Cat Exits Bag


fiction by Julius Taranto



You have just been dumped for the first time in your life. You were in love with him. He, Corbin, was older and lacking youth’s frenzy. You liked the fact that he was not your intellectual equal. You sit on your parents’ porch, looking out over a noisy suburban street with regular traffic and lots of buses, all of which stop directly in front of where you sit on the porch. You light a bowl. You have just now realized that it is possible to reach a point where crying becomes emotionally and psychologically neutral, like breathing. You are very close to being out of pot; to stretch it you alternate between packing small bowls and smoking resin. Your parents do not care about pot – it’s the harder stuff that worries them, and you stopped all of that even before you dropped out of college.

The air is thick, heavy with summer. There are crickets. You wear a thin faded blue cotton dress that never seems to wrinkle. You remember the day you bought it, in 9th grade. For no particular reason, you have never bought anything else from that store, though you love this dress. You have Converse All Stars on your feet. The shoes are also from high school, though not quite as old as the dress. Your friends had written all over them, the All Stars, but moisture and time have turned the shoes’ canvas into a disorganized blur of pale colors. You inhale very hot smoke. Your more expensive, smoke-cooling pipe is still at his apartment, and you cannot imagine going back there to get it.

Corbin is not an asshole. This fact makes things harder. He told you from the start of the relationship that he was still fucked up from his last girlfriend and wasn’t ready for anything serious. You believed him – it was not just a ploy for casual sex – but you also believed that over a long enough time period he would come around. You laugh at yourself, thinking how dumb and naïve it was to fall in love on the assumption that you could save him, that he would change for you. You never said this aloud when you were together.

You receive a text message from Danny. You know him from college, which you think of as just a phase you went through. He is one of the people that you habitually take advantage of when in need of an ego boost.

Danny’s message wants to know what you’re up to tonight, though really this means “Are you considering sleeping with me again tonight?” You two are not at the point where you could just ask him to come over, fuck you, and leave. He is uncomfortable with doing that in your parents’ house – understandably, you concede, though you doubt they’d care even if they knew. If that were an option, you’d say yes. But you are not leaving this house tonight. The thought of even standing up is exhausting. You turn your phone face down on the top of the wicker-with-glass-top table. After a moment you turn it face up again, in case Corbin texts.

You brought a fifth of gin and a cold one-liter bottle of tonic and a sliced lime with you out to the porch. You are proud of your own foresight, because it suddenly feels like drinking time. This is the moment that you realize you forgot a clean glass.

If you want to drink yourself sick on purpose, turn to the next section.

If you want to drink yourself sick accidentally, turn to the next section.


Time passes. It has been a whole month now. Exactly one month, tonight. Somehow you don’t seem to be healing. But hedonism is grand. You clutch Danny’s arm and stumble out of the bar. He tries to convince you that he can pedal both of you back to his place if you just sit very still on the frame of his bike. You would have done it if his bike had not apparently been stolen. The bouncer says he didn’t see shit. Danny’s pissed off. The two of you take a cab, which you alone pay for.

The fateful moment is later, in Danny’s apartment, when you’re both in the heat of it already and Danny discovers that he doesn’t have the condom he thought he had. You don’t even really think before you say, “Fine, just make sure you pull out.” This is what he does.

The next morning you wake up in the afternoon, predictably unhappy to be conscious. You cannot understand why Danny has blinds that do not actually block any light. Danny himself is gone, as – apparently – is your cell phone. You don’t even look that hard for it; you know in your heart of hearts that it’s gone, never to return.

You leave the apartment cautiously. Danny lives in Corbin’s neighborhood, and though you’ve never seen Corbin around accidentally you would prefer that now not be the first time. You look down the sidewalk in each direction and then start walking toward the bus stop. Today is brutal, a trudge through hot thick soup. The bus stop is only two blocks away, but by the time you get there you are coated in prickly sweat.

If you agree that that sounds unpleasant, turn to the next section.

