Dark Beach - By Lauren Ash


“No bedbugs. Check.” Ron flopped the mattress back down.

It was a necessary habit, although he still itched in the night whenever he traveled. A previous run-in with the critters had left him covered in red, scabby welts and had resulted in a midnight check-out, with nothing but a “sorry, we didn’t know” sad response.

He pulled open the squeaky drawer of the nightstand and removed a pair of neatly folded jeans and a blue T-shirt, also folded precisely, from his suitcase. They smell like Jenny, he thought—that fabric softener scent he always associated with her before she began to smell faintly of antiseptic and disease, of death even. I shouldn’t have left her, he thought. Shaking his head, he remembered the cold sea air on the coast. She’ll be fine, he told himself, not really believing it.

* * *

One other woman sat across from Jenny in the small waiting room. Try as she might not to watch her, Jenny couldn’t help it. The magazines in front of her were all out of date, and boring, so she stared.

Crap! Jenny thought, getting caught and then looking away as quickly as possible. Surreptitiously, Jenny looked back. The woman gave a half-smile; Jenny forced one back at her.

Now that the woman knew, she couldn’t watch, but Jenny still peeked at her, in between staring at the permanent scratch on her red shoe, or at the clock. They shouldn’t put clocks in waiting rooms, she decided. It makes every minute that much longer.

A petite brunette woman in navy scrubs interrupted her misery. “Jenny?”

She stood. Only ten minutes late this time, she thought.

“My name is Sarah. I’m your nurse today. This way, please. Let me get your blood pressure and your weight.”

Jenny obliged.

“You’ve only gained a pound?”

Jenny placed a protective hand on her belly. “Well, I’ve had quite a bit of morning sickness.”

“Saltines might help.”

“I’ve tried them, and everything else. I’m just getting on with it. Fruit smoothies are all I can keep down.”

Sarah asked her the routine pregnancy questions and Jenny answered robotically.

“Dr. Smith will be in soon,” Sarah said, and left the room.

Jenny nodded, not particularly believing that statement. The room’s silence was broken only by the ticking of yet another clock, and then by a knock.

“Jenny, good afternoon. I’m Dr. Smith. I’ll be taking care of you during your pregnancy.” He shook her hand. “How are you feeling? I hear you’re having morning sickness?”

“Yes, but I don’t think I’ll need anything.”

“Right. If you do, I can get you something. Your chart says you went off your medication?”


The doctor hesitated. “And you’re feeling okay with that?”

“Yes, perfect. No symptoms.”

“Good. That’s what I like to hear. Lie down, please. I’m going to check you.”

Jenny climbed on the table, adjusted her blonde hair behind and lifted her white tunic.

“We should be able to see a heartbeat on the ultrasound. No bleeding or anything?”


He squeezed warm gel on her belly, and Jenny tensed.

“Relax,” the doctor said, moving the ultrasound probe around to find the heartbeat. It pulsed away loudly and flashed on the screen above the foot of the bed. Jenny watched, smiling.

“Looks normal,” Dr. Smith said.

“That’s a relief. Just seeing it makes me feel better.”

“I know. You’re still in the first trimester, but you can tell your husband the good news.”

Jenny’s smile faded.

“Something wrong?”

Jenny glanced up at Dr. Smith. “He doesn’t know.” She redirected her gaze to her belly. “My husband’s been gone the last few weeks, traveling for work.”

“In your own time then. It’s good to get as much support as you can. He’ll be back soon?” He wiped the gel off her belly and pulled her shirt down.

“He’s home now. We’re leaving on a trip tomorrow.”

“Well, that sounds like a good time. Everything looks and sounds healthy.”

“Thank you, Dr. Smith.”

* * *

Chaos—that was how these trips always started.

“Honeeeeey, where’s my blue shirt? Have you seen it? I thought I left it on the bed, and where are my sunglasses?”

Jenny listened, but did not respond. She leaned in close to the mirror, noticing her first fine line: right there, under her left eye. It had appeared overnight, as if she had gone to bed and woken up with it. How did that happen?

“And the sunscreen? Did you pack it, or are we out?”

In her peripheral vision, Jenny noticed Ron’s head pop into the bathroom. She stayed focused on the wrinkle.

“Have you heard anything I said?” Ron asked, coming up behind her and squinting at his own reflection.

Jenny’s dark eyes moved over her husband’s face, examining his