A Spark of Life
I turn a tomato over in my hand; it's a bit too soft. I put it back down and take another. I add a bunch of bananas, still a little green, to my cart. I like them more yellow, but Dan prefers them this way. I lift a cantaloupe to my nose and inhale, wincing as pain stabs my side. The cantaloupe is ripe.
My bruises are, too.
Every Tuesday at 10, I go to the supercenter near our house. I get groceries and anything else on the list. I used to go to separate stores whenever I felt like it, but Dan said I would love the routine and convenience of one stop. He was right.
I look forward to this outing all week.
Some days, I even spend a little extra time browsing the clothing department. Not too long—I don't want Dan to worry when he checks FindMyFriends and sees I'm not home yet. But just long enough to slide some of the cheap fabric between my fingers and imagine what it would feel like against my back.
I don't buy clothing anymore. It got too embarrassing to return items that Dan didn't like.
Now he comes home with dresses I only wear with him, and boxy things I wear out. It's about attention – neither of us wants other men to ogle me.
Today I have on an extra-large sweater to hide my breasts. They feel achy. I think I've put on weight?
There's Julia, wearing a maroon apron behind the sample station like usual. This week she's showcasing a new brand of pickle. I don't like pickles. But a conversation would be nice. I pop a sample in my mouth, placing the toothpick gently in the small jar on the table.
"How are you today, Alex?" My mouth is dry. Have I talked to anyone other than Dan since Julia last week? I can't remember.
"Good, thanks." There's my voice. It sounds a little shaky, but I don't think Julia notices. I exhale slowly and smile. Those pickles are pretty good. Julia smiles and turns to another customer to talk about the artisan canning process. I sneak another sample while her back is turned. I don't want her to think I'm a mooch. I put the toothpick in my pocket.
I'm in the pharmacy section getting Dan's vitamins, the dill flavor still on my tongue. I have a sudden urge to pee. It sparks something.
I couldn't be, could I?
Last time Dan found the test in our bathroom trash can. He kicked me particularly hard that night. My palms sweat at the memory. He was right, I should have told him immediately. But I had wanted to tell him in a special way, like I've seen on TV. Maybe a surprise in a cake, or a riddle.
After our fight, I bled for two weeks. I didn't go to the doctor, Dan said nature would take care of it. He brought me an expensive silk robe to apologize. I can't stand the sight of it, blood-red and mocking me.
I still think about that baby every day.
I pace the family planning aisle, chewing my fingernail. I have to know.
I push my cart to the restroom, avoiding eye contact with Nate, the security guard. I don't want him to get the wrong idea. I pause, noting the sign to leave unpaid items outside the door.
"You're all right," he says. "I'll watch your cart." I nod. I don't smile. I'm not a whore.
But I am a thief now, which is just as bad.
I pull the box out from the waistband of my pants. I pee on the stick for exactly 10 seconds, just as the directions say. I put the cap back on and rest it on top of the toilet paper dispenser. I set a timer on my phone for 3 minutes.
The corner of a ten dollar bill pokes out of my right shoe, escaped from under the sole. I need to be more careful with my squirreling. I have $1000 stashed in only places I know. $20 tucked in the lining of an old coat, a hundred dollar bill sewed into my inseam. All the bills just waiting like foggy dreams of another life, hidden under reality.
Got everything, be home soon. [heart emoji] I text Dan.
He responds immediately. I miss you already. [eggplant + peach emoji]
I can't help but giggle a little. I love when he's silly. [kiss emoji]
My phone vibrates. Time's up.
My hand shakes as I reach for the test. Two pink lines stare back at me from the square plastic window.
Holy shit. A sob erupts from my throat like a wave crashing against a rock. I feel broken and healed all at once.
"Are you ok?" Nate yells as I run through the glass doors into the parking lot.
Standing at my car, my chest is heaving and I think I'm going to throw up. My phone pulses in my palm — incoming call. Dan's face appears on the screen and I jump. My phone cracks against the pavement, splinters of glass like a spider web across the screen. I don't pick it up. Instead I drop my keys, too.
I pull the emergency $40 out of my wallet that Dan gave me this morning. My wallet lands next to my phone and keys with a thud.
My reflection in the car window looks haunted. I turn my back from the sight and see a bus stop a block away.
I don't know what I'm doing. Dan will kill me if I don't come home.
I take a shallow breath, my ribs aching, and count. $40 emergency. $100 inseam. $10 right shoe. $15 left shoe. Not everything, but enough.
My hand trembles against my stomach. My mouth waters from the bile in my throat. My feet are moving on their own, appendages possessed.
I run toward the light.
is a NYC-based freelance writer, content strategist, and adjunct instructor. Her non-fiction writing has been published by Huffington Post, NBCNews, Streetlight Magazine
. She is new to fiction writing.