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by Tim Millas

"Be still," Reena says. Her hands keep working.

"Sorry," Troy says. That strange shuddering of his shoulders dies down.

"Too rough?" Now she's apologetic, not for hurting him, because she knows she didn't, but for what she has to tell him.

"No. Naw. Hands like velvet. Me."

"Well. You're my prisoner. No running off to Boyd for the next half hour."

"No hour?" Troy doesn't look at her--his face remains planted in the face-hole at the head of the massage table--but to her surprise he tightens his buttocks and they plump up like a flirty grin. Too late, Reena thinks. Yet it's all she can do to not climb on top of him. She reminds herself that her belly would make a real hug impossible.

For a second her eyes are swimming, bloody. Then dry and hard as the fingers working him. Hard enough to wring the bastard's neck, she thinks. Oh, God, that's her belly too, that's Amber, swinging her moods like a cat swinging a mouse by the tail.

"What have you done"--now she sounds hopeful!--"to deserve an hour of my velvet hands today?"

"Well. Piece a news for you."

Across their kitchen table, or even just an inch away when they fuck, Troy mumbles or shouts and she misses half of what he says. Yet with his face sunk in that hole, away from her, his voice is perfectly clear. Don't weaken now, she thinks. You got news for him. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah." But that's all he says, at least for now.

Thank God her hands haven't stopped. They have encircled and worked and worried the gray bump in his right glute. The bump has become harder, sharper, and now while her left hand presses into his beautiful trapezius, her right hand's thumb and middle finger pinch the bump like a pimple: it yields a small, shapeless piece of metal--aluminum, he'd told her the I.E.D. was in three coke cans wired together.

Now the piece isn't gray but reddish. No blood though. "Look. Another one."


"I said look, Bobbie Troy."

Then Reena feels the kick--not from Amber, but her own chest--and knows she made a mistake. Because with a lack of self-consciousness that multiplies her guilt, Troy plucks his face out of the hole, raises himself up on the stump below the elbow of his right arm, and regards the piece between her fingers. "Small," he says.


He returned with his back full of them. Fragments of the bomb that exploded behind him, obliterated three others in his unit, and disfigured Boyd. Gray or green bumps, or flat skin with a hint of darkness somewhere below. They weren't the first thing she saw. What Reena saw, as Troy stepped off the plane, shouldered his bag with his left hand, and walked slowly in her direction, was the gap under his right arm. Troy wore a long-sleeved shirt, but--it was a hot day in August--had the sleeves rolled, showing only one sunburned hand and wrist.

She knew it all before he stepped off that plane. They told her. They even told her how much of the arm was left, that they had let him keep the elbow and the stump to better accommodate the thirty-five-thousand-dollar hand they'd be making for him. Reena smiled with all her might, but she didn't know where to look. So at first she looked everywhere, his face, the vacant sleeve, the top of his head, his blinding shoes.

Troy dropped the bag. "Don't," he said. His eyes were steady, taking aim at her face, but his expression fluttered. "Don't matter. Where you look."

"I love looking at you, Troy. I always have and I still do," and she wondered, given her distress and his strangeness, if that were true.

There seemed to be a spasm in the arm above the vacant sleeve, a grotesque, stunted jerk to the right. (That night at three a.m., she realized: it was the remnant of his all-forgiving gesture, the open hand always waving away whatever she apologized for.)

She said, "You hungry? I'll take you to Wendy's," but he shook his head.

He picked up his bag again, a now-complicated maneuver that turned him from her. It was as if only then she recognized him. Suddenly she was against him, wrapping her arms around his ribcage, blurring her nose and breasts and hips against his back. Troy turned, managing to keep his bag aloft, and stuck his tongue in her mouth.


For the first six months he was home, hugging him from behind seemed like their only real contact. But now it's eight and a half months and while Reena is still small enough otherwise to tuck into him like a missing piece, her belly, bulging so much Amber must be able to stand and walk around, separates them.

