Adriana Golden

It was important to me that no one would smell me pissing, hear me gagging on my toothbrush, see me wrenching hairs out of my face with ancient tweezers. But you thought I was joking when I broached these debasements, and now we live in the only graduate student housing with one bathroom for the whole floor. 

The university-contracted real estate agent who showed us the apartment was eager to assure us that the place had amenities

She showed us the convection oven that smelled like a fast food restaurant. She showed us the in-unit washer and dryer in a closet that looks like an oven. She showed us the AC box: we too could beat the Texas heat! Her name was Shannon, and she was very thin. 

“Will this be your first time living together, Nathan and Rebecca?” she asked.

“Yes,” you said. 

Which is a technicality, of course. I spent every night of the past four years in your dorm room, my face nestled into your back muscle. And, although I’ve never met your parents, you stayed with my family for a month three summers ago. You know that the walls of my childhood bedroom are purple and that my mother would become a one-woman ABBA tribute band after the second martini. Such intimate knowledge counts for at least a year of cohabitation.

“What an exciting time! Aggie Housing Solutions would make a great first home. I know you’ll like it here. College Station really grows on you. And as we discussed, Unit 42 has an unparalleled price.” 

“We’ll talk about it,” I said.

And then you said, “We’ll take it.”


Now you help the movers haul a mattress and shipping crates up the stairs while I am in charge of the boxes. The stairwell is clogged with humidity––not the New England kind, but the Texas kind, which is thicker and swampier and suggests the exhale of an ogre. The stairs are made of brown tile. I spot some gum wrappers balled in the corners. The walls of the stairwell are slathered in pasted-on flyers, which advertise diploma framing, a résumé workshop, and the services of some hipster named Marlboro who offers “babysitting with a twist.”  

In this heat, my scalp feels like it’s been slathered in mayonnaise. Syrup drizzles into my hair. I look up and realize it’s you, bending down to kiss my forehead and shedding two tenuous beads of sweat onto me in the process. 

“Stay put, baby,” you say. “I’ll take the boxes from here.”

I reach up for your shoulder but you have already bounded up the flight. 

My head throbs. I feel faint. I rest it against the metal stair rail and let the sticky air quiver and press around me. 

The boxes. 

After confounding the country’s best medical minds, my mother explained the plan while still attached to her futile chemo drip. Our house was listed on Zillow. There was a yard sale. Before moving onto campus for my senior spring, I stripped my purple bedroom and stuffed its contents into cardboard lumens. Then my dad found a buyer for the house and, suspiciously, met a Midwestern woman named Lou Anne on Jdate, and it was time to put the plan into action. Half the boxes were shipped to College Station. The rest were exiled to a storage unit, the key to which I promptly lost. The morning after I graduated, I purged my dorm room into a third set of boxes. Though I desperately wanted to keep them, it seemed like bad luck to hold onto a twin bed set, miniature beanbag, and plastic tube of Bolshoi Ballet posters. These can be found at the Goodwill of Boston, where a bargain-seeking stranger may now purchase the sheets on which I lost my virginity.


I am setting up your gaming system in our living room when a pounding noise makes me drop a handful of remotes. I open the door to reveal a beast. His sunburned face is peeling along the hairline. It perches on a rectangular body that looks like an overinflated pool raft. He isn’t fat, though––an A&M Powerlifters tank top justifies that he is instead wrapped in puffy ropes of muscle.

“Why didn’t y’all introduce yourselves when y’all moved in?” he demands. He barges in, tracking dust onto our plastic floor, which is textured to look like real wood. 

“Excuse me? You have no right––”

“Gunner. Gunner Hoss.”

I sink my teeth into my wad of gum to keep from laughing when I realize that this is his name. My mouth floods with artificial mint.

He goes in for a handshake and grips my palm so tightly that my finger bones slide past each other like dry spaghetti. He drops my hand quickly. 

“Sweet Jesus,” he says, “what happened to your hand?” 

I am about to explain that he may have reduced my phalanges to powder when I realize he is talking about the ridge of baby pink scabs on my knuckles.

“Dry skin,” I explain. “My skin hasn’t adjusted to the climate here.”

The beast blinks.

“It isn’t dry here, sweetheart,” he says. “It’s as humid as the day God––”

You step out of our bedroom, shirtless, just in time. You save me, like you always do. You exhale, and the lines in your abdominals reset. 

