Love, Lies, and Grocery Shopping in a Blizzard
The doctor looks at me and says — no fuss, no apology — that someone like me should never be pregnant. This medication, that complication: they keep on doing card tricks with your life, even when you’re doing better. I can’t decide whether to be relieved or devastated. What’s gone is not only the chance to have a baby but also the chance to decide whether or not I want a baby. So I say to my doctor, “Huh, that’s interesting.” Afterward the room is silent except for the crinkling of the exam table paper and the bubbling of the keyboard as the doctor finishes her notes.
I make my next appointment on my way out and sit alone in my car and glide through New Jersey toward the Newark brownstone where I live.
I think of the time when I lied and told a cashier at Meijer that I had a daughter. This was in Ann Arbor, during college, years ago. The years since seem to have come and gone without even taking off their coats. The cashier asked me if I had a sick kid at home when the ten bottles of Pedialyte I was buying wobbled down the conveyor belt, fluorescent against the night outside, little lies themselves. I said yes, and the cashier — I remember her hair was the color of the inside of a bitten almond — asked how old and I said eleven.
The lie emerged from my mouth sure of itself. But it was a ridiculous lie, the type of lie that would capsize you, the type of lie that makes people believe they know everything about you. I was only twenty-one, after all.
I was buying the Pedialyte for Octavia, who was my roommate, not my child, and her colon was full of bleeding ulcers. The Meijer was familiar to us, we’d been shopping there for years, but now Octavia was bedridden and in many ways I’d gotten used to doing everything with her, so it felt strange to wander the bright empty aisles alone.
Only one month earlier we’d decided, she and I, that it would be wise to go grocery shopping in a blizzard. This was before she got sick, before I got sick, before her father died and before mine did too. Back when writing was easier because I didn’t have anything to write about. Maybe the blizzard was telling us: stay home, girls, and let the world do its worst, but not yet to you. Instead we flew through the aisles, staticky with excitement because we loved this kind of daily danger back then, and beckoned it. By the time we were outside the wind was busy rearranging the world. The wheels of the cart tried to trample the snow drifts, those piles of uncarved marble looking bright and starved on the asphalt. She pulled the cart and I pushed. Our laughter was crinkle cut and captured by the wind, carried to the stars, which I seem to recall shining brightly, which is impossible, but still, that’s how I remember it: the constellations looking down on us through the white silk of the storm as though we were their only constituents, the two of us and our plastic bags that flapped in the wind like wild beating hearts.
Then we drove home on the icy roads and we were completely fine.
As I angle my car into its spot in Newark, a light precipitation falls. Somewhere between snow and rain. I kill the engine and sit in the car that ticks as it cools, surrounded by the quiet midday street. I should get on the train and go to work for the afternoon like I said I would, but I might call in. I want to call Octavia but she and I lost touch years ago. I’ve heard she’s better. I’ve heard she has a baby. I’ll probably cry in the shower later. There’s nothing wrong with crying in the shower sometimes, even when you’re in your thirties. Especially when you’re in your thirties.
Back then I’d been embarrassed of the lie. Now I think that it might have felt good to shock someone, to have, if only briefly, a secret life. It filled the parts of me I felt were empty. The cashier had stared at me when I said the made-up age — eleven — and the look in her eyes said she could do nothing for me but tell me how much I owed.
Megan Cummins lives in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in A Public Space, Guernica, One Teen Story, The Masters Review, and Ninth Letter. She has an MA from UC Davis and an MFA from Rutgers-Newark. She is the managing editor of A Public Space.