If you don’t mind sweat, and you don’t get hung over, congratu-fucking-lations, and turn to the next section anyways.


It is now several weeks later. In the intervening period, you have had a lot of fun. Seriously, a lot of fun. You tried cocaine for the second time ever, and it was excellent. You have fucked six different guys – five of them each once, Danny a lot of times. It’s becoming kind of a routine, it seems, and it helps that he’s been getting better and better in bed.

You can also tell that he’s starting to fall in love with you. This is an awesome turn of events. You do not see any future with Danny at all – in fact, you’re sure you’ll break his heart – but him falling in love with you means that he’s inclined to humor you and do you all sorts of favors that he wouldn’t do otherwise. You lead him on, cruelly, some might say. He starts buying your drinks, picking you up and dropping you off places. He finally caves and shows up late one lazy evening to fuck you in your parents’ basement – the first time he’s been willing even to set foot inside the house.

It has now been three days since you should have gotten your period, but even before that you could sense that you were pregnant. Your mind started doing odd things. You flipped out at the dinner table because the pasta was not perfectly al dente, the way you’ve always liked it. And this was no minor flip-out; this was screaming and tears, your parents baffled and dumbly agape, their clutched forks hovering motionless over piles of perfectly decent noodles with homemade marinara. In retrospect, you recognized that whatever caused you to entirely lose your shit was probably not the pasta.

Now that you have just peed on a little stick, and then another little stick, and you are sure you are pregnant, you suddenly have an explanation for the last few weeks’ psychological weirdness.

If you want to keep the baby, turn to section 4.

If you want to get rid of the baby, turn to section 5.


Everything in your body is telling you to protect it. The child, the person, growing in your uterus. You remind yourself that this person is actually just a ball of cells. But then so are all people. When in doubt about whether something is a person, don’t kill it. That’s your rationalization, though not your reason. Everything in your body is telling you to keep it except your brain, that is, which is telling you that the decision you are making – or not making – is going to radically fuck up your life. The way this will happen, you realize, is that you’ll just keep hesitating and hesitating until it really is too late to do otherwise. Every moment is an opportunity to change your mind, but you don’t. You will not, until 8 months and it’s way too late, really decide that you are keeping it, that this ball of cells will be your child. Danny is doing his darnedest to be a mensch about it, but you can tell that he is privately freaking the fuck out. You can’t figure out why you’re not doing so also. You watch a lot of Gilmore Girls.

He told you he’d support whatever decision you wanted to make, mentioning several times that he’s happy to pay for not just half but all of the abortion, if that’s what you want to do, so no reason to delay on account of money, if that’s what you want to do, and seriously he’s behind you every last percent, since it’s your body, and he’s not gonna pretend that he understands what it is you’re going through and can say only that he’s willing to try to build a life together, if that’s what you want, for you two to raise the baby as a couple, or separately, or whatever, the two of you can figure out the relationship side of things after-the-fact, after you make a decision that maybe will affect both of your lives tremendously or maybe not that much, depending on what you want to do, and he’s here just in a supportive role and ready to take responsibility for whatever you need or want him to take responsibility for.

All of that said, he is plainly unhappy with your decision once you’ve made it. Not vocally, of course. Hints are dropped at how hard raising a child is going to be, given the ease of the alternative. It is not a romantic or moral stance on your part. You can’t really explain it except to say that you want the baby, or you can’t bring yourself to kill it, anyway. You pretend, when convenient, that it is a decision made for ethical reasons. A few of your mother’s friends are proud of you and the strength of your commitment to life; most think that you are throwing your life away.

As it turns out, you have thrown your life away.

