If it hadn't been for a yeast infection, Kelly might have gone another four weeks not knowing.
"I don't get it," she said.
To avoid the gynecologist's eyes, she looked around the room: Cotton balls, q-tips too fat for the ear canal, KY Jelly, tongs, a plastic pull-apart uterus, and a poster of the fetus in all stages of development. She put her hand under her crinkly paper exam shirt and touched her stomach. The doctor moved the hand lower, to the uterus.
"You're pregnant," he said.
His face was so close, Kelly looked to the ceiling. "God sure is swift to punish," she said.
"You've missed two menses."
Kelly stretched her arms. She sat on her hands. "It's the end of the semester," she said.
"They're called trimesters."
The doctor and Kelly stared at each other. His glasses were smudgy.
"I meant school," Kelly said. "Finals." She puffed out a breath. "We learned in health class that stress can interfere with your cycle."
"I hope you've also learned a missed menses often indicates pregnancy." The doctor removed his glasses. "You've been sexually active since you were how old?"
When Kelly had filled out the chart at this same clinic three years ago, she put down next to Age of First Sexual Experience a number that seemed respectable, normal: Fourteen.
Now, she said, "Sixteen."
The doctor assembled a pile of pamphlets. The family planning models were all too winsome-looking to believably be in Kelly's position. One was in a wheelchair.
"You have options, Kelly."
The doctor scratched away at his clipboard. Diplomas hung on the wall, and on the counter was a photo of a woman with two little boys. They were surrounded by purple, pink, and white flowers, the same colors as the family planning literature Kelly held in her hands.
The exam room was silent. You could almost hear three hearts beating. Kelly wondered about pregnant paraplegics. What did they feel inside?
"So, we're ruling out stress?" she said.
"You'll do what's best," the doctor said, tapping her knee with her medical file on the way out.
Kelly waited until she heard the boom of his voice on the other side of the wall. She took the crinkly paper shirt off her chest and used the paper sheet meant to provide modesty, to wipe between her legs. Naked except for her socks, she leaned forward, careful not to step back on the scale. She touched the fetal development poster. A fingernail—that was the size of it. A yellow-pink seahorse (except for the bulbous knuckle-like forehead) floating in a primordial jelly bubble through the darkest depths of the sea. Or a Gummi Bear. Breasts may be tender and swollen at this stage. Kelly backed away from the poster, cupping her breasts. She squeezed them—sure enough.
Back in her dorm room, Kelly sat at her desk calendar with a red Sharpie and crossed off weeks at a time—through May, April. Then she slowed, writing Xs by the day. "Bingo!"
It could have been Bill . . . or the other Bill.
The Bills lived in a high-rise apartment building close to Kelly's dorm. From her window at night, she could see their lights go on: one set on the fourth floor corner apartment and the other on the eight floor, center. When she had crossed the park that separated her from them, in March, cherry blossom petals floated in the moonlight and landed in her black braids like snow.
In the course of twenty-four hours, unable to face her poetry thesis, she crossed that park and had sex with both Bills. First one Bill, maybe in a bedroom, and then the other, maybe in a stairwell, and a sperm had slipped through a condom—maybe there was a condom. And even though she had seen the videos in health class, she believed sperm had pincers, retractable and therefore unknown to science, and that she had felt a sharp interior piercing the night she had slept with the Bill who lived in the corner unit.
Her brain was imploding. She called her best friend. "Meet me in ten."
Jen would accompany Kelly to the clinic and diligently stick around afterwards to make tea, plug in the heating pad, administer drugs. "This is what women do," Kelly said to herself, squirting Ninja Gel into her bearings and giving the wheels of her skateboard a spin. If only the leap from "girl" to "woman" could be so smooth.
At the park, all the adult places to sit were taken, so Kelly side-saddled a purple plastic hippo on a thick rusted spring. Five little girls were twirling in place, breathing loud Whoas until they fell down. They stood and walked forward, arms limp like zombies until they crashed into each other and fell down again into a little pile of pink pants and purple t-shirts.
