Ghost Baby

By Misty Yarnall

The day after Roe v. Wade was overturned, I bought a pregnancy test.

I took myself to TJ Maxx after an eleven-and-a-half-hour shift, hoping that putting anything on my body that didn’t come from my own closet would make me more confident. Tugging the hem of a bright yellow t-shirt past my waist, I forgot how much I hated seeing my body in new clothes. Those professional-looking blouses never left the closet, and I didn’t even have the confidence to wear the colorful crop tops around the apartment.

I pulled off the yellow t-shirt, eyes back on my belly. It wasn’t any bigger than usual, but somehow, in my eyes, it plunged a little too far over my waistline. Kyleena is over 99% accurate. There’s no baby, I tell myself. All seven items I chose I brought back out of the fitting room, four pairs of shorts I didn’t even bother to try on.

I drove to Stop and Shop after 8 p.m., despite my fear of dark parking lots, and bought the test, a two pack, saving myself the trouble for the next time I went into a panicked frenzy over nothing. I cover the box with my wallet, my finger cupping the label on the side. I didn’t want even the strangers to know about this purchase.

I remembered calling the gynecology office after taking my first test over two years ago, during the first few months of a global pandemic. The receptionist had asked if she was allowed to congratulate me. For some reason, I let her.

I chose the self-checkout and rushed back into the dark, wondering how suspicious I must’ve looked. If someone saw what I was carrying, would they assume I was stealing? Were pregnancy tests often stolen from supermarkets the way Plan B was? I guessed I’d keep the spare in my glove compartment in case a friend needed one. Maybe I’d be the person to call someday in another woman’s moment of desperation.

My go-to spot was the 24-hour diner down the road. I sipped on coffee in a booth until it was inevitable that I’d have to pee. The walls were red, dark enough in the orange hue of light that everything looked a little dirty. I ordered a panini out of guilt, or maybe nerves, despite the nausea I’d felt earlier in the evening and awareness of my bloated belly.

Nausea meant pregnant, right? The first time, there had been no morning sickness. The sore, swollen breasts were what keyed me in. At the first slight discomfort, my mind reverted back. I knew I had been extremely tired, a weariness I no longer knew how to measure.

The timing of Roe v. Wade and the odds of my birth control failing hit, and I realized the pregnancy in my imagination must’ve been a ghost baby. Like when someone loses a limb, but they feel like it’s still attached. I was being ridiculous, I thought, but my anxiety wouldn’t ease until I knew for sure.

Scenarios raced through my mind. I was a college graduate now. Promoted to a higher position at work. Had a much better relationship with my mother. I craved her comfort during 2020, isolated in our designated homes by my own choice, sheltering her from my mistakes.

I think that’s the thing people don’t understand about terminating a pregnancy. Nobody wants to do it. And anyone who does never wants to do it again.

The waitress asks if I want more water, and I nod, immediately reaching for my tiny coffee mug so it would soon follow suit. I squeezed my legs together, my stomach even heavier now that I’d scarfed down a whole sandwich. I imagine that if there was a real baby, all the coffee I was drinking couldn’t be good for it.

My boyfriend had made me a mixed drink the night before, sweet with lemon margarita mix, poured in a wine glass. I didn’t finish it simply because it was too sweet, but I pleaded for nausea to give me an answer. How quickly does alcohol indicate a pregnancy? A close friend discovered her pregnancy after one shot on her 21st birthday. How early on does fetal alcohol syndrome develop? I resisted the urge to Google it, afraid he’d see and ask questions I couldn’t justify an answer for.

I stood, grabbed my purse, and stepped into the women’s room. Ironically, the song on the radio held the beat of a metronome, clock ticking in anticipation. It was negative.

Of course it was. I knew it was. How could it not be? It all felt so silly all of the sudden. 

Going back out to the booth, the empty plates and creamer cups were already cleared off the table. An almost full cup of coffee still sat at my place.

I took a seat and sipped, alone.

About the author:

Misty Yarnall is a writer, editor, and creative mentor. She received her BFA in Creative Writing from Purchase College. Her work can be found in a handful of literary magazines, including Prime Number Magazine, The Roadrunner Review, and KAIROS Literary Magazine. She holds awards in the Sixth Act Playwriting Competition and the POV Fest Screenwriting Contest. She is head of Youth Programs at the Hudson Valley Writers Center and works as a Junior Editor with DLG Publishing Partners.

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