JUST SOMETHING THAT HAPPENS

By Anne Farnsworth

“I haven’t gotten my period in six months.” 

Best Bud whistles long and low on the other end of the line.  

“Geesh,” she says, “you better tell your Mom.”

“No way,” I answer firmly. “You know the Jumper. Before I finish the first sentence she will have leapt to the rafters with a burning stake in her hand crying for justice.  Thunderbolts of fury will rain down on my head.  The earth will scorch, crops will fail…”

“What if you’re pregnant?”  Best Bud interjects. “They’re going to find out sooner or later.”

“I’m not pregnant. That would be obvious after six months.”

Besides, we’ve always used protection, the Prince of Cool and I.  Both times.

“You’re sure?” she asks cautiously.

“I guess. What do you think it is?”

“Dunno. Hope it’s not some disease.”

“Gee, thanks. Can you ask your Mom for me?”

“Are you kidding? Suck it up and tell your mom. She may surprise you.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”

I hang up the phone and take a deep breath. What’s the worst that can happen? I’m sixteen,  they can’t send me to regular prison.  A youth camp, maybe. What if she asks if I’m a virgin? Except for the pamphlet she wordlessly handed me when I was twelve, sex has never come up. ‘A Girl’s Precious Wonder’, I think it was called. 

Fists clenched, I step over the bodies of the Sibs splayed out in a starburst formation around the TV.  Poor saps, ignorant of the unearthly power soon to be unleashed in the Jumper’s bedroom.  I knock on the half-closed door.

“Yes?”

“I need to talk to you.”

With my spirit hovering over my body ready for a fast break, I enter and sit on the edge of the bed.  The Jumper puts down her book and eyes me warily. Cozy little talks aren’t our style. “What is it?” 

Her questions have no upward tilt in their inflection. They sound like statements.

I speak the unspeakable. Hold my breath.  A nod that says ‘Go on’, like a doctor would do.  I can’t possibly be pregnant, I add.  No reaction.

“Well?” I ask. 

“We’ll talk about this tomorrow,” the Jumper says flatly. Interview over.

I slink out of her bedroom in a giddy sort of shock.  For the first time in my life, the Jumper hasn’t jumped. To conclusions. All over me. Out of a window and screaming down the street.  Maybe it will be okay after all.

The next morning I am called out of class to the school office. I walk in to see the Jumper signing a piece of paper and handing it back to the secretary. Mumbles. Whispers. What’s going on?

We leave school and get in her car. The Jumper drives in the direction of a neighboring town twenty miles away, home of the Paternal Unit and his new wife, She Who Has Needs. 

“To see the doctor,” the Jumper hisses darkly.

“We can’t see a doctor in our town? Why’d you have to go and get everybody involved?”

No one answers but the wind as it whistles tunelessly through the open windows. It’s hot but I feel chilled.

We pull into the parking lot in front of the small medical center where the local sawbones makes camp with his dipsomaniac nurse. She Who Has Needs is already there, waiting behind the wheel of her big expensive car. She gets out as we do and runs a laser probe up and down my whole sinful self. She and the Jumper exchange meaningful glances.

“Best get this over with,” She says tartly. 

Flanked on either side, I am frog marched into the building. I say nothing.  Talking is what got me into this. From now on I am a prisoner of war, they have my body but my spirit is…

“Good morning, everyone!” Dipsy nurse chirps through blood red lips as we enter the cold, dark waiting room.

The Jumper turns to She. “Can you take it from here? I have to get back to work.”

“I think we can handle things,” She assures. 

I feel guilty as hell. Even the town slut nurse seems to be looking down on me. It’s not my fault, I scream in my head.  What would they do if I had cancer? Put me in stocks in the village square?

The nurse leads us to an examining room where I am instructed to remove my clothes and put on this sheet-looking thing. Dipsy and She stand whispering to one side as I turn the sheet this way and that.  Are they going to leave while I change?

“Come on, the doctor will be here soon,” She admonishes. “Get your clothes off.”

Guess they’re not leaving. I sit on the padded table and take off my shoes. There are silver stirrup-y things suspended from poles at one end of the platform. Do you hang your shoes there while the doctor is examining you? I don’t know and don’t ask.

Naked, I hold up the sheet to cover myself. I’ve never been naked in front of two women before.  In broad daylight.  In big trouble. They don’t seem to notice.

