CW: allusions to pregnancy scares, miscarriage, consent grey areas, vaguely difficult/dark moments of past relationships
This is not a feel-good story. Essentially, it’s what I think pregnancy test commercials would look like if they were even remotely authentic for people who aren’t actively trying to get pregnant.
You’re a real pain in the butt, you know that?
That’s not quite true. For the sake of accuracy, the pain is sitting somewhere in middle to lower back pain right now. In the lower half of my thoracic spine, just before the low swing of my lumbar curve.
It’s been there since you left me, saying “See you soon.” It took me too long to realize that was a lie too. I don’t know how many more times it’ll take for me to remember that what you say by the light of day makes a dishonest man of who you are after dark. At least one more, I guess.
That last night we shared was so balanced. Between the flush of our flesh and the whisper of breeze, we didn’t even need a sheet. Thermodynamic commensalism, I mused because this level of calm allows my brain to swell. Ironic though, given the fires we had blazing earlier; how hot and cold we are any other time.
The following night was the total opposite. In your absence, I was feverish; struck down by a heat wave.
No, a literal one. With advisories from the weather authorities, whoever they are.
There was nothing I could do to quell the sweats that seemed to actively purge you and the echoes of that most ruinous orgasm from my physical form. I shook like death, no small thing.
And when morning broke, I was dry as parchment. Hungover from lack of consumption. Just so thirsty.
The morning was taken from me. The afternoon was a blur, the evening blurry. I wouldn’t realize how out of sorts I was until well after sundown. I didn’t sleep then either. The discomfort grew and the need to expel it was cruel. It teased me; there was nothing left to release.
The days that followed were all one futile stretch. I endeavoured to open myself up, elongate until the blockage slipped away. It’s probably musculoskeletal, I told myself playing the doctor I’ve always had to be for myself. At worst, gastrointestinal, echoed the ghosts of so-called doctors past.
I stretched, and I breathed, and I rocked away to no avail. I laid myself out flat, rolling, kneading it to go away.
I conceded. What I needed was a second opinion.
“Everything considered here, I’m fairly confined that it could be one of two things,” she paused. “If not both.”
I listened closely. This was the first time in over a decade a medical professional seemed to hear me when I spoke; she had earned the same attention from me.
“Do you know—are you or could you possibly be pregnant?”
I bit my lip. “Highly unlikely, but I suppose it is possible.”
I walked with feigned purpose to the pharmacy. Every footstep sent a jolt through my primordial connections to the earth. It was the first movement I’d allowed myself in days. It wasn’t pleasant, nor did it hurt. I put one foot in front of the other until I arrived.
The pharmacist was a tiny, fierce, no-nonsense woman with a peculiar accent. “You’re going to take a test then, yes?”
“Right, yes, I haven’t yet but—”
“Okay, I will help you.”
“Oh, no,” I said when I realized she intended to come around the other side of the counter. “I’m good. I already have it.” I shook the box in my hand.
“Ah, okay, I will call someone.”
“It’s okay, I don’t need—”
“I would like us to know,” she said a little more softly. “Before you leave.”
Now? Here? Really?
She didn’t wait for any sign of affirmation. It was already decided. “I will call someone,” she added.
It didn’t make sense to argue. “Okay, thank you.”
The young woman escorted me past the “Employees Only” sign, to a back cement stairwell painted beige and forgotten for decades, up to the next floor, towards a row of lockers. In the tiny break room to my right, someone sat at a table, sipping a vitamin water while they scrolled through their fifteen minutes of stale freedom.
“The door on your left,” my guide said. I almost missed her words; my heart was pounding in my ears. I grinned reflexively despite her not being able to see my face, slipped into the glorified closet, and locked the door behind me.
I avoided my reflection. I couldn’t face myself yet.
The better part of a decade, we were together. Not on paper, mind you, but it took that long to fully digest. Like that rogue piece of swallowed gum we were threatened with, that some people still believe in.
I was about to board a plane overseas when I told you. I didn’t want to. I didn’t owe you anything. As far as anyone knew, we were through. But the foolish part of me still honoured our humble history.