“Nathan,” you tell him. “And this is Rebecca.”  You turn to me. “Is the PlayStation ready?” you ask me.

Gunner shakes your hand and slaps your bare back.

“Dude, you run Call of Duty?” he asks. 

“Hell yeah,” you tell him. I retreat to the bedroom to lie down for a while.

I want you to tell Gunner to come back later so you can talk to me and climb onto me. But you do neither, so I stay on my back and feel stiflingly bored. I need to research jobs, so we can do something other than use your parents’ credit card while you become a Master of Business Administration, but the thought of effort makes me lightheaded. I think of going for a walk, but the weather makes me cowardly. I think of calling my dad, but he is probably at the bridge club with Lou Anne. I never said a word against her, except for when I was drunk. After the funeral, most people sent us food. We are sorry for your loss; here is a bundt! But one hilarious family gave us a bottle of Dom Pérignon in a box of confetti, so I drank half of it and then asked my dad if he truly loved my mom.

“Yes,” he said. “She was an angel.”

I asked him how he could start dating Lou Anne so quickly. 

“Everyone deals somehow.” 

This was the truest thing he had ever said in his life. I emptied the rest of the champagne in the upstairs bathtub. It splattered on the porcelain with such a familiar sound that my bones scraped as I recoiled. I lay with my face crushed into the bathroom tile and prayed the urge would pass. 

When I stood up, my face was webbed with lines. 


You walk in on me tonight while I’m brushing my teeth. I watch you caress your face with a razor and feel giddy at the prospect of doing the same, soon, with my own fingers. 

“I want you so bad,” I tell you. 

Talking like this used to embarrass me, but now I do it well, or so you’ve told me.

“What?” You look over from the mirror.

“I’m wearing the one you like,” I say. 

“Oh, now?”


You tousle my hair. 

“Gunner invited me to run COD with some of his med school boys. I’ll be back by midnight. So maybe then.”

You kiss me on the cheek and walk out, leaving your razor on the bathroom counter, which is painted to look like marble but is actually plastic.

I rinse out my mouth. The sink swallows my spit.

There are other people on our floor who I have occasionally spotted in our bathroom, but they don’t bother me. They don’t subscribe to whatever invasive attentiveness Gunner does. Some would call it Southern hospitality. I pare it down to a different word: surveillance. But this morning, I am alone. No one can hear me. 

I lock the stall with shaking hands. I kneel and the tile grout stamps crosses onto the bare skin of my knees. I slide two fingers inside my throat and close my eyes. 

I am lighter when it’s over. I am efficient. I conquer the rusted hinges and force open the sole bathroom window. I douse the toilet in Lysol. I scrub my mouth with toothpaste, then mouthwash, then chewing gum, all flavored like mint. I often wonder who decided to make mint the official and universal scent of the clean person. No normal person would ever gorge themself on a fistful of peppermint leaves. But maybe that’s the point. No one wants to smell like they eat.


You were surprised when I asked if I could come to Texas with you. I thought it was a given. I thought you found our future together as inevitable as the sun rising. You did not mean to hurt me by being surprised, yet you did. But I could not be mad at you for being surprised. Surprise is a reflex, and a reflex is an uncontrollable response to an uncontrollable stimulus. 

You said I could come with you to Texas, if I accepted that I could never predict the outcome of our relationship. Which I hated, but I understood. I was once confident about majoring in dance, but now I know I cannot be a dance teacher. Now I cannot face a legion of tiny girls in leotards and tell them to bend their knees and straighten their necks and tuck their buttocks and, above all, hold their stomachs in. I cannot. The obvious thing for a jobless college graduate to do is return home. But the house, which was sold to a restaurant developer, is now a Dunkin’ Donuts. My mother, my first house, is gone. My father––though he sends me checks and occasionally CVS gift cards––is with the insufferable Midwestern version of her. I had friends at Northeastern, but the kind to discuss magazines with, not the kind to live with. Most of them had stopped asking me out for coffee when they realized I’d always ask if I could bring you. 

So it was a given. You are the last piece of home I have, the only piece of a younger me that I have the power to hold onto by choice. 