Jen skated up. "Doom and gloom," she said.
Kelly slapped the hippo.
"Let's hit the library," Jen said. "Work out a few tercets."
"Oh," Kelly said, "I'm through with tercets."
As always, Jen had her boombox. She set it on top of her skateboard and slid in their favorite mixed tape, the one with Dio, Maiden and Sabbath.
"There's no bass," Kelly said.
"I blew it out last night," Jen said. She mounted an orange plastic giraffe with a stunted neck. "You missed a killer party."
Kelly shrugged, humming along with Holy Diver.
"I'm gonna go all out on a new one," Jen said. "A Panasonic. 120 decibels." She scanned the park. "We'll blare the sucker, we'll blow these kids and mommies away."
"I'm pregnant," Kelly said.
"Shit," Jen said. "Who?"
A single white cloud floated in the otherwise empty blue sky above the Bills' building, like the You Are Here dot on a map.
"It's either the Bill who wears the John Lennon glasses or the Bill who always carries a basketball. The first one has all this import vinyl. The other one bought me an autographed anthology."
"Autographed?" Jen turned on the giraffe, "An antho—?"
"I opened the book to the middle to smell it," Kelly said. "He was like 'Whatever you landed on is a sign for our future'."
"What'd you get?"
"Dickinson," Kelly said. "A doubt if it be Us."
The poetry majors, one riding a purple hippo and one a dwarf giraffe, recited their heroine in perfect unison.
The twirling little girls moved in.
"Sing it again!" one of them shouted.
Jen adjusted the volume on her boombox. Dickinson, to the tune of Heaven and Hell, took on a fierce new rhythm.
The girls ran screaming to the monkey bars and flipped themselves upside down as if they'd just heard their first LP played backwards. They knocked heads, their hair swept the ground, their bellies were round, white, and exposed, like little moons.
"The abortion is $300," Kelly said. "I don't have it."
"Ask both dudes for five hundred bucks," Jen said. "They don't know."
As if the plan to abort and extort had sparked the vigilant mommy alarm, children were being rallied, dusted off, and packed into vans. The empty parking spots they left behind made the park seem barer than ever, awful to have to cross. The cherry blossom trees had long since lost their pink petals. Metallica howled, pulling hairpin turns in the chambers of Kelly's heart, but without the bass banging the fuck out of her eardrums, she felt only the ratcheting up, and no avenue for release.
She rocked back and forth on her playground beast. "I'll shake it out of me."
Jen dismounted her giraffe and put both hands on Kelly's hippo. "Stop," she said. "Tête-a-tête."
The girls lay in the grass with their heads on Kelly's skateboard, the boombox on Jen's behind them, eyes to the sky, hands and feet tapping. Those men could hold a note so high and so true without breaking. If Kelly could have one of them, she would make him shatter every five-star hotel room champagne goblet with his voice, and then take her clothes off. But her feet stopped. Her fingers, resting on her belly, stopped too. She could not even hum. She remembered the day she and her sisters had run down to the empty beach in the middle of a storm to have a screaming contest, and Kelly couldn't do it. She could not scream. In fact, she hadn't been able to scream since the night, a full decade before the storm at the beach, when she and her sisters awoke to their house on fire. Her mother and sisters had stood moaning and wailing, but Kelly, in her Snoopy underwear, wrapped in a fireman's blanket, opened her ears to the sirens, watching the water that did not reach the flames run backwards in thin trickles on the jet-black asphalt between her legs. She was a freak show then, so of course now she worshipped men who ate bats' heads.
"I'm going in," Kelly said, sitting up.
With the Bills' money, she'd get the abortion, then treat herself and Jen to top-of-the-line wheels and axles, plus a whole case of blank tapes for the new Panasonic.
Jen reached one arm up and backwards, turning down the music. She readjusted Kelly's skateboard behind her head.
"ATM. Cash," she said. "Two Bills. Two trips."
At the intercom, Kelly paused.
