After lunch with her mother-in-law one day, Mary Beth drove slowly to Ben’s school to pick him up. She was early, but there really wasn’t enough time to go home first or to run an errand, so she drove languidly, like an old woman, through the streets.
Something that her mother-in-law had said over lunch stuck with Mary Beth, and she wanted a chance to mull it over.
Her mother-in-law was advising her to figure out what she wanted.
There was no time for what you wanted.
She had wanted this child, and now it was her responsibility to do a good job.
But it was so overwhelming, this mixture of love and liability, that the thought of wanting made no sense.
She remembered the NBA play-off game that Mark had been watching last night, after she came out of Ben’s room from having kissed him good night.
“Bold!” he had shouted, oblivious to the need for quiet when their son was trying to fall asleep.
Then he had turned to her and said, “Did you see that, honey?”
He wanted her to watch it with him.
He wanted her to join him in celebrating what was bold.
But she hadn’t — instead she said she was tired and crawled into bed.
But as she remembered Mark’s eyes, so hopeful and lonely the night before, she told herself that she was going to do it.
She was going to figure out what she wanted.
She turned down the street of Ben’s school and saw the principal directing traffic in the distance.
She knew she no longer wanted to be the one who always made the shot, whose responsibility it was to win or lose the game.
She rode up the line of cars filled with mothers waiting for their children and turned off the engine.
She wanted, after eight years of mothering, to let someone else on her team.
The next day she asked Mark to take Ben to school on his way to work. Mark paused, just a beat, before saying, “Sure. Come on, big guy, let’s go.”
A second later, Mary Beth was standing alone in her quiet kitchen at 7:45 in the morning with the whole day ahead of her.
She had passed the ball.
Her plan took some time to develop. First, she had to find exactly what she had in mind. Then, she had to wait for the deliverymen to bring it and install it — and she wanted it to be delivered on a Friday — when Ben could be picked up from school and taken to Naomi’s for the night. So, in all, it took three weeks to carry out.
In the meantime, Mary Beth began to frequent a sports bar on the opposite side of town.
Of course, she drove twenty-five minutes each way because she didn’t want to risk being seen by anyone who knew her.
And when the Friday night finally came, she was ready.
Mark was surprised when he learned that Ben would be spending the night at Naomi’s.
“She’s actually giving up a Friday night?” he asked, in the typical way that a husband will talk about his wife’s unmarried woman friend, as if to underline the impossibility that he might ever be attracted to her.
“Naomi’s been offering to do it for years, and I finally agreed. Why shouldn’t we have some time to ourselves?” Mary Beth replied.
Mark looked around the kitchen and noticed nothing was on the stove.
“So, you want to go out to dinner?” he offered.
Next she told him to take off his work clothes and handed him an old t-shirt and shorts. Then she led him into the bedroom, where, that very day, a huge overhead widescreen had been installed, hanging from the center of the ceiling as if in an arena.
“WELCOME HOME, MARK!” read the banner of red letters below the screen, which looped video of cheerleaders on a basketball court.
By the side of the bed was a cooler filled with beer. And on the dresser was a hot pepperoni pizza, nachos, and popcorn.
Mark opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out.
Meanwhile, Mary Beth slipped away and came back wearing a tight-fitting Bulls uniform.
“Time to play ball,” she said smiling.
The horns blared overhead.
They settled in to watch the game, but long before half-time, after one and a half beers and two slices of pizza, Mark decided it was time to get the offense on the move.
As he leaned over to kiss his wife, who hadn’t looked so good to him in years, he noticed that she flicked a button on the remote, and suddenly the game was gone and instead, above them, their own bodies were reflected back to them on the screen.
“GOOD MOVE!” the announcer bellowed as Mark put his hand up Mary Beth’s shirt.
Mark rose to pull his shorts down, and the roar of the crowd could be heard as a voice said, “ALRIGHT NOW! DO THE WAVE!” Mary Beth smiled at him and then pulled him back down to the bed.
“Did you see that hand position?”
“What a shot that was! I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it in this arena in quite a long time.”
“WATCH OUT! You could find yourself in foul trouble.”
“Uh-oh, she could be boxed in here.”
“She’s breaking away!”
“Only a few seconds left in the game now.”
“THE CROWD IS ON ITS FEET!”
“Can she make it?”
Later, after Mark had fallen asleep, Mary Beth gently pried the bottle of beer from his hand and then reached for the remote to watch the game again.
She had passed the ball.
This story explores the theme of “wanting” and shows the main character reconnecting to her husband and her sense of desire for the marriage by engaging in a fantasy that would please them both. How do you experience the relationship between your desires and your connection to other people? I invite you to explore this theme by writing a short story about a mother who rediscovers what she wants — or discovers what she wants for the first time. Please email your submission of 1000 words or less to birthingmotherwriter[AT]gmail[dot]com by January 1st. Be sure to put “Birthing the Mother Writer: 3” in the subject line, and place the text in the body of the email. By sending in your submission, you agree that your piece, if chosen for publication, may receive public suggestions for revision, and you also agree to revise and submit a new version for publication within two weeks.