I drank bloody nectar in fallen empire streets. It made it easier to lie to my mother about the stain on my countenance, but I know that it was the strain of your disdain that resolved the problem. I pushed the last of you through the bowels of a city of flowers. Painfully, but without remorse.
I remember that last night, lying next to you. You were almost as cold and distant then as you were when I’d confided in you about the brutalities I’d endured.
“So… are we just…” My throat was arid, clicking over dust. “Never going to have sex again?”
“I don’t know,” was your profound, loquacious response. Some of the last words you’d ever utter to me.
By burrowing as deep as one can, you released me.
Finally, I was free.
I open the box carefully now, pull out the wrapped stick, put the box back into my bag to keep the second one safe, pull out the instructions. Like it’s a box of hair dye. I know the drill, but maybe something has changed since last time.
I sit down on the toilet and my exhale rattles my spine, in my low belly.
The audacity of your assumption. We’d never discussed that.
Our first night together, you took me home we took the most degenerate, drunken midnight journey to a Shoppers to get more condoms. We’d depleted up our limited supply but were far from sated.
What we must have looked like to that poor clerk.
It makes for quite the leap—you coming so freely, recklessly inside me like it was our fucking wedding night.
No one had ever done that before. I’d never granted that permission.
It wasn’t the first time I’d permit you to damage me by saying nothing.
As the weeks passed, I was racked with anger and anxiety. I would deal with it accordingly. Regardless of the outcome, I was resolved that you’d never know. I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.
Of course I did.
I don’t miss you; I still carry the pollution of you with me.
I count the seconds as the stream soaks the fibrous end of the stick.
I’m already worried that I’ve counted too slowly. What if I’ve already fucked it up? It’s probably too soon to tell anyways… Good thing I got the box with the spare this time.
I put the cap on it and rest it flat on the counter while I squeeze the rest of me like a sponge.
I check the time. I wait.
My own bedroom was foreign to me. The morning light was baffling. When did I get home?
I’d been so drunk that we stopped on the way home for me to throw up in the street. I only remembered because I felt the echoes of the retching in the muscular sheet over my upper abdomen, in the pit behind my lungs.
I couldn’t tell if I remembered or dreamed it. Until I found a stray condom on the floor, still wrapped. You’d been there. You didn’t belong there then. You knew that when you skulked out without warning or goodbyes. You feigned ignorance and deflected until I found the courage to call you on that bullshit months, years later. But you knew.
I was distraught. Way off schedule. I tracked it back to you and that night that at the very least should have been postponed. To the store I went. I was sick with relief when it came back with the desired results.
We high-fived and popped the champagne. Your girlfriend was arriving soon.
Minutes never last as long as they do when you’re holding on the line(s).
I’d never considered you before. When we arrived, it’s as though we’d always been there. I don’t know how it happened. I do. Booze and zeal and freedom to explore and condoms that didn’t quite fit.
Two months later, I was beside myself. I was lost. I didn’t know why I was. I slipped into a darkness I thought, hoped I’d never see again.
The shed brought relief, but didn’t allow me peace or balance for another two more at least.
I never blamed you. There was no resentment. It was an unfortunate accident, a product of mutual over-excitement.
It happened again all the same, when the snow came. Even worse that time. People took note. They watched my descent, watched me slip further away. They didn’t have to know me that well to feel it. I thought I was going crazy. I was relieved and terrified when she found the clue that solved the mystery.
She shared my winter pain.
We still haven’t told you.
One more minute. Just in case.
This time isn’t like any of the others that came before you.
The recollection of our last night, in all its comfortable glory and torrid magic, is being overshadowed by the echoes of those demons, of a sensation of loss, of fear.
I’m scared. Scared that I may never see you again. Scared that it will bother me. Scared that it won’t bother you.
Scared if it’s two lines.
Scared it if’s one.
I slink back down the stairs, lighter, heavier than before as I climb back down to reality.
The pharmacist looks at me through her mask, eyebrows raised.
I shake my head, unconvinced.