Crucible

by Cherita Harrell

After dating for eight months, Dominic asks you to marry him. You think it’s sudden, but you accept his proposal. He’s witty and intelligent, and more attentive than any of the other men you’ve dated. Every day, he sends you a text that reads: Good Morning, Beautiful. When he discusses the future, you’re the focus of his plans. To you, marriage makes perfect sense.

The ceremony is held at the military chapel at Fort Dix. Your parents attend, their bodies wrapped in spring colors, wide grins on their faces, and your younger sister, Camille, is the bridesmaid. She waddles down the aisle, her naked fingers wrapped around a plastic bouquet, her belly round with her third child. Your future mother-in-law even flies in from Lakeland, her skin burnt by the Florida sun. She sobs during the entire ceremony and wears dark colors as if she’s in mourning. You are bothered by her sadness, but since she’s a widow, and Dominic is an only child, you understand. You and Dominic exchange vows and promise to honor each other until death, and when you are introduced as husband and wife and Dominic kisses your lips, you’re sure he meant every word.

The honeymoon is in Atlantic City. The wet sand of the beach is like soft clay beneath your feet. You hold hands and walk along the water’s edge, the salty scent of the ocean filling the air. You don matching Atlantic City t-shirts and feed each other taffy. And you ride in a bike carriage down the boardwalk, before splurging on dinner at the Borgata.

In the evening, you make love. It is not the first time, but it feels like the first. Your connection is more passionate, more intense. After, you cuddle against Dominic’s body and run your hand over the soft swirls of hair on his chest. On your finger, a gold wedding band glistens, the grooves on the ring intersecting and resembling woven hemp.

“I couldn’t be happier,” you say.

 

The first time Dominic slaps you, you threaten to leave him. Sure, he’s grabbed you before, maybe twisted your arm, but he’s never hit you. You place your duffel bag by the front door, but he drops to his knees and begs you not to abandon him.

“Please forgive me,” he says. “It’s work. I’m stressed. Never again, I promise. You know I love you.” And you believe him, so you stay.

After the incident, Dominic is calmer, more loving. For your birthday, he takes you to a dinner cruise on the Spirit of Philadelphia. You drink wine and eat filet mignon, and line dance with the crew members on the ship. You’re impressed by the beauty of the Philadelphia skyline and its modern architecture, and you find comfort in the motion of the ship as it glides across the rippling Delaware River. Dominic wraps his arms around your body and kisses the nape of your neck, and the two of you watch the setting sun.

 

When your sister goes into labor, you go to the hospital and Dominic reads Dr. Seuss to your nieces while Camille pushes another life into the world; a boy, this time, but the father is nowhere to be found.

“Let’s hope this is her last,” your mother says.

“Yes, let’s hope,” your father agrees.

In the hospital room, you hold your nephew. You run fingers through the strands of silk on his scalp and place your pinky in the fleshy center of his tiny palm, surprised by the strength in the set of fingers circling your own. You inhale his scent of baby shampoo and powder, and as you cradle his body a longing rises in your stomach.

“You want one, huh?” Camille asks.

You nod, realizing you do.

 

Dominic’s unit hosts a family picnic, and you attend and mingle with the other military spouses. You start a conversation with one wife who appears to be around your age, a vivacious woman, named Julie, from Tennessee.

“How long you been married?” she asks.

“Five months.”

“We’re newlyweds, too. Going on ten. First year’s supposed to be the hardest, but it’s been great, right?”

You nod.

The commander’s wife makes a speech while everyone is bent over their plates eating barbeque. “The men and women of our armed forces are heroes,” she says. “They deserve our support.”

You applaud with the other family members and, for the first time, you recognize the sense of pride you feel for your husband.

 

A year into your marriage, Dominic is deployed to Kuwait for six months and during his absence, you busy yourself with maintaining your home. You visit yard sales and thrift stores with Julie, careful to stay within the budget Dominic has set. You appreciate your military housing, but you dislike the bland walls, the dingy, tile floors and the dated appliances. You purchase artwork, bright area rugs and curtains, and a few pieces of second hand furniture to turn the home into something more welcoming.


 

Cherita Harrell is an MFA candidate at Rutgers-Camden where she primarily writes fiction. She is a self-proclaimed foodie; although, her diet mostly consists of pizza and red wine. Her fiction has appeared in Decades Review and is forthcoming in Minetta Review. She lives in New Jersey with her two children.


 

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