Hackett needed to run to the grocery store, but Alice wanted to stay home. Crying had left her with a headache, and she didn’t want any strangers to see her when she felt vulnerable and insecure. Even though she had physically left the prison tower, she wasn’t ready to re-enter the world yet, and wanted to stay hidden somewhere safe. She couldn’t explain it, but Hackett seemed to understand and didn’t push her. He kissed her goodbye and went on his way.
A minute after the sound of his car faded away, Gertie knocked on the door. Alice almost didn’t answer, but their neighbor loudly called that she had brought over freshly baked cookies, so she decided that she would quickly accept them then politely kick Gertie out.
“Tell me, what was Miranda doing here?” Gertie asked as soon as she was inside.
Alice shrugged and sat down in the armchair, cuddling her baby as she closed her eyes. “You’ll have to ask Basil,” she replied.
“Hers is a face I never expected to see again, I’ll tell you!” Gertie harrumphed as she sat down, then pulled knitting out of her bag. “Either the world is ending, or she’s got some gall.”
“What do you mean?” Alice wondered if she should ask Gertie to leave so she could properly lie down, but she was also too intrigued by the conversation to rush her out. It was unlikely that Hackett would ever volunteer the story surrounding Miranda on his own.
“Oh my, Warden Hackett didn’t tell you?” Gertie tsked. “As his wife, you ought to know. Go on and eat some cookies, dear, you’re looking petered out, and there’s nothing quite like sugar and butter to pick one up.”
“All he said was that Miranda was a mistake, so I left it at that.” Alice kissed the top of her baby’s head. “I’ve got my own mistakes that I’d rather keep in the past.”
“Yes, I suppose that’s true …” Gertie paused as she knitted, frowning slightly. “I suppose I don’t have to say anything.”
Alice took one of the cookies from the coffee table and silently nibbled on it. “Maybe …” she began after a minute, “it will help me understand him better … as his wife.”
Gertie eagerly began to explain, “Well, Warden Hackett and Miranda used to live together, though truthfully I didn’t like her even back then. The Warden was friends with my husband, Chris, before he died, but Miranda only wanted to associate with things that were more sophisticated than us chickens, if you can catch my drift.”
“Yeah?” Alice nodded to let Gertie know that she was listening. She tried to picture Hackett in a relationship with the woman who had stopped by earlier, but struggled to imagine anything that would have attracted them to each other.
“One day, Miranda became pregnant. The Warden wanted to properly get married and settle down, but she decided that she didn’t want that lifestyle for herself, and got an abortion without telling him about it until afterwards.”
Alice couldn’t stop herself from blurting, “Oh no!” as she looked down at her baby.
Gertie nodded. “Oh yes! When he found out … let’s just say that the entire neighborhood overheard that argument. Miranda moved out shortly afterwards, and Warden Hackett was left devastated. I’d say that he was left as half a person, going through all the gestures of living without feeling alive. That is until recently, which I’m certain has a lot to do with you.”
“How could Miranda do something like that?” Alice asked, knowing that she would never have an answer. “Without even telling him? At the very least, he had the right to know beforehand …”
“She obviously didn’t see it that way. Miranda didn’t want stretch marks, and felt that it was solely her decision to make on her own,” Gertie replied.
“How do you know?” Alice asked.
“The argument, dear. We all overheard it. I can still vividly remember the Warden’s face as he stood out on the front lawn and watched Miranda drive away that night – like I said, he was never the same afterwards. My Chris went over to share a beer with him afterwards, even though his health was already failing him by then, and he told me that Warden Hackett had wept like a baby.”
Alice wanted to start crying again, this time on behalf of the man she had married. She sniffled and rubbed her eyes, then said, “I’m sorry, Gertie,” her voice cracked. “I need to lie down.”
“Yes, of course. Sorry, dear.” Gertie packed away her yarn and needles, then stood. “I shouldn’t have barged in on you when you’re obviously so tired. Get some rest, and I’ll check on you in the morning.”
Alice laid down on the bed with Alicia after Gertie left and watched her infant’s stomach rise and fall as she slept peacefully. A year ago, she wouldn’t have understood why those events had affected Hackett so profoundly, and would have haughtily declared that he should have moved on and knocked up someone else if he had wanted to be a father so badly – before she had changed everything about herself for the sake of her own baby. It was something she could only empathize with now that she was a mother, and knew how much meaning those two lines on a pregnancy test could convey.
Hackett had lost an entire future.