There were white specks of semen dried in his pubic hair. We were laying side by side on his twin bed, but with enough distance between us that I could see his entire body stretched out naked on top of the covers. I knew that if I moved in any closer I would be able to smell him. Tinny and buttery, like creamed corn. If I came back the next day or even the next, the white specks would still be there, but maybe lighter and crustier. His eyes were closed and I’d been hoping to God that he was asleep when his hand snaked over to me and started rubbing my thigh. I didn’t move because it seemed to me that if I stirred, he’d pull me to him. To be that close to him was something my rational mind dreaded: moist, oily, corn musk mixed with patchouli oil. I couldn’t even use his pillows because they were infused with it.

Two years of too close was the history that followed both of us. Year one was a series of walks in the park, summer jobs, and school. We tried sex, but ended almost every encounter with him kneeling in front of me, legs spread, jerking off while I dutifully pinched my nipples and groaned about how much I loved him. Because I did, and so my feelings of failure in the bedroom naturally manifested themselves in other ways, leaving me in front of mirrors, obsessively asking myself Am I pretty? Really pretty? Kind of cute? Really cute? Hot? Sexy? Really sexy? Kind of sexy? In the second year, part of him slipped away, but because I felt like I owed him something for being the one who stayed with me and took care of me, I stayed and took care of him. And I still needed him to answer those questions that I never stopped asking myself.

Questions that mysteriously slipped from my mind in the close warm air of his bedroom as his hand moved from my thigh to my torso, then down until he was ready again and I couldn’t find an excuse not to because his lust meant that yes, I was pretty, cute, kind of sexy. I did my best to hold my breath until stuttering "Come inside me, please," in time to the pumping that was going on somewhere far below me. The magic words. He didn’t hesitate or falter, just mumbled something into my neck and I felt the twinge-twinge-twinge that meant he was finished.

We settled back into our original positions and there it was again, his slightly matted pubic hair with trickling wetness that would harden and become more snow flakes. His skin was shiny with sweat and oil and I slowly realized that he was all over me, too. That I was dirty with him. Two days later, two days of him not bathing, one-sided lovemaking and his subtle escapes into the bathroom with porno magazines, I went back home to my parents’ house and took what felt like the longest shower of my life until I almost felt like I was me again. They asked about him. If he was feeling better and going out again, to which I answered that everything was fine. It wasn’t hard to make them believe what I wanted them to believe, because they wanted to believe it as much as I didn’t want to say that my boyfriend was bordering on being a recluse. Like, hey dad, all we do is fuck and when we’re not doing that he sleeps and sometimes I wash his dishes because they start to pile up and in all honesty it's been an odd two years. Want to talk about it?

I never did have to tell them though, because those magic words so often used by me to make it end turned out to be real magic, and I got to tell my parents that I was pregnant instead. Their anger turned to subdued denial and then to a resigned Christian charity that assured me that no matter what I wanted to do, they would support me in all the ways they possibly could. It was easy for them; they couldn’t see how tainted I felt and I wasn’t about to tell them. That first night, I laid in bed with my shirt pulled up and my underwear pulled down, poking at my stomach, aiming for the thing that was brewing inside of me with the notion that I might tap it out. Out of curiosity I rubbed, too, like I'd seen pregnant women on the street do, but I didn’t feel anything more than the pressure of my own hand. No unique speck of life under my fingers or rush of nebulous love. As far as I could tell, it didn’t matter much at all. The next morning over an uncomfortable breakfast, I issued the killing order; a general commanding her nervous troops into unknown territory.

"Are you sure it's mine?"

"Yup," I said, not faulting him for the standard question. I was almost tickled at how stereotypically the whole thing was turning out.

"Do you want to do like we talked about?"

White picket fences and a porch swing and a shiny golden retriever running through the yard, all highschool pipedreams that had served their purpose on cold days under blankets and yet he had assimilated them all.


I heard him moan or cough on the other end. I guess he’d made the dreams too real and so, to him, the thing in me was also real, another corner piece of the puzzle of how we were supposed to end up.

"Talk to me, please, I need to know how you’re feeling. What you want to do," he said.

"I’m sorry, I have to go. I’m very busy."

Smoking for two, a little joke I cooked up to answer friends and family who would stare at me, disapproving of my chaining cigarette after cigarette. As time passed, after the appointment was set and I kept avoiding my baby’s daddy, another joke that would make everyone in a room go quiet, I was too tired to go out and would spend long hours sitting wrapped in a blanket on the back porch gulping down buttered rice and fish – three things that wouldn’t make me sick, and satiated my sudden intense hunger. It may have been instinct or the influence of television, but I also started conversing with the thing. I’d poke at it like I had that first night, except that now my lower abdomen was firmer, and tell stories to the air about who I was and who he was and what it would miss out on and precisely how they were going to vacuum it out of my body. It seemed right that I was able to say that. "Baby-mine, you're going to be cut up with a scalpel and sucked into a jar. But baby-mine, for now it’s just you and me, so let's make the best of it."

