Excerpt from Prayers in Bath

By Luisa Perkins


Chapter One

Julia leans her forehead against the bus window; its cold glass is a balm to her throbbing skin. She bites the inside of her cheek and gazes out at the gray, rainy street. Failure rests like lead in her gut.

Bath’s railway station comes into view. The garish light of the sign refracts in the raindrops running down the window. The station whispers a temptation of escape. If Julia were to act quickly, she could get off this bus, which lumbers toward the flat she and Ted have been renting. She could run inside the station, holding her coat over her head against the deluge, and buy a ticket for London or Edinburgh…or even Paris or Milan. Somewhere far away and anonymous. Any place but back to the flat isn’t home.

Julia’s hand rises, seemingly on its own toward the bell pull that signals the driver to stop. But she hesitates, and the train station slides behind her into the gloom that is England at a November four o’clock. She sighs. The bus lurches on.

At the Summerhill stop, a girl levers her body out of a seat a few rows up, then waddles to the front door of the bus. Her belly is huge. One year for Christmas when Julia was little, Santa brought her a giant rubber ball with a horse’s head on it. She and her brother bounced on it blissfully around the house for weeks. This girl’s baby bump looks at least as big as that cheery red Hippity-Hop, maybe because the girl is otherwise so thin.

As she goes down the steps to the door, the girl catches Julia staring and glares back, rings of thick black eyeliner slightly running. Once on the wet concrete under the bus shelter, she pulls a pack of cigarettes out of her coat pocket and lights up. Bile rises in Julia’s throat, and she shuts her eyes. The bus shudders back into gear and sways up the street.

Once they’re on Lansdown Road, Julia has one more chance to be brave. Or to be a coward, depending on how she parses the situation. She can stay on the bus and pass right by Kingswood School where Ted works, and their drab semi-detached across the way. At the racetrack, she can transfer to another bus, one bound for Bristol. From there she can take a ferry to Cardiff. And then? Walk into the wilds of Wales and lose herself.

Instead, she pulls the bell cord and gets off the bus into the downpour. In the short run to her building, she gets drenched. The icy rain numbs her skin, but it can’t quite reach her heart. After climbing the two flights of stairs to the door of their attic flat, she stands there for a minute, bracing herself. She’s just about to unlock the door when the door opens suddenly. She and Ted both flinch when they see each other.

“I heard you on the landing.” Ted looks at the key ring clutched in Julia’s hand. “When you didn’t come in, I assumed you’d forgotten your keys.” He pushes his baby-fine brown hair out of his eyes, a gesture as familiar to her as breathing. Stepping away from the door he says, “I take it your appointment didn’t go well.” His voice is rough with hope that’s about to die.

Julia turns away and takes off her sodden raincoat. She gulps back a sob, clattering the hangers in the coat closet to muffle the sound. She should probably hang her coat in the bathtub, but who cares? Let it drip on the muddle of shoes at the bottom of the closet. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters anymore.

How to respond to Ted? False cheer? Resignation? Rage? There was a time when she wouldn’t have self-edited for Ted. Seven years ago, when they got married, they’d lie awake late at night, sharing their hearts in the darkness. How many disappointments ago had she turned into this careful, calculating introvert?

Hands descend on her shoulders, rubbing the stubborn knots of tension just above her collarbone. She wants to shrug away so she won’t soften and break down, but that would hurt Ted’s feelings.

“Talk to me?” he murmurs.

Get it over with, she tells herself. She turns and looks up to stare him in the eyes. “Implantation failed again.” Her words are clipped, brisk, efficient. Conveyors of information.

Ted’s face falls, his hair cascading over his forehead again. Then he gives her the tight-lipped smile usually reserved for slow bank tellers and mouthy students. “So. That’s it.”

“That’s it,” she repeats.

She can almost hear a steel door slamming shut on an era of their life. Two years of being careful while they finished their degrees—hah. They had precious little money back then, and she now begrudges every dollar spent on contraception. After finishing their Ph.D.’s, spending three years on enthusiastic and creative “trying” on their own.  Then twenty-four months of fertility treatment in the States and another six months here in England.

What a waste. Nothing to show for it except an empty savings account. Well, and countless bruises from all the hormone injections and blood draws. Those are slow to fade.

Ted puts his arms around her. Julia wills herself to lean into his embrace, to release the rigidity keeping her erect and letting her hold on to a shred of pride.

“I’m sorry,” she whispers into his chest. That simple admission breaks her dam of self-control. Yet another failure; yet another betrayal.

