The moon glared sullenly into the bedroom through a streaky, frosty window, reaching in to caress Jessie’s face with cold fingers and a midnight air. Paul watched and shivered. The cold was driving him insane, but she had begged him to keep it open until she fell asleep. He lowered his cheek to hers, listened to the soft sound of her breathing, smooth and even, admired the pulsing of life along her lovely throat. This, the essence of happiness. His internal life was a quiet one, his thoughts all simple and matter-of-fact, but he loved her—frame and mind and voice—loved her hair spread out like fine dark silk on the pillow, loved the smell of the skin on her neck. Though he couldn’t have said it in so many words. He only felt a deep content with her that was for him nameless, wordless, shapeless. Stealthily, he slipped out from underneath the stained old covers and walked over to the window. He tried to push it shut quietly, but it was stuck with cold. It squeaked and shuddered like an arthritic old man trying to rise from a low stool. He leaned his weight against it and slid it roughly into place, closing the long white curtains, denying the moon its revelry. His feet shuffled noisily as he tried to find his way back to bed in the dark. Paul tripped over a pair of his work boots as he clambered into bed. Still she slumbered softly on.

In the morning, he puts eggs and sliced tomatoes and ham in a skillet; the coffee makes itself, luckily, for he never would remember it otherwise; would go to grab that (indispensable) cup of coffee on his way out the door and be gravely disappointed to find that no coffee had been made. Jessie always woke up late. She tried—god knows she did—to get up with him. He’d even bought her a new alarm clock—an expensive one that ticked irritatingly, indefatigably, at all hours of the day in order to pound its way into her conscience and stimulate her gently to wakefulness with the unfamiliar tones of Rachmaninoff in the morning, but she couldn’t, wouldn’t, didn’t get up. And that was that. He hums to himself while he cooks, terribly, and absentmindedly, snatches of no song recognizable in English. In fact, the words sound as though they may be French. Paul doesn’t speak French. Lazy, late-rising Jessie sneaks up behind him where he stands at the stove. Little droplets of water from her hair splash the pan with a brief, dying sizzle as her robe-enshrouded arms come around his middle in a terry-cloth hug.
“I love you, crazy man.”
“I love you, little bird.”

Jessie sits on the bathroom countertop with the door locked, waiting for Paul to leave for work, puts her palms flat on the cold laminate surface beneath her. She had never noticed how white everything was. So, glaringly, shockingly, sterilely white. It felt like a hospital closing in around her, except for the soggy towels thrown, one over the shower door and one on the floor. She always remembered to hang hers up. Paul always forgot. He could be so…well…preoccupied sometimes. She often wondered what with. Thinking of Paul made her insides warm, as though her soul could smile in bemusement. Jessie suddenly felt the table beneath her to be hard and uncomfortable. She slid off, building up determinations as she went.

Today is going to be a big day.

Rather, today is going to be a small day, in which nothing very eventful or extraordinary happens.

(Today is going to be a big day.)

Reverse psychology doesn’t work so well on oneself and her body can’t tune out the little bit of nervousness that evinces itself in sweaty palms, oddly-ordered thoughts, strangely profound breathing.
Today is going to be a big day. A Ginormous Day.

Jessie feels relief wash over her like a cold sweat. But maybe that is normal. She doesn’t know. She’s never been pregnant before.

She’d told him as soon as she couldn’t ignore it anymore and pretend it would go away. Then she simmered in her own mental soup: her mother would get a good laugh out of this one if she knew. All that striving to be her own person, to do something different, something Jessie, something that could belong only to her and not to her mother’s perception of her and—what the hell!—she’d become Dana anyway. Pregnant at seventeen. The very phrase sounded like a condemnation. It felt icky and oily beneath her skin, made her turn up her nose in revulsion—it was the simple reality, but it sounded so much harsher when you said it out loud. Jessie’s own reaction to the news surprised her. It hadn’t felt like that when Paul moved in. It hadn’t felt like that when they’d commenced the sexual element of their relationship a few months later. It hadn’t ever felt like that. She couldn’t rid herself of the impression that her body was stained, dirty in way she hadn’t ever experienced before, not because she’d had sex, nor because she lived with her twenty-year old boyfriend—those things had happened naturally and unselfconsciously between them—but because she’d committed the great taboo: she’d gotten pregnant too young, too poor, unmarried. She felt suffocated by the sudden knowledge. There was no doubt in her mind: the pregnancy would be terminated. It had to be.

