Upside down white flower with dew on its leaves, with the title of the piece scrawled in red cursive on top of it

[Editor’s note: This story was selected as one of the Best Small Fictions 2019 by The Sonder Press.}

Jennifer Todhunter

I lie on the couch wide awake, cramps gouging my uterus. In my stupor, I picture the trappings of a baby girl, her translucent skin, her nail-less fingers, her snake-coiled legs. She has Jake’s smile, I think, the way the edges of her lips twist up, the way her left cheek dimples. I wonder how her laugh sounds, if it comes from her belly like his.

I name the cramps Rita. She is unrelenting. I see her name in the dirt on the windows, in the grime on the floor of this house that is ours. I trace the letters with my pinky finger, wonder how her tiny fingers compare to mine, how tightly she could grip them. She is here, she is there, she is everywhere. Why won’t you join me? she asks. Don’t you want me? I picture cuddling up beside her, the softness of her hair, the freshness of her scent. I want you, I whisper from my cave of blankets on the couch. I want you, I want you, I want you.

I call my sister. We haven’t spoken since I told her about the accident. She says my voicemail is full, that she’s been worried. Her two children play in the background; their soft, small voices split me in half. My sister says she isn’t able to come out before Jake’s funeral next week, starts droning on about her unbreakable obligations, and I tell her it’s all right, it’s all right, but start crying anyway.

I say, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I don’t know what’s wrong with me, and hang up the phone, but the tears won’t stop for the rest of the day. I cry through Jake’s drawer of t-shirts, through his bag of toiletries, through his box of ticket stubs under the bed. It’s like PMS, but infinitely worse. It’s like wishing you were dead, but you’re not.

I wake up with my period. Every trip to the bathroom reminds me there is no tangible piece left of Jake. No daughter. No son. I won’t recognize the curve of his features, the quirk of his mannerisms in our offspring.

Jake’s funeral is a sea of hats and jackets, the rain falling in sheets outside. I greet everyone as they arrive, listen to their anecdotes about Jake, accept their hugs, their kisses from cheek to cheek. By the time everyone is seated, my tampon is soaked through, blood pooling onto my nylons. I excuse myself to the washroom, sink to the floor and sob. My sister finds me, helps clean me up, hugs me like she used to when we stayed up late watching Friday night horror flicks. I don’t know what’s going on, I choke out mangled words, it’s never been this heavy before. Later, when I’m alone with Jake’s casket, I am struck by how young he looks. How young we both look. How his locker was next to mine when I got my first period.

My doctor refuses to schedule a hysterectomy. You are only thirty-two, she says. It is the grief, it will pass. She tells me to spend some time thinking about my decision, prescribes sleeping pills instead. I start with one, then two, then three. Then I dump the bottle and flush, sit on the toilet and bleed. It’s like my uterus is mocking me.

My next-door neighbor leaves a chicken pot pie on the doorstep and a note offering her condolences. We are so sorry, everyone keeps saying, we are so incredibly sorry, and I want to ask what they are sorry for. Nobody can apologize away an errant deer on a clear night, a mis-twisted steering wheel, a severed aorta.

I eat half the pot pie directly from its aluminum container. It is the first proper meal I’ve eaten since the police knocked on my door. I am thick and bloated, my stomach distended. I rub my paunch with my palm and close my eyes. This is as close to pregnant as I will ever be.

Photo of Jennifer Todhunter typing on her computer and smoking a cigaretteJennifer Todhunter’s stories have appeared in SmokeLong QuarterlyNecessary FictionCHEAP POP, and elsewhere. She was named to Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions 2018, and is the Editor-in-Chief of Pidgeonholes. Find Jennifer Todhunter at or @JenTod_.

Image credit: Enoch Appiah Jr. on Unsplash

Read more from Cleaver Magazine’s Issue #23.

Cleaver Magazine