Jenna pulls a pink plastic-wrapped wand out of her purse and sets it down on that container where you’re supposed to dispose of pads and tampons—that steel box with chipped paint screwed onto the stall-divider. Jenna covets this little pool of privacy in the tavern bathroom. She surveys the room through the half-inch gaps on either side of the stall door. There are other women in the bathroom who stand in line. There are women reapplying lipstick. There are women who pass baggies of something to one another. There’s no way they can see what Jenna is holding, and even if they did, they’d probably just assume it was a tampon anyway. Frankly, those women probably don’t even know she’s in there, just that someone’s in there, and they need to pee and can’t that bitch hurry up?
It should only take a few minutes, poke the stick under a stream of urine and then wait to see if one line or two lines will appear. Or maybe this was one of those tests with the blue cross. Jenna pulls open the instructions, her sweaty fingers tacky on the paper. There is a picture of a circle with two pink lines.
Ok then. Pink lines. One or two.
Is the definition of moral turpitude wanting a drink more than wanting a baby? Is the definition of motherhood becoming a body and a vessel, losing your wants and always having to say no? No booze, no soft cheese, no sushi. Jenna hates sushi but she hates being told that she can’t. That she hates most of all.
Calvin said he’d buy her a drink. He’s ordering them right now. Whiskey, probably. That would be his style. Max doesn’t know she’s here. Max wants a baby, he thinks. Maybe. Maybe he wants to get married too, but Jenna doesn’t really want to settle down—settle for—a guy who sells used records. But they’ve been trying because fucking to make something makes them feel something about meaning and purpose that you can’t find at church.
Jenna touches her stomach and her breasts. Her nipples are sensitive, even through her shirt and bra, and a thrill falls down into her abdomen.
The toilet next door flushes and an electric hand dryer drowns out everything. Jenna looks down and wonders how long three minutes can take. The floor is covered in trails of sticky dried stuff turned black by hundreds of dirty soles.
Calvin works in tech. Calvin is married, but he says she doesn’t understand him. Jenna doesn’t know her name. Whiskey sounds good, but what if there were a little thing worming around inside, small but getting bigger? Can a worm tie itself around you and gobble you up?
The answer the stick is going to tell doesn’t matter. It matters a lot. No matter what it says, everything is a failure. A failure to germinate, a failure to use a condom. Secretions and contractions and always blood. There is always, always blood. Nothing really matters, but there is a small glass of whiskey waiting for her at the bar. She could pack up her car and drive two states over to a place where they don’t ask questions, don’t make you wait, and no one cares about heartbeats. She could go home and say, “I love you.”
Jenna stuffs the plastic stick into the tampon bin. She rips off sheets of paper and wads them up, a big cloud of fluffy tissue, and smashes it all into the box to hide the test, hide the result, hide the chemical reaction that is nearing completion.
When Jenna was a girl, her Pop used to tell her stories about a mouse who sailed around the world in a walnut shell. The waves didn’t have to be very big to tip the boat and the wind didn’t have to be very strong to push the mouse to and fro. The rain didn’t have to be very heavy to fill up the shell and the mouse was sometimes so afraid to drown. In her Pop’s stories, the mouse always made it to where it was going, just in time for Pop to tuck the covers up under Jenna’s chin and kiss her goodnight.
Jenna thinks of these stories now as she pulls up her pants, grabs her purse, and steps out of the stall. She makes eye contact with a woman who has fresh lipstick on her mouth. The color is too red for her face, but if she asks, Jenna will tell her it looks good, just like Jenna will tell herself she didn’t see the number of lines or that a mouse can cross an ocean in a walnut shell.
© Andrea Eberly
[This piece was selected by John Haggerty. Read Andrea’s interview]