Julia knows she’s an ugly crier, so she keeps her face buried in Ted’s sweater until she can get hold of herself again. Once the sobs pass, she breaks away and walks into the living room. The rain pounds their roof in ceaseless waves and susurrations.

Ted follows. “Are you hungry? I made some peppermint tea, and I can get out some cookies.”

Of course; it’s teatime. Looking at her husband, Julia tries to smile. Of course this disappointment is as big for Ted as it is for her. But it’s her body, her fault. Behind his sympathy and concern, does he blame her? Does he resent her? Does he regret not marrying someone else, someone fertile?

“No thanks. Maybe later. I think I’ll just go lie down for now.”

“Any chance you want to have a prayer together?”

Resentment knifes through Julia, but she pushes it away. She remembers the Spencer W. Kimball quote that she’s heard a thousand times, something about most needing to pray when you least feel like it. Her mouth twists at the irony. She must really need to pray right now.

And she knows it’ll make Ted feel better if she agrees. She sinks down on the couch, hoping that giving in will help soften her angry heart. “Yeah, sure. But you’ll have to say it.”

Ted comes around the other side of the couch and kneels at her feet. She exhales and joins him on the rug. He takes her hand and begins.

After seven years of hearing it at least once a day, Ted’s conversational prayer style still astounds Julia. No breathy or overly deep church voice; that’s not how he was raised. Instead, it sounds as if he’s talking on the phone—an easy, almost casual tone, as he makes statements and asks questions, pausing to listen for responses. Early on, his way of praying cemented Julia’s love for him; someone on such close terms with God would certainly be an ideal partner for the eternities.

Now, though, as he pours out his broken heart, he doesn’t leave much space for anything God might want to say back. That’s fine; her will and the Father’s haven’t aligned this time, and she has a hard time caring about that.

After a few minutes, Ted’s flood of sorrow lessens, and his monologue transforms into his usual give-and-take rhythm. Julia shifts from knee to knee restlessly and echoes his “Amen” when he’s done.

Before she can rise, Ted’s arms enfold her. “It’ll be okay.” His breath is warm on her scalp. “There’s a reason we’re going through this trial; I know it.”

Julia grits back a cynical reply and waits patiently. Finally, he lets go. She escapes into the bedroom, where she can wrap herself in self-pity.

She sits on the edge of their bed, which is tucked under the eaves of the tiny room. A gust of wind rattles the old windows in their casements. She stares at the framed portrait of herself and Ted that sits on her night stand. They’re smiling, snuggled together, the unyielding granite of the temple behind them. She turns the picture face down.

Ted’s voice comes from the living room, faint and muffled. He has likely called his parents or one of his brothers to give them the bad news. They’ll probably call all of the temples on the Wasatch Front to put Ted and Julia’s names on the prayer rolls. Again.

If she were truthful, she’d admit to envying Ted his insular, optimistic family. Unlike Julia, Ted was raised in the Church; he’s one of those Taylors that goes back to John. His parents still live in the same house in the Salt Lake Avenues where Ted grew up; he and his five siblings went to West High, then to the U, of course taking time off from college to serve missions, every single one of them.

Ted broke the Taylor mold a bit by leaving Utah for graduate school at Berkeley, and then rebelled a bit more by marrying a convert. His and Julia’s lack of children sets them even farther apart from the rest of the family, who are apparently busy raising an army of Helaman.

All those nieces and nephews. Now she’s crying again. She lies down and puts a pillow over her head. Breathing deeply and willing her sobs to abate, she remembers the blessing Ted gave her before this last cycle of IVF. “You will bring forth a miracle,” he’d said, his voice breaking, before closing in the name of Christ. After opening their eyes, they’d stared at each other, sure that Ted’s words had come straight from heaven. Julia had rushed to her journal to transcribe every word she could remember. Revelation was precious, and she wanted to show the Lord she treasured it.

She’d pored over that blessing countless times over the past few weeks, each time savoring the sense memory of the joyous spirit that had filled her whole being with effervescent warmth. This time, they’d have success. In a year, likely less, she’d hold a baby in her arms. Now her mouth twists in disdain. Where, exactly, is her miracle?

About Luisa Perkins

Luisa Perkins loves abandoned houses, ancient trees, and graveyards. Reading a great novel while eating homemade cookies is her idea of heaven. She and her family live in a small town in Southern California. Her latest book, Prayers in Bath, was released in 2017.

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