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Story by Katie Coleman (Read author interview) March 20, 2023

Art by Marin Tulard

After the pregnancy test came back positive, my husband went to work and I called Professor Mark. “Meet me at Legal’s,” I texted. “Buck a shuck oysters at lunchtime.” Two pink lines were as good an excuse as any for a personal day. After lunch, we went to his loft in the Seaport District where I watched the whales breaching in the harbor while he went down on me. Tiny black specs, surfacing. My body giving me something that was just for me. Professor Mark was my advisor in college, a kind of protege because he was the first guy in academia to acknowledge toxic masculinity. When I asked him about it, he just shrugged and said, “It is what it is.” My first advisor dropped me after an extremely well-argued essay I submitted on Kate Chopin. “A girl is a person until she is a woman,” I wrote, “and to be a mother is a kind of self-erasure.” In the margins, the first advisor inked in red: “Well, maybe you shouldn’t be one.” I never saw her again. It was a cranky time for me; the subtle misogyny of John Mayer’s “Daughters” plagued the airwaves, girls were turning up unconscious in front of frat houses, the Catholics had a protest on the quad with blown-up posters of tiny fetuses. Time’s passed but I still believe what I wrote. America hates women. I liked Professor Mark because he didn’t take points off for point of view and also because his dick smelled like birch water and aloe vera.

After the test came back positive, my husband emptied the liquor cabinet. I wouldn’t miss the vodka or the whiskey or even the top shelf Bahamian rum, but the gin and the Campari broke my heart. Splash them together, swirl a little sweet vermouth on top, a dash of bitters, a maraschino cherry. My nightly routine down the drain. I couldn’t watch while he squirreled out my cigarettes. He knew all the hiding places. Those savory cancer sticks, the cure-all for every anxiety, their harm also a kind of freedom — at least, an autonomy. While he raided the fridge for soft cheeses and smoked salmon, I examined my breasts. They already felt heavy. “I wonder if I should tape them,” I said, “you know like when I was a teenager.” If I could just keep them tight and close to me, could they still be mine?

The night after the test came back positive, we lay on the couch and watched the local news. Emergencies seemed somehow more acute. My husband cracked a beer. Police and firefighters responded to an incident by the Radcliffe Quadrangle in which a woman was found with a gunshot wound to the head. According to Cambridge police, “The initial investigation determined this not to be a criminal matter.” It was a violet hush of an evening. The woman on the TV had flat-ironed hair and pink lipstick. When she moved her mouth, I thought of crustaceans pushing out of their shells. I thought of the oysters I had pried open earlier in the day, the tiny spoon I had used to scrape their bodies away at the hinge. Whatever was inside of me would need to come out either way.

About the Author

Katie Coleman is a writer and teacher from Massachusetts. She is a June 2020 graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars and holds an MFA in both fiction and nonfiction. She currently serves as a fiction reader for The Rumpus. Her writing has been published in The Chicago Review of Books.

About the Artist

Marin Tulard is a photographer from Brittany, France.

This story appeared in Issue Seventy-Nine of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Nine

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