by Grey Harlowe
They started out in the dark. A 4:30 a.m. alarm had gotten them out the door, showered and respectable, in old but clean REI outfits. Leah hated this. Waking up before dawn to travel seventy miles to Portland and camp out for the ‘good’ outlet stores’ sale, so Aiden could get the newest tech toy he wanted, this time, some kind of game system, at a reasonable price.
They would need fewer things at a reasonable price if he would get over the tech obsession, or simply learn to live with less overall. She looked at her jeans, slightly baggy in a way that had become unfashionable ten years ago. She glanced over at Aiden, thumbs drumming on the steering wheel of their recently refinanced car, driven out of their tiny apartment building’s tiny parking lot. Didn’t he ever tire of buying things? Of keeping up appearances? It wasn’t as if their families didn’t know they weren’t exactly well off. She considers asking him, but a look out the window at the Columbia river changed her mind. Its darkness, dotted by the few lights on at this hour, whispered of silence, and the deep, peerless comforts of privacy.
She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She would need a bathroom soon. How quickly it had gone already. Though the first symptoms were mild, nausea, a burning across her breasts, the plus sign on the pregnancy test the previous week had been no surprise. Her period was three days late, and a certain kind of automatic knowing had arrived immediately, like a bill for collection. Now the urgent trips to the bathroom were upon her, as well as an unflattering swell building everywhere.
She remembers her childhood. A house filled with love, sure, but always that ever present worry over money. They had not exactly lacked it, but her family home was modest, its members frugal. She sees that tight strain at the edges of her mother’s mouth as she told Leah they could not afford college. There had been such a rift between them after that, even after her mother assured her, “Your brothers won’t be getting it, either.”
She had already decided to have the abortion, and to keep it from Aiden. The knowledge of her plans made a black, glistening slide around her mind, like the river.
The traffic was beginning to pick up, but Aiden wanted breakfast. It was unusual for him to slow his pursuit of a sale, so Leah acquiesced. At least she would have a bathroom. At least the sun had not yet tickled the city awake. Maybe it would not rise today at all, or it would stop rising altogether. Then time would stop, and money, and the demands of absent periods and spendthrift boyfriends. Ah, no, she saw, as they pulled up to the restaurant. The sun was emerging, turning the sky cobalt blue. There would be no reprieve for her, no exit, no escape.