is convinced Dan and Melanie would be much more pleasant if they allowed themselves some carbohydrates. She claims she’s never seen Melanie eat anything but dressing-less salad—​though the one time Melanie tried my wife’s granola, she raved about it. And Dan only eats egg whites and chicken breasts. They are easily our most attractive friends.

When we got to the park, Dan was already out on the grass, doing sit-ups. Andy leapt from the backseat as soon as I opened the door and ran over to him. Started jumping around, trying to lick Dan’s face. Dan sat up and swatted him away.

“Control your fucking animal,” he said. Good to see you too, I thought. I’d brought a chewed-up Frisbee along with the good one, and I hucked it way out into the field for Andy. Dan stood up and started walking backwards away from me so we could throw.

“So Melanie finally let you out of the house?” I asked.

“Her mom’s in town. Woulda faked my own death just to get out of there.”

“Glad you didn’t have to,” I said.

“Last night she tells me I don’t know how to give my daughter a bath. Warm water, soap. What precisely am I doing wrong, I ask. Then she just lingers there while I’m changing the diaper. I say here, you’re probably much more skilled at applying the Preparation H than I am. Here, be my guest. Fucking pain in my ass. And she wasn’t the one awake at four in the morning, was she.”

“Jesus Christ,” I said.

“No in-laws, no infants. You’re living the dream, man.”

I made a noise, like a grunt of agreement, though we were standing too far apart for him to hear it. What could I say to that? I’d forgotten how crass Dan gets when he’s angry. I’ll put it this way: he’s not someone I would have been friends with a decade ago, back when I was more discerning about these things.

It was a nice day. Damp grass, green trees. Soon, the heat would come, but for now it was just perfect. We were slowly moving apart as we threw, so we had to talk loudly just to hear each other. </span >

“Well, I had to get out of the house, too. My wife’s posing naked in our living room.”

“What are you doing out here with me?” he asked, incredulous.

“Didn’t want to interfere with the artistic process,” I yelled back. “Her friend Tate’s an artist—​you met her, at New Years, I think.”

“The hot lesbian?” he asked.

“That’s her wife, Sandy,” I said. Or maybe he found Tate attractive; how would I know? Not my type.  

“So you just left your naked wife at home with a lesbian?” he asked. “If it were my wife, I’d say she was looking for a threesome, trying to drop a hint.”

The park was surprisingly empty, but I still didn’t like Dan yelling all these things. I wished I’d never brought it up—​once Dan starts talking, he can’t stop. Andy was far off, nosing into something in the grass, and I took it as a good opportunity to end the conversation. I went over and pulled him off an old bird carcass, throwing the chewed-up disc way out for him.  

I moved the conversation on to hockey. Dan loves hockey. We got on the topic of the Islanders, and that lasted a good twenty minutes. I interjected here and there, but mostly let Dan talk. I am very good at seeming to be listening without listening. At the very least, I convinced Dan. My wife is the opposite. She is always multitasking, nodding along but never seeming to pay much attention. And then, days, months, years later, she brings something up. Something small. Quotes me to the word. You were listening to me? I always wonder, so surprised. There are days I think I know my wife like the blueprint of my own home—​better than I know myself, maybe. But not every day; how could anyone?

Dan started yelling about some goalie being a pussy, and that brought me back to the conversation. I pulled out my phone as if it had buzzed in my pocket and told Dan I had to be getting home.

“They finally letting you in on the action?” Dan called out. “Listen, if you’re not up to the task, I’m happy to do the honors.”

“Fuck you,” I said, loud enough for him to hear. I was surprised to hear the words come out of my own mouth, but I meant it. Dan just laughed. As someone who likely instructs or is instructed to fuck off at least once a day, he was clearly unfazed. I headed back toward the cars and tugged Andy into the back.

“Disc?” I said to Dan before closing the hatchback, and he tossed it over. I went around to the driver’s side and hopped in. Dan looked disappointed, like we’d been having a great time out here.

These days, I am happy to live in a small town. There are only three good restaurants in the area, and even fewer bars, but it’s a quiet life and I like it. Before we got married, my wife and I wanted to move close to the ocean. Not the beach, nothing sandy or warm. We wanted the kind of ocean air that would beat our little house gray. Nova Scotia, or at least Maine. Hard, cold tides and neighbors that don’t want to get to know you. We would spend every day naked under blankets, lying in front of a wood stove. In the summer, we would read in the yard, looking out over the rocky cliffs. We would eat a lot of fish. We would smoke our own salmon into jerky. My wife, she’s a terrible sleeper. Sometimes, when she’s restless and I can tell she’s thinking too hard, I tell her about the house I’ve bought, just that day, up North. Sometimes I mention the kids, running belly first into the waves in July. Sometimes it’s only us, trying to stay warm.