Paul and Jessie had the first awkward conversation of their life together. Paul sat at the rickety round wooden table looking a bit rickety and wooden himself. She was already four months pregnant. They didn’t have money for an abortion. Jessie’s mom was coming over for dinner this Saturday to pry in their lives, as she usually did twice or thrice a year in order not to forfeit her membership in the exclusive club of motherhood. She could go home to her small-town mayor husband and upper middle-class hausfrau existence and feel good about having fulfilled her maternal duties to her stubborn love-child. Jessie’s grandfather, who owned the lousy excuse for an apartment building that they lived in and resided (hermitically) in the rooms just above them, wouldn’t think anything of it, just so long as they paid the rent on time every month and smiled in a grandchild-y way at him every so often in passing. Meanwhile, Jessie was increasingly agitated and anxious to be done with the whole deal before anyone found out. Just who this curious and prudish “anyone” was, Paul was at a loss to discover, but they existed in a very real way in Jessie’s mind. Jessie’s mind, was in fact, quite made up. She would borrow the money from her grandfather. It was a lot, but she had a job and Paul had three—they’d find someway to pay it back. She’d already made the appointment for Thursday at a local clinic. Right now, however, that same orderly, mechanistic mind of hers was occupied in feeling out some vague…some itching, ticking uncertainty beneath the surface of Paul’s elastic compliance.

Paul had acquiesced with his usual aplomb, but she could see something—scruples, perhaps—ticking at the back of his mind. It was almost as if the mere shock that he had impregnated her—that he was capable of such a thing—was still being digested somewhere within him. He always took a long time
to get things; and if his submission was due to the fact that it hadn’t fully hit him yet…well, at some point it would sink in, and then…? Jessie hoped to god it didn’t portend something serious; she hoped to god her sweet, placid, unassuming Paul wouldn’t suddenly come upon a new firmness of spirit, a new resolve. If he did indeed mean to match his will against hers, she would win—indubitably, she would win—but not without feeling some certain sense of loss, some piercing awareness that a piece—indefinite, vague, but essential to what they had always had together was irredeemably lost. Paul shut the bedroom door quietly behind him when he left, careful not to wake her; but sleep was elusive on this coldest of nights and Jessie lay awake for quite some time, listening to the dull click of the new clock, an audible heartbeat from the other room.

The cold had a stunning effect on Paul as he walked to work. He felt strangely stimulated and paralyzed by it. For the first time in his life he didn’t know how to feel. For the first time in his life he felt older than his life, older than his age, older than Jessie. He wanted to protect her from something—he wasn’t sure what—yet, it was a definite something, even if it was temporarily just beyond his mind’s grasp. But she hadn’t ever seemed to need protection. She was young, yes, but she was capable, mechanical, and thorough when it came to accomplishing something she wanted done. And she certainly wanted to be done with this pregnancy. In a way, he did too. As a man, he was obviously more personally removed from the situation, but he would feel relief when it was over, surely. It was such a big thing to get his head around, that he and Jessie seemed to be constantly playing a game in which they pretended it was a very ordinary, average, everyday decision they were making, and in a very composed, complacent, adult manner, too. Maybe Jessie wasn’t playing. Maybe for her it really was a simple thing. She was smarter than he. She always was. He wanted to whistle, suddenly, but the sounds wouldn’t come out of his mouth right, only a whispy blowing, like the wind.
It was dark. The night sky hung heavy and bitter without a single star to break the perfect obscurity. The harsh orange glow of a streetlight, oddly mangled from some car accident or other, flickered on and off as Paul passed under it in his usual awkward lumbering stroll. He didn’t see her or he wouldn’t have walked into her. Paul had no use for whores. He hadn’t ever wanted a woman who wasn’t Jessie; and for just that reason: she wouldn’t be Jessie. He and Jessie were all that made sense in this world. Since he wasn’t handsome, or mysterious, or charming—or even very complex—women who weren’t Jessie hadn’t ever wanted him either. He did, however, have enough decency and enough awareness of his unusually tall and bumbling person, to catch her, before he knocked her to the ground. She was surprisingly heavy for someone so thin that her bones felt thick and prominent underneath her skin. A mass of dark tangled hair, dark eyes, dark skin prevented her physical dirtiness from making itself too apparent, but a sour smoky odor hung about her, giving the lie to any illusion of cleanliness or propriety he might have otherwise harbored about her. He moved to set her crooked body upright and she took advantage of the opportunity to ply her most ancient of trades. She curved her arms roughly around his waist and asked if he wanted company for the night in a raspy voice, deep like a man’s and too loud, the voice of one little accustomed to adjusting her volume to the social occasion. The streetlight flickered on. Paul put her from him with equal roughness, realizing with sudden repulsion that she was pregnant—very pregnant.
“How…how far along are you?” he sputtered, too shocked to mind the indecorum of the situation.