“Put your arms through the holes, dear,” Dipsy instructs, “the open part goes in the back.”  

Excuse me?

Thus arrayed, I slide hesitantly back onto the table. The air conditioning curls up my bare back. Dipsy smiles.

“I’ll get the Doctor.”

The atmosphere grows heavy as we wait, She and I. With each sigh from her wide avaricious mouth, the air thickens until I am gasping, catching my breath in short little hiccups.

“I’m not pregnant,” I mutter. Like speaking under water, my words are dull and slow, fighting their way through the leaden air.

“But could you be?” She asks. “Are you a virgin?”

“What?”

“You heard me.  A virgin.  Are you or aren’t you? You might as well tell me now because the doctor can see if you are. Well?”

I stumble. I stutter. I hang my head. I expose the heinous crime in one little word.

“No.”

She folds her arms triumphantly across her ample bosom and smiles in a weird sort of way.  I wonder how the doctor can tell.  Is it something in the eyes? I don’t ask.

The door opens and Sawbones makes his entrance, all starchy white coat and condescending attitude. He always seems to be bugged that he has patients waiting.   I was fourteen the last time he and I crossed paths. I fall off my horse, hit my head on a rock and split it open down to the skull.   We have to wait in the parking lot because it’s Sunday and Sawbones was home eating dinner with his family.  Sitting in the car, so much blood, crying as I press a red-soaked towel to my head. The Paternal Unit points encouragingly to the doctor’s car as he pulls into the drive.  We watch in horror as he stops at the road to sort through his mailbox before attending to me. I take forty stitches.

“How are we today?” Sawbones rattles. 

She Who Has Needs gestures and they step out of the room.  Supported by my arms trying to hold my bare bottom off the waxy paper cover, I grip the edge of the table and stare out the window. I don’t want to look at the naked lady on the wall with the outlines of her reproductive organs drawn like a street map of a suburban cul de sac. Her arms are open slightly to each side, like a statue of the Madonna, as if she were offering this glimpse into her deepest self for our salvation. Raise those arms, pump in some nails, and that could be me up there.

The door opens. Sawbones and She look grim.

“Might as well get started,” Sawbones says. “Lie back on the table and put your feet in the stirrups.”  

Excuse me?

“Come on, lie down. I’ve got other patients to see, Missy.”

I search the face of She who nods, her face pale and tight.  Do it. 

Still disbelieving, I pivot my body and slide lengthwise down the table, feeling for the stirrups with my bare feet, my hands clumping the fabric of the sheet down between my thighs. The stirrups are ice.  My face burns.

Sawbones sits on a stool and spins across the floor to the table, flipping on a small light attached to a band around his forehead. Grasping the stirrups with both hands, he pulls them upward with a sharp thrust. My legs shoot into the air, calf muscles quivering.  He reaches out and spreads my knees apart. He’s not going to look there, is he? I’ve been defending that hill since I started dating. Nobody got there. Well, except for the Prince. And now Sawbones?

“Let’s see what we’ve got.”

A silent scream explodes in my throat as Sawbones carefully folds back the sheet. His hands are cold, my skin is on fire. Sawbones bends down and studies my private parts. 

“Hmmm…”

Great clouds of pink and blue fill the room. Sparks of electricity shoot out of the light over my head and a low, droning hum fills my ears. Sawbones turns away, his arm disappearing in the mist.  I hear him rustling around in a drawer. Out of the clouds his hand reappears with some sort of utensil, like something you’d see in a gourmet’s kitchen. A crab cracker or a wine opener.  

“This might hurt a bit,” he says, faint glimmer of hope in his voice. 

My body stiffens as the crab cracker is inserted.  The sparks are dancing around my head now, the drone deafening.  She steps out of the haze and leans in, keeping a respectful distance behind Sawbones.

“Do you see anything?” She asks, her voice rising over the thunder.

“Hmm….,” he says again. 

I am not here. This is not happening. I turn my face to the window. The clouds part and I can see the sky. I am not here. I am somewhere up there.

The probing tool is pushed in farther. Screwing sounds. It widens against me from the inside. My muscles fight back. It wins.

“Nope,” Sawbones pronounces. “But that doesn’t mean anything.”

What are you looking for, a miniature baby? When you peer down that dark tunnel, will it gurgle and wave?

