I picked up the latte I had been making—the elongated heart in the milk looking so ironically like a woman’s womb—and as the heat saturated my fingers, a wave of heat and pain radiated from my own womb. Doubling over, I nearly dropped the cup as I gripped the counter with one hand. I gazed into the contents of the cup, pleading with someone—perhaps God, perhaps my own body—for relief. Black spots spidered over my vision and I could feel the skin on my face blanching, blood abandoning the flesh there, presumably to bolster my body’s womanly efforts.
The cup began to spin and with deftness that surprised me, I limped over to the door to the storeroom basement and hid away in the stairwell. I found a slight ledge and sat down, hard, the world still spinning. My sweater, made of light, stretchy cotton, felt made of chain mail and burlap, so I peeled it away from my damp skin and dropped it behind me.
Goose flesh prickled and peaked down the length of my arms. My teeth began to chatter. How was that possible? My armpits, hairline, neck, and abdomen were aflame. A whimper escaped my throat as another wave of heat and pain sent me doubling over, wanting to fold and fold and fold into myself. My breath was shallow. My vision went black for a moment. My teeth were still chattering.
For the briefest of moments, I felt a muscle relax within me and I enjoyed a moment’s respite.
Within a few seconds, my mouth began to water with vinegar, a muscle somewhere deep in my tongue tensed, and I clamored down the stairs, grabbing the sides of a trash can just in time. What little breakfast I had came up in two gags and I whined like a toddler when I saw the eviscerated remnants of two blue-green Aleeve pills amongst the coffee grinds and food scraps. I was all on my own now. I wretched six more times, yielding only stomach acid, which augmented the gagging and singed the back of my throat.
Finally, I crouched next to the trash can, unsure, but somewhat convinced my stomach was spent. I wiped the tears from my nose and eyes that had dripped amidst the upheaval. My bare arms were slick with sweat and the front of my shirt, beneath my breasts, was damp. My stomach was tingling in overload, trying to recalibrate itself and for those few blissful seconds, I had no discernible pain.
As if on cue, my phone buzzed in my pocket and it said that my father was outside, ready to pick me up. I heard the voice of the wonderful soul who was taking my shift greeting my coworkers upstairs.
With a shaky breath, I straightened up as best as I could and struggled up the stairs, taking my sweater on the way. I opened the door and my coworkers stopped their tasks as they saw me.
“Oh my god, are you okay?” Nick asked.
“I got here as soon as I could,” Courtney, the girl who was replacing me, said with great concern.
“Thank you so much,” I said to her, reaching for my wallet under the counter. “You’re a life saver.” I caught my reflection in a decorative mirror and looked away as quickly as I could from the white, sweaty, sickly face. “I’ll see you guys later,” I mumbled as I carefully crept around the counter toward the door.
“Feel better,” someone said.
A regular smiled as he saw me, but quickly dropped it. “Katie, not feeling too well?”
I shook my head and bested a smile.
“Feel better,” he said.
In a haze, I got to my father’s car. I opened the door and thanked him for coming.
“Of course,” he murmured and began to drive.
I leaned heavily on the console between us as we drove home, the waves of pain returning in full force, not appeased by the earlier siege. I clenched my fist just as I felt my womb clenching within me. My dad looked down, put his hand on mine for a moment and drove faster.