Page 5 of 13When Claudia returned to the waiting room, her mother sprang up immediately. She cupped her hands around her shoulders. "How was it?" she said. And then: "How are you?"
Claudia could have told her about the things other women had said while they were waiting for their procedures—how their comments had seemed odd, or funny, and sometimes horrifying—but this would have turned the whole thing into an anecdote. She could have said something simple and true, like: it hurt, but this wasn't interesting. Her mother wasn't a woman who cared much about "interesting," during that conversation or any other, but Claudia still couldn't shake the impulse to attempt it.
They drove home. Claudia had imagined the abortion as an all-day affair but it barely filled the morning. There was still the rest of the day left. Her mother asked if she was hungry. She wasn't. She wanted another round of painkillers. Her mother said she couldn't have them until she ate. She said she would eat. What did she want? Maybe eggs. For some reason she was craving carrot cake but this seemed like the wrong food for the afternoon—luscious and sour-creamed, an extravagance. Her mother made her toast and peanut butter. "Good for a queasy stomach," she said, red-eyed and brittle-voiced. She said she'd stayed up all night, the night before, crying and praying. Claudia suspected she'd cried again in the waiting room. Claudia, though drunk, had slept surprisingly well.
She ate one piece of toast. Her mother ate the other, and asked if she wanted to take a nap. She didn't. Or, more precisely—she would have been relieved to be asleep but didn't feel tired enough to get there. Did she want to talk? How was she feeling? Claudia searched herself. Her soul wasn't troubled. Didn't she owe the little fetus something?
She told her mother about this hole where grief should have been. Was it terrible?
"It's not terrible," Her mother said. "But I suspect you'll end up feeling somewhere else eventually."
Claudia accused her—wordlessly, by glance—of contorting her ability to feel by demanding that she feel a certain way, taking away her right to feel that way without guidance or prodding.
Her mother had an idea. The two of them needed a couple of whiskeys. The whole idea made Claudia feel nauseated, imagining the whiskey flowing through her veins to where the cut had been made—invisibly, silently—and numbing the sutures. But Claudia said yes anyway. It would be a gesture: I'm here with you. You can reach me. It would mark the occasion as quietly tragic, as her mother needed it to be. Claudia could cut the right silhouette.
They drank their whiskeys on the patio. The liquor was golden and held the light, draping the ice cubes in its thick syrup—cold monks in brown robes. The first taste prickled her tongue and lit her all the way down. The tumbler went fast but Claudia refused a second. She knew what getting drunk with her mother would mean: bringing out her feelings like animals urged to recklessness. She waited until her mother left and then she got drunk on wine, alone.
When she woke up the next day, she found her own blood on the sheets, dried stains and gobs of it. She'd passed out before she'd thought to change the pads in her underwear. She hated pads and never wore them, usually, but now she wasn't allowed to wear tampons. She felt the wine glutted in her throat like whatever clogged the shower drain when it got nasty, tangled hair and sludge of skin flakes.
She couldn't remember much from the night before, just a heavy feeling behind her eyes, something she'd come to imagine as a dark tapestry woven with booze and Vicodin. She walked to the bathroom and pissed for about an hour. Her gut hurt like hell, and her head was pounding like the previous night was knocking on the door of her skull. She lay back down and tried to figure out how to change the sheets without getting out of bed, and couldn't think of a way to do this, and then she thought: no more. I can't do this anymore.