“Hills Like White Bedsheets” by C.M. Lindley

Issue 18 / Summer 2019 / Abortion Ban Protest Special Issue

after Ernest Hemingway

My boyfriend and I had been staying with my grandmother in Italy for about a week when she died. I didn’t know her well, but it was still sad, in the way that anyone you know dying is sad or the way the blanket sentiment of death itself is sad. It affected me but not astronomically. Mostly I was ready to move on to our next destination, Barcelona, and after that, back home for the procedure. It was a circle of life moment, having to cut our trip short because of a missed period and positive test, only to find my grandmother blueish on her white bedsheets the next morning, like a stillborn.

When we arrived at the train station, I could tell my boyfriend wanted to sit down and order a café beer. He was going off on how hot it was. Really, he was incessant. “It’s too warm today,” he said. “I’m craving something cool.” “My throat feels dry, yours?” I found his obviousness mildly irritating, but I let him continue because it was a bit fun, watching him try to dictate whether or not we should begin drinking at nine am. He’s a classic codependent, can’t do anything alone.

“Do you want to grab a beer?” I asked him.

“A beer would be perfect,” he said. When we sat down, he raised his eyebrows and tilted his chin down to stifle a burp that still came out like a whisper. Neither of us laughed like we usually would have, and this made me tense, a feeling I had already expected to endure for the rest of our trip. Any small thing was going to set me off, that much was clear.

 

*

 

Though I had lived in America for all twenty-nine of my years, I was mistaken as Italian by most Italians. In only three weeks my easily tanned skin had turned tawny and somehow, my dark hair, darker. This meant my encounters often endured an awkward “oh no, I’m not. English, sorry!” initial back-and-forth. The café waiter was no different. I tried my best at pleasantry, but I was running on empty. My hands were the only communication devices available. I motioned with them and pointed to a picture of beer on the menu, trying to say: bring me two of the biggest beers you have.

The beers came while my boyfriend and I were partaking in a riveting non-conversation. He was scrolling through his phone, laughing. Checking emails. I was trying to people watch, but I kept locking eyes with old men who looked like they could be priests, and it was making me feel uncomfortable and masochistic, and uncomfortably masochistic. I imagined they could see what was developing inside me and I wondered, if they knew what I was about to do with it, would they find me vile? My grandmother certainly would have. God rest her Catholic soul. I looked over my boyfriend’s shoulder, toward the scenery beyond us. He noticed and mistook it as a sign to chime in.

“The weather,” he said. “It’s seriously perfect, isn’t it?”

“Guess so.” His hand moved across the table and tried to touch mine. I shifted away, just to be cruel, because I knew he loved me enough to let me. The feeling was mutual. I loved him so much I wanted to eat him. I loved him so much I wanted to punch him in the face. I loved him so much it packed me skin-to-skin with fear.

I checked Twitter on my phone to distract myself but the Wi-Fi was terrible. I braided and unbraided my hair twice. I considered falling asleep on the table. I considered ingesting the whole shaker of salt, just to see what would happen.

“You sure you want to keep going?” He said.

“A week won’t make a difference,” I replied. “There will still be something inside of me to excavate by then. Promise.”

 

*

 

He didn’t know about my first one. I wasn’t purposefully hiding anything, it just never seemed relevant. Back then, I thought it akin to getting one’s tonsils taken out. No biggie. The whole thing didn’t change my life that much, not in the way a baby would have. It did teach me to be smarter about things, but evidently, that didn’t matter. While my fickle body had an obvious agenda to turn against me, some of my friends used the pull out “method” and never had so much as a scare. I felt I had been hit by lightning twice. I felt unlucky, even though I knew some women would spit on me for saying that. I had gotten pregnant twice without trying. To me that was bullshit; to others it was a blessing in doubles.

“Those mountains are really white,” I said.

“Those are hills,” he said, “I think.”

“Mountains are hills,” I replied with sharpness. “It’s all about perspective.”

“What?” he said. “It’s loud in here.”

The noise of the station happened to be a relief. It gave me license to act how I wanted without embarrassment. Shamefully, I cared more about strangers finding me rude than my boyfriend. I wanted to at least appear happy, a beaming American couple on vacation. Whenever I felt particularly unhinged or screwed over, the envy of others was a nice pick-me-up. It brought me back down to earth.

Because I was getting a do-over, I thought, maybe this time I would opt for the pill. Though I have heard you have to wear a diaper while the fetus essentially leaks out of your body. At seventeen, the less I knew, the better. Now, it would be interesting to see what really happens in there. To have a front row view of the aftermath, the encore.

I’m not afraid of blood. I remember the doctors telling me I’d bleed heavily for up to three weeks afterward. They said I might even pass blood clots the size of citrus fruits (a grapefruit or lime, it wasn’t clear but I hoped for the latter). The clots ended up somewhere in between. My cool white bedsheets looked as if they had been battered, their center bruised in red and pink and brown. Those stains never came out. Even now, when I go back to my childhood home, I look under the comforter just to see them again. Confirm I didn’t make the whole thing up.

 

*

 

The longer I sat in that loud café, the more I was hit with agitation. I was bored and overstimulated, full of adrenaline and nausea. Thinking whatever I could to not think of the fluorescent lights and the paperwork and the judgment. Willing my mind to veer off into pasta, beaches, blue waters. The postcard version I had expected for this trip—a consolidation prize I offered my boyfriend after he found out I was cheating on him with an old college acquaintance. It was a lot to hold at once. Many of its parts were good, but I was having a hard time differentiating.

