I lose my third pregnancy this year. I was ten weeks along this time, the farthest I have ever gotten. My husband takes me to his hospital and sits in the room with me, talking to his friend and fellow doctor about hospital politics while the fetus in its sack is vacuumed out of my body. This fetus has arm joints and organ buds according to an app I have on my phone. I do not ask to see it, which I then regret. My husband does not ask to see either, but I doubt he regrets it. My husband does not particularly want a baby, and this fact has become weaponized. Everything in my life has been flattened along the axis of fertility. It is the thing I can’t stop thinking about and which I have no control over. I imagine the claustrophobia of my wet warm uterus—what a revolting place it must be to drive all my children to suicide. Not revolting, “inhospitable,” my husband corrects.
Sam’s wife leaves him. As usual with these things, it's inevitable and sudden all at once. My friend’s stress response is to go to sleep, which isn’t the stress response of an animal who makes it in the wild, but it is the most effective response in further infuriating his furious wife. The angrier she is, the yawnier he is.
The day she leaves him, he sleeps for thirty-two hours straight. When he wakes up he chugs a bunch of water and then sleeps for another nine.
“Didn’t you have to get up to pee?” I want to know.
“I didn’t get up,” he says, and yawns. We’re talking about this in the parking lot of the university where both of us work. Kids in caps and gowns stream by us with their parents. I have to get out of the car several times to hug people who spot me, despite my disguise of sunglasses and a sour expression.
“How did you know it was me?” I ask one of the students as her mother photographs us together.
It seems incomprehensible that I have not been defaced by my grief. De-faced. How? How is it possible that I look exactly the same? I laugh at myself, and the student laughs too to be polite.
I clear out my office for the summer. Walking by the dorms I see a pile of discarded books, among them Lewis and Clark: An Adventure for the Ages.
I take Sam out for lunch. We have a picnic under the arch. I read from the Lewis and Clark book as he lies face down in the grass, snoring, looking like he has fallen from a great height, like he has climbed the arch and jumped.
A boy in a red striped deli uniform is sitting nearby, paper hat in his lap. He rips a stalk of grass and throws it in my direction.
“Hey,” he says, “hey, is your old man asleep?”