It didn’t happen in slow motion, more like, in a vacuum. Afterwards, I would play it over and over in my head, an endless loop of time that I was powerless to change. People don’t realize that these things happen so fast. They think, ‘well, I’d do this, or that’. What they mean is, ‘I’d have some control’. But they don’t. You don’t. I didn’t. Because, of course, how could you really, truly have control over three seconds, or five, or ten?
My wife, well, she probably would have had control. She did, when I watch that loop. Her face was calm, her movements decisive, her decision measured. And that makes it all the worse. Not only am I a monster, but I am infinitely inferior to my wife and her collected capabilities.
In that one moment, I should have been able to match her capabilities, even if I couldn’t exceed them. I saw what the cat was doing, clambering over the dogs one by one as if he owned them. Then he got to Poe, and well, I should’ve grabbed him off his face straight away, but I didn’t. I saw his little kitty talons emerge, his back foot slipping off Poe’s silky muzzle, as his front paws grappled for purchase. One set of claws sinking into the dogs eyelid.
Poe didn’t grumble, that was the problem. Poe always grumbled. Grumbled when the cat got too close, grumbled when the cat played with his tail, grumbled when the cat flicked his tail like a feather boa into his face. But that was all, just mumbles and grumbles, like a cantankerous old man yelling at kids on his lawn. Poe just happened to be the old man with a shotgun stashed away.
Not that it’s Poe’s fault. Though, maybe I’m only saying that to try and reach the level of grace that my wife has reached. She said the same thing to me, ‘it’s not your fault’. She said it over and over, even as her parents looked at me with the utmost horror. But of course they would, they’re both dog people, so no one could understand why I did that just to stop the cat getting bitten. My father-in-law said we should’ve just let Poe bite him, the cat I mean, and maybe then he wouldn’t claw the poor sleeping dog in his face.
I had argued (whined) that Poe could kill him with a bite. My mother-in-law just muttered, ‘he wouldn’t have though’. Like she knew somehow that the bite would’ve been a controlled air snap, or a nip that would’ve sent the cat skittering under the chair to hide for a few hours, unharmed but lesson learned.
And all the while, my wife was holding her swollen stomach and trying to stop the gush of blood pouring from her nose. I wished her brothers were with us; they would’ve laughed, made a joke about a whale breaching the ocean surface only to come crashing down moments later, a joke about my love for soccer. They would have made this a story we would tell our kids years later, after a glass of wine too many, tears falling from our eyes as we shook with laughter.
I wondered if I could do that, but her father was rubbing the dog between the ears, soothing the now skittish Poe. Her mother was stony faced, watching as my wife, her daughter, held a tissue over her nose. I counted the seconds go by. ‘You’re going to have a black eye. Maybe two,’ her mother commented. I looked for the cat, banished inside. He jumped to the window ledge, looking at us all on the back patio, and let out a mournful meow.
Her father looked at the cat and muttered something that contained a string of expletives. Then it happened. My wife let out a gasp and everyone’s heads snapped to look at her. She reached out a hand for me, even after what I’d done, and grabbed it.
“Are you ok?”
“They’re kicking!” She grabbed my palms, placing them on her stomach excitedly. Sure enough, the strange bubbling kicks of two babies rippled under the taught drum of her stomach. Her mother and father rushed around, eagerly finding a spot. They, the babies, were kicking up a storm. The dogs sensed something exciting happening and they clustered round, their noses pressing against my wife’s belly. One kick hit Poe and he jumped back, tail wagging, a look of what can only be described as canine shock on his face. He rushed back, pushing his nose harder against her this time, eager to feel another kick.
Her father looked down at his beloved daughter and shook his head, “why the fuck did you dive in front of his foot?”
I could’ve wept. She did dive in front of my foot. My mother in law looked at her husband and snorted, “why on earth did you go to kick the dog?” She said, turning to me, but her voice was softening.
My wife, nose still bloody and eyes turning black, started to laugh. It was a deep tsunami of a laugh, bubbling up and spilling from her beautiful lips, “I panicked.”
Panic? I leant back in my chair and let out a huff of laughter. She had seemed so calm. Poe had snapped, the cat had made a horrifying sound, I had swung my leg and she had chosen to dive, defending Poe.
“Stupid fucking dog,” her father muttered, rubbing the dogs head fondly.
My wife laughed harder, alternating between gasps as the twins kicked and the dogs swarmed closer so their noses could feel, “I don’t know, I thought I could stop the dog, or the cat, or you,” she turned to me. Blood smeared her smiling lips. Her eyes watered. “How bad is it?”
“Bad,” I admitted, “they’re both going black. Just please, for the love of god, don’t tell people I kicked my pregnant wife in the face.”
My father-in-law, rail thin with a stare that could make a tiger shit himself, started to giggle, a low rumble that tumbled out of him so similarly to my own wife’s laugh. My mother in law shook her head, but the corners of her mouth tugged up, and my wife, well she was howling now, tears pouring down her cheeks.
Poe looked up at me with his yellow eyes and wagged his tail. The cat meowed on the inner window ledge. The other dogs moseyed off to find a comfy spot to nap. I kept my hands against her belly and thought about how I would tell this story to my kids, years from now, about the time the dog bit the cat, mummy, seven months pregnant decided to dive in front of the dog, and I ended up kicked mummy in the face.