"Whatever you do," Lucinda told her, "don't get pregnant. Not till you see how he's changed." Even now, about to tell Troy she wants a divorce, Reena despises her mother's advice. Smug, as if she were never married twenty-two years to the army herself. As if she were the one telling Reena all that time that Master Sergeant Marcus Fry was a mean, brutal bastard. Same as when she quit smoking, discovered God and Women's Rights: converting her mistakes into your mistakes.

Suddenly Reena's arms feel so heavy, her fingers like linguini. At the Glock Institute they told her to study and observe but lay off actual massage work till after Amber comes. Wouldn't be fair to the people getting therapy. And she has stopped, except for Troy. And as of today . . .

Stretched out, Troy always seems taller than he is. Not that he needs to. Six foot even, he towers over Reena. "You're not growin'," he liked to say, when he hadn't seen her for a few hours. Said it through their courtship and the few months they had married before he shipped out to war. Reena knows how small she is, four eleven and a quarter, and flat all around, and narrow, as though God really did make her from Troy's rib. She still gets carded at bars. When they met, Troy had no clue she was six years older than he. "Hey-suse Creesto," he later admitted, "and I thought you were jailbait." Why couldn't he say that now. Why couldn't he say, "You're not growin'," so she could say, "And I can still climb you up and down like a ladder." But since his return he's only said it once: the morning after he got home and they had fucked like mad half the night and lay side by side in breathing silence the other half. And then he said it too loud, like a parrot. And walked out without looking at her or the extra-tall breakfast she'd made him.


Reena does have two big features, eyes and hands. Her father would call her eyes "those bleeding buttons," then add "and I'm the fool they're bleeding!" As if beating on her and criticizing everything she did and nicknaming his own daughter "Nig" was really self-defense. Yet she's never cried much until being pregnant. All she does is look straight at people as she was taught. And they always think she's intense.

Her hands won't put her in a freakshow, but they're sure not the hands of a woman regularly mistaken for a sixteen-year-old girl. Wide palms, ample thumb-hams, brass knuckles and long fingers. First time she gave Troy a backrub, he said it: "Your hands are better than a drug. You could get paid for this. You could save lives." Although Lucinda thinks Massage Therapist sounds trashy--look who's talking!--Reena knows it's way better for a college graduate than being a secretary or handling insurance claims over the phone, as she did before she met Troy.

She's a long way from certification but she knows this is it. She loves it. Touching people, healing them, even if the cure only lasts an hour. Her fantasy is an onsite practice, going into the big companies like GSK where she never felt comfortable, and instead of being ignored by people taller and smarter than she, those same people sit down and submit to her hands. Working someone's shoulders or back, she can't be accused of staring. Truth is, like a singer who always sings to one person, no matter who she massages, she always feels Troy, always sees and smells him. She hopes leaving him will change that.


They live in a three-family on an all-army street in Fayetteville. Kitchen, one bathroom, one and a half bedrooms, living room, and a slice of porch. Reena has the massage table in the tiny second bedroom, crowded enough by Amber's crib and the sweet, not quite recognizable animal faces Troy painted one-handed on the walls and ceiling. Thank the Lord she's leaving, because she'd have no place to work once Amber comes. She shouldn't take the table, since Troy bought it with his money before he shipped out, but she loves it; he had the legs made specially short to match her legs.

She drops the piece of shrapnel, with all the other pieces, into what was supposed to be Amber's play jewelry box. Next to it on top of the pink bureau is Troy's new, perfect, carbon fiber, myoelectric hand with the fingers so real they bend (reflexive muscles in his stump control it). He's had it two weeks. She can't look at it.

Troy's face is back in the face-hole. Tell him. But she asks him, "What're you thinking about?"

"Iraq," he says.

Damn you, she should say, that's what you got for me? Well I'm leaving. This marriage is dead. And you killed it. She should take his perfect arm and beat him with it. She can't. Because if she asks him this at breakfast, or when he's coming in the door after a day with Boyd, he'll just shrug. At least, on this table, he says it.


