WRITING WELL 5 - little rock
by Susan Weber
Ben and Carol Johnson got married in their first year of law school. They are celebrating their anniversary with a weekend on the town, as they have for the past four years. They’ve enjoyed the Pork Shank Redemption with locally sourced organic greens, speckled grits, and sheep’s milk dressing courtesy of Table 28's Chef Rains, former rock star of San Francisco’s food scene. The Johnsons are pleased that a portion of the tab will benefit Arkansas Children’s Hospital. They plan to have children in a five year span.
Carol sips Kenyan coffee from a small-batch downtown roastery and touches Ben’s knee. “Let’s split the check,” she says, “It’s substantial.”
The Johnsons, successful litigators in Little Rock’s dueling law firms, keep their earnings separate. They met in Domestic Relations Scope and Methods class where, by semester’s end, no semi-intelligent law student would consider merging marital finances. On the first day of class Carol lent Ben her phone charger, which he didn’t give back until she asked. She might have been bothered by the gummy smudges he left on the cable if she hadn’t been distracted by his eyes. Mud-green flecks in his pale blue irises reminded Carol of her father’s. She tried not to hold this against her new friend.
“No way,” Ben says, reaching past a clutter of cocktail glasses for the Table 28 check folder. “I’m flush with year-end bonuses, remember?”
She leans in with a credit card, her bosom brushing his cuff-linked wrist. “It’s hot in here,” she says, nuzzling his jawbone and pushing back her chair. “I’ll be upstairs.”
Gas flames lick the faux-logs in the marble fireplace above which is mounted an impressive TV. On the wide screen, photographs of the Ozarks bloom; orchestral music simmers in the background. Since the Johnsons are nature fans, they have left this on to admire from the adjoining bath.
Their bodies intertwine in the sunken whirlpool that surges liquidity into their pores. “Ben,” she hums against her husband’s dimpled shoulders. He positions her hips underneath him. “I missed a few pills this month," she says.
“So we’ll have the baby earlier than planned.” His rigorous aerobics slosh lime scented ripples over the lip of the whirlpool.
Carol knuckles him above the groin, shoveling his weight to the side before she stands. Ben watches the foam slide down her curvaceous architecture as she steps onto slick tiles, grabs a towel, and pads across the deep pile carpet to the desk. “Careful you don’t slip,” he says belatedly, lolling his neck against the porcelain, his chest like a furry whale, rising from, submerging into suds. In a rose-patterned robe tied loose around her middle she returns, pen and stapled document in hand.
“Sign this, before we continue.”
“What is it?” he says, flapping his hand as though to dry it. She provides a small towel.
“A pre-coital contract.” She watches him adjust his game face, a lawyer approaching the bench. She unties the robe. “Best sign it before I lose my… desire.” He drags his eyes to the pages.
“Not exactly a readable font,” he says, squinting.
“The governor has just signed a law that gives you jurisdiction over my body. The document protects me from his law.”
His groan is a reservoir of lust and frustration. “What kind of jurisdiction — Carol, this is pointless.” He tosses the papers to the floor, climbs out and reaches for her waist. “Come on, baby, I’ll sign it later.”
“I missed pills. Sign it now.” Her voice is soft as granite. A spray of roses flutter over flesh tones framed by the robe. She slinks cross-legged to the floor, silk sliding off her shoulders. Mrs. Johnson begins to explain Arkansas Act 45 to her husband. Ben empties his bladder, struggles into boxers, and kneels at her side. With their backs to the fire she walks him through the law. They have a history in these roles.
Carol says the law makes it a felony for her to have a D&E abortion after fourteen weeks. If she does, Ben can sue both her and the doctor who performs the procedure. Dilation and Evacuation, now illegal in Arkansas, is the only safe procedure for abortion in the second trimester of pregnancy. If found guilty, she can be imprisoned for up to six years.
“I thought we wanted kids.”
“Even if I die in the process of carrying them?”
“There’s got to be provisions for that!”
Arkansas Act 45 makes an exception for severe risk of death or substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function. Carol says, shuddering, that she does not trust a court to believe her or her doctor when it comes to the definition of severe, substantial, or irreversible. She flings her arm at the hand Ben reaches out to her. “Anything can happen in a pregnancy, Ben!”
“But I would never sue! I’m on your side.” His words bump against her ears and ricochet off.
“Just sign the contract. It’s better for the baby if I have a stress-free pregnancy.”
“It seems — I don’t know — harsh.”
“This contract is harsh?” She reels, her hot breath beating at his cratering face. “Tell that,” she says, “to the girl whose father makes her have his child. Or the wife whose husband — there's no exception in this law for rape. Or incest.”
“So put a contract online for women who need it,” he says, very much trying not to whine.
“It’s up there; I’ve seen to that. If it’s good enough for them I guess it’s good enough for your wife too.”
“I can’t believe this,” he says, gesticulating at the damp pages, “this legalistic bullshit that says I can't be trusted to love you.”
“Take it up with the governor. His law trusts you. It’s my integrity it questions. Here's the pen.”
Leaning his torso across the wet tiles, he swipes at the limp paper and slides it towards him. She stares at the TV screen and recognizes a place they camped in last fall. The park ranger told them the Buffalo was the first of America’s rivers to be federally protected. How long will it be, she wonders, until lawmakers decide to punish river denizens for keeping it alive.
Photo by OakleyOriginals CC BY 2.0