GHOST | Alizée Chesnoy’s beautiful short story is about belonging to your body, and how it remembers when you try to forget (tw: abortion)
by Alizée Chesnoy
The mirror is fogged up still; all warm shower steam and careless flecks of water. I look at the diluted edges of my reflection; the blurriness of my naked body, the wide expanses of skin and colour.
I am supposed to know the crooked elbows, the soft meat of my arms, the twist of my mouth. I should know the constellation of interlaced freckles and pimples blindfolded and drunk, probably. If I look hard enough I might recognise myself.
I have lived in this body for twenty-two years: it was a home – until a £12 pee stick strewn across the sink informs me my body has been keeping secrets from myself.
It is another half an hour before I reach for my phone with trembling hands, splatter it with humidity, and call Lou.
Lou is terrible at making tea, but she makes some anyway, and for a moment I cling to the cup like it is the only real thing in the room. What am I going to do? I ask, and I hate how small my voice sounds. There is a twitch in Lou’s face and her jaw sets into something determined. We are going to do what we always do, she says fiercely. We’re going to ask Google.
Isaac is quiet. His cigarette is all unsmoked ash, the end of it burning the shaking tips of his fingers, and he blinks slow, and he looks like a kid. We both do, probably, and I want to laugh, it’s so stupid.
He looks at me like he is trying to translate the words into realness, like he is trying to read my body under the oversized sweater that used to be my dad’s. Stop looking, I want to scream. There is nothing to see.
He shakes himself; a wet puppy gesture that is so familiar it makes my gut twist. Alright, he says, alright. Have you thought about what you want to do?
Of course I’m coming to the appointment with you, he interrupts, and something in his voice is both heated and hurt before he looks away. I mean. If you want me to.
I hide my face into his shoulder and nod. He holds me so tight I feel my bones crack, the wild flutter of his heartbeat, and for a moment we are both still.
The doctor has a kind face and midnight eyes. She says There is a 0.6% chance of getting pregnant whilst on an IUD, and when she adds Simply put, sometimes shit happens I decide I like her.
The first pill will interrupt the pregnancy, she explains. You’ll have to come back in a couple of days for a second pill to expulse the embryo, which you can take at home, provided you’re not alone. Her gaze drifts to Isaac and Lou, and there was never any question, really, and through the awkwardness and the fear something warm unfurls in my chest.
That’s it? I can’t help but ask her. Two pills and it’s over? She frowns at that, looks at me carefully. Not really, she replies. I’ll see you again in two weeks for an additional consultation to make sure everything went well. In the meantime, I’m going to give you a number you can call if you have questions or if things get to be a bit too much, alright?
And so I take the pills, and we wait it out; I spend the last few days of class before spring break holed up in the nest of my bed, sandwiched between Lou and Isaac and watching reruns of America’s Next Top Model and it feels like a bit of a holiday, sort of.
When the blood comes it is so anticlimactic it is almost a relief. If I half-close my eyes it could be my period; I know this pain, how it aches by tides. How strange that my body could work itself back into normalcy and never even stop feeling normal in the first place.
I take the prescribed painkillers and Lou makes her shit tea and Isaac prepares a hot water bottle and asks if we want to order Domino’s.
“It’s as if my body remembers things my mind never fully understood.”
It is as if nothing ever happened until it isn’t and I find myself crying into my cereal bowl three weeks later. It comes in waves, in moments I least expect it – half-way through snog, in the middle of a modern literature class, when I’m brushing my teeth.
My throat closes up and I forget how to breathe. It’s as if my body remembers things my mind never fully understood.
Sometimes, when Mum calls, it takes all I have to keep myself from asking her Is this something you went through, too?
It is summer and the sky has turned into jean-blue and velvet when I blurt out to Lou I think about her – him. It. I mean, I think about it sometimes.
We’re at a mate’s house party and we’ve probably had one too many half-tepid beers already, and it is the first time I say it out loud. I shift on the front steps, pull at my skirt and pick at my nails, feel the weight of her looking at me. I take another swig and this beer is terrible, really.
What do you think about? She ends up asking, and I shrug. I don’t really know, I say, and it’s true. I swallow around the lump in my throat. It feels like living with a ghost.
She lays her head on my shoulder and we sit there for a little while longer, letting the last dregs of warmth fade into the darkness.
I pull the card out of the breast pocket of my jean jacket; it is crumpled and torn at the edges and faded, but the number the doctor wrote on it is still there.
The first time Isaac and I have sex again it feels like the first time, full stop: awkward and fumbling and half-terrified. I know it is actually the opposite of what you’re supposed to do, Isaac says butting his forehead with mine, but I feel like we should be using every single existing contraception method at the same time just to be sure.
We laugh into each other’s skin, and just like that everything is easy and warm again.
Fall creeps up, sharp air and turning leaves and a feeling of okayness that catches me unexpected. I surprise myself by not thinking about it for days. Other times it is all I can think about, still, the feeling like a fading bruise.
I never thanked you properly, I tell Lou one afternoon. I’m sitting at the bottom of her bed, where the light hits the carpet liquid and golden. I watch her curl her hair one strand at a time. For last spring, I mean.
She turns towards me then, short hair half-coiled around her wand, and it takes her a moment before realising she’s going to burn herself if she isn’t careful. She put the wand down and smiles a shit-eating grin, gives me an easy shove with her foot. Anytime, she says. Anytime.
You sound good, my dad says on the phone one night. Better than you have in a while, and I pause. I haven’t told him, or Mum, but sometimes it’s like they know anyway.
I think about holding Lou’s hand and stealing a slice of Isaac’s buffalo chicken pizza. I remember stepping out of the shower and wondering if anything was going to be alright again, the doctor’s steady smile. I spare a thought for the ghost that lives quietly underneath my skin, familiar like freckles and crooked elbows.
Alizée is a poet in Paris. When she isn’t writing, you’ll probably find her photographing street art, practicing sarcasm, and drinking unhealthy amounts of tea.
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