Beth Hahn ~ Already Later

The women who took shifts car­ing for Margaret wore tulip-pink scrubs, cardi­gans, and round-toed shoes that squeaked on the pol­ished floors beyond her room.

How are you today Mrs.—” they asked, glanc­ing at the white board.

Margaret could see her name on the board, but it was a drawing—letters like rows of black flow­ers or city streets hemmed in by a blizzard.


Margaret had a job once, too. At the tele­phone com­pa­ny. Nylons. Smoke break. Coin purse.

And John.

Riding the bus to work, she’d thought of his hands, the shape of his wrists, shirt­sleeves rolled up, his pub­lic reserve.

And his wife at the Christmas par­ty, the way she wait­ed for him to take her arm, her coat still on, the fur at the col­lar touch­ing her cheek.

There’s noth­ing between us any­more,” he said to Margaret in the rooms where they met, the heat so high that they had to crack a win­dow in January, the pipes bang­ing, the smell of cig­a­rettes and a stained ash­tray on a bed­side table.


The order­lies kicked the bed’s brakes up, arranged the blan­ket, one turn, then anoth­er. The swift­ness of imag­ing, the thun­dered cir­cum­vo­lu­tion. Then in reverse. The hall­way, the banks of white lights, the bed’s brakes, the blanket.


But of course—how stu­pid he must think me, she’d thought, because that spring—there was the shock of John’s wife in aisle sev­en, full cart, in a dress of burst­ing orange car­na­tions, look­ing like triplets were on the way.

After every­thing.

The jar of hon­ey slipped from Margaret’s hands and shat­tered on the tiled floor.

Cleanup in aisle sev­en.


For the pain, mor­phine on the gum. The nurse kept the door open. In the evening, she wiped Margaret’s face with a warm cloth.


Trapped in a snow­storm at a hotel near the air­port, just north of the town where John had final­ly moved his fam­i­ly, Margaret sat on the bed and lis­tened to him Hello, hel­lo at her, the yel­low receiv­er heavy in her hand, the curl of the tele­phone cord gripped in the oth­er as if it might get away.

Is it you?” he asked. She hadn’t seen him since that day in June, when they’d tak­en the train from the city, each arriv­ing at the sta­tion at the appoint­ed time, he ahead of her in the tick­et line. She took a seat on the train where he might see her hand on the arm rest, her bare shoul­der, the back of her head. The train emp­tied at each sta­tion, until final­ly, it was just the two of them—he at her side—and the day blue and long ahead of them.

She hung up.

The snow cov­ered every­thing. It silenced the wide berth of busi­ness parks and fast food places. No field of sum­mer flow­ers here. No veranda—just the hall­way on the third floor and a cheap white table with a crack­led gold vase of stiff blooms by the ele­va­tor where Margaret caught a glimpse of her­self in the mir­ror before going down to the buf­fet, assum­ing it was anoth­er stag­ger-smil­ing stranger, drunk on the in-between of it all.


What do you need, dear?” the nurse asked.

Hadn’t Margaret asked for her cot­ton sweater already, the one she’d car­ried that day in case it grew cool in the evening? Pointing to the door. Opening her mouth.

Are you thirsty?”

In and out. The bed was body. The body was a raft. The water struck with sunlight.

How nat­ur­al to rest her head on his chest, to—

Shaking the pale blan­ket, brush­ing at their clothes—the pink of Margaret’s dress gloam­ing lavender—they stood. Already late. Always lat­er. She smoothed pine nee­dles from the back of his shirt.

Saying her name, he turned to her—

Tell me, John,” Margaret said.

Let’s check into the hotel across the lake, the one with the veran­da that we saw from the road. Let’s nev­er go back.” He was breathless.

How should she answer? He didn’t know it was the last time. Answer with a ques­tion, per­haps: What will you name the baby?

She fin­ger-combed her hair into a braid. One, two, three. And tied the sweater she’d brought around her waist. Then, in the copse of dark­en­ing trees, they leaned into one another.


Beyond the pines, the swell of late-day locusts.

The cool of their skin, the arc of a sin­gle day.

They walked back the way they’d come, through the tall grass, the warmth of the sun still on their shoul­ders as they passed through the buzzing field.


Beth Hahn (she/her) is the author of the nov­el The Singing Bone (Regan Arts, 2016). Her sto­ries can be found in Fractured Lit, HAD, and CRAFT, among oth­ers. She is at work on a nov­el and a col­lec­tion of short fiction.