Flash Fiction: A Breathing Thing by Suzy Rigdon

In daylight, your scars vary in color, from brownish to pale pink to white. They aren’t deep. Only a few pearls of blood appear with each cut. That’s your rule. You’re a cliché, sort of. But since the cuts are shallow, and the blood doesn’t pool when you do it, you think of yourself instead as a scratcher; tiny cat claw lines.

Paul doesn’t notice them. When you have sex, you insist on being face down, bent over the edge of the bed. Even if you’re on your back, your legs are up anyway, so what does it matter?

You had a plan. Three months to regulate after removing the birth control and then voilà. It was supposed to happen. But after nine months of failing to get pregnant, scraping the blade across your thigh seemed like the right thing to do. A thing you could do. You were already bleeding anyway.

The two-week wait tears at you. A cramp or tweak or slight indigestion fills up your helium chest and you let yourself dream. You’ve wasted several hundred dollars on tests, peeing then pacing as the phone timer clicks down and down and down. Paul doesn’t get why you’re so worked up: It’ll happen when it happens, love.

On your twelfth month of trying, your sister gets pregnant. Ritz and her husband pulled off the condom one time and poof, she’s puking and growing a goddamn pecan-sized human. When Ritz tells you long distance on the phone, you keep it together, looking at the ceiling, sizing up the cracks Paul said he would fix and hasn’t, and congratulate her.

Mom was over the moon! Ritz sings it and you want to punch her right in the face.

You hang up, try to hang up, but your eyes are flooded and it takes a minute to hit the end button before you’ve curled in on yourself on the floor, aching for air. Wishing the paring knife was in your hand.

Your thirteenth failure will be Ritz’s second trimester. Your sixteenth will be her third. You map and plan and figure it all out until all you can see from these depths is the future of watching Ritz’s life unfold like yours should.

Sometimes when you get drunk, you scroll through the children on the state’s foster care website like you’re shopping, fitting their faces and bios into your life, wondering what color they’d want their rooms. You count up costs like you can afford it—$10,000 IVF or a million or ten million—it all sounds the same on your $30k salary. But you think of Ritz and that tiny thing inside of her, and your grief becomes a breathing thing.

You want to show Paul, to pull down your jeans so he can see your pain. Press his lips against the scars and murmur love into your thighs. But in the blackness where you hide, it’s impossible. When the front door opens and his shoes echo down the hall, you step into the shower to hide your tears. To waste even more time while you wait.

Suzy Rigdon’s short prose has appeared in Atlas & Alice, LitHub, Coldnoon Magazine, and elsewhere. She teaches Digital Creative Writing at George Mason University where she manages the Fall for the Book festival.  Follow her on Twitter @SuzyRigdon

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