Now, years later, there is some resentment too. You love Eric, your boy. There’s no question about that. Your parents are helping you raise him right. They’re making it as easy as it could be. You don’t have to worry about money – not really. It is fascinating in particular to watch your father become a father to your son. You do not remember much of him from when you were young, and you wonder whether he was as good a father to you as he is to his grandson. Danny does not live in town anymore. He’s away at graduate school, and he promises he will come back once he has his degree. He visits usually one weekend every month to see Eric. You and Danny do not talk about anything but your son. Occasionally you sleep together. Danny is still a nervous father. He has not adapted well, and his absence is probably for the best. You don’t love him. You do not wish to get married or shack up, even for the sake of your son: your parents are better for him than Danny would be. It’s better that Eric grows up in a peculiar family than in a cold or poisonous one.

Are you a good mother? You think so, though only time will tell. (But will it?) It comes more naturally to you than you thought it would. Your instincts appear to be solid. Eric is a relatively happy boy. His eyes are just like yours, dark and quick. Right now you’re working on bathroom skills: he has peed in his pants a few times now, and is ashamed of it. He tries to hide it by crossing his legs over the wet spot. He’s very smart; he knows enough to be embarrassed, to recognize that he is too old to be failing at something this simple. You are trying to reinforce the importance of going to the bathroom early while simultaneously trying to keep his shame from deepening over something so trivial. No one said this stuff was easy.

But that resentment – that’s a real issue. It grows inside you as you see your friends taking increasingly fascinating jobs. These are the girls you went to high school with, who now feel more like very friendly strangers. It helps, a little, that they are somewhat jealous of you too. With all of their accomplishments, nearly all of them wish they’d found a way to have children too. There is still a part of you that feels your path was a kind of cop-out, a betrayal of the feminism that you grew up taking for granted, a failure to meet the expectations of parents and teachers who had invested in you, in your “potential.”

But that’s an awful word, isn’t it? “Potential” is poison, nearly guaranteed to defeat itself. You had the potential to be a scientist, but you also had the potential to be murderer. Or a mother.

Potential, you think, is just regret that hasn’t grown up yet.

If you’re satisfied with this ending, go ahead and read something else.

If you’re dissatisfied with this ending – if, perhaps, it feels unreal, like a fantasy – go back and choose differently.


You’re really okay with me giving you a decision of this magnitude in such a glib, smartass way? And this is the choice you made? Sheesh. It’s a cold world we live in.

You tell Danny about it, but not before you’ve made your decision. “Bad News Bears,” you say without explaining the phrase, which is the euphemism that you and your high school friends somehow ended up using for unplanned pregnancy. You tell him about the baby and then almost in the same breath tell him that you’re not keeping it. The changes that happen on his face as you do this are fascinating. Shock, then terror, then relief, then an attempt to conceal said relief and terror. Something like regret flickers there too. He makes standard gestures along the lines of supporting you in whatever decision you choose to make, but he’s sure not bending over backwards to change your mind.

You feel very far away from him. You are alone with this. Until this decision, you were reflexively pro-choice. But now you understand why other women feel so strongly that it should really be the woman’s choice alone, politically speaking. Because it already is. The feeling that bothers you most, though, is lack of feeling. You are scared that the choice does not seem to be haunting you: this is the most haunting part. You are not laboring over it, the decision. It is clear; you are unsentimental, or possibly very cold, inhuman. Approaching this decision with such a cool head would seem to be an advantage, right? But the fear is that your current capacity for cold inhuman calculation might at some future point leave you, and then you will feel something, and you will feel you have made a grave mistake. You fear you may be signing yourself up for a lifetime of nightmares, that this may be something that you would do differently if you only had some more time to process.

Of your friends, you tell only Leslie about the abortion. She gets drunk with you every night between the night you tell her and the day she goes with you to the clinic. The hope in this strategy is that you may cause a miscarriage and at least save yourself the expensive procedure. It occurs to you that the drinking may just be a way of anesthetizing yourself to the decision you’re in the process of making, but this seems like a perfectly appropriate thing to do; this thought does not cause you to question your choice.