It was never like this before. Troy Roberts was no chatterbox and he was less educated than Reena, but he put the lie to all the articulate, enlightened man-boys her mother wanted her to marry.

"I met him in a bar," she would tell people, smiling shamelessly. A dirty, rowdy place off Route 401 in Raeford with one name above the door but called The Karaoke by everyone. It had no Karaoke machine but was the kind of place where you could just get up and play or sing if you didn't mind people laughing at you. Reena justified going there by telling herself there were as many white collars as red necks, black faces punctuating the white.

That night she had gone with Maryann and her fiancé Roger, and the moment they arrived she felt alone. There was a raised area for the band and people who wanted to dance, and though she didn't dance Reena stepped up on it, just so she could see above some of the heads. She saw Troy. He was in uniform but sitting with three guys in T-shirts, playing some pop song as though it were punk. He played electric guitar so harsh and jangley people were groaning.

Nobody clapped when they finished, but he grinned and touched fists with his fellow players. He saw Reena watching him. She looked down: in a bar her eyes could really be misunderstood. Then she heard: "Scuse me, you here by yourself? If not, how big is your boyfriend?"

He had a crewcut and a weak chin and from the front his chest looked almost sunken. Yet Reena went on looking at him.

"No boyfriend. I'm here with people, but they're busy."

"I'll buy you a beer. Least I can do for you listenin' to me play." And coming back with the bottles--Bud for him, Corona for her, only beer she could stand, how'd he know that?--he said: "Troy Roberts."

She loved his name right away. A lot finer than Reena Fry. It worked both ways, like a reversible coat. "Troy Roberts? Or Bobbie Troy?"

"Whatever way you like," he said, not clinking but rubbing his bottle against hers.

Someone stepped on the back of her foot, and suddenly she was embarrassed. "Can't stretch an elbow in here."

"Oh, I'll set us up." They were in the middle of a drunk, shoving bunch, way off the bar, but without seeming to take two steps Troy pulled over a bar stool, set it facing him, and with a not-so-weak thrust of his chin got her to sit. He leaned his guitar against the right side of the stool, took a step as if moving past her, but only to set his foot on a rung on the left. So that he tilted forward a little, which put his ear and mouth close enough for them to talk without shouting or Reena thinking he was coming on to her . . .and then she wished he would. The way he used his body to maximum effect in the space he was given: God loves you, Reena said to herself right then and every day after. She looked past his head at the tops of his shoulders and the expanse of his back, and she realized his beauty worked both ways, too.

"Love your tan," he said.

"Mm. Well, you would. Every man does down here." Not that she'd ever been above North Carolina. "It's not a tan. My great-grand-daddy was in the Klan, but my grand-daddy was married twice to black women."

"So you come from a family of mixed racists," Troy said. Her upper chest went fuzzy. He had lowclass freckles and pale eyes. He started to tell her what a redneck his father was, but she cut him off: "Mixed racists. That says it!" Looking at him wonderingly. Any other man-boy would have puffed right up, but Troy's grin only acknowledged what the phrase signified, not his cleverness in thinking of it.

"Reena Fry," she said suddenly, "sorry. Must've left my manners at the door. Your name's better."

"No. Naw. I like Reena. That short for anything?"

"Yeah. My parents' trash taste. My mom, bless her heart. Daddy was too busy scaring the daylights out of dumb recruits, and his dumber wife and daughter, to think up names. Why the hell you in the army anyhow?"

"Well, now." Troy sucked his beer and his eyes told her he instantly understood her father was career army, she hated him, and not once had she ever dated let alone got involved with somebody wearing a uniform. "The best thing I ever did. I could of gone on layin' on my momma's couch, but, you know, pot and booze and TV get boring too. My friend Boyd, he was in the army. I looked at what he did and decided I could do it too. Hey. I don't love all of it but I like a lot of it. What do you do?"

"Tell people about their health coverage. Tell ‘em they're not covered, mostly."