“Some men like it…you know…this way,” she replied, more in response to his expression of horror than to his actual words. Now that Paul could see her clearly he could register the extreme oddity of her almost alien-like form—emaciated, bony, but with a hard round bump protruding awkwardly from
her middle and covered carelessly with a loose, sheer-black top, cut off at the neck to hang off of her shoulders. The latter, presumably meant to increase her allure, actually functioned to make her all the
more an object of disgust and pathos. It was so…pathetic. Really, that is the only appropriate word for it. In the shadows cast by the light she cut a figure that could, perhaps, also be called “scary,” but he couldn’t imagine that anyone could look at her in this condition, on this corner, engaged and exposed in this manner with desire. It was appalling to think of.
“Why haven’t—wouldn’t it be easier to just get rid of it?” he gestured at her stomach, “I should think you’d get a lot more customers than…than you do like this.” The girl cocked her head to the left, sure by now that she wasn’t going to get any business out of this one. Her reply was offered up with the faintest savor of impatience.

“Yeah it’d be easier, but…you know…I don’t like to kill the kid—‘t’s just an innocent baby, yeah?”
She smiled at him in a way that was almost a shrug of dismissal. “It’s only a few months, you know, then I’ll be good as new ‘n whatever, so, I don’t mind too much.”
She gave him a queer searching look and the orange light above them flicked off, leaving them in darkness and a charged silence. When the light came sputtering back on, Paul was alone, alone in the darkness and late for work on a Wednesday night.


Jessie would have been worried, when Paul’s boss called to say that he hadn’t shown up to work all night. She would have been worried, now that the icy white fingers of the early morning were coaxing the reluctant golden god of the sky up and up and up over the hellish metropolis. But it was a cold and lonely hell, to be sure. Or at least it seemed that way to her, from where she sat on the roof, painting the sunrise and eating frosted cheerios, unable to resist her artistic urges, equally unable to put breakfast off a moment longer than possible. She would have been worried, if she had been in the apartment when Ross of Ross and White Packing Company called to know “where th’hell are you, Baxtrum, where th’hell have you been all night?! I don’t pay you to pull things like this. Get ova here, now or…or… you’re FIRED!” Click. “You have one new message.” (metallic voice) Jessie would have been worried. But she wasn’t in her apartment to hear it. She did a rare thing, actually: she breakfasted, for the second time, with her grandfather in his dingy old apartment above her own. It smelled faintly of senile old men and cardboard. It smelled faintly of strings attached.


Jessie felt uncomfortable. She didn’t like sitting like this, with her legs in the stirrup thingies. It felt intensely public even though she was alone in the room except for a nurse.

“I’ll go get the doctor and be right back.”
“Um, yes, thank you,” she managed to mumble in response. Jessie could feel her own breathing coming in laborious gasps as she realized what was coming with the doctor. Her initial interview with the clinician danced around in her head. It was real. It was really happening. Now.

D & E: simple, common medical procedure. What about that other…the salty one? Saline Injection?—not enough amniotic fluid in the sack…come back in two weeks? No, now. Now? …Options…? D & C…sharp

object inserted into vaginal tract—god, no!—aren’t there any chemicals or something?…pills?…too late for that…D & E better than D & C?…easier at sixteen weeks…will it hurt?…rather reasonable recovery time, all things considered…different for everyone…it won’t…will it feel…anything?…we don’t know…no, well, we don’t really know…hotly debated…but it’s your choice…you must understand…don’t let anyone tell you it isn’t your choice…l understand…I understand.