Bill and Bill had gone to the same high school. They had played basketball together then and they still did now. One Bill's dad made his fortune in Pacific Northwest forests—paper, paper towels, paper plates, toilet paper. The other Bill's father made his money selling the first Bill's father's office paper, plus staplers and fax machines.
Kelly buzzed Bill on the fourth floor first.
"Come on up!"
This Bill was sitting on his couch thumbing through a summer course catalog.
"The university's making us take a black studies class to graduate. Do they have to take white studies?"
"Yes," Kelly said.
"I'm going to take Film Noir then."
"Good idea," Kelly said. "You'll get to watch Shaft."
This Bill grabbed his basketball and dribbled it next to the coffee table, which shook the remains of a 40-ouncer. He took a swig.
"Haven't seen you for awhile," he said. "You been writing about apples and chestnuts?"
"I don't write nature poems."
"Fire is nature."
"You remember that one?"
"Well, it was about arson."
"Yeah, well?" Bill patted the sofa. "It made me want to be smarter."
Kelly sat down.
"Two beers coming right up, babe."
This Bill stood, spinning the basketball on one finger. He tossed it behind his back and pivoted on one foot to catch it, just before it dropped, to swoop between his ankles. He spun it faster, kept it spinning while grabbing two beers from the fridge, kicked the door shut. He ducked his neck, scooping the ball up onto his forehead, and balanced it there while opening both beers with a key. Still, Kelly thought, he was about as far from a Harlem Globetrotter as you could get.
The alcohol was cold down her throat. "I came here to ask a favor," she said.
"Ah!" He threw the ball into a magazine basket then practically tripped running across his living room. "I bought a copy." He held out the same anthology he'd given Kelly as a gift. "Poetry's awesome."
Kelly put the bottle to her lips and opened her throat until her belly was full and the bottle was empty. Bill watched her wipe her mouth with the hem of her dress.
"I've got something to ask you," Kelly said.
"Poetry is helping me understand you better," Bill said, opening the anthology to the middle. He read and nodded his head, like students do in a classroom as a way of saying, "Right on."
Kelly hiccupped. There was a fluttering in her stomach. "Oh, no," she said. The flutter was enough to scare her hiccups away.
"Hear me out," Bill said. "Stay this summer. Wait for me to graduate. I only have Film Noir and Volcanoes and the Sea, and I'll ace them."
"Why not intro to poetry?" Kelly asked.
Bill smiled. "I got you for that."
"No," Kelly said. "We can't do that together."
"Take off that butt-ugly dress," Bill said.
"I need your help, Bill."
He jumped closer, reached under the dress and said, "The Arsonist's Breasts!"
"Breasts?" Kelly said. It was a poet's word.
Kelly walked back across the park to the dorms. Each cloud looked as if it were backlit by its own silver moon; cut and pasted onto the chilling-blue morning sky.
She heard Sabbath all the way from the elevator, pushed open Jen's door. There on the windowsill was the brand new Panasonic, louder than anything.
"You're up early," Jen shouted. The music drowned out even skateboard scraping tile.
"I couldn't do it," Kelly said.
Jen didn't turn the music down. She did a series of sidewinders in the middle of the room, while Kelly slumped into a chair.
On Jen's desk was a stack of at least fifty photocopies of the same Neruda poem and a bottle of Wite-Out. On the floor, swept into the corner but not picked up, a broken vase and its contents—a little water, wilting daisies.
Jen was obviously concentrating, so Kelly read Neruda, what she could of him anyway. Jen had Wited out all kinds of lines. One version read:
kicking the sides,
round and eyeless,
the smell of someone nameless
Jen finally stopped skating and scuffing up the floor. She turned the music down.
"They're called "erasure" poems," she said. "It doesn't seem legal, but I do it."
"Inner vaults?" Kelly said.
"Did you call a clinic?"
"I didn't get the money. I had sex."
Jen leaned against the wall, staring at the opposite wall, not saying a word. Kelly landed the desk chair on all fours, thinking Jen was close enough, and mad enough, to pull the chair right out from under her. Let her fall on her head. She deserved it.
