She was two months pregnant with Lark in the picture. Tania grimaced, traced a finger over the faded image of the wedding scene and paused at the jagged hole that was once her face. At one time, the picture had been her favorite. In it, she and Harold were standing in front of a five-foot wedding cake, stuffing each other’s mouth and trying not to laugh. Harold had sent the old picture to her three months ago, along with an invitation to his Thanksgiving Day wedding in a plain, manila envelope. A pink post-it note came attached and read, “Thought you might want this back, Luv Harold".
Tania smirked, shook her head, crumpled the post-it note into a little marble-sized ball and flicked it away like it was a piece of lint. On her desk, stacks of overdue case files stared back at her and jostled for space with other old photographs of happier times. She was relieved her coworkers had left for the day because she had grown tired of telling them nothing was wrong.
Gripping the edge of her desk, Tania pushed her chair back and circled it in front of the glass walls behind her section. Lightning flashed across the Houston skyline, while a torrent of rain flew sideways past the window, splashing violently against the pane. She stood, pressed her fingers against it and wished she could be out there in the middle of the street and let the deluge wash away what it saw fit. She was just going to have to deal with the reality of Harold married to someone else, a thinner, fitter someone else, a someone else who had probably just taken her SAT’s.
At twenty-eight, her shape had already lost the hourglass she swore she would never lose and had found her mother's pear silhouette she had hoped to never find.
Tania tilted her head, touched her face. Two gray strands of hair curled over her forehead, winked at her, said hi. She stretched the bags under her eyes with a finger. They were puffy and red, tired. Harold used to tell her that she was too pretty to work a nine to five; that he would take care of her so she wouldn’t have to.
And she hated her job at the Workforce Commission, hated it in a way people hate war or animal cruelty or OJ. Every day, the new crowd of job seekers reminded her of medical school, broken promises, and the choice she made to believe in a husband to take care of her over her love of medicine. Of course having two children did not help matters; but she always reasoned that school would always be there for her because she always knew her husband had her back. But they, Lark and Christopher, were the only good things to come from him. She had pictures of them tacked to every available space in the cubicle. Lark was seven, looked just like her, and always wore a smile. Christopher inherited Harold’s green eyes and wet looking black hair, but always looked like he was deep in thought, as deep as a four year old could be.
The office was a cold, large space, filled with twenty cubicles, partitioned in fours by tall red, felt sectionals. Senior employees pulled rank on corner sections, so Tania felt lucky to have the windows. The other two walls were drab brown and littered with bulletin boards full of productivity charts and graphs and with memorandums asking for more productivity and better charts.
Tania’s cell vibrated on her desk. Her stomach knotted, anticipating it might be Harold calling to remind her about the drop-off in the morning. Sighing, she looked at the display. It was Delilah, her best friend.
“Hey girl,” Delilah said, her quick, high, New York voice accentuating each word.
Tania sighed, said “Hey”, and sunk into her chair. She rested her neck on the back of it and stared at the ceiling. A rectangular light panel flickered above.
“You’ve been crying haven’t you?”
Tania cleared her throat. She worked a finger into the hole of the cake photo, slowly spinning it and the faded memories around. As Delilah waited for her response, she folded the picture in two, working the crease with two fingers.
“Ooo girl, you sound bad.”
“Oh thanks Delilah,” Tania said. “Way to cheer me up.”
“I know right?” her friend said. She and Delilah had been friends since high school, when they were both cheerleaders. “Oh T, I hate to hear you like this.”
“I hate for you to hear me like this.”
“Are you okay?”
“No you’re not. Look, what are you doing tomorrow?”
“Nothing. And I’m looking forward to doing nothing.”
“I thought you were going to the flea market?”
“I was, but…I just don’t feel like it.”
Tania stood, looked at her watch. It was getting late and she needed to pick up the kids. Her mother had been keeping them lately, which made it easier on the budget, but she didn’t like to be an unnecessary burden. She started to gather her things.
Delilah continued, “You need to get out girl.”
“No I don’t. Besides, have you seen this weather? I just hope I can make it home okay.”
“Yes you do and tomorrow you and I are going to go out and do it up. Oh! That new Tyler Perry movie is out. How about that?”
Tania exhaled loud enough for Delilah to hear. “I’ll let you know tomorrow. Okay?”
“Okay. Speaking of, are you going to be alright?”
Tania didn’t know anymore. She didn’t know why she felt the way she did or why caged birds sing or why do fools sing so gay; the only thing she did know was that she was tired of Harold and the air he sucked into his nose and mouth.
She told her friend goodbye, removed the wedding picture from the folder, the one with her head cut out, ripped it into a handful of trash and dropped into a wastebasket on her way out.