I grow accustomed to the presence of Gunner in our living room. I can overhear you two from our room, where I lie on my back on the bed. You talk about insipid things: a football game, a basketball game, a baseball game, all while playing a video game. Tonight, Gunner is talking about me.

“Dude, your girl is pregnant.”

Upon hearing itself discussed, my body prickles. My hand creeps over my stomach, feather light. If I press down, the skin will fold into ravines of fat. But no baby is below them. I am sure of this. I take one a day, each pill about four times smaller than a breath mint.

“Why the hell would you say something like that?”

“Whoa, didn’t mean to overstep,” Gunner says. 

“Look, just because she’s not exactly a model doesn’t mean that––”

“That’s fucked man, I didn’t say that.”

“Then what did you mean?” you say.

“Well, have you noticed anything different about her?” Gunner asks.


“She’s yacking, man. For the last week or so, I’ve either heard or smelled her throwing up in the bathroom every morning.”

I hold my breath. 

“Oh, for real?” you say.

“Sure. Morning sickness. I finished my OB/GYN rotation last semester. Almost universal during the first trimester.” 


“Yeah. You should talk to her about it.” 

When Gunner finally lumbers back to his own apartment, you stand in the bedroom doorway and stare at me. For the first time since we moved, for the first time in so long, I feel your eyes on all of me at once, without interruption. 

“Is there anything you want to tell me?” you ask. 

“I love you,” I say. 

  “Come on, this is serious.”

“Yes. What’s the matter?” 

“Have you––are you––”

“What? Do I look different?”

“Never mind,” you say. “Gunner was being fucking weird, that’s all.”

“Well, maybe you should spend more time here without him.”

“You sound like my mom.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“Right.” You shrug.

“Now that he’s gone, do you want to watch a movie? Or I can make you dinner?”

“I don’t know.”

“Or we could go out to eat? That would be nice. Or we could make it a take-out night, we could even––”

“I said I don’t know,” you say.

“I’m just trying to give you options.” My voice breaks and I hate it, because I know you hate it when I cry.

“Sorry,” you say evenly. “It’s just that some of the boys were talking about a poker night––”

My face is wet when I move the sheet. You see that I am naked beneath it. You succumb. When you roll off me, I still need more, and I am about to ask for it when I realize that you are already asleep.

While you sleep, my brain fills with strange thoughts. I think about Eve, the first human whose body held another body. I think about my mother, whose body held mine. The idea of growing a human, a new body that is half-yours and half-mine, connected to an umbilical cord that tethers not just a baby to me, but the two of us to each other, is so preposterously good that I decide to believe it.


A week later, when I come home from the store, Gunner is hulking next to you on the couch in shorts and a muscle tank that declares GAINS ALL DAY. He looks stupid. This is unsurprising. What is surprising is my voice flying out before I know what I’m saying. “Can I play with y’all?” 

“You sound like us hicks, baby!” you whoop without taking your eyes off the screen. 

The avatars in the video game contort like marionettes and spew gray blood. 

  “Get out of the way!” screams Nathan. 

“My guy’s stuck!” bellows Gunner.

“I’m firing anyway.”

“FUCK YOU, MAN!” Gunner yells. He slams the remote into the ground. The back casing pops off and sends two batteries skittering under the couch. 

“I’ll get them,” I offer. Too late. Gunner has, with some difficulty, already lowered his massive chest to the ground and is groping under the couch. When he withdraws his hand, he holds not the batteries but a deluxe package of sandwich cookies. His brow folds, and he reaches back under the couch. Gunner produces a bag of Doritos, three sleeves of Ritz crackers, two more packages of cookies, four Hershey’s bars, and an unopened jar of pickles. 

The crinkling of the wrappers draws your attention, and I see your green eyes widen in confusion.

“Baby, are these yours?” you ask.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” I say, and leave.

As I walk down the hall, Gunner’s voice fades, “––the cravings, man, what did I tell you, she’s––” 

As far as I know, the batteries are still under the couch.


When I return from the bathroom, Gunner is gone. You sit on our bed. You look at me, lingeringly. Affectionately. 

“I’m skipping poker night,” you say.

We stare at each other for a beat. You open your mouth. Another beat passes before sound emerges. “Did you just throw up?”

“Yes,” I say, truthfully.

Your eyes grow rounder and wider. Two water balloons, filling. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he asks. 