I noticed a darker colored beer on the table to the left of us. It looked stronger than this one. I flagged the waiter down and pointed to it, “Those?” He nodded. I threw up two fingers.

“Do you want one?” I asked my boyfriend. He nodded, sure.

I threw up three fingers.

My boyfriend tried to talk about plans for next week but I could only make out every other word. It was like we had bad reception. I tried the new beer. It was awful. It tasted medicinal and had a coppery finish, which wasn’t helpful at all. It reminded me of antibiotics. I knew I would have to take some, which meant I’d also have to take probiotics and prebiotics. Just more things to add to my list.

Time was being fickle. I drank, he drank. “Let’s get another one,” I said. He went along. He continued to be unrelenting in his quest to discuss common things like the temperature of his beer. Clearly, he wanted to talk about anything but the thing. I was on the same page, I told myself. I couldn’t think.

We boarded the train and watched the landscape roll by in a blur. I fell asleep for a bit. I ate a bag of potato chips, sea salt and vinegar. I went to the bathroom and texted him. Everything was happening too fast.

Me: I’ve had one before, when I was in high school. I never told you that, but I think you should know that I’ve done it before so I know how it goes and you don’t need to be worried about that part of it. I guess I just don’t want you or anyone else worrying about me because it feels like pity and you know I don’t like that, so if it’s not already clear, don’t tell anyone about it, alright?

I paused. When it happened at seventeen, I had found out on my birthday. I had only slept with one guy, twice. To me, what mattered more than anything, was finding a person to love me blindly. So determined was I to achieve that success, I would have picked just about any idiot who was willing to disrespect me by way of not using a condom and lying about it. Not that I did it on purpose, just, I was bad at understanding consequences. I am still bad at understanding consequences.

I started again.

Me: I’m doing fine, I feel very well, in fact.

Me: That being said, I don’t want you to think I’m happy about this or that I might not become depressed afterward, or oddly serene or something else

I looked around the bathroom for a tissue. I was sweating. It was the most I had said to him in weeks and it wasn’t even coming out of my mouth, more like out of my body, my soul, more like an exorcism.

Me: You don’t need to come either, in fact, I don’t think I want you there, not to be mean, but I want to bring Amy or my mom because they both helped me last time, they waited at the hospital with frozen yogurt that had completely melted by the time I was done because they did not understand the time frame, neither did I, I was so loopy I remember drinking it with a straw

I added a haha to soften things.

I waited for the three dots to pop up. I waited for a knock. Nothing.

I typed again. I was convincing myself none of my words mattered. Surely, he would leave me after this trip. Surely he was only sticking around to help the sad pregnant girl with the dead grandmother make her final wish.

Me: Fuck, I wish you would say something real to me, I wish you would stop talking about the weather

The landscape outside the window was hardly decipherable. I wanted to tell the conductor to slow down.

Me: I wish you would touch me

I waited.

Me: Text me back! You’re being a dick!

Me: Haha jk

Me: I’m the dick.

The speed of the train and the drinks had me emboldened.

Me: We’re not in the most stable of places, and that’s my fault, I know, trust me I know, but maybe if we make it through this trip together, I need to know you would support the decision, if I did decide to keep it. Obviously, I’m not going to, but it would be nice to know that if I did, you would be not just ok with it, but

I considered the phrasing here.

Me: Happy?

Me: I take that back, that’s stupid, we both have a right to feel however we want to feel about the situation

Me: But are you happy either way?

Me: Or are you just doing whatever I want to do because you were raised like that?

Me: Just curious haha

Me: Would the following change things?

Me: I haven’t been completely honest about timelines

Me: It’s possible what’s inside of me right now isn’t there because of us, it’s possible this one is on me and Jason

I thought I was going to pass out but I left the bathroom and went back to our seat. There was a long line of people when I exited, each shaking their head without subtly. When I got back to my boyfriend he was resting on his dirty backpack. An enviable amount of peace all over his face. I realized then, I don’t know why it took an extra few minutes, but I realized then what I had just sent. Those last words. This one is on me and Jason. I didn’t know how true they were—or how much they would have mattered to either of us at that point. It wasn’t going to change the final outcome.

I woke him. His smile was surreal. We were five stops away.

“You look sick. Are you feeling ok? Is it your —” he pointed to my stomach and stopped himself. “I mean, can I get you something?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Another beer? Please?”

He got up to get my drink and I asked to see his phone. I needed to make a call, I said, and my phone had died and could I use his? When he left I found my text messages to him and deleted them all. I leaned over to the stranger across the aisle. He was probably somewhere in his mid-seventies, a tiny man with bony fingers and skin like honeycomb. I didn’t know if he was Italian or if he spoke English at all, but I said, “Those are mountains, right? Not hills?”

He nodded.

“They’re stunning,” I said and traced them through the window with my hands. “Like rolling white bedsheets.”

He nodded again. I was sure he had no idea what I was saying. “I’m pregnant,” I told him, “but I’m not keeping it.” He smiled.

“It is nice,” he said.

“I’m not even one hundred percent sure whose it is.”

He gave me a thumbs up.

“It will be fine,” I said. “It’s all about perspective,” I said. It was so hot outside, the air was frothy and borderline-mean, but the mountains were a respite. The mountains appeared cool. The mountains were plain, clean, they disappeared into the sky.

 

 

C.M. Lindley is a writer and a creative director living in Southern California and an alumna of the University of California Berkeley. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in SAND Journal, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, and Necessary Fiction. You can find her on Twitter @thecmlindley.

1 Comment

  1. Caren Raisin

    This is a remarkable story. The writing is a rapture of prose. I loved every word

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *