Tick

A.J. Wilkins

Charlie waits outside the room, leaning against the wall with his hands shoved in his pockets. He focuses on the ticking of the clock in the hallway instead of the screams coming from the room in front of him. The clock counts the seconds, the minutes, the hours. Charlie has been standing outside the hospital room for four hours, thirteen minutes, and twenty-four seconds. He has counted each second, each ​tick​ of the second hand moving forward. The clock hand jerks like it has forgotten each time that it is supposed to move, as if it settles down to rest at each second mark on the clock face only to lurch forward as time marches slowly on.

Four hours, thirteen minutes, and fifty-five seconds ago, Kendall kicked Charlie out of the room. She had screamed in his face, demanded to know why he was here, why he cared. “There’s no one else,” he had told her, open hands out in front of him like a peace offering. “I couldn’t leave you alone.”

“Get the fuck out,” she spat, sweat plastering her hair to her face. “I’m not gonna let you stay to ease your conscience.”

“That’s—”

“Out!” she bellowed, and Charlie backed out into the hallway, just out of view.

Kendall screams again and he closes his eyes, head knocking against the wall behind him.

His feet ache and his knees feel stiff, but he refuses to sit, refuses to leave. The clock ticks. ​Tick, tick, tick.

The last time Charlie spoke to Kendall before arriving at the hospital had been six months, twenty-one days, one hour, and fifty-seven seconds ago. She had stormed out of their cramped apartment and didn’t answer his calls. Her friends refused to tell him where she was staying and how she was doing. He only found out she was in the hospital because one of her friends caved and told him. In that time it had grown, manifested. It wasn’t the first time one had grown within her and Charlie doubted it would be the last. Each time, Kendall refused to get rid of it, claiming this time would be different. It never was. This is the longest it has ever survived, and Charlie knows that when it dies it will be the last straw for Kendall, and Charlie will lose her forever.

It has a name: Jason. Before Jason, there had been Olivia and Patrick and Henry. In the five years Charlie and Kendall had been together, there had been three miscarriages, three tiny funerals for tiny globs of bloody flesh, and three arguments about trying again. When Kendall found out she was pregnant for a fourth time, after she lied about her birth control, Charlie didn’t even hesitate when he asked, “Should I make an appointment at Planned Parenthood?” because he had assumed she wouldn’t want to go through that pain a fourth time. ​Charlie​ couldn’t go through that pain a fourth time.

The clock ticks. Kendall screams. ​Tick, tick, tick.

They hadn’t just been Kendall’s; they had been his, too, but he never truly got to mourn. He had sat outside their bathroom, leaning against the door like he was leaning against the wall now, listening to Kendall sob. Charlie wanted so desperately to be in there with her, to comfort her, hold her hands. He wanted her to comfort him, because he had picked the names, too. He had bought a crib and bottles and pacifiers. He had bought tiny diapers and toys. When it was over, Kendall would sniffle, flush the toilet, and climb into the bathtub, blood staining her inner thighs.

Charlie would open the door, avoid looking at the toilet where red was smeared on the seat, and climb into the tub with her. He’d hold her against his chest, head buried in her hair, and not cry.

It’s quiet. Too quiet. Kendall isn’t screaming. The clock keeps ticking.

The doctors pour out of the room, heads hung low. Two minutes and thirty-seven seconds later, Kendall calls out, “Charlie,” and he goes into the room. Jason is small and blue. He is not crying or breathing. Kendall holds him close to her chest as if her frantically beating heart will breathe life into their son who never had a chance. Charlie’s heart stutters, and he screams, loud and long, until he has nothing left to give.