“I didn’t know.”

“How could you not know? Have you been sick for multiple weeks?” 

I nod. 

“Holy fuck. We haven’t even been––but you’ve been taking the pill.” 

“Sometimes it fails.” 

“But that’s statistically––” 


“Oh my God. And you’re gonna… There’s no question of… You could within the next month here, or we could drive––”

I shake my head. You know this is not a possibility. You run your hands through your hair. I walk towards you, stand right in front of you, where you are seated on the bed. You drop your head forward, let the top of your scalp burrow under my breasts, and your eyelids brush my belly. My hands find your shoulder blades. Your hands find the backs of my thighs.

“Are you mad?” I ask. 

You turn up your face so I can see that you are not. Now it is your chin pressing into my belly. Your stubble bores into my fat. When you pull away, there are a hundred tiny pinpricks, not quite welts, traversing my stomach like insect footprints. I look away from my stomach and meet your eyes. They glisten, and you smile at me slowly. 

“No, baby. No I’m not.” 

I kiss the top of your head.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” you say. “I just need time to think about it. But this––this could be good, right?”

“Yes,” I say, “yes, it will.”

“We’re gonna have a baby,” you say. “We’re gonna have a baby,” you repeat, softer this time. You kiss my stomach. “My parents can keep helping us while we figure things out.” 

“They won’t be mad?”

“Dad’s not as Christian as he claims. Momma will be too excited about being a grandmother to remember to be mad.”

I will have in-laws. A whole family of them. 

Your head whips around, and you look at the decrepit stucco ceiling, at the industrial glass windows thrown futilely open, and through the doorway into the living room whose surfaces are still littered with gaming consoles and my food. 

“We’re gonna have to move,” you say. 

A grin pushes my cheeks up my face, and we both laugh.

And then, as if this wasn’t good enough, you, you pull me by the waist into the bed, and it feels better than it has in months. 


In the week since you believed it, you have skipped two poker nights and one football game––a big one, versus Tech––to stay home with me. The more you moor me with your arms, the more I float. 

And the more I realize that what started as an alibi could be a salvation. Yesterday, I flushed the rest of the pills down the toilet, all at once. They flocked out of sight like a swarm of tiny pink beetles. 

Today, you cut classes to drive me to the medical center for my first OB/GYN appointment. The university hospital is a concrete behemoth that hulks between cicada-filled pecan trees. We drive through ten minutes of cattle fields to reach it. The steer blink flies away with dripping lashes and flick their tails as we blaze past them on an asphalt strip. The horizon is flat. The clouds are unpunctured and glorious.

You stop the car outside the glassed-in foyer. We can see contributing society members parade in a chromatic hierarchy of scrubs: teal for attendings, pink for fellows, blue for residents. Green for medical students. My stomach drops when I think about Gunner finding me here. Then my anxiety inverts, and I grow more worried about Gunner not seeing me here. He said he finished his OB/GYN rotation, right? Or did he say he just started it?

“I’m gonna find a parking space and then I’ll meet you inside,” you say.

“No, I have to go alone. They don’t allow visitors.” 

“Oh? Gunner said the fathers usually attend the major appointments.” 

“This isn’t a major appointment.” 

“What do you mean, not a major appointment? It’s the first one!” you say. “They’ll draw blood and do an ultrasound or whatever. I wanna see––”

A car behind us in the drop-off line honks. The car air conditioner is all the way up and starts to make a noise.

“Nathan please, going to the gynecologist is embarrassing, they’re going to make me strip down––”

“Are you kidding me, Rebecca? I’ve seen you naked! Aren’t you always begging––”

“This is different Nathan, this is private––”

“How could your body keep a secret from me?” you joke. “I know more about your body than that doctor will.”

“You can come to the next appointment.” I leap out of the car. “Pick me up in an hour.”

A wall of humidity slams into my body.

“Baby, wait!” you yell, but I am already on the curb and through the sliding glass doors. I hide by an elevator bank until I see the black Ford exit the visitor parking lot.

I compose myself in the lobby bathroom. 

I take a safety pin out of my purse and unfold its point to the fluorescent overhead light. I unfurl my right arm and steel myself. I stick myself once, in the purple vessel beneath my damp skin. Blood pools convincingly. I fumble to apply the bandage I brought in my purse. 