The night before the clinic, drinking with Leslie, you lie on your back on a sofa in your folks’ basement. Your eyes trace from Leslie’s feet – dark blue flats – up her tight jeans to a waist that’s been getting skinnier and skinner for the last two years. She never talks about her weight, conspicuously ignoring the compliments she gets with increasing frequency re: her figure. It’s important to her to pretend that this – her weight and looks – are unimportant. You stare at her dark hair, dyed almost black, your eyes glazing over. There are times when you – suddenly, briefly – feel much much much uglier than she is. She stares down into her phone. You involuntarily recall the time in 9th grade when you and Leslie made out at a school dance – mostly so boys could see you do it, you now both acknowledge.

You and Leslie sit together in the waiting room, both restraining yourselves from cracking jokes. The room is filled with scared lonely girls and couples, white-knuckled, clutching each other’s hands and thighs. You are again puzzled as to why this situation seems to affect you differently than it does others. You consider for a moment telling the nurse that Leslie is your sister or partner and that she really should be allowed to come back to see the doctor with you.

Everything the doctor says, you already know. She has an impeccably polished bedside manner, which she turns on only for the non-administrative portion of the consultation. (She enters the tiny consultation room with a brusque “Hi I’m Karen O’Brien what can we do for you?” and leaves with the same harried affect.) The name O’Brien makes you think Irish and then Catholic, which makes you nervous. You wonder whether Catholic female doctors are any less likely to perform or approve of abortions than female doctors generally. You tell her you’re certain you want to get rid of it. She is so non-judgmental that it kind of freaks you out. She says you’ll have to pee in a cup, just so they can independently confirm that you’re pregnant. You’re nervous enough that you can’t stop yourself: “Is that a big problem here? People coming in and getting abortions they don’t need?”

Doc O’Brien is scribbling something in your file and doesn’t really hear you. “Sorry – what was that?”


You wait alone for two very long minutes for a nurse to bring you a cup. You’ve gone from a state of potentiality to activity. You’ve done something now. It feels like you’ve already gotten rid of it; the procedure is just a formality. A tall blonde nurse opens the door and tells you very sweetly to come with her. She hands you a piss cup as you walk down the hall. The small plastic cup has your last name and first initial with a bar code on a sticker stuck to the side. The nurse tells you to just close it up and leave it on the cart in the bathroom once you’re done.

For such a small room, the bathroom has a surprisingly robust echo, a feeling of depth. You sit on the toilet, discovering that it is impossible for you to pee. There’s the briefest of panicked moments – if you can’t pee they’re going to make you have the baby! – before you regain your sense of perspective and humor. You wonder what the longest time is that anyone has sat there, trying to pee in a cup. You give yourself five minutes to pull it together, and still there’s not a drip forthcoming. Panic starts to return. You feel impotent.

The solution to your problem washes over you all at once. You stand up and hoist your jeans. It is just you, alone, with the tiles and mirrors and porcelain basins and a small empty plastic cup and a metal cart stocked with other urine-filled plastic cups. The other plastic cups are almost all full to brimming. You select one of the cups at random. Holding the cup up to your eyes, you look at yourself in the mirror through the urine of M. Stailwitt – it is dark and full-bodied, the piss of a healthy and pregnant woman. Pregnant is the important part. You pray – actually pray – that she is.

You spill hardly any of M. Stailwitt’s pee as you pour it from her cup into your own. You leave a bit more in her cup than in your own, and you’re out of the bathroom and heading down the hall before you know it, heart racing with the thrill of your bizarre crime. You’ve done something wrong, but it’s hard to identify what exactly it was: pretending to be pregnant…when you are?

You collect your checkout papers and emerge into the waiting room, where Leslie is still reading the copy of Seventeen that she picked up when you left her side an hour ago.

“How’d it go?” she asks.



“I’m scheduled for next week.”

To tell Leslie about borrowing M. Stailwitt’s urine, turn to section 7.

To keep it to yourself, turn to section 8.

To change your mind and go up to the receptionist counter and ask for a nurse and confess and then ask for a new cup and drink a bunch of water and wait around until you actually do pee for real, turn to section 6.