Jessie hated doctors and hospitals and clinics-that-wished-they-were-hospitals, the non-color walls and the sharp silver tools and the needles and the nurses in their blue suits like aliens of the planet Healthcare; she hated the smell of sterilized plastic and sterilized people and the constant washing of hands, and the necessity of near-nudity on the part of the patients; Jessie hated the doctors’ cold, prying, probing fingers and their constant explaining and asking questions and wanting signatures, and the way
people were ill and got ill, the way they lived in hospitals and the way—most of all—the way they died in them. Jessie hated them all. She hated them all. Jessie hated them all! In a whirl of nauseating whiteness, she sat up abruptly—too fast—and leaned over her knees, retching, heaving, regurgitating both of her breakfasts into her own lap.

She heard them whispering. From what the nurse said to the doctor, she gathered that she had fainted. The doctor spoke to her.
“What all have you had to eat this morning, Miss Coach. The way you sent it all over this room, I should’ve been able to tell, but…” Jessie didn’t smile at his off-hand attempt at a joke. She tried to sit up and realized that her stomach was a sticky mess.
“Lay back down, Honey. We’ve got you all cleaned up and nurse…ah…what’s your name?” he snapped his fingers in the nurse’s general direction.
“Kate…I’m new.”
“Right, nurse Kate here was just finishing up your ultrasound.”
“Is it over?” Jessie asked feebly.
“Oh, hon, hate to break it to you, but we can’t perform a termination with you sick like this. Whatever you ate this morning, it didn’t agree with you, and judging by the lovely recap you’ve given us, you probably had far too much of it. We’re having the secretary reschedule you for sometime next week—when you will comply with our procedures by eating a light breakfast of a little fruit or a piece of toast or else you will not be serviced. Do I make myself clear, Miss…Coach?”
“Yes. I understand.”
“Good.” Dr. Silvanus smiled. He turned to the door and quitted the room. A thin film of sweat had gathered on his brow. Janice, Janet, Jayne? He was always so doggone sweaty. He wiped his hand across his brow and tried to remember the secretary’s name. Julia? Julia! No, not Julia, J…


Jessie had her neighbor K’iye drop her off at the park on her way back to the apartment. She sat on the red bench. She didn’t think. She decided not to think. Her plan was ruined. But she didn’t think about that. Her mother would feel so…so…justified and so right. But she didn’t think about that either. She just sat there, not thinking, not thinking about the steady thump-thump that had emanated from the machine, not thinking about anything. When she got home, she unplugged the dumb clock from the dumb socket and threw it against the dumb wall—dumb, impertinent, persistent thing—it wouldn’t stop, it wouldn’t shut up, it wouldn’t quit sounding like life, like dumb, impertinent, persistent life. She crumpled on the floor in a little heap and sobbed. Tissue doesn’t have a heart beat. People, music, animals do—living beings all. Jessie sobbed so violently that she didn’t notice Paul until she was curled up and tucked

against him in fetal position there on the floor. Paul rocked her back and forth. The floor was wet, like she’d cried an ocean of tears. Paul kept rocking her, and cried a little himself. Even together, though, their tears weren’t enough to justify the puddle they sat in. Paul kept rocking her, and didn’t cry anymore, just rocked her back and forth in the puddle of tears and blood, just rocked her back and forth ‘till she fell asleep, exhausted and emptied out.

A weakened cervix…too much pressure on the cervical opening…spontaneous…sometimes these things can happen so suddenly…no, I don’t know about symptoms…call someone?…when can I take her home?…she doesn’t like hospitals…her dad died in one…yeah, a long time ago…mom alive?…no—yeah, but she won’t want her mom here…estranged…eighteen on Saturday….no, she’s not my…well, not yet, but… when can I take her home?

“What did you come back for?”
“You weren’t at work.”
“Oh, that was…nothing.”
“Where were you?”
“I was…I just…I took a walk…I needed some fresh air.”
“For nine hours?”
“I needed to get my head straight. It was all…all twisted up inside. I needed to think straight.”
“You were going to ask me not to do it.”
“I was going to tell you not to do it. I’m sorry—that sounds so harsh.”
“No. No, it sounds…nice. It sounds like caring.”
Paul climbed up into the tiny hospital bed to hold her, his gangly legs hanging over the side rails. The silence in the great blank room was only punctuated by the sounds of their joint breathing for a while…for a minute or an hour or so. He could feel her calm breaths coming neatly against his chest, one after the other, and wondered if she was asleep.
“…Will you marry me?”
“…Will you marry me?”
The great, white, bold-faced clock in the hall struck eight.
“Yes. Yes, tomorrow.”



Joined December 2008

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