The Magnet
Sera Yu

The voices came from the bathroom. Water splashing, then a banging noise like something heavy dropping against hard surface. Sit, commanded a woman’s voice. Nan took a seat on her black faux-leather couch, wondering whether they were taking good care of Lucy, making sure shampoo didn’t get into her eyes.

A sudden pang in her lower belly that felt like the worst case of menstrual cramps paralyzed her. Though similar, the degree of the pain was alarming. The pain was relentless and became so intense that she thought she could actually hear a scream coming from inside of her. But she knew that was impossible. It was too late. After a while the pain settled but did not leave. She tried to find something to distract herself, and again turned her attention to the noises coming from the bathroom.

The tub was now half-full, Nan was sure, because the water didn’t sound as harsh as it did when she had first walked in. She could see Lucy’s leash spread across the carpet over her black boots, chewed and twisted. One forceful tug, she thought, would do it. She went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. “Orange juice, coffee, bread,” she read from a piece of paper stuck to the freezer door under a decorative magnet. She scribbled “leash” on the bottom of the shopping list. Get a longer and thicker one, she added in parentheses, then put the paper back under the magnet.

The magnet was a souvenir Nan and Don picked up during their honeymoon in Canada, a bear on a sled wearing a wry smile and a red scarf. She noticed for the first time that she hated the way the bear looked at her. It was one of those faces that changed when you stared at it long enough. The smile turned into a frown, then softened into a smirk. Nan began to wonder if she had ever noticed this before, and remembered the occasional discomfort she could not define whenever she opened and closed the refrigerator door. It was a fleeting moment of utter despair that flashed rapidly like a broken turn signal. But now something seemed different. She realized that the familiar uneasiness had sneaked into her stomach as she left the kitchen and completely forgot about the water, the list, and the magnet. She even forgot her dry throat, which was the reason she went to the kitchen in the first place.

Settling back on the couch she saw through the sliding window of her living room Liz, the cheerful old widow next door, walking her dog. Other dogs in the neighborhood were perfect, too; they all trailed a step behind or ahead of their owners looking proud. Nan hated taking Lucy for walks. The dog was stubborn and had even failed obedience school as a pup. It made her feel helpless, the simple fact that she could not control her own dog, and her hands would become slippery with sweat whenever she took Lucy outside. Each day, the dog dragged her around the neighborhood and refused to come inside. Lucy would stop in front of the door, pulling her neck back in firm resistance as Nan pulled the leash with all her strength. “The beautiful thing,” Nan would think despite her increasing frustration, “it does have a mind of its own.” Still, she felt resentful and tired. So tired that she had asked her friend Joyce to come over and watch her dog while she secretly went to the clinic get the procedure done. When she returned she was surprised to hear their voices entwined with Lucy’s whimpering in the bathroom. Joyce, Don, Lucy. Joyce, Don, Lucy. For some reason Nan could not help repeating the names inside her head.

Nan was grateful that Joyce and Don would help her with her own dog. She couldn’t imagine being solely responsible for a life other than her own, which is why she decided to put off having a baby until both her and Don were secure enough in their careers to afford extra help without putting a strain on their finances. It was not a decision she struggled with because the answer was clear from the beginning of the marriage. They had both agreed to wait. She tried not to think about it, as the nurse from the clinic had advised during the brief counseling session before she led her into the other room, but now she could not help resenting her own body. She felt betrayed by it. She felt the betrayal most harshly when her legs parted against her will in front of a stranger.

Nan gave up long ago trying to teach it anything and her constant struggle trying to control it made her sick often, but still, she could not bring herself to give Lucy away. Don never cared for animals and ignored Lucy most of the time. He would show a reaction only when Lucy made the mistake of relieving herself inside. He usually yelled and struck the coffee table hard with a fly swatter to scare the dog. For fear of this, Nan was always in a hurry to take Lucy outside each morning. It pained her more than anything to see her pet trembling and blinking helplessly in front of her raging husband, though fundamentally the fact that Lucy was ten years old and untrained was what sucked all the hope out of her. On the other hand, as her impatience grew, so did her ability to make quick, permanent decisions. She no longer regretted the past or blamed people. She knew Lucy had something to do with this.

Now, she wanted to join them and do her part. “Lucy,” Nan stated as though she had something important to discuss with the dog. Just as she entered the hallway, her husband’s sudden laughter followed by her friend’s cheerful gasps reached her ears like a string of sirens in the middle of night.

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