"Thing is," Troy said after a while, "unless you drive into a tree you'll be doin' somethin' for the next fifty-so years. May as well be somethin' you choose."


Would he say that now? The hell, she thought, what do you say now? You couldn't keep your hands off him. You fucked him that night, you made up your mind to marry him without even telling anybody, you moved back to Fort Bragg--talk about a dog lapping up its vomit--you did marry him and you barely knew him and you loved him. You wave him off to war and you welcome back a cripple and just to top it off you get pregnant before you realize the poor boy's missing a lot more than his arm.

Amber gives her a good kick. Her hands pause above him. Maybe it wasn't a good idea to tell him during his massage. On the one hand he's prone and he has to listen to her; on the other hand she'd rather put her eyes out than imagine a world where she won't be seeing the back of him. School has taught her to handle the ugliest and the most beautiful alike by reducing everything to anatomy--muscle groups, bone structures, skin and fat layers, all bearing names with too many syllables to sustain disgust or desire. But with Troy she's never been able to do this, not since the morning after they met, when she watched him get off the bed and walk away to the bathroom to pee. He had a finger stuck in his ear and she heard him fart and the hickey she'd given his shoulder looked gross and yet he walked a line between heaven and nature; there was a gold haze around him, an aura. Then everything got hazy, as if he were so close she couldn't tell where he ended and she began.

She learned right away that Troy was kind of red. He dropped his g's. Despite being instinctively tolerant, and showing her off to everyone, he kept a miniature stars-and-bars on his dashboard. Her friends let her know he wasn't handsome. Her mother instantly hated him for being army. Her father made a point of getting her phone number from her mother just so he could call and tell her that Troy was a loser, he knew him, no drive, a permanent single stripe.

He drank too much beer. He talked too much about his punk rock heroes, and his attempts to mimic what they called music made Reena press her ample palms against her ears. He had no secret talents.

Except himself. His ease, his limits were one thing. When he admitted he didn't know something, it reassured her. When he described his XM8 rifle, she felt peaceful. He spoke when he wanted, which was always when she needed to hear his voice. Most of the time all she needed to do was look at him. All her life she'd been lost--but Reena only knew it, or knew it in those words, now that she'd found him. He completed her. He created her.

Now her hands press his back. He enters her every night but her need is to enter him. His back is pale as a pool of water; how easy once to put her hand through, to sink in over her head. Now the pool ripples at her touch, but won't admit Reena past its surface. Between his shoulder blades she sees the dark pebble, taint of another shell fragment. In his eight months home, eleven fragments have slowly risen to the surface of his skin, then through it, her manipulations bringing them into the open like secrets that, once revealed, reveal nothing. But this one, maybe wedged in muscle, has stayed deep so long, and only recently started to move tantalizingly toward her. Today it seems closer than it ever has, but as her fingers grasp, she remembers it doesn't matter anymore.

Troy groans. "Rough. That."

"You need it." She can't tell if his head is shaking in resistance or surrender. "Hey Troy. I got some news, too. But you tell me yours first"--no, Reena!--"what's up? Your unit's coming home?" Idiot. Coward.

"Oh no. Naw."

"What then. Boyd? Finally changed that shirt?"

"Hate," Troy says. "My friend."

"I don't hate Boyd."

"Never let up."

"Stop changing the subject." It's true she doesn't like Boyd, not because his family has money, or because he's a bitter, bigoted, woman-hating smartass, or because his damaged face seems set in a permanent half-grin. Not even because Troy spends more time with him than he does with her. It's that he encourages Troy's obsession with his unit, as if they were amputated from him and he's determined, against all logic, to reattach them. "Let's go. What's the news?"

"Good news," he says . . .

This rare pairing of words makes her hands press harder and her eyes fill again with tears. As Amber has grown inside her, Reena's tears have felt enriched, thicker, and smell like blood. They fall faster too, so now, as she waits, there's the taste of blood on her lips.


