Miriam wrinkled her forehead at Jason and closed her eyes, tilting her own head to the right and to the left, attempting to find the spices. It was a gesture she would make many more times that night, wondering what Jason was thinking, wondering where the confident man behind the piano was in the boy at the table.
A few weeks later, Jason graduated. Miriam, with one year left, went to as many of Jason’s small shows as she could, becoming familiar with the warren of cafes that covered the cities. Without ever really talking about it, they were “together”-a loose, fluid construct that distance aided by creating space. Space for Jason from Miriam and space for Miriam from the insular world of college. Having a boyfriend distanced her like nothing else had from her freshman year nickname, and going into the city on weekends made her feel like she was already moving on from the world where that name had had any power at all.
After Miriam’s own graduation, she moved into Jason’s apartment and they had sex twice a week. Miriam was proud of this healthy-seeming statistic, although the regularity of it worried her sometimes. Would it be better, one week, not to have sex at all, just for the thrill of recovering their passion the next? But Jason had his habits, his days in front of the piano touching nothing but ivory for hours. To come back home to bed with her, what would her skin feel like after so much slick surface? The noises she made could hardly be as beautiful as the ones his fingers usually elicited. So it was good that on the days he took off from extensive practice, for the sake of distance as he said so many times, he came home for dinner and brought her closer.
Maybe if she had thought about it more, the distance would have bothered her. But when she did sit in the apartment eating dinner alone, thinking, the patterns and textures of their live together were almost as comforting as paint colors or the art canon. So when Miriam had missed her period, she didn’t say anything. She went on having sex twice a week. She organized a publicity event for a collection of pots, fine examples of Ming dynasty porcelain, tributes to a masterful touch. After a few weeks, when routine didn’t bring a return to routine, Miriam bought a pregnancy test and a six pack of paper towels. They had been meaning to buy paper towels for days. And while Miriam sat, eating her dinner of salad and soy patty, the plastic strip already in the trash can, she wondered if the small piece of goop attached to the inside of her uterus was enjoying it with her. If it would enjoy the carrots or beets or the classical music playing in the background on NPR. It was late and Jason was still at some café, playing the last leg of a Saturday night show. She sat on their couch the rest of the night, eventually falling asleep.
In the morning, they went to their ritual Sunday breakfast at a café down the street. After picking at her eggs for a while-conversation a labored, lurching chore-she blurted it out. “We’re pregnant,” she said, sitting up straighter as she had on the piano bench, willing defiance into her pose, daring him to say something.
“What are you going to do?” he finally asked. his curiosity seeming so genuine she wanted to slap her.
“What am I going to do! What are we going to do, Jason.”
“Right. I meant what are we going to do.”
“I have no fucking idea, Jason.” The way she kept saying his name at the end of her sentences seemed to make him intensely uncomfortable. Good, she thought, as she watched thoughts run through his head, absorbing her news. His coffee mug had a crack down the outside and he reached out to touch it, drawing his eyebrows together into a crease over his hooked nose. She couldn’t imagine what he was thinking, making it even more absurd to think about “them” being pregnant. As if together they would start to vomit in the morning, swell like ticks and crave strange combinations-tuna salad and ice cream, steak and yogurt-then, finally, splash, crown, release. A mess of placebo covered chaos would come screaming forward into life.
“I’ve always supported a woman’s right to choose,” he finally mumbled.
“Which means what? That I have to choose and you get to sit there and watch?”
Jason didn’t respond. He started to play the C scale on the table cloth and refused to make eye contact. It seemed to Miriam like his way of saying, exactly. Of saying, you’ve always taken the lead. So take the lead. I’ll play the piano very well.
“I have chosen. I’m going to get an abortion.” She ground the words out. Then she added, “And I’m not going to marry you, so don’t get some stupid chivalric idea and bother asking.” Miriam picked her purse up and pushed her chair back so hard that it fell over. The clatter
caused the café to get quiet for a moment and Miriam was conscious of the tears in her eyes welling into tears down her cheeks. The look on Jason’s face was like a deer in the headlights. A fisherman blinded by the beam from the lighthouse. “And don’t tell anyone, either,” she hissed, then turned on her heel and walked quickly out the door, leaving Jason to pick up the chair.
When Miriam got back the apartment that night, after hours of doing nothing except stare at the spoon in the sculpture garden, she found that Jason wasn’t home yet. She sat on the couch and stared at the blank television screen, her hand on her stomach. The stranger inside Miriam startled her again and again. It was almost as if she kept forgetting she was pregnant. Her mind darted to what she could make for dinner, what should she eat and what did she want to eat, had it gotten colder outside today, or was she just imagining fall coming? And where was Jason? His name was like movement just beyond her peripheral vision, it made her turn her head as if she was looking for something. As if the piece of muck he had helped to create, the bundle of change inside her, would come to the door like an uninvited guess.
Staring at their closed door, she thought perhaps her nervous ticks were just the noises she kept hearing or imagining, waiting for Jason to come home.
Tiny piece of muck. That was all it really was. And maybe the stupid spoon was really just a stupid spoon. Maybe that was the mystery. Maybe the muck was just muck. She would get an abortion, even though her mother hadn’t. In the hours she had spent on the couch the night before, Miriam had kept returning to her mother’s face. The profoundly tired expression she got when she was disappointed in Miriam or worried about something that was probably Miriam’s fault; she wanted too many lessons, too many clothes, and too many rides in their gas guzzling mini-van. What would she say when Miriam told her the news? In her mind, Miriam had rehearsed her expression when she defiantly announced her pregnancy before the duel audience of her mother and Jason. She had told them she would of course take responsibility for it, the strange, soon to be sentient consequence of sex on only birth control. If Jason felt vaguely resentful, Miriam felt furious. She, lucky number one out of one hundred, stuck with this thing, this it. It. Yet gender was already encoded in its genes, an entire personality wound up tight like a golf ball. A golf ball that would soon be a volleyball. She shuddered in revulsion as she thought about the uncontrollable changes, the stretch marks on her thighs.
But she wouldn’t need to tell her mother, now that she had decided to just get rid of it. As if it could really be gotten rid of. Unwilling to begin that circle of thought again, Miriam forced herself to get up off the couch and go into the kitchen to look for something to eat. Her will to cook, to chop vegetables or sauté the fish she had bought, was gone.
She opened the fridge and pulled out a vanilla yogurt, the only thing that didn’t need preparation. When she opened the cupboard to get some granola out to mix into it, she saw Jason’s bag of Ruffles. All the food in the apartment was shared, at least technically, but Miriam and Jason still rarely touched one another’s purchases. On an impulse that felt like the phrase fuck you, she picked up the bag of chips instead of the granola and took it and her yogurt back to the couch.