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Authors: Erika Liodice

Empty Arms: A Novel

BOOK: Empty Arms: A Novel
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Dedication
|
Acknowledgments

Chapter 1
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Chapter 2
|
Chapter 3
|
Chapter 4
|
Chapter 5
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Chapter 6
|
Chapter 7
|
Chapter 8
|
Chapter 9
|
Chapter 10
|
Chapter 11
|
Chapter 12
|
Chapter 13
|
Chapter 14
|
Chapter 15
|
Chapter 16
|
Chapter 17
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Chapter 18
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Chapter 19
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Chapter 20
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Chapter 21
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Chapter 22
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Chapter 23
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Chapter 24
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Chapter 25
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Chapter 26
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Epilogue

Reader’s Club Guide
|
About the Author

Copyright

For Dave, thank you for sharing this dream with me.
With you in my life, my arms—and heart—will never be empty.

 

I am eternally indebted to my amazing husband, Dave, who went to work on the weekends to give me time to write this book. You believed in my writing before I did, you nurtured my creativity, challenged me to do better, and helped me grow. None of this would be possible without your love and support.

And to the millions of women who surrendered a piece of their hearts, thank you for sharing your stories.

I am also extremely grateful to the following people: Marlene Adelstein, whose brilliant editorial advice helped bring this story to life; Jackie Conley and Richard Dalglish, whose meticulous copy editing helps me sleep soundly at night; Jason Velazquez of Quezart, for designing the book cover and website of my dreams; my lovely and talented sisters-in-law: Erica Vautier Liodice, for helping me take my web presence to the next level and Randi Stark Liodice, for sharing her publicity prowess; Nicole Brors of Creative Nicole, for all that she does to keep my virtual presence up and running; my parents, Scott Neilson and Robbyn Johnson, for giving me a childhood filled with books and imagination, and for always supporting my dreams; my beloved family and friends, who have cheered me on during this looooong journey; and all the wonderful readers who have gotten to know me through my blog,
Beyond the Gray
, thank you for inviting me into your life, you inspire me to sit down and write every day.

March 25, 1996

P
AUL DOESN’T LOOK
at me when we make love. I think about this fact as I stare at the soft, fleshy underside of his chin. His clenched jaw forms smooth rocks in his cheeks, and his eyes are intent on the headboard. I try to remember the last time he looked at me, really looked at me. I can remember the first time—our wedding night—but not the last.

The rocking stops. His body tenses and then he sighs. He looks down at me finally; his eyes are oceans of sadness. He pauses, as if he’s about to say something. Maybe he’ll tell me he loves me? But his Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows whatever words were on his tongue. He pecks my forehead instead and rolls away.

He disappears into the bathroom and I’m left staring at the ceiling. I arch my back and lift my pelvis until my navel is perched high in the air. I imagine a river flowing inside of me, a school of tadpoles swimming upstream aided by the gravitational advantage I’m providing. Dr. Hurten recommended elevating my legs on a 30 degree angle, so technically this should double our odds.

The toilet flushes, the sink turns on and off, and then the bathroom door opens. Paul sees me in bridge pose and his eyes fall to the floor. He wipes his hands on the front of his jeans and walks past me with slumped shoulders. The bedroom door closes behind him. Heavy footsteps disappear down the stairs followed by the distant whistles and cheers of a basketball game.

I tilt my pelvis higher until my legs begin to tremble. I pray this time it works.

 

It doesn’t work. Which is why we’ve come back to see Dr. Hurten. As I wait for him to speak, my middle finger traces over the hard-crusted scabs that line my left arm, circling them like vultures, longing to peel them back and re-expose the damaged blood vessels beneath.
Don’t pick
, Mom’s voice scolds in my mind, but the urge radiates in my fingertips, an impulse I can barely control.

“Catharine, Paul,” Dr. Hurten begins. He measures his words, not quite able to force his eyes to meet ours. His grass cloth office walls, which have been a welcome retreat from the colorless exam rooms and the menacing shine of metallic instruments, seem to close in around us now, making it hard to breathe. He opens the folder on his desk and thumbs through page after page of cryptic scribble—pelvic exams, blood tests, semen analyses. His bristly, gray eyebrows furrow as he reviews the results he already knows by heart.

Paul sits to my right, perched forward in his chair. His elbows are planted firmly on his thighs. His strong, capable hands, which have remodeled our kitchen, transformed our basement into a playroom, and fixed our leaky slate roof, fold and unfold now, anxious to fix whatever’s wrong with us.

Outside, cold gusts of March air sweep through the deserted playground across the street, spinning the merry-go-round and pushing the swings. From my seat in the fertility clinic, I imagine ghost children at play. Ghost children, or the spirits of children who will never be. My eyes return to Dr. Hurten. He rustles through our file and rubs his chin. Best fertility specialist in upstate New York or not, the man is not good at giving bad news. And it is bad news; I can feel it in his hesitation as clearly as I can see it in his dark coffee eyes. Only this time it’ll be something Paul can’t repair.

“We can’t have children,” I blurt out, my deepest fear wriggling free from the pit of my stomach. Weighted with regret and despair, my words lose their inertia somewhere beyond my lips and hang lifelessly in the middle space between us.

I’ve feared this prognosis since the day Paul took me to the ramshackle Victorian house that is now our home and proposed to me in its collapsing kitchen. “I’ve watched you admire this old place for years,” he said, “and I thought what better place to build our lives?” The uneven oak floors whined beneath his weight as he lowered himself onto one knee. “Don’t worry,” he laughed, noticing my concern without interpreting it, “I’ll fix this place up and then we’ll fill it with children.” His promise was so alluring that I ignored the nagging feeling that our dream had the delicacy of a soap bubble and that reaching for it would cause it to burst and disappear.

“Dr. Hurten?” Paul asks, waiting for him to contradict my allegation. But his tapping fingers and lowered eyes confirm that there will be no contradiction.

My fingernails press into the soft skin of my left forearm, fingering the edges of the newly formed scabs.

Dr. Hurten looks at Paul first, then me. “I’m sorry,” he says and slides a box of tissues between us.

Neither of us reaches for it. Instead, my fingers take on a life of their own, attacking the mounds of healing flesh beneath my sweater sleeve. I wait for the information to pierce my heart or knock the wind out of me, but all I register is the sting of the cool air on my fresh wounds.

Paul’s head falls into his hands, causing his shoulder blades to protrude beneath his flannel shirt. His eyes remain fixed on the patch of carpet between his work boots. I brace myself, not sure whether to expect a slamming fist or teary eyes. But Paul just stares at the floor.

Shock, I reason. After all, he hasn’t been jarred awake by the nightmares. His heart doesn’t splinter every time he passes a maternity store. His stomach doesn’t ache with jealousy every time he sees a pregnant belly. His lungs don’t constrict at the sound of a baby’s cry. He hasn’t scoured books and magazines, night after sleepless night, crying over stories of barren women who will never know the love that was their God-given right. He hasn’t played out this exact scenario in his mind a million times. This grief is brand new to Paul.

“I don’t understand,” he pleads. “What’s wrong with us?”

Nothing is wrong with
you
, I want to tell him. But as usual, I say nothing.

Dr. Hurten shrugs as he combs his fingers through his graying hair. “I wish I knew.”

BOOK: Empty Arms: A Novel
6.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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