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Feb 26, 2020

General

The phone drills through the heavy August air, cutting through the mosquitos and the heat to reach my ear. I smile lazily, untangling myself from the mess of limbs that is Charlie Parker. He is snoring softly on the hammock as I pad across the soft grass, cradling the rotary phone receiver in one hand, a hand-rolled cigarette in the other.

“Beverly Wilson, please call me Bev,” I drone, waiting for the telltale breathing or sniffle of a human. I receive silence before a deep, male voice speaks. 

“Beverly, it’s Doctor Johnson.” 

“Oh, yes,” I vaguely recall the doctor’s visit a few weeks ago, but these days, the days seem to mush together like porridge. 

“When would be a good time for you to stop by and visit us?” I stare at the cigarette in my hand and blow gently on the tip. “Mrs. Wilson?”

“I don’t know. Do you have the results?” Suddenly, I feel wandering eyes on my back, and I spin around, spotting no one. I clutch the receiver closer to my ear and bite my lip.

“Yes, Mrs. Wilson.” 

Ms. Wilson.” It’s pointless, but it’s the only words I can manage.

“Ms. Wilson, I have the results.”  My breath catches in my throat, and my hand is shaking as I take a long draw of the cigarette. I resist the urge to scratch at my arms and back as the sense of creeping spiders and ants overwhelms me. An old sense of paranoia.

“Am I pregnant?” 

“I think we should talk about this in your appointment.”

“Can- can I do tomorrow?” I whisper, my voice sounding hoarse and unstable.

“I have an opening at 9 am, does that work well for you?” I nod, dimly aware that he can’t see me. I take another inhale and watch the smoke trip over itself as it leaves my mouth.

“Doctor.” I whisper, but he has hung up on me. I click the receiver back onto the phone handle, absent-mindedly touching the cigarette to my lips. 

“Bev?” I drop the cigarette in surprise and turn around. Charlie is standing there, a look on his face that I can’t quite place. 

“How long have you been here?” I murmur breathlessly, brushing my fingers against my chest, feeling incredibly self-conscious.

“Are you pregnant, Beverly?”

“Pregnant?” I laugh, a shrill, high titter that my echo mocks me with. He grabs my wrist, a dangerous look in his eyes. “No, I am not pregnant. We’ve been careful…” We haven’t. I haven’t taken the pill in two months.

“What did the doctor say?” I shake my head and dig my hands in my pockets for another cigarette before I stop cold.

“Shit.”

“What, Beverly?” I look up at him, eyes full of panic. 

“I’ve been smoking! I don’t have the money to smoke and with a child-” I turn out my pockets, emptying the lighter and two cigarettes out onto the patio, kicking one onto the thick weeds.

“I thought you said you weren’t pregnant.” I try to come up with an excuse, but my mouth dries up before I can manage. My fingers twitch towards the lone cigarette. He stares at me solemnly, and I feel tears well in my eyes.

“I thought- it’s just that I’ve been really sick lately.”

“And you went to the doctor.”

“And I went to the doctor.” He nods, even though none of this is making any sense. I feel myself begin to shake, so I wrap my arms around myself in a hug. Charlie stares off at the trees with a finger on his lips. He has that weird look on his face.

“I’m going to New York.” This time, it’s my turn to be shocked.

“What? We were supposed to go to New York together.” I twist the hem of my dress anxiously, while Charlie glares at me like I’m delusional. 

“Um, yeah, until you got knocked up.” Tears slip down my cheeks, and I don’t try to hide them.

“I’m not the only one at fault! You can’t just leave me!” I wave my arms around frantically, like waving away a fly. The crawling insects move to my legs.

“Ain’t that a bite,” he snaps exasperatedly. A bubbling sense of hysteria rises in me, and I lunge for the cigarette but not before Charlie notices and kicks it away from me. It rolls in between a crack in the patio, and I stare desperately at Charlie, my tears paving silent tracks down my cheeks.

“I can’t do this alone!” I rasp, struggling to my feet. Charlie stares at me like I am gum on the bottom of his foot. 

“Cool it,” he bites as I start to cry again. He sighs suddenly, wrapping his arms around me and drawing me against his chest. He smells like cigarette smoke, freshly mowed grass, and a musky cologne. “Bev, why?”

I only sob hard, clutching his shirt in my balled fists like it’s my anchor. It is.

“I don’t want children.”

“Me neither,” I choke out, inhaling deeply in his shirt. I want a cigarette so badly that my hands start to shake. Charlie doesn’t notice.

“Ankle-biters, curtain-climbers. I don’t want them,” Charlie continues, and I sense that he is in a different place, far away from me. I stare up at him, at his blue, blue eyes. “I want to see the world with you, Bev.”

I smile sadly. It sounds too nice. Suddenly, Charlie blinks and looks down at me, seemingly surprised that I’m still here.

“You can abort.” I gasp quietly, drawing away from him entirely. “It’s not the end of the world.”

“It’s dangerous… and - and sordid!” I stammer. Charlie looks unfazed.

“It’s possible.”

“And illegal!” I falter, and my hands move to my stomach, forming a little v.

“Tell you what, dolly, abort and we stay together! It’s as simple as that.” I can’t abort, I just can’t. 

“Okay,” I say quietly.

“Okay?” Charlie looks at me expectantly, then at the hands on my belly. They are still shaking, but the crawling sensation has eased.

“We can’t be together.” I know that I don’t have the money. I know that I don’t have a home, or even dignity as a pregnant spinster. This child, no matter how small or new, will mean the world to me. I owe it to my future self to just ignore everything I think I know.

“No smoking.” Charlie clarifies, doubt shadowing his face.

“Fine.”

“The money?”

“I’ll get a job.” Charlie snorts, turning to leave. He steps over the long weeds, then pauses. He reaches down and grabs the cigarette, holding it out to me. 

I want it badly, but my fingers don’t stray from my stomach. Charlie frowns, dropping the cigarette into his pocket and turning to leave. I have a thought, as I watch Charlie’s vintage jacket bob off into the woods.

The sun only rises once a day.

I kick the lighter, and when it disappears into the brush, I don’t see it again. 

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2 comments

Iren Petrova
06:22 Mar 04, 2020

Very realistic story. It was a pleasure to read it!

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Natalie Frank
02:47 Mar 06, 2020

Thank you so much!

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