As I try to find a place for the bassinet, I discover my husband prying into each room of my heart like he owns the place. Who knows what he’s looking for, but he’s turning the knobs on every door. There are thousands of rooms in my heart, like honeycombs in a hive. I shove the bassinet into a dim room before he spots it. I’ve been fretting over where to store it for a week since I learned I was pregnant. Matthew doesn’t know yet. And catching him invading my privacy makes me wonder about him. I storm into my heart’s cavernous right atrium, my footsteps echoing against the waxy walls. “What the hell are you doing in here?”
Matthew looks over his shoulder. “You’ve been acting weird lately,” he says. “You’ve gone stealth mode again.”
This is his little joke when he feels ignored. He’s grinning like a jackass, oblivious to the betrayal. It’s like snooping through my diary, reading page after page of passages meant for my eyes only. Before I can get a word out, he opens another door. Inside, standing in his boxer briefs and brushing his teeth, is my ex Derek. He greets Matthew with a head cock, the way men do with one another. Matthew looks stunned but reflexively nods back. Derek gets back to brushing his teeth, while Matthew glances at me and then politely closes the door.
This looks bad, I know, but I shove Matthew in the chest. “You can’t just barge in here, asshole! Who gave you permission?”
“I’m your husband,” he says in a soft voice.
I push him out of my pulmonary artery, back into our apartment and slam our bedroom door, feeling exposed and judged. I pace the room and brace for battle. Any second now, Matthew will pound on the door, demanding an explanation. But I’m the one owed an apology. I sit on the bed, waiting in silence, watching a square of sunlight snail along the floor, creep up the wall and eventually evaporate. He doesn’t come.
Later I find him on the couch with Marie Antoinette, my Miniature Pinscher. He’s playing an online military game, slaughtering rival twelve-year-olds. I make as much noise as possible preparing a cup of vanilla black tea. He says nothing, only hammers harder on the keypad. He’s decided that I’m the villain again. But he’s the one in the wrong this time. Marie Antoinette hops off the raspberry loveseat and prances back into the bedroom with me.
At night, Matthew slips under the covers and whispers, “I shouldn’t have been snooping, honey. I get insecure. I’m sorry.”
I’m caught off guard by the tenderness in his voice. “It’s fine. It’s okay,” I say, aligning my body into the shape of his embrace.
“Please don’t go stealth mode,” he sighs, turning a good apology bad. I hate when he says this. I’m no game to punch in a cheat code and get full access to. He fell in love with a private woman, and that’s what he has. I turn to say this to him but he’s already asleep. I rip the pillow from out under his head and wedge it between my legs. It’s the only way for sleep to take hold of my body.
The next day I relay the story to an old client of mine at the day spa. I’ve told her things for years. We have no relationship outside the spa, so it’s like confiding in the wind. She never pries. She just lays on the table, listening, with a faint smile that reminds me of one of those miniature Buddhas. She knows my ex Derek has always been an enigma in my heart. How Derek and his big preposterous nose earned a room in my heart is still a mystery to me. I thought I’d never see past that nose, but I did. And it was a pretty good love.
I use my fingers as eyes and knead knots from her shoulder. She groans and says, “Well, men act weird when they know a baby is coming.”
“Mm-hm,” I say and drop a hot towel on the soles of her grimy feet.
Matthew is home before I am, out of his nurses’ scrubs, baking frozen lasagna. A tattoo peeks out along the rim of his wifebeater, a giant sacred heart on his chest. It was once an enormous strawberry, a reference to my name, Fresa. But I hated it and insisted he have it changed. It reminded me of my tío Beto in prison and the names of random women tattooed to his body in ribbony lettering.
“Hey,” Matthew says.
“Hey,” I say back.
At dinner, we slouch like children over plates of overcooked lasagna. Our faces are vulnerable with unhappiness. I want to stay mad but I’m battling my body which floods my head with images of better times, operating like a safety measure for our relationship. It calls up memories of Matthew wearing socks to bed, knowing I find feet disgusting. Or clearing the shower drain of my hair without prompting. Or tattooing his chest with my name as a tribute to our engagement. But I’m not ready to give up my anger. This isn’t about who’s right, it’s about who’s more wrong.
Later, I awake to Marie Antoinette yapping. Matthew is gone, his imprint looming on the bed. I find him in my heart again, jiggling a locked door.
His shoulders slump, his head bends. He’s caught.
He drops his hands and turns to me, “Why are there so many rooms in your heart?”
“I need what I need.”
“Right,” he says, biting his lip. “So, what’s behind these doors?”
They’re a set of oak arch-top doors with cast iron handles. Massive. Impenetrable. I open my palm to reveal a key.
“Are you testing me?”
“Always,” I say, smiling, trying to look as harmless as possible.
He stomps his foot, “I swear to God, Fresa. I’m trying!” and struts out of my echoey arteries. As soon as he’s out of view, I unlock the doors.
Inside I fasten a tall, feathery Rococo-style headdress onto my head. It nearly touches the ceiling. A silver three-tiered tray full of finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and macarons sits alongside a rouge fainting couch. The room is gaudy and breezy, gleaming chandeliers overhead. I’ve always felt like a 17th-century lady of Versailles, born in the wrong era. But it’s a secret for my heart only. I slip on one of Matthew’s sweaters to curtail the draft and stare at the bassinet I’ve added to the room. It sits near a door to a room inaccessible to me. The bassinet shouldn’t be tucked in the corner, it should be the centerpiece of the room. I snatch a macaron as pink as my tongue and slip it into the pocket of my draw-string pajamas.
Back in the living room, Matthew lies on the linoleum floor. He strikes the tattoo over his heart. “I want you in here,” he says. “I want you to see that I’ve got nothing to hide.”
“No thanks,” I say.
“You think you’re better than me?” he says. “We’re the same. I see you looking over my shoulder when I’m on the laptop. I know you got the password to my phone. You want to see the truth of my heart? Well come on in!”
He raises his chest as if preparing for a blow. Marie Antoinette charges into the room and yaps at Matthew. He snarls at her.
I’m about to tell him about our baby, but he springs to his feet, “Why do you need to have secrets?”
He’s confusing secrets for deceit. Still trying to justify his betrayal. But I’m not letting him off the hook. There’s too much at stake now. “That’s who you fell in love with, Matthew.”
“Well then, I request a renovation of the heart,” he says.
A giant belly laugh burst out of me. “Renovation of the heart?”
It tickles me again. I laugh harder. What a stupid, clever man, I’ve married.
“Okay,” I say. “But there can’t only be one room, only one occupant. I’ll contain all my heart can hold.”
He nods in a slow, thoughtful manner. “Same,” he says.
I bite into my macaron, my lips antsy to expel a secret. A secret the size of a strawberry nested deep in my belly. I even consider telling him about the room within a room that only he has access to, but why would I? Why betray myself. He invaded my privacy, entered at his own volition. There’s no looking back now. He’ll need to preserve. We’re worth it. I swallow the last of the macaron, pull Matthew’s face close to my lips and whisper, “Do you want to know a secret?”
He does. So I tell him.
Luis Garcia Romero is a writer and graphic artist. His fiction was performed as part of The New Short Fiction series and has had work included in seasons one and two of the television show HitRecord on TV. His short story “Wild Zombie” was recently published by Ocean State Review along with a forthcoming story to be included in the book, The Art of Breaking Up.