New horror fiction.
147 E. 9th Street – Chapter 9
The room was freezing. But Carolyn could feel her sweat, slick against her chest and upper arms, seeping from her armpits. She lay on the exam table, the white sheet digging in where it twisted under the back of her leg. She was wearing a hospital gown, flapped over itself and lifted, exposing her stomach. Her pants were unzipped and separated. Shawn stood behind her, quiet, his hand on her shoulder. The doctor rolled the ultrasound head over her abdomen and stared at the screen.
“Okay, those are the cysts. We knew about those,” the doctor said, pointing to blurry mounds on the monitor behind her. She moved the ultrasound head as she spoke. “One. Two. Three…and there’s the fourth.”
Carolyn and Shawn were silent. They’d heard the words but not seen the evidence live. Her ovaries, her fallopian tubes and her uterus were filled with strangulating cysts.
The doctor made a sound. It wasn’t a gasp. Nothing so big. But she took in a breath that the room could hear. “Wait…there’s something else here…I don’t remember seeing a fifth one before, this must be a new one.” She moved the ultrasound head again and adjusted a dial on the machine.
“What?” Carolyn said, lifting her head as far off the exam table and forward toward to the monitor as she could. “What’s wrong?” Shawn grabbed her hand. There was a brief percussive sound that came from the machine. A few beats and then another. Then, the muffled but regular sound of a heart beat filled Carolyn’s head.
“What is that?” she asked. She reached up and grabbed Shawn’s hand, digging her fingers into the flash of his muscular palms.
“I don’t know,” the doctor said. “I’m sorry. There must be another one. Small. Something we didn’t see before.
“No,” Carolyn said. “The sound…”
Shawn looked at Carolyn, then at the doctor, and then back to Carolyn. “What sound?”
The fast, regular pounding filled her ears again.
“It’s a heartbeat,” Carolyn said.
The doctor looked concerned. “Are you feeling okay” Faint? Dizzy? Nauseous?”
“No,” Carolyn said. “I’m fine. But I know what…is that a baby?”
“I’m sorry,” the doctor said. “It’s not a heartbeat. You might be hearing, it could be, sometimes when there is more mass, unusually calcified or misplaced, in the tissue space than is usual, the vibrations of the sound waves in the biologic fluid can- “
“I know what it is,” Carolyn said.
“It could just be you feeling unwell. Some dehydration, the beginnings of a migraine, vertigo, could all mimic a similar sound in your head,” the doctor said. “I’m not hearing anything. Carolyn, I need to be sure you understand. With four cysts of that size, all calcified, some precancerous, there is no way that this uterus could sustain life.”
“My uterus is sustaining,” Carolyn said.
“Darling, I’m sure…” offered Shawn.
The doctor turned off the ultrasound machine. “My first concern is for your health. Why don’t you get dressed and we can talk in my office?” The doctor smiled politely, and just a bit sadly.
“We can talk here,” Carolyn said, straightening herself up on the exam table. She smiled too. A real one. Ernest and eager.
“Lynnie,” Shawn said.
“Please. Go ahead,” Carolyn said to the doctor.
“I have to recommend a complete hysterectomy. Not emergent. But I’d like it as soon as possible.”
Carolyn smile flattened, but just a by a degree. “No.”
“Doctor McMillen,” Carolyn said, “I am not going to have a surgery. I am having a baby. So, that is what I’m going to do.”
“That is not medically possible,” the doctor said.
“That,” Carolyn said,” is not up to you.”
“I’m sorry, but I have to…Carolyn, you have to listen. Tell her, what happens if she doesn’t have the surgery,” Shawn said.
“This is ridiculous,” Carolyn said. “Why would I even consider this? I’m, we’re having a baby.”
“I don’t care about that,” he said. “I don’t care if we never have any. I want our life like it is and that means you.”
“But I don’t-”
“Tell her what can happen,” he said, voice raising and patience lowering.
“Infection. Sepsis. Rupture. Death,” the doctor said, plain and firm.
“Is that all?” Carolyn asked.
“Listen,” Shawn scolded.
Carolyn slid forward and stood. Shawn stood beside her. The doctor rose to meet them. “Thank you so much,” Carolyn said. “We’re done here.” Her thin hospital bed gaped open, her breasts and torso exposed. She grabbed her t-shirt from a folding chair in the corner and left. Shawn dipped his head slightly at the doctor, then followed her.
An hour later, Carolyn walked to the corner of their kitchen. She threw the rumpled hospital gown she still had balled in her hand into the garbage can. Shawn waited until she turned around so he could look at her face. “We don’t have to do anything right now. I want you to relax. I’ll draw you a bath- “
Carolyn smiled. “Silly boy. East village apartments don’t have bathtubs.” He started saying this to her shortly after their first date. He offered to draw her a bath. His small apartment had none. He smiled and left the room. When he returned, he handed her a pencil sketch of a bathtub. He was good with his hands in so many ways.
“I’ll make you one: pop out, get a blow-up kiddie pool at Duane Reade, boil water in the kettle while I blow it up. Bubbles, lavender oil, salts, right as rain and then fast asleep,” he said. “Deal with this another day.” He stroked her forearm as he talked.
“You are wonderful,” she said, leaning up to kiss him. “I’m so happy.” He kissed her back and tried to wrap her in his arms. “And I’m starving. I will love you forever if you call out for a curry while I take a shower.” She pulled away from his arms and went into the bathroom. She closed the door behind her and he heard her click the lock. “Seven and a half,” she called to him behind the door. “I want it spicy.”
She stayed in the bathroom for a long, long time. The water in the shower had shifted from scalding hot, to warm to tepid, to slightly chilly by the time she was done. When she finally got out, she’d let go of the day and made her plans. and wrapped herself in a long, warm robe. She could smell the curry.
He was sitting with a pile of vegetables. There was a bottle of uncorked wine on the table. She took a bite of her curry.
“It’s perfect,” she said, her mouth full and her nose sniffling.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I told them medium. Do you want mine?”
“No,” she said. “It’s great.”
“I love you,” he said.
“Love you, too.”
“Here. Have some wine,” he said, grabbing the wine and pouring. She looked at him as if he was the most foolish boy. She walked to the sink and poured herself a glass of water. She took several long gulps still standing and then returned to the table.
“What are you doing tomorrow?” she asked. He pulled his phone out of his pocket. They tried to keep their phones away during their dinners.
“Clients until three,” he said.
“Perfect. Keep the evening free.”
“Of course,” he said. “What are you thinking love?
“I think I found a midwife. At the center off 38th. I e-mailed while I was in the bathroom. She’s lovely. We can look at the office tomorrow when you’re done.”
“She has a list of doulas that she recommends. I want to start interviewing as soon as we can. I want as much support as I can get. I know you’ll be wonderful but there needs to be another support. You can’t be my only pillar.”
He slammed the wine bottle back down on the table. Drops flicked onto his hand. “You’ve got to stop. I went along when we were at the doctor’s office but- “
“Look at me. Look at this belly. This isn’t me. It’s her.”
“No, Carolyn. It’s you moping around this apartment and eating and not moving. And I don’t care. I love you no matter your shape or size. I love you and your belly. You are still my most beautiful girl in the world. But there is no baby. And you have go to stop this. Or you will get sick, and then you will get sicker and then you will be my beautiful dead girl.”
“You don’t have to be a part of this,” she said. “We will be just fine on our own.”
Shawn stood, leaving the food and wine where it sat. He walked away from the table and she could hear the bedroom door slam from the other room. She took another drink of water to cool her mouth, and then she stabbed a forkful of his vegetables and ate them in one giant bite. Then she took another. It really was perfect.