Next, I withdraw a small jar of Vaseline from my purse. I roll up my shirt. I smear a palmful of Vaseline across my stomach. I look at the ceiling so I don’t see the fat dimpling and reorganizing beneath my hand. Then, I partially wipe away the gunk, mimicking the exertions of a sloppy ultrasound technician. 

The bathroom is silent. I lean my head against the mirror and rest. Then I remember that people come to this hospital against their will. They are strapped into beds and forced to eat or stand on scales or piss into measuring cups. I sprint out of the building. 

By the time the Ford returns, I am sitting on the sweltering curb with my head on my knees.


After you pick me up, we go to Whataburger. My salad comes with fried chicken but I ask them to substitute grilled. We take our lunches to the park at the main campus and eat in the grass while you lob questions at me. 

“Yes, they drew blood.” (I reveal my bandage. A lentil-sized halo of blood is visible through the Band-Aid fibers. You kiss it. I congratulate myself.)

“They found nothing alarming on the ultrasound.” (I lift my shirt demurely. You place your hand over my navel and pretend to feel a kick.)

You are so endearingly buoyed by each fragment of information I give that I kiss you in public, and you let me. You bite my lip; I feel wetness gather, and suddenly we are doused in shade.

“Fixin’ to put on a show for the whole park?” a voice says.

We pull apart. Gunner looms behind you, blotting out the sun. His face is slick with sweat. He carries a half-gallon bottle of green Gatorade. It looks like a container of bile. I squint at the building behind him. Geary Memorial Fitness Center.

“Fuck you man, she just had the big appoin––”

“How many weeks along are you,” he says, training his eyes on me.

I feel lightheaded. I open my mouth. I need to say a number.

“Fourteen days. Weeks. I mean, Fourteenweeks.”

Is that plausible? I can’t think. My brain is coated with scales.

“Oh good,” he says, “you won’t throw up anymore.” He grins. “Most patients find that morning sickness ends by week twelve.” 

“Really?” you say. “Thank god––” 

I cannot hear the rest of your response. In my peripheral vision, I see a small brown scorpion climb into my salad box. My vision warps. My head hits the ground.


I wake up on the couch in the living room. The first thing I see is the stucco of the ceiling, rough like unfinished leather or the back of a tongue.

“Nathan!” You do not respond. 

The world spins when I right myself. I feel my way to the bedroom door. You’re on the phone. 

“Yes, Momma. She’s fourteen weeks along. Yes, we’re both happy. You’ll meet her––”

My head feels thick but even in this state, I know better than to interrupt this call. I smile for a minute. Then I realize with a jolt that I have duped this innocent stranger into believing that she will be a grandmother. 

I am revolted by myself, by my body that holds sticky, masticated food but no baby. By my brain that controls it all. By the fact that I cannot escape either of them. And yet they are all I know; they are all I’ve ever lived in. They are sick but they are familiar and they are my only friends.

I run to the bathroom.

In my panic, I forget to lock the stall. I am almost done when the molded plastic door smacks against its frame. Gunner enters in time to see me easing my hand out of my throat, my knuckle scabs reopened and oozing where my incisors meet the flesh. From my knees, Gunner looks taller. I swallow, tasting blood. 

“I ate something bad. Go away.” 

“You made yourself throw up,” he says.

“No, that’s disgusting,” I say. “Leave.”

“Who else knows that you do this?” 

“I didn’t do anything, just go away––” 

“You can’t lie to me, Rebecca. I’m a year away from being a doctor. I saw everything.” 

“LEAVE! Please, for the love of––”

“You need help. You could actually kill yourself. Does Nathan know you––”

“Of course, he does. He is going to marry me, and you need to leave right this fucking second.”

“I don’t believe you. You need help.” 

“He already knows. I’m already seeing a doctor––”

“And he’s in the next room,” Gunner says. “It would be so easy to find out.” 

“You wouldn’t dare.”

Something glints in his dirt-colored eyes that is neither saviorism nor hospitality nor the Hippocratic Oath. He knows you are all I have, and he still wants to take you from me. 

I pull myself to my feet with a fistful of his shirt. 

“Are you ready to tell Nathan?” he asks. 