Come on. This is not a realistic decision for your character to make.

Go back and choose differently.


During the time you’ve been in the doctor’s office, the sky has gone overcast. Your hair flaps in puffs of wind on the long walk across the parking lot – Planned Parenthood shares a strip mall with Target and Bed Bath & Beyond. The air is cool. It does not feel like summer.

In the car, you sit quietly while Leslie looks down, answering a text. The car is a tank, armor against the wind. In the sudden quiet, you can hear your heart beating.

“I couldn’t pee.”


“In the doctor’s office. They needed me to pee in a cup, so they could do their own test. That I’m pregnant. And I couldn’t pee.”


“Do you think that means anything?”

“Aside from dehydration?”

“Yeah.” You force a laugh. “Let’s go.”

She starts the car and then looks over at you. “Wait…”

“I stole someone else’s pee. There was a cart in the bathroom with all the cups, so I just borrowed.”

She processes for a moment. Like you, she can’t seem to find anything wrong with what you’ve done. She shrugs. “Rad. I hope you stole pregnant pee.”

“Yeah. Seriously.” It’s a comfort to have told her, to have removed this little thing from your chest. The comfort of disclosure pushes your mind further: you begin forming it all into a story, something amusing to use in bars and weed-filled living rooms. Bad News Bears, drunken debauchery, stolen urine – fun for the whole family. There’s no reason that abortion needs to be a serious thing, right? Or maybe it’s serious, but you can deal with it with humor, and the fact that you can talk about it with a smile just proves what a strong person you are. It’s the best kind of story: explicitly self-deprecating, but impressive by implication. You will protect yourself with the armor of full disclosure.

As Leslie swings the car out of the lot, you reach out and turn on the radio, changing the station twice, finding oldies.

Turn to section 9.


As Leslie drives you back to your house, you keep opening your mouth and then closing it. Wanting to say something, but finding no words. As the car turns on to your street, you decide – with certainty – that you will never tell anyone about the stolen pee. Fraud is transgressive, and disclosure would rob the act of its thrilling power.

The door to your parents’ house closes behind you. It is dark. You can tell without calling out that no one is home. You walk through the hall, kitchen, and family room to the mudroom, where you take off your shoes and place them neatly next to one another in a cubby. The cubbies are in a 3×4 grid, all of them but one stuffed with shoes stacked upon shoes. Yours are the only pair with a square all to themselves, since normally you keep your shoes up in your bedroom’s closet and there’s a cubby reserved for guests. It’s not clear why you’ve chosen to use the cubby now. You stare at the array, all the shoes, a family’s shoes. A tear squeezes its way out and down your cheek. You blink several times, but it’s no use. Loneliness tightens around you like a python. You twist your hair around your fingers and pull as if opening a valve; pain is just the feeling of stress and fear leaving the body, you hope.

You think of Corbin. He was the last person who saw you cry. You tried to explain to him, sobbing, that the certainty of no future didn’t matter if you were both enjoying yourselves in the moment. You hadn’t pressured him, had you? He conceded that you hadn’t, but it didn’t matter. His knowledge that there would be no future was enough to ruin his enjoyment of the present moment. He conceded that he had trouble living in the present. He also said he believed it was one of the things about him that wouldn’t ever change. You refused in that final breakup fight to use the fact that you loved him as leverage. It would have been imprudent, you now realize. That you loved him and he didn’t love you was his main reason for ending it, after all. “It’s not fair,” he said. “It’s just not fair. That’s why it has to end.” Only weeks later did you think that there was something out of joint in his reasoning: you should have told him that he doesn’t get to be both referee and player. A few days after that, you thought that being both ref and player is exactly what makes this stuff complicated and difficult. And a few days after that, you found out you were pregnant and ceased to think so philosophically about matters of the heart. There were other matters, south of the heart, that required your attention.