Headless verbs. Legless nouns. Disembodied adjectives. She waited for him to speak sentences--"Help me with my shoes" or "My hand still itches, even though it's not there" or "I just don't love you anymore, I'm sorry"--but he never did. First she thought he was still in shock, depressed, needed his space, had to grieve, suffered from PTSD and all the terms the Army psych offered her. But after physical therapy and psychotherapy and group therapy, after Prozac and Zoloft and Xanax and Oxycontin and various combinations, even after they got the news she was pregnant, nothing changed . . . when he was with her, that is. Once he forgot his wallet, and when she ran down with it to the car, she could see his lips moving faster than Boyd's, though with the window closed she couldn't hear what he was saying.

She tried taking night classes to be with him during the day, but he would escape her with his schedule of therapeutic activities or his endless drive-arounds with Boyd. She switched her classes back, so she could come home and tell him about her day and lure him into talking about his, but he would escape her by turning away, staring at the TV, walking into another room. She tried making sit-down breakfasts and dinners, with beer always on hand, in hopes that it would loosen his tongue. It didn't.

He didn't turn into Marcus Fry. He didn't put her down, or hit her, or do violence to anything else in the house. He stopped touching her in daylight--didn't even help her up the time she fell on her belly--but he fucked her long and hard every night, well after the doctor said they should probably lay off until the birth, and his roughness and the words he shouted would frighten her a little but also trick her into hoping the next day would be different.

He wasn't bitter. No whining on his fate or protesting the war. No rage at her for not supporting the war, either. No car crashes or bar fights. And no wails of frustration over how he couldn't do things. He again adapted to the space he'd been given, methodically learning how to dress and tie his shoelaces and drive and smoke at the same time and cut his meat and put the guitar on his lap and make screechy sounds with one set of fingers. Where once this enchanted Reena, now it saddened her, like watching a dog in a trap, chewing off its leg.

The whole time Troy was gone--during "major combat operations" and the occupation with its steady drip of death--Reena could never watch anything about the war on TV. She feared the possibility of seeing Troy wounded, or dead--or alive and well and not with her. But once he came home, she watched constantly. Trying to find clues. One day he walked in while she had the TV on. She shut it off, and he smiled faintly and turned it back on. He sat down next to her.

"Sweetheart," she said. "Is this really good for you?"

Troy stared at the screen. Soldiers were being interviewed. One spoke of the good things they were doing, or trying to do, for the people there, the only problem being you never knew who would thank you and who would blow you and themselves up. "Oh, Bobby," she said. "Let me change it."

He shook his head. And so she sat next to him on the couch, watching and waiting and watching. And so every night, Troy saying nothing but his eyes glued to the screen, his shoulders slowly swarming in that circle. He wants to be there. He is there. He never left.


It started to make horrible sense, his delay in getting his discharge, his new dedication to getting back in shape. He actually thought he could go back there! That they will put him back in that desert, back with his old unit, back into combat.

But why? What had she done, or not done?

She accused him: "You had a woman over there. Didn't you?"


"Is she Muslim? You into burkhas now?"

Troy's mouth scrunched up. Crying. Reena tried to hug him, but he ducked away. Just then Boyd showed up. Reena screamed: "So you all were fucking Arab women over there? I'm too dark, or not dark enough?"

Boyd's half grin spread to the other side of his mouth.

"We killed women. Don't ever recall fucking one . . . "

"Or maybe it's the men you liked. Maybe that's why you all want so much to be there together again . . . in your tents." And she cried bitterly. They watched her, and then left her to it.

She tried eavesdropping on their workouts, but their voices always died down the moment she drew close. She tried talking to Troy's psych, who hid behind doctor-patient confidentiality and then tried to get her to admit Troy was beating on her. (Did he want to? Did he talk about that?) She tried asking other vets' wives but they either complained endlessly about their husbands or told her to stop complaining. She searched his desk, his coat pockets. She scrolled recent calls on his mobile. She went through the e-mails he sent her while he was over there. Most read like postcards, but she came across this: "Yesterday I wanta gun every one down I see. Then I see a little kid ripped up by a bomb and I'm holding the wound shut. Can you hate someone and want to save em? Can you want to kiss a man without being gay? Without my boys I am not a thing. We dont just share tents and food but brains, blood, sand down our throats. Some one gets shot I feel it. Some one dies so do I."


