“Surface Tension” was written by J. R. Nichols and first appeared in the October, 2021 issue of The Writing Shorts Newsletter.
Marty mumbled some curses on his way out of the kitchen and kicked a paper bag that had been left on the floor, evidence of Sandra’s run for previsions the previous afternoon. She had returned with sports drinks, as well as the staples of the BRAT diet to combat nausea – bananas, applesauce, rice, and white bread for toasting. In a moment of hopefulness, she’d also picked up a box of Cheez-Its, Nathanial’s favorite.
Their son had shown no signs of improvement overnight. Sandra and Marty had polished off the crackers themselves while watching a documentary on the “Magic Bullet Theory” with the volume turned way down low, in case the boy cried out.
“I think I’m suffering from social withdrawal. I need to get out of this house,” Marty mumbled.
“Well, that’s hurtful,” Sandra replied. “I thought we were having a wonderful little staycation.”
Marty sunk into his spot on the sofa and clicked on the television. Sandra joined him a few minutes later, nestling into the permanent depression in the space between the cushions that allowed her to lay her head on his chest, her hand sliding reassuringly across its width.
“Don’t be upset,” she said.
“It’s hard not to be. I’ve been looking forward to this time off for six months.”
“I know.” Then, after a moment, “ he can’t help it.”
“I know he can’t. But doggone it, it does get frustrating. I don’t think I’ve had so much as a cold in the last five years. Meanwhile, that kid is down for the count every other week, it seems. How is it possible that the two of us are related?”
Her hand stopped its rhythmic movement. Marty felt her form stiffen, telegraphing his error. It had been years since all of that ugliness had been put behind them, yet with one careless comment, he had brought it all gurgling to the surface.
“You know I didn’t mean that,” Marty tried.
“He’s calling to me,” Sandra said, and left the room.