Instinctively, my hand flashes toward his face. His reflexes are faster. Gunner grabs my arm mid-strike. His meaty hand, accustomed to barbells and scalpels, wraps almost one and a half times around my wrist. His face goes slack with pity, and for the first time, I can picture this face hovering over a patient’s bed, offering comfort and drugs. 

“You’re gonna hate me, sweetheart,” he says. 

“It’s not too late,” I whisper. 

But we both know it is.

“NATHAN!” He bellows from the depths of his mass. 

Gunner is still clutching me by the wrist when you stumble in.  

You see the tear tracks on my face. You see it on the floor, on my hand, on the toilet, on my lips. 

I see the smell hit you. Your body convulses. I am filled with a shame I have not yet known. You gag and look away. But I cannot be mad at you for being surprised. Surprise is a reflex, and a reflex is an uncontrollable response to an uncontrollable stimulus.

“Baby, what’s going on here?” 

I close my eyes. In my temporary blindness, I remember many things. 

I remember how, during the first grade field trip to Swan Lake, I believed the dancers were birds. How I begged to take ballet classes. How the studio girls taught me I could subsist on one tangerine and one multivitamin for lunch each day. How I threw up my high school graduation cake. 

Somewhere in the present, the grip on my wrist tightens. The memories shift.

How we sat next to each other on the airport shuttle during freshman move-in. How quickly you were my date to every formal, the person I cried to after arguing with my floormates, the person in the front row at my dance performances. How you said I was beautiful. How I could tell you meant it by the way you looked at my body with hunger. How somehow at the beginning of that first month, I stopped purging, and somehow by the end we were in love. 

The grip on my wrist loosens.

How the first thing you said when you heard I was a dancer was hot. How you put my legs over your shoulders even though it was my first time. How you gave my body its first good purpose besides dancing, got me hooked on it, and now you have no appetite for sex at all. How you tell me that you’re too tired, yet still have energy to shoot a virtual man with a virtual gun. How you fall asleep afterwards. How I suspect that it is me, not the act, that exhausts you.

My scalp sears with the thought that I will lose you if I tell the truth. My wrist is slick with Gunner’s sweat. I open my eyes. “I’m not pregnant.” 

The disappointment in your eyes hurts. The relief that replaces it is excruciating. 

“Alright, we’re all done here,” you say, like you’re asking for the check. You gag again, then turn on your heel and walk out. You are calm––so calm, too calm. A weight has lifted off your shoulders. I’ve always been too heavy.


It was Gunner who told me I fainted again after you left the bathroom. He drove me to the hospital. My worst enemy played my savior. 

They referred me to a group residential program. They watch us in the bathroom there and feed us fatty foods like pasta bake and brisket and pork belly. Today they served lasagna. I mashed it with my fork until it looked like bloody flaps of skin. The meal supervisor made me finish it anyway, on the threat of telling Dr. Valdez.

Dr. Valdez told me I should explain all this to you, even in a letter that you will never read, but my care team will. She says it will bring me closure. 

What’s left to tell? 

This is the simplest way I can put it. What my fingers feel at the back of my throat cannot be so different from what your fingers feel when you sheathe them in me. The back of my throat is spongy and firm and glazed in a film of mucus. It feels soft and forbidden. 

I remember the first time you slipped your fingers inside of me. You made me aware of a hollowness which was deeper than I had realized, made me aware that I am composed of cavity, and this disturbed me. If your fingernail had been a razor, you could have sliced through the ceiling of my uterus, carved apart my intestines, and pierced my stomach. 

“This will feel so good,” you said. 

I am jealous of this fact: when Eve ate the apple, at least she kept it down.

“I’ve never had one this tight,” you told me. 

Not long after, my muscles twitch and seize. The prelude is a tightening and loosening whose familiar rhythm is as comforting as it is apprehensive. A swell passes through me. My breath halts. My eyes water. It is a reflex that I cannot fight, an animal sprung from its cage, a monster too clever for Frankenstein. My brain has conquered my body, or perhaps it is the other way around.

In the moment of expulsion, I am foreign to myself.

Sometimes I feel guilty, not for harming myself, but for lying to you. I expected some sort of cosmic punishment. But nothing has happened. I am alive, although I could be dead. And then I remember that I have to live the rest of my life in my own company, and this is punishment enough.