by Erica Kent

My boyfriend Bodie gives me a bump and drops me off at the free clinic. He thinks I’m here for birth control. The lady at the desk says to take a seat in the empty peach-colored room. A few minutes later Bodie’s girl-on-the-side, Poppy, shows. She hurries over and nestles into me. Her body’s all bones. She smells pretty, like lemons and dirt. I’m surprised. I had no idea she knew where I was. Or that I’m pregnant.

“Jessica,” she says, her voice faint, sincere. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” The question’s worth more than the answer.

“For being late.”

I want to tell her I’m glad she came. That I’m scared. But we just sit together, side pressed into side. Her body thrums in mine. When the nurse calls for me, Poppy stays put. “See ya soon,” she says. Anyone’s bet if she means it.

The nurse leads me into a sterile cube like a giant, empty refrigerator. She says the doctor will be in soon. Dr. Einstein. He’ll shake his big, gray head and tell me not to worry, it’s all relative. Then he’ll scrape the seed out of me. The nurse vanishes. A woman walks in. The real doctor. She’s more like a schoolteacher, her hair plopped on her head in a lazy bun. Her eyes are river rocks, the eyes of a sweet old dog. I can barely look at her. She asks if I’m ready. I just nod. To say that’s not the real question would just lead to another question, one only the tiny girl in me can answer. The doc leaves so I can undress. I’m rotted fruit; everything peels easy off me—except my sneakers, their laces riddles I’m too stupid to solve. Feet bound, I put on the paper johnny and wonder if I’m a paper doll now, cut up in duplicate, many of me worn thin.

The nurse appears, unties my sneakers, places my feet into the stirrups. Giddy-up all set. But no good—I’m afraid to ride. She asks if I need a sedative. I say yes. She hesitates when she sees the tracks on my arms, mini mottled bruises and routes like roads seen from far above. But she’s merciful and hands me a pearl, a swallow of the sea. A wave lulls me away from shore into black water.

The doctor returns with her schoolteacher smile. The nurse drapes a sheet over my knees like a tent. I can’t see past it; I can only hear the ladies as they go to work. Pry me open. Set the tube inside. Shushing. Pulling. Little hands. Out comes the stubborn seed, hard and small. Her mouth isn’t a mouth. Her lips aren’t lips—yet. No last words.

Erica Kent lives with her husband, daughter, and big dog in Portland, Maine. She is a high school English teacher who on some days lacks a sense of humor but works hard to regain it. Her work has been featured in StoryQuarterlyThe Brooklyn RailPast Ten, and The Maine Review.

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