I took the long way home, through the tobacco farms and the cornfields. I didn’t mean to; I took a wrong turn, distracted. If anything, I was trying to get home quick. Something Dan said, all of his dumbass jokes, they’d gotten to me. Not that the idea hadn’t crossed my mind—​my wife was willingly spending a whole Sunday nude with someone who wasn’t me, after all. But something about the way she was lying there when I left, the way Tate sketched her body hurriedly, like something she already knew by memory—​like something she’d seen too many times before to still be puzzled by—​it struck me. My wife’s hair was all spread out on the rug. Dark red against blue. I could have sat right down and combed it across my lap.

I trust my wife; I do. But still, it struck me. I pulled over to the side of the road and typed out a quick text. I’ll be a while,—​I said—​I’m stopping by the high school to get some work done.

I don’t know quite what I was expecting to walk into. Maybe I do, but at the time, I wouldn’t have been able to draw the thing out in my head—​the thing I was worried I’d find. It was like a storm cloud in the rearview mirror, chasing me home. When I finally got there, I didn’t want to go in. I sat in the dark garage a minute, combing my hair with my hands.

“Andy,” I said, “let’s go see what your mom’s up to.”

Inside, they were sitting at the kitchen table, drinking something warm out of mugs. My wife was wrapped up in her robe, with one leg bent and propped up on the chair, so that the first thing I saw was her naked knee.  

“I thought you were at the high school,” she said, looking up.

“No. I got confused. Thought I’d left a whole binder of tests, but they were just in the backseat,” I lied. “How’s the art coming?”

“I think we’ve got everything we need,” said Tate, looking at my wife.

My wife, she looked very bright right then. The door to the backyard was open and light was streaming in across the table. I wanted to fill her mouth with berries and eat them one by one. I wanted to pick her up and take her outside and cover her in handfuls of grass.

“Good!” I said. I meant it.

“I’m gonna go put on clothes. Tate, show him the ultrasounds,” she said, and then she was gone, up the stairs. I went to where my wife had been sitting, and looked down at the table. If you’ve recently had children, you probably know this, but ultrasounds are not like they used to be. Instead of a black-and-white blur against a gray background, it is a little gold baby in a big gold sea. The baby looks like a small brass figurine. You could put this baby in your pocket.

“Sandy, not me,” said Tate, seeing how I eyed her stomach.  

“Wow,” I said, just looking at the ultrasound. What else was there to say? It was a beautiful little ball of gold. I asked how far along they were. Thirteen weeks, she said. Just starting to show. My wife came bouncing down the stairs and stood behind me, looking at the picture.

“Amazing,” she said, “look at that beautiful thing.”

She shook her head at the little gold baby. I turned to face her. She looked very happy. It was not a complicated face. I tried to find something hiding under that happiness—​jealousy, maybe, that same pitted envy I was feeling—​but it would not come out. It was not there.

“This kid is going to have so many cavities because of me,” said my wife, “I’m gonna make it call me auntie. Favorite auntie, right here.” Then she laughed at herself, that big wild laugh, her finger still resting on the corner of the ultrasound. I could feel Tate’s eyes on mine, and I didn’t meet them. I knew what I’d find there; pity, probably, some sort of apology. I had not even known they were trying. Maybe that’s just me; maybe I wasn’t paying attention. Maybe, all this time, they wanted it just as much as I did. We sat there for a while. Andy started to bark at some noise none of us could hear.

“Hey, what is it?” my wife asked Andy, and walked outside with the dog, through the door that was pouring in light. I wondered when Tate had told her about the baby; they’d probably been talking about it all morning. I let out a big breath and turned to Tate.

“Incredible,” I said. “Congratulations.” It seemed like the thing to say. “Did you get some good drawings?” I added.

“Oh yeah. Turns out she’s much better at sitting still than I’d expected,” said Tate. My wife is notoriously fidgety; Tate and I both know this. She pulled out some sketches from a folder on the table and the little gold baby disappeared beneath them. At first, they were like the sketches I’d seen—​true to form and captured from every direction, ready to be carved into wood. I leaned over the table for a better look. They were certainly drawings of some naked woman. Farther down in the pile they became dark and layered; sometimes it was just an arm, or a breast. It was hard, in places, to see what was what. All of the angles were very sharp; even the ones with noses and lips appeared somehow featureless.

“That’s not my wife, is it?” I said, holding an unfamiliar face in my hand.

Tate looked up at me with her forehead wrinkled into a furrow. “These are all from today,” she said, tapping the pile. “That’s Miriam. These are all drawings of Miriam.”

I could hear Miriam shouting Andy’s name outside. Through the open door I could see her moving away from me, following Andy over to the edge of the woods. I already knew that when they returned and I asked her what he’d been barking at, she would say Who knows? Who knows what was out there. Who knows, Miriam?

​Tate took a sip from her mug, lay her head back against our tall wooden chairs. I moved slowly through the drawings. I did not want to get to the bottom of the pile, where that little gold baby was hiding. The sketches were very good, don’t get me wrong. But I kept thinking, are you in there Miriam? Where are you? I wanted to see her, and I couldn’t. But still, they were very good, these drawings.

Bryna Peebles Cofrin-Shaw is a student in the Hunter College MFA program. Originally from western Massachusetts, she now lives, writes, teaches and races bikes in New York.