He came in holding two stuffed bags from the market, set them down on the kitchen table. Reena sensed something was off--the groceries, when he normally only bought beer, or that he has one bag too many? Or that he reached for her? (He never touched her now except in bed.) She went to him but instead of a hug she got a handshake . . . from his right hand. It's all been a dream, she thought, he never went to war at all and she slept through her pregnancy. Except the hand pinching her hand was slippery smooth, not warm or cold, and she finally got it.

"Look. Look."

Instinctively she pulled away from it. He didn't seem to notice, so enchanted was he with this thing that had fingers like his left hand, closed like a fist--well, a pincer--tilted up and down at the wrist. The thing stiffly grasped a package of bright red hamburger, tossed it to his other hand and tossed it back.

"Fantastic. Everything. Back. I . . . am . . . back."

She heard herself yell: "Troy! That's wonderful! You'd never know . . . I mean. It felt really real!" Her voice more horrorstruck than joyful. Yet such was his joy that he took more things from the bag, then stopped and held it up, that hand, like he'd remembered something. He went to the fridge, took out a six-pack, opened a can, and poured it down the drain of the sink. "Troy . . . " she said but he shook his head and opened a cabinet and took out all his meds, old and new. And vial by vial he emptied them into the sink, using the remaining beers to wash every pill down. "Done!"


The next few days his exuberance faded, probably from withdrawal. She expected him to resume drinking or at least pop a pain pill. But he stayed clean. Even Boyd complained to her that Troy wouldn't have a beer with him. She should have been happy, thanking God that you could look at him and not see a stump anymore. But the thing disturbed her. She tried staring at it to get used to it, she tried touching it; but its smoothness made her eyes glance off, her fingers slide away. Unlike the rest of him, the homely surface of bumps and pits and freckles and hairs that used to hold her so fast and swallow her so deep.

One night she sat up gasping: because she dreamed that his face--his whole body--had become smooth like that hand. His soul had turned to carbon fiber.


And yet every night he did tell her he loved her. Every night as they still had sex against doctor's orders, she didn't care because that's when he did say it. Said it with his face an inch away from hers, dripping real sweat or spit into her mouth. For that moment she could hope.

But when she tried to talk deeper, he would just fuck her harder, and after he would roll over and lay with face too smooth and eyes open, which was how he slept now, and even his back repelled her. And she knew she was a liar, because she knew he wasn't Troy anymore. What he was before was gone, and though he had named Amber, though he gasped during sex that he loved her too, licking Reena's hot belly, she began to imagine Amber born dead because Troy was dead and she was dead and so how could their child live?

Then last week over the phone with Lucinda she heard herself say, "He's cutting me out." Lucinda said, eagerly, "What? He cut you up?" "Cutting me out, you idiot! Piece by piece by piece." "Told you not to marry him," Lucinda said, "and now top it off you're havin' the man's child." "She's my child," Reena said with sudden resolve. "I'm the one carrying her, and I'll unmarry him before he unmarries me." Lucinda started reciting from the battered woman handbook and Reena said "Do it my own way" and hung up. She planned it herself. An apartment in Raleigh where her original gynecologist was, no way she was staying in Fayetteville. New hospital arrangements. She would tell him when he was naked on the table, under her hands. She stuck the gun Marcus gave her for her eighteenth birthday in the bucket where she kept her oils, just in case he tried something.


"I done it," Troy says.


"I told them I'm not reenlisting."

His face deep in the face-hole, but as ever the words are so clear for a second Reena fears that she has thought or spoken them herself.

"Did you hear me?"

Reena keeps working the dark spot between his shoulder blades.