Being alone felt good, better than a truckload of I'm sorry and It'll be fine, so I almost didn’t call him. I'd heard rumors from friends that he wanted the baby, and laughably was looking for a legal way to make me carry it for nine months. But in one singular instant so unlike anything else and unimaginable unless it's been experienced, all my resolve to shun him forever melted in the face of the need for one thing: gravy. I realized how nonsensical it was for me to be pacing the empty house because of a longing for a particular food, but I couldn’t help it. Every cell in my body was calling out for gravy so that I felt like I'd rip apart if I couldn't get some, but I had no car and he did, imbuing him with the power to provide for the thing. He asked if I was ready to talk and I lied, saying yes, ready to say anything. So he promised a jar of chicken gravy and a tube of biscuits as fast as he could drive them over.

I opened the door for him and grabbed the brown supermarket bag only to feel very much like dying on seeing a tube of biscuits and one roast chicken. He’d misheard me. He put down the pillow that he had under his other arm and kissed me while the tears were accumulating, then kissed harder, letting his hands wander. I held it as long as I could, looking at his closed eyes and the chicken cooling on the counter and then at the pillow that implied that he thought he might spend the night. While his palms brushed over my swollen breasts, his mouth moved to my ear.

"We wouldn't have to worry about protection, right?" he asked, and I thought it was the most refreshingly insensitive thing that anyone had to said to me yet. It beat my aunt's 'do you know who the father is?', hands down. And then I snapped.

"I said gravy. I said that I wanted chicken gravy, not a fucking chicken. Gravy is not chicken you disgusting fuck, now get out, take your chicken and go fuck it but never come back," I said, advancing towards him, the one who’d done it all to me. Made me something gross. Yeah, I knew who the father was alright.

He left, leaving the chicken and the pillow, which I kicked into the living room, hesitant to pick it up because I knew that it would smell like patchouli oil and dirty hair, two scents that would make me sick but also be familiar, and too close now. I didn’t want to hold it and be reminded that he was a part of me too. That night, I walked for miles with no energy, jelly legs bringing me to the twenty-four hour supermarket and back with my prize: a jar of Heinz chicken gravy. Hot biscuits, chicken and gravy, a little private feast for me and the thing, whose needs were satisfied enough to take the edge off of my nerves and let me rest. "Happy now baby-mine? Baby wants gravy, baby gets gravy. We'll make the best of it so long as we’re together," I cooed.

On a sunny Tuesday, probably the kind of sunny it'll be on the day the world finally ends, my mother drove me to the clinic and let me out. I asked her not to wait, but she would anyhow, through the whole procedure and I would have to know that she was rooms away, crying for her tainted little girl. There was no way to change that. After filling out forms I was shuttled from room to room, mechanically following my assigned counselor. She asked me one final time if I wanted to go through with it and I said yes and signed the very last form. I was there, wasn't I, wearing a paper gown and sitting in a room that was mostly occupied by a large machine that said Edgars on the side. While I laid back on the table, cold and goosepimply, looking up at a picture of a basket of kittens that had been taped to the ceiling, I wondered who Edgar was. What had prompted him to go into the technical aspects of abortion? Why that?

My doctor and nurse were cheerful through the whole process, laughing and telling jokes. Have you heard the one about the woman who goes into labor and the doctor says they have this new thing that lets the father take all of the labor pain? He had to talk loudly because the Edgars machine went kachug kachug. He says that he’ll do it, so they hook the guy and his wife up to this machine, and he doesn't feel a thing so he asks them to turn it up. I glance over at the tube hanging out from between my legs and see the bloody mess coursing through it. So he still doesn’t feel a thing and says: Doc, this is great, I don’t want my wife in any pain, turn it up all the way! The pain was not unmanageable and it was odd, like someone ripping out my insides. The woman has her baby and neither of them had any pain, so they’re both really excited, but when they finally bring their new baby home, guess what they find. My friends had fed me too many horror stories. The mailman dead on the porch. Ha ha ha.

Then nothing, no tears, no nothing at all except grape juice and cookies in a recovery room with other girls, most of whom were crying. No regrets, but no cleaner either, so I almost felt like it hadn’t done at all, my only reminder a paper bag with antibiotics and condoms handed to me as I walked out. No tears for my mother, though her mascara trails told me that she had indeed cried quite a lot for me. We went to breakfast then, (I was starving) and she watched me eat, declining my offer to tell her what an abortion was really like. That night, my parents asked about him. Has he called, is he going to pay for his half? He wasn't there, I don't know, no, there was nothing to tell them at all, and I got the impression that they didn’t want to look at me for a while. Not in the eyes, anyhow, in the stomach, maybe.

His pillow disappeared from the living room and I never asked about it. He never called or gave me any of my things back, which was fine because it allowed me to forget him by disassociation. First he was gone, and then my stuff and then finally the thing, leaving me an empty vessel with a love of freshly washed pillowcases where I could bury my face, inhale and be reminded of how clean I really was.

Challenge by graceness and the instant story muse at:

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