by Dani Grammerstorf
On Sunday night, after my last shift of the week, I went straight home to make an abortion cake. Instead of relaxing after five straight days of work, I was going to create a delicious baked treat for my roommate to enjoy after her pregnancy termination. The problem was, I had all my tubes of icing and my knives and I couldn’t decide what to do. If I was very artistic, I would have a picture of a baby in a circle with a slash through it. Since I wasn’t, I thought it would be in my best interest to stick to text only. “Happy Abortion Day” was trite. “Congratulations on Your Empty Uterus,” sounded too clinical.
My frosting tube hovered over the cake’s surface, about to write a simple “Congratulations” when Meg walked in. I dropped the icing and slid myself in front of the table to hide the cake. “What are you doing home?”
Meg’s face looked white and puffy and the makeup on her left eye was smeared up to her temple. “I went out to a party, had half a beer, and then ran into the bathroom and threw up.” She put her hands on her stomach. “Get out get out get out, you soul-sucking freak.” She slapped her belly repeatedly with both hands. “Must you always come in between me and fun?”
“Tomorrow,” I said. “After tomorrow it will be gone.”
“Were you baking, Jill?”
“Maybe I was. But you can’t have any yet! It’s for non-pregnant Meg only.”
“That’s cool,” she said. Meg went briefly cross-eyed, then shuffled hastily to the bathroom. I turned back to the frosting and hummed loudly to drown out the sound of her violent retching.
Meg and I had only lived together for half a year. We were strangers when we got our apartment together; her cousin was my former coworker and when she knew I needed a roommate, she hooked us up. For months, Meg and I did our own thing; we exchanged polite words on the rare occasion we saw each other, and that was about it. Meg was in college. I was just a waitress. I didn’t choose to phrase it like that, but I was forced to. Whenever I met someone and told them what I did for a living, they asked, “Are you going to school?” I have no choice but to respond, “Nope, I’m just a waitress.” It was life’s little way of making me feel like ass daily.
One evening, Meg emerged from the bathroom looking confused. “I’m so pregnant,” she said. From that moment on we were friends. First, we got really drunk on the malt liquor we bribed our over-21 neighbor to buy for us. Meg didn’t want to tell any of her friends, because she thought they’d get all judgmental on her. Aside from her sister, this was going to be our secret.
After that, Meg started on a vomiting spree worse than any bout of food poisoning I’ve ever had. On nights when I got home before her, I’d sit in front of the television and she would burst in like a spewing tornado and run to the bathroom, where’d she settle in on the orange bathmat for a long heart-to-heart with the toilet. I would make her green tea and toast while she leaned against the bathtub and waited out the nausea. We nicknamed the toilet bowl Raymond.
“Fuck you, Raymond, you shit-eater,” she’d say. Other times she would caress the bowl and serenade it with made-up sea chanteys. The toilet, of course, never responded. Raymond was shy and wasn’t used to getting all this attention.
What surprised us was that Meg was stuck pregnant for quite awhile. After she’d found out the bad news, we both kind of thought that we’d call the clinic, pop by following morning, get rid of the sucker and then go to TGI Friday’s afterward. But no, the earliest appointment Meg could get was weeks away. So, what could we do? We signed up for increased Netflix delivery, put some pillows in the bathroom, and bore with it.
Forty-five minutes after Meg got home, she emerged from the bathroom and announced that she felt fine; her date with Raymond was over for the night. I had a great plan for Abortion Eve: a bucket of chicken and TV coma. The idea thrilled Meg. You probably wouldn’t think that someone who just vomited a day’s worth of meals would want to scarf down fried poultry. This assumption is wrong.
“So, what’s the plan for tomorrow?” I asked after our chicken gorging. We propped our feet on the coffee table and rubbed our bellies as the television cast a glow on our bone- and napkin- filled plates.
“My sister is picking me up around nine o’clock. I heard this shit takes a long time. Like, not the actual thing, but they make you wait and then lecture you on using a condom before they’ll actually abortionate you. Then you have to hang out afterwards too. LeeAnn keeps begging me to go to her apartment afterwards, but I say uh-uh. I’d just be more comfortable in my own place, you know?”
“Of course,” I said. I was secretly thrilled. My days off of work, Mondays and Tuesdays, were usually spent indoors on the couch, and they were pretty solitary. My phone stopped ringing some time ago. Meg, being in college, had an active social life. Until she got pregnant, she rarely elected to spend an evening at home. It felt exciting, the prospect of sharing the ugly orange and brown couch with someone for a change. I even took Wednesday off, just in case.
“Thanks for being so great during this,” Meg said. “You haven’t been all overbearing and shit. I hope my sister doesn’t get all let’s-talk-about-it with me.”
“Yeah, I know how sisters can be,” I said, even though I didn’t.
“I should go to bed,” said Meg. She held out her arms for a hug, like a child. I might have held on a few seconds too long. Meg pressed the heels of her hands into my sides until I let go. “Goodnight,” she said.
