They love their husbands but...
Sissie Canholme had had it. Her pulse was racing. Her heart was pounding. Her anti-perspirant stopped working hours ago.
A Zumba class?
Sissie Canholme was comfortably seated in a quiet room. Soothing music wafted from high quality speakers and fragrant jasmine tea in small porcelain cups waited on the low, red lacquered table in front of her.
But why the stress and anxiety? Certainly not because she was over eight and a half months pregnant. Sissie was healthy, the baby was healthy. Everything was ready and completely prepared for the coming blessed event.
So what was the problem?
Brunette, hazel eyes, age 36, California-born, California-bred, Sissie was on the executive floor in a sleek, ultra-modern office tower located in Chengwai, China. She was waiting for a decision from Ling Yun, Weibo Digital’s CEO that would affect her future—and, in turn, the baby’s future.
Sissie was in China to negotiate a manufacturing deal with Weibo Digital for her employer, California’s tech titan, xWorks. If Ling Yun’s response was positive, Sissie’s status at xWorks would rise. So would her paycheck, and she would move up another step in the company’s hierarchy.
Meanwhile, her hair smelled of Chinese cigarettes. Her eyes were dry and scratchy from too many late nights at the office and too many trans-Pacific flights. Her makeup was melted, her hairstyle collapsed, her shoulders slumped.
She had to pee. Her eyelids were drooping. She wanted to sleep. The baby was kicking up almighty hell. She was so tired she almost didn’t care any more when the door to the conference room opened. Ling Yun, elegantly attired in a hand-tailored Savile Row suit, gestured to her.
“Come in,” he said. “We’ve considered your proposal.”
His tone betrayed nothing nor did his expression. This was, after all, the inscrutable Orient.
Sissie, her armpits soggy, her stomach in knots, her bladder about to burst, the baby kicking up almighty hell, followed him into the conference room. She listened to the terms of Weibo Digital’s counter-offer, her expression neutral. (Ling Yun wasn’t the only one who could be inscrutable.)
When he finished, Sissie managed the polite bow mandatory for doing business in Asia. She thanked Ling Yun for his consideration and said she would have to discuss his response with her manager before she could reply.
Exhausted, Sissie barely remembered leaving Weibo Digital, going to the airport and boarding the plane. She was looking forward to seeing the nursery her husband, Gordo, had prepared for little Sissie Jr.
The baby furniture would be in place, and so would the pink scatter rug and pink-and-white gingham curtains she had picked out. Picturing her beautiful baby and the picture-perfect, fully furnished, freshly painted nursery that was waiting, Sissie smiled to herself.
She was looking forward to spending the few days before giving birth in an atmosphere of beauty, harmony and tranquillity. As the plane climbed to altitude and crossed the Pacific, she relaxed for the first time since arriving in China and fell into a deep, refreshing sleep.
* * *
Except when Sissie got home, the IKEA furniture—the bassinet, changing table and storage unit—was still in the garage, still packed in shipping cartons. The crib had been partially unpacked but not built. Slats and protective wrapping material were strewn over the cement floor, and a hammer and screw driver were abandoned somewhere in the chaos.
When Sissie went into the house, she saw that the nursery—it was the unused second bedroom—was unpainted. The rug was rolled up and shoved into a corner, the windows grimy, the curtains unhung.
Gordo, who had a freelance business maintaining the web sites and twitter accounts of on-line athletic wear and equipment retailers, was on his computer filling out the roster of his fantasy football team. His Joe-college good looks were untroubled, his blue eyes tranquil. He hadn’t had time to get to the crib yet, he said.
“You have time for fantasy football but you haven’t had time for the baby’s crib?” Sissie said, doing her best to keep her voice at a reasonable pitch. Still, the sarcasm leaked out. “You work at home. You’re here all day.”
“I wasn’t home all day,” said Gordo, completely missing the edge to her tone. “I was playing golf.”
“Golf?” Sissie snapped. “You were playing golf?”
“Jeff called,” said Gordo, referring to his college roommate. “He had the day off and asked if I could join him in a round or two.”
“You thought golf was more important than the baby we’re having in a week?”
“I don’t know why you’re so upset,” said Gordo, a bewildered expression crossing his face. “I’ll get the furniture put together. I promise.”
Angry tears stung Sissie’s eyes. “You’ve been promising for six months and that furniture is still in the garage,” she said. “In shipping cartons. You haven’t even opened them."
“I opened the crib."
“Only halfway. The slats are all over the floor."
“I just said I’d get to it, didn’t I?” said Gordo, now sounding pouty and aggrieved. “I don’t know why you’re so angry."
“You don’t know WHY I’M ANGRY?” Sissie shouted, her pretty features screwed up in rage. “What’s wrong with you? You act like all this isn’t happening. Well, it is happening. We’re having a baby and, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m the size of a whale. My job is half killing me and I have two baby showers this week. Where am I supposed to put the baby stuff?” she asked. Then she burst into tears. “Where am I supposed to put the baby?”
“Now I understand,” said Gordo. He reached out in an attempt to soothe her. “You’re upset. It’s the hormones."
With that, Sissie pushed him away and homicide entered her mind. She was going to kill him, she thought. She was going to go to the garage and get the hammer and bash his brains in. She was going to pick up a slat and beat him into a mass of bloody, splintered bone and mangled tissue.
Then, memories of movies and TV shows elbowed into her consciousness—a tormented scream, the cold, hard bars of a cell door, the harsh rasp of a sadistic guard—and her murderous fantasies screeched to a halt.
Without another word, she marched into their bedroom and slammed the door so hard plaster rained down from the ceiling.
She picked up the phone and, blinking away tears of fury, she dialed the number one of the women in her Lamaze class had given her.
* * *
“I need an application form,” Sissie said, relaying her cell phone number and email address. “It’s an emergency.”
Former Marine Corps Drill Instructor Robin Aguirre sighed.
She had heard it all before from other wives who phoned Husband Training School.
It was always the same and it was always an emergency.
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