This is the white noise machine that keeps the baby asleep after she’s been put to bed. This is the sound the microwave makes reheating dinner. This is whatever’s on TV. This is the end of day conversation: Was slammed at work all day. What a mess.
There, a timid knock on the door. Here comes the dog, all limbs and commotion. These are the looks passed between us that say, should you get it or should I? This is the plate being placed on the coffee table. The dog, barking.
This is door, opening.
Here is your neighbor, blood forking from her nose, catching on her lip.
Oh my god–are you okay?
Can I come in?
This is your hand finding your husband’s back.
Jesus, yes, what happened? Are you okay? Should we call the cops?
That is your neighbor’s black hair, tucked behind her ears.
This is your neighbor saying, thank you, I did. My boyfriend–
This is your husband, interrupting, I’ve seen you at the laundromat. We’re the Andersons.
–punched me in the face.
That is the dog’s tail thwapping against the carpet.
Here is the burp cloth you hand her. She presses it underneath her nose. Holds it there.
Then the police. There is the dog barking again, which, this time, wakes the baby. Here, her wail, insistent. This is your husband, there goes his sheepish smile, hurrying to her.
Then, there are the rhythmic pats against the baby’s back you can hear coming from behind the closed bedroom door; shush, shushing. There is the cabinet door’s creak as you pull down glasses for the officers, for Sarah. There is the sink running, rinsing.
You’re not sure where to be.
It’s only a one-bedroom apartment so there isn’t really enough space for all present to be inside it. You don’t want to seem like you’re listening, but you want to listen. You make yourself busy.
What happened between now and when we were here earlier?
The loud plink of ice in one glass, then another.
Do you know where he might have gone?
At the sink, your hands under water sounds like running on pavement.
He works at the hospital. Please don’t write that down.
Ma’am? An officer turns to you. He says, We’ll be right back up. We need to check for a concussion.
After they’ve gone, you crack open the bedroom door. You slink inside. Here, the wet sound of your lips against the baby’s forehead, her small red face going blush, then pink against your husband’s chest. He asks what’s going on, what happened. You hear yourself say, her boyfriend works at the hospital. It sounds like the cops were here earlier. You didn’t hear anything, did you?
This is your husband’s stupid mouth. I would never hit you, he says.
You say, I know.
You reach for your baby. Here is your husband, the shrug of his transfer. Here is her arm, its stretch, making its soft contact with your chin. There is the door, again. This time the dog doesn’t bark.
Then the forms, pen clicks, assurances made Sarah can stay the night, stay as long as she needs. It has become quite late.
There, the sounds of the white noise machine, whatever’s on TV.
Then the officers saying goodnight, goodbye, good luck.
Then the three of you staring at each other. That particular silence.
You offer tea. You get the spare pillows, the comforter. Set them on the coffee table. Unfold, refold them. You ask Sarah if she’d like to watch TV, show her how the remote works. It’s not too complicated, you say. You realize you sound like you are talking to a small child.
You stop talking.
He’s a good guy. Just passionate, Sarah says.
Good men don’t hit women, your husband says.
As she apologizes, in different ways, for being alive, you begin to notice her speech is slightly slurred, her eyes unfocused. You are sorry for noticing. It is quiet for too long. Even the dog has gone to sleep.
How do you know if love is real? she asks.
Later she asks your husband to walk her home. You insist she stay the night–We’re on strict orders to keep you–but because this night is almost morning and she promises she’ll lock the deadbolt, push a chair against the door, you relent.
Your husband walks with her around to the back of the building, follows her inside her apartment. To check.
This is the sound of bottles clinking as she closes the door.
This is the smooth sound of stepped-on paper, a light scratch.
This is Sarah asking your husband to hold her, please, just for a little while, before he leaves.
You are a good man. Please.
This is her sniffling into the bend of his arm.
These, eventually, are his timid pats on her back; shush, shushing. He is afraid to touch her, afraid not to. He is not sure what to do.
He tells you all this, later, in bed, your daughter snug between you, fitfully asleep.
You wouldn’t have believed their apartment. It was eerie, that layout. Like ours, but flipped?
He stretches, turns to the bedside table, checks the alarm. He kisses the baby’s forehead, touches your cheek.
Soon he is asleep. His shoulders slacken. He kicks out his leg, getting comfortable. His breathing slows, then the loll of his arm, his fingertips graze the baby’s back. She stirs.
You reach for her, pull her onto your chest.
You whisper, it’s okay. It’s okay. I’ve got you.