You stare blankly, blurrily, at the cubbies and shoes and the hanging coats and jackets. It’s just the hormones, you tell yourself. It’s the hormones, the whore moans. You wince at your pun. You sometimes make fun of girls who cry, but here you are, sobbing very quietly in the mudroom. The mudroom, you think, smells just like it sounds.

Does this feel manufactured to you? Does this seem like a genuine moment, like something that might actually happen to this woman – this girl? – that you’ve been inhabiting? Does it feel like an emotional peak? Does it satisfy your own need for catharsis?

If you think this is a good point for the story to end, go ahead and end it.

If you’d like to read a scene where you actually go through an abortion, turn to section 9.

If you’d like to skip right to the part where you think it’s a good idea to get very drunk and call your ex-boyfriend, who will screen your call, turn to section 10.

If you will put on a dark green top instead of a gray one, turn to section 11.


You have never before experienced pain like this. Not in terms of intensity. The pain itself is not terribly intense. The sensation overall is one of mild pain – maybe a level-6/10 frowny face on the wall’s cartoon pain chart – that seems to cause profound discomfort of a different sort. Nausea and revulsion mixed in with the pain; a feverish mixture of hot and cold and fear. You now comprehend claustrophobia. You know this will not kill you, but you cannot believe – as the doctor scrapes and then vacuums growing cells from the wall of your uterus – that you will survive. There seem to be, in the moment, very good reasons to suppose that you will die here. Take, for example, the fact that that you are turtled – on your back, legs up – a position that people take only because they are about to get fucked in one way or another. Take the fact that there’s a stranger with strange machines operating in your body’s most sensitive area, and you have been told to hold very still, as if small movements could cause some disastrous and grotesque mishap. Take the unambiguous fact that your whole reason for being here today is to make sure that the world contains one less life, and as your stomach boils and compresses you think that the life you’ve sacrificed may be your own. You feel the sweat you’ve been sweating, your own paleness. You are confronted with the obscene worry that the procedure may not work, that it may not take, that the cells building inside you may already be stronger than you are. It’s not the first time you’ve had that thought.

And then it’s over. Your mind’s whir slows to a hum. Adrenaline tapers off. The feeling of relief is enormous. The hum of the room’s lights transforms itself from a nightmarish buzz into a kind of lullaby, at once soothing and artificial, like ocean waves crashing at night inside a lo-fi bedside radio. You’ve been alone for maybe ten minutes now. As if you’ve just been rescued from a grueling misadventure – lost in wintry mountains, maybe – and are now wrapped up safe in the back of the park ranger’s Jeep, you begin to have trouble staying awake. You have barely slept in the last three days, and you are tilting into a narcotic-feeling nod when a nurse slips expertly into the room and puts her hand gently on your arm. You’re feeling good, you say, and you’ll be ready to go home as soon as you’re allowed. She smiles, very kind, says it’ll take a little while to get all of the paperwork in order, to rest up. Her voice is soft. The exchange barely wakes you, and you’re out again before the door’s even done latching behind her.


“HI! Hi. It’s me. You know who it is. I’m on the phone. I mean I’m drunk, and on the phone, which I have heard is not always advisable. Leslie told me not to call you, so don’t tell her ok? Fuck critics. But yeah why would you tell her anyway? You don’t even know her. And that is very sad for you. Leslie is a very good friend, and I don’t care who knows it. YOU GOT THAT? But… why am I calling you? I mean I know why I’m calling you, which is to talk on the phone with you. What I’m suggesting is that I’m not clear on why I’m bothering to leave a message. No one leaves messages any more, except for, I dunno, grandmas and shit. Old people still leave messages. MESSAGES ARE A LOST ART FORM. Like penmanship. That’s why. I’m maintaining a grand old tradition, dating back to whenever the girl who was dating the guy who invented the answering machine for the first time got drunk and called her brilliant but cold and uncommunicative inventor boyfriend for the first time and found him not at home and left a message to communicate to him how exactly she was feeling. Except the guy who invented the answering machine was probably married, so if his wife was drunk and wanted to yell at him she could just find him out in his workshop and yell at him face-to-face. I would do that to you, except I don’t have any money for a cab. And I don’t know where you are. ARE YOU EVEN OK? Are you dead in a ditch somewhere? A girl can dream, right? No. No no no I don’t mean that. That was mean. I do not want you to be dead, so… yeah, that should brighten your day. I dislike you, like, a lot, though. Breaking up with me was very rude, and I dislike rude people. Did you intend to be rude? A gentleman is someone who is never impolite, except on purpose. Didn’t your mother teach you that? I’m sorry. Of course she did. Your mother is a wonderful and elegant lady. I shouldn’t have brought her into this. I am phone. Drunk. AND WHAT DO YOU EVEN CARE IF I AM PHONE? MAYBE I’M THAT TOO? DID YOU EVER THINK OF THAT? No. You didn’t. Because you are rude. But seriously you know you’re not rude. But Leslie has been trying to convince me that you’re an asshole, and I almost believe her. I think that’s just what I need. You’re an asshole because I need you to be an asshole. I am sorry. I’m phone. And I’m not supposed to call you because I’m not supposed to tell you that I got pregnant. And… now I’ve told you. The cat’s out of the bag. But who would put a cat in a bag anyway? The cat should to be out of the bag. No cat deserves to be kept in a bag for very long. WHATEVER IT DID, IT DIDN’T KNOW ANY BETTER. It wasn’t your baby. Let’s say cat. It wasn’t your cat, so it’s not like I was hiding anything from you that you really should have known. It was… it was someone else’s cat, but it’s gone now. A doctor has expertly removed the cat from the bag, so that the cat wouldn’t pop out all on its own and ruin my life or something. I am not ready to own a cat, obviously. No one even disagreed with me about that, which is kind of offensive. AREN’T I OLD ENOUGH TO HAVE A CAT IF I WANT ONE? Yeah. I am. But I don’t want one. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting a cat. I’m pretty sure there’s nothing wrong with not wanting a cat. But not wanting a cat when you have one is not fun. And this whole shenanigan made me miss you. But I need you to keep being an asshole, so don’t call me back all concerned or anything. Except the fact that I’ve told you not to call me back makes you less of an asshole if you now don’t call me back. SO CALL ME BACK WOULD YOU PLEASE! Except don’t. Yeah. You get it.”

The end.


You slip into your new blouse – dark green, tighter than most of your other tops – and you look good. You stand in front of your bedroom door’s inside’s full-length mirror for a moment, in only your new shirt and old underwear. You rotate and then look back over your shoulder. You have only recently, finally become resigned to the imperfectness of your ass. In the bathroom, you shave your legs carefully, unhurried, and apply makeup. You use less eyeliner today than normal, some rouge, only traces of lipstick. Today is a good hair day, very little frizz. Your bangs hang exactly to the tops of your eyebrows, which you’ve never had to wax. Again, you stop momentarily and do nothing. You look into your own eyes. They look back without depth.

You put on the stretchy, dark navy, faux-denim pants that have been residing crumpled in the corner of your reading chair. You latch your new belt around your waist. Before going downstairs, you check your look one last time. All systems go. It’s the first time in at least a week that you’ve bothered to wear makeup. In the kitchen, your mother pours you a cup of coffee. She does not comment on the fact that you are so well put-together today, compared to the last week.

You spend the morning watching Tivoed Masterpiece Theater and Jeopardy! You skip lunch, finally reading the end of a mediocre novel that you read the first 386 pages of 4 months ago, before the end of Corbin and Bad News Bears. The heroine does not get to be with the man of her dreams. Things feel normal. When Leslie honks from the driveway, you grab your jacket and walk outside as if this were an everyday trip to the mall. You open her car door and say “Hey dude,” and she says “Wassup,” and on the way to the clinic neither of you mentions where you’re heading today, or why.

This is one way to end it, or you could go back to section 9.




Julius Taranto