"I'm not reenlisting. I'm out. Out of the army. I can't be in combat anyway."

Blood again, on her cheeks and lips and the tip of her tongue; a heavy smell up her nose. She's a liar. She's been lying all this week. She never could leave him. She still loves him. She's ashamed and relieved, like someone yanked off a ledge she never would have jumped from.

"That's . . . wonderful. Oh Troy. That's . . . news from God, my Bobbie boy."

"No. Naw. It's terrible. I'm not a soldier no more. Not possible, they told me."

"Troy, Bobbie, you're my husband. That's enough. It's better, don't you see. We can start living now. The three of us, and I don't mean Boyd--"

"Well now, Boyd and me--"

"No, that's not what I mean either, I'm sorry! Of course he's your friend. Course you can see him, it helps you. But Troy. I mean you and me and Amber. You're not married to Boyd you're married to me. We are married," she says, glorying in it, as if confessing to him how she lied, "we are married forever. You can count on it."

He is silent, as if moved. His back and the dark spot between his shoulder blades seem to be rising, to meet her.

"I got a job lined up, too," he says.

A whole sentence. And she realizes he's been speaking them from the moment he told her he's not reenlisting. It's such a miracle that she nearly forgets to grasp what the sentence means.

"Troy, that's truly wonderful. But what about your degree? Oh never mind, honey, tell me about it."

"Remember Boyd's uncle?"

"Mister Moneybags? How could I not?"

"One of his companies is a worldwide contractor. They already do big building jobs in the Far East and Africa. He's willing to take me on, train me on the job. He says the least he can do for a veteran and Boyd's best friend. Anyhow, they just got a huge assignment in Sunni. I can ship out--I can go--we can go--anytime we like. Now that I have the arm there's nothing holding us back."

Something tells Reena--no g's dropped, maybe--that Troy has memorized this speech. Her smile, her breath, her hands stop. There's a silence, and the fact that Troy doesn't try to break it tells her he expected it.

"What about your degree?"

"Don't need one."

"What about me? Amber? That's not holding you back?"

"I already said it. You all would come with me."

"Oh. Sure enough. Let me drag my pregnant belly to the Sunni Triangle. Maybe I can give birth in downtown Baghdad. You got an Arab name picked out for her too?"

"Come on, honey. We call them Iraqis--"

"You're crazy."

" . . . Well. You don't have to come. I want you to come. I do. But you can keep house here. I'll be back and forth a lot."

"Troy. I don't like this idea."

"It's not an idea. I already shook hands on it. I can wait till after Amber's born. He said anytime."

It's like he tricked her. She can't believe that was his intent, but it works that way. The words--I'm leaving you, Troy, I'm getting a divorce, Amber and I deserve a life--are still there, rehearsed just like his, but now she can't say them. She can't be a liar again.

"Reena. Honey. I mean it. I want you to come. So relieved you said we're forever. I love you, honey."

She can't go there and she can't be here. She can't have him here and she can't have him gone--

"Honey . . . ?" Troy starts up. Gently she pushes his shoulders down, his face back into the hole. Her hands are sliding up to his neck, locking onto it, pressing, squeezing, and holding him fast despite his suddenly urgent efforts to rise. He makes a noise and she thinks, No, Reena. She makes herself stop. "My God, I'm sorry, Bobbie. Lost it there a minute." He doesn't answer. Now he's mad at her.

The spot between his shoulders now seems darker and more vivid, almost purple. She uses all her skill and strength to find the piece, pinch it between her fingers, bring it up and out of him. But when her fingers come up, pressed tight as pincers, there's nothing there. Just blood between her fingertips.

"Hope I didn't hurt you, honey. But that's the last one. It was nothing. Look!"

But Troy won't look. He won't answer when she talks to him, won't acknowledge the touch of her hands. After a while her hands stop. She climbs onto the table and over him, pressing herself down until even her belly seems flat against his back, and when Boyd finds them the next morning, she is lying there still.

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