"With the Bills?" Jen said.
"Duh, who else?" Kelly said. She rocked backwards in the chair again.
Jen, usually spinning or flying through the air or riding a rail crouched like a tiger, now seemed to have the same muscle paralysis Kelly had had the day prior, lying in the park, remembering her silence in the face of that fire.
"Being pregnant makes me horny," Kelly said.
"Being horny," Jen said, "is what made you pregnant. You can't win."
"One Bill," Kelly said, "holds the back of my head like a basketball when we kiss. The other Bill does that thing guys did in high school, seeing how many fingers they can get inside you."
"They'll never get it," Jen said.
"No, less is more."
"But sometimes more is more, right?" Kelly landed her chair again on all fours. "I suck out their sounds. Know what I mean?"
"A blow job?"
"It's more than just me and Bill fucking."
"I don't know. He's inside me and I feel it, like Maiden, at my epiglottis."
"So this a blow job."
"No. He's inside. Inside me!"
"Wow," Jen said. "Honestly. There's a poem in that shit."
"You said that kind of mean."
Jen picked up the bottle of Wite-Out she'd been using on Neruda and threw it at Kelly, hard.
Kelly caught it. "Is this supposed to solve my problem?"
"You dumbass," Jen said. "Use it to paint your fingernails for all I care."
The park that would never go away. Kelly would end up twenty years later, teaching at her alma mater. There would always be children in the park, though now they'd be linked to one another on a leash. No more mothers, just day care workers and the kids. The hippo and giraffe were gone. Signs at the perimeter read "No Skateboarding."
"What do you want?" the second Bill had said to her, later that same night, after the first Bill had sabotaged her $500 mission with the word "breasts."
Within ten minutes, the second Bill was biting her nipples, tongue-swirling her belly, ramming his thigh into her crotch while A Whole Lotta Love seized her throat. Her body writhed and she allowed this Bill to take it as a sign of pleasure. He shoved his dick deep into her, without checking to see if she was wet and ready. Actually, she was frothy—from the other Bill and from the suppository meant to kill the yeast infection—but no matter.
"I GOT YOU! I GOT YOU!" he yelled, pinning Kelly spread eagle.
"Louder!" she'd said. "LOUDER!" she'd yelled.
Finally, she had yelled.
Problem was, every time she tried to wiggle away to reach for the volume dial and ask for the money she knew this Bill had—probably the two Bills' worth right in the back pocket of his jeans, now in a heap on the floor—this Bill seemed to think she was playing a game of "escapee" and he'd yell, "NO YOU DON'T!" bearing down on her wrists and her shins harder.
He left bruises up and down her pale body. They would go away. But the ear that had been closest to the speaker would ring from time to time for the rest of her life.
It was already ringing the morning of the mercury-colored kindergarten-cut clouds, as she walked back to the dormitory, and Jen, and Sabbath. At 8:00 a.m., she remembers, it was already hot. It would be the first brutally hot day of that brutally long summer.
Jen had had visions for them that summer: take back the park, Skate Don't Hate. She had dubbed it their "120 Decibel Summer."
Instead, broke, dumbass Kelly, was sitting in Jen's roommate's chair, a week away from graduating from college, trying to wish a creature the size of a fingernail out of existence. But all she could do was have sex, and have sex. To this day, she thinks of the permanence of red Sharpie and of what women, long before they realize the true value of one another, do in the name of friendship.
Kelly finally got out of that chair and began picking up the shards of vase from Jen's floor. She opened the drawer where Jen always kept rags to clean her skateboard, and used them to soak up the water. She scooped the daisies into her hands and dropped them into the trashcan.
A petal stuck to her palm. It curled there.
Neither girl had spoken for the entire Side Two of Paranoid.
"I'll return the boombox," Jen said. "We'll use the cash."
Kelly rolled the daisy petal into a tight little ball between her finger and thumb. It turned totally brown. It felt rubbery, and then dead.