There were reasons I was lonely. Most of the people I used to know left town to go to school, and the ones that stayed behind were too depressing to hang around with. I didn’t want to sail into my twenties bouncing from mall to mall, visiting the same damp pool hall I’d frequented since eleventh grade, and making out with sideburned losers in their dented Hondas. I had no reason to think I was better than them; I had no great plans for my life either.
Whenever Meg was in the apartment she was constantly on the phone, pacing the kitchen in her socks, making sweeping hand gestures that the person she was talking to couldn’t see. Even at night, when the light underneath her bedroom door went off, I could hear furious clicking as she fired off a few last instant messages She was always frantically preparing herself for something: running around the house with one shoe on while trying to find her chemistry notebook, or applying mascara in front of the reflective surface of the toaster, her tongue sticking out in concentration. I was perpetually on the couch in my purple pajama pants. When Meg made me her pregnancy confidant- me, the pathetic local girl she got stuck living with because she couldn’t afford the dorms- I felt better about myself than I had in years. Despite appearances, she was just as alone as I was.
The next morning, I hurried out of bed and found Meg in the kitchen, fully dressed and smoking one of my cigarettes at the table. “Fuck, dude, I’m nervous,” she said. “I’ve never even had my wisdom teeth out.”
“Are you sure you don’t want me to come?”
A car honked outside. Meg dropped the cigarette in her half-full cup of coffee.
“That’s LeeAnn. I guess I’m out of here.” She gave me a sarcastic little wave. Meg could infuse sarcasm into any gesture of movement. That’s one of the things I admired about her.
“Call me if you need anything!” I yelled after her. After she left, I went to the front window and looked down through the bars of the fire escape and watched her sister drive away in her clanging Pontiac. It was time to start preparing.
First, a meatloaf. A week before, after Meg paid a visit to Raymond, we had a long conversation about our favorite comfort foods. She mentioned her Dad’s meatloaf, and how it was one of the greatest things she missed about home. I pulled a package of ground beef out of the fridge and set to work. I wanted it to be oven-ready when Meg came home, so that she only had to wait an hour to eat. She’s probably be hungry; I doubted they served sandwiches at the women’s clinic.
I had bought some cheesy decorations, too. It was goofy, I knew that, but Meg would appreciate coming home to a cheery atmosphere. My cheeks crackled as I blew up balloons to go with the twisted streamers I had draped from the ceiling. When that was done, I stuck a cigarette between my lips and ran out to buy a bunch of flowers from the corner store. I was surprised that, amidst all the droopy, electric-blue carnations, I found a perky bouquet of daisies. I snatched them up before an old lady in a plastic kerchief could get her hands on them. At home, I stuck them in an empty Chock Full ‘O Nuts can and set them on the living room coffee table, next to a stack of rented DVD’s. I set a new, unopened box of maxi pads on the bathroom counter.
When all this was done, I collapsed on the sofa and lit a cigarette. I looked at my watch and coughed out a lungful of smoke when I realized that it was already three o’clock. Where was she?
A half hour later, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I grabbed the phone and dialed her number. “MEG?” I yelled when she answered.
“Jesus, Jill, what the fuck is your problem? I almost went deaf.”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Is everything all right? How are you feeling? Are you abortionated?”
“Oh, I sure am. Not feeling all that hot, but I’m glad to get it over with.”
“Was it…hard to get in? Into the clinic?” I pictured all those angry, pouchy-faced protesters they always showed on TV.
“Um, no? Wait, now that I think about it, yes, it was difficult. There was all this dog shit in the parking lot and I totally almost stepped in it. It was smeared all over the place.”
“Huh. Well. Are you on your way home?”
“Nah, actually, I think I’m going to stay at LeeAnn’s for a few hours, maybe have some food in a bit. I don’t feel well at the moment. But I’ll see you later, all right?”
“Oh. Okay.” I hung up the phone and tossed it on the couch. Of course Meg would want to be with her sister. I mean, she had just gotten her insides vacuumed. She was probably exhausted and in pain. I thought of the meatloaf, its surface slick and shiny with ketchup, waiting patiently in a throwaway aluminum pan in the fridge. What the fuck was I going to do with an entire meatloaf?
“What?” my brother Steven said when he answered the phone.
“Steven! It’s me. Hey, I was wondering if you wanted to come by for dinner.”
“Who is this?”
“Jill. Your sister?”
“Jill, I’m a little busy right now, okay?”
“Well, the thing is, I made this whole meatloaf for my roommate’s abortion, but she’s not coming home now, and I was wondering…”
“Look, I’m working, and I will probably be stuck here until really late tonight. I’m on my way to a meeting. I don’t have time to be on the phone with you talking about abortion meatloaf, or whatever it is you’re going on about.”
“All right, I’ll talk to you later,” I said, but he’d already hung up.
An hour later, I sat at the coffee table, digging my fork into the meatloaf and watching A Current Affair. My batshit crazy Aunt Carla taped every episode of A Current Affair that aired between 1991 and 1996, saved them, and had presented them to me when I graduated high school. I ended up only keeping the tapes that she called the “historical” ones- the ones with things like, “Jon Benet Ramsey murder” and “Nancy Kerrigan attack” written on the labels. Aunt Carla had since died, but she would be proud to know that I was consoling myself with news gossip that was almost two decades old.
Aunt Carla had been a loner, too.
The phone rang again around 8:30. “Hi Jill!” Meg said. I could hear laughing in the background.
“Hi Meg,” I said in a monotone. “Are you at a party?”
“Nah, just two of LeeAnn’s friends came over and we’re playing cards. Jill, I think I’m going to stay over here tonight, I feel like crap. Just thought I’d let you know.”
“Oh, right, of course.”
“Thanks hon. I’ll be back in the morning.” She hung up. The decorations suddenly struck me as ludicrous. The balloons reflected my face back to me. In the round surface of the latex, my nose and cheeks looked bloated and my eyes were absurdly small. I looked like a sad Muppet, one of the nameless ones you always see bouncing in the background while Miss Piggy stole the spotlight. I found a safety pin in the junk drawer and started ruthlessly popping.
By Thursday, Meg still hadn’t come home. For breakfast, I ate a third of the abortion cake, bitterly chewing my way through the “Congratulations” icing, which had turned hard and crusty. Afterwards, I tied my waitress apron around the handlebar of my bike and pedaled to work in a half-coma. After three days of feeling rejected, I now had a double shift to look forward to.
I worked at a dimly-lit chain restaurant in a failing strip mall. When I walked in, Justin was setting up the host stand. Justin had gone to a neighboring high school and, like me, didn’t go anywhere. He always gelled his hair into outdated-looking spikes. “Hey, Jill, are you working a double today?” he said.
“Well, look, I know you don’t like to go out with us, but I figured I’d ask…we’re all going to Eight Ball, that new pool hall, after the dinner shift.”
“The Eight Ball isn’t new,” I said. “It’s been here for two years. It smells like diarrhea and there’s never enough parking.”
“Oh, really? Well, it’s new to us. We figure we’ll try it out, diarrhea smell and all. You’re welcome to join us if you want to decide to, you know, be social.”
I took inventory of my coworkers for the day. Libby, whose crippling OCD forced her to drop out of community college, was repeatedly counting the chick peas on the salad bar. Brett, one of the more senior waiters, reclined against the soft drink dispenser and picked his scabs as he waited for the shift to begin. A shiver ran a sprint up my back.
“Sure,” I said flatly. “I’ll be there.”
“Awesome! We’re all meeting by my car at 11:30. It’s the Honda in the parking lot. The blue Honda.”
“Sounds good,” I said, almost to myself.
Between shifts, the other servers crammed themselves into a booth to eat wilted lettuce from the diseased salad bar. I biked home. At the apartment, Meg’s purse and a stack of textbooks sat on the table. Her hairdryer roared in the bathroom. “Hello?” she shouted.
“Hey” I called back. The roaring stop as I approached the bathroom.
Meg stood in front of the sink in her bare feet, unscrewing various makeup jars. “Hey, Jill. What have you been up to?”
“Well, nothing. Wondering how you are. How are you?”
“Oh, I’m totally fine,” she said. She didn’t take her eyes of her reflection in the medicine cabinet mirror. “Sorry, I stuck around my sister’s place for a while. But I’m back. I actually have a late class to go to. Then I’m going to see some friends in the dorms. Nothing crazy. We’re going to study for this statistics test we have coming up.”
“Yeah, I remember you mentioning that one.”
“Hey, Jill, you want to hear something cool? I actually told three of my girlfriends about what’s going on with me, and they are being so great about it. I’m so relieved! I mean, it feels awesome to have a support system.”
“Sounds great,” I said.
“Oh, and one more thing,” Meg said, still not looking away from the mirror. “You left this thing…I guess it was a meatloaf…on the coffee table. It reeked. I had to throw it out. I hope that’s okay. It smelled like that time the pigeon died in the A/C unit. Where did it come from?”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” I said. ” Look, I have to go back to work. Have a good night, okay?”
“Okay!” Meg said. “Good night, hon!” She started rifling through her makeup bag as I turned away.
I biked back to work. Inside, the off-the-clock waiters were still sitting in the big booth by the drink station. The girls were all giggling and showing off their acrylic nails by over-gesticulating and tapping them relentlessly on the tabletop The boys were all grinning and cocky and had date-rapist gleams in their eyes. I grabbed a roll off the salad bar and dragged a chair over.
“Hey guys,” I muttered. “Mind if I join you?
Dani Grammerstorf is a writer from Queens, New York. She has an M.F.A. in fiction from The New School and is currently finishing her first novel. Her nonfiction has appeared in Playgirl magazine. Dani is a host and co-founder of Guerrilla Lit, a monthly reading series in New York City. When Dani’s not writing, she is skating with Gotham Girls Roller Derby.