His stool squeaks backward as the crab cracker is quickly withdrawn.  The sudden release from its painful grip sends hot tears running down my cheeks. I turn to face the wall. I don’t want them to see me cry.

“Well, young lady, if you want to dance you have to pay the piper,” Sawbones grunts as he stands and leans over me. I can’t stop the tears no matter how hard I try. He presses on my abdomen, carefully, thoughtfully, here and there. I am nauseous. The lamp over my head glows red as I stare straight up. Maybe it will burn out my retinas and I can be blind. The Madonna on the wall reaches out to comfort me.

“Good girls don’t have to go through this. If it was one of my girls, well…”  He leaves the consequence unspoken. Images of his two dowdy daughters dance around the room. Don’t worry, Pops.  Nobody’s interested. 

“You feel something?” She wheedles in a high-pitched voice. Kind of disappointed-sounding.  As if she wishes there was. Like it would give her something to do. A crisis she could turn inside out and poke and prod until it hovered around her. She could wrap it around her neck and, stooped with its great weight, cry foul for the burdens life has handed her.  It would become one of her needs.

“No, but that doesn’t mean anything. You can sit up now.”

Sawbones goes to the cupboard and opens another drawer.  I rise, balancing cautiously on the gaping hole between my shaking legs.  I can still feel the cold steel. He pulls out a large white plastic bottle.

“So…,” She says, beady eyes darting from him to me.

Sawbones opens the bottle and shakes out seven of the largest pills I have ever seen.  He puts them in an envelope and hands them to her.

“See that she takes one a day for the next seven days. If nothing happens by then, well, we’ll know for sure now won’t we.”

She shakes her curls emphatically, taking the envelope with a small greedy hand.

“Yes, Doctor, we will. We’ll know.”

I say nothing.

One hour later we are sitting in the Paternal Unit’s spacious office, She and I. We’ve interrupted a busy day. The phone on his desk blinks insistently. The Unit reaches into a drawer and pulls out his own white plastic bottle. Antacids. Tums for the tummy.  He unscrews the top and pops a couple in his mouth. Chewing slowly, he speaks for the first time.

“So it seems you’re not pregnant.”

“No,” I say softly. The first I have spoken in hours. 

“We won’t know for sure until she takes the pills,” She offers helpfully.

“I see,” the Unit replies.

The same heavy air.  Silent recrimination.  I stare over his head at the ponderous portrait of my great grandfather, Company Founder, that hangs on the wall.  Even he seems pissed off.

“Well,” the Unit says, “we’re just disappointed there was a possibility.  That you weren’t still a…”  His voice trails off. The Founder nods gravely, if imperceptibly.

I am taken home, the bonds released. The Jumper is still at work but has been following the proceedings by phone. There is nothing to discuss when she arrives. I take the pills, one each day. After five days my period comes. And comes and comes and comes. Heavy, cramping bleeding for two solid weeks.  Tidings of joy ring across the parental landscape.  The siege is lifted.   

I wonder why I missed my period for half a year but it is never discussed. We pretend it didn’t happen. I don’t broach the subject that gnaws at me because I have learned a great lesson, to keep my own counsel. Except for Best Bud, of course. But she has no power over me. She can’t hijack me out of school and deliver me into the depths of misery. She can’t lean over a doctor’s shoulder and stare with pursed lips as I lie naked and exposed. 

Fast forward, ten years later. I sit at the Unit’s bedside in a Florida hospital. He is dying. The chemo has turned him a greenish yellow.  She Who Has Needs is in the hall outside weeping into the telephone, cursing her fate, reveling in this, her greatest burden to date.  We are alone.  I talk. The Unit listens. He is too weak to do anything else.

I speak of many things. Slights perpetrated against the Sibs; the missed plays and talent shows, the lavish generosity She showered on her own children while we went wanting.  

And my period.  Remember?  The time I didn’t get my period for six months and everybody went crazy and then I got it and we never mentioned it again? 

The Unit coughs and tries to sit up. He reaches for the steel bowl on his bed and begins to retch. I hold his head until he is finished.  I wipe his mouth and give him a sip of water.

“She told me it was normal.”  His voice is high-pitched, childlike. “Something that happens to young girls.” 

He leans back, exhausted, manages a weak smile. Asking forgiveness? Maybe.  Maybe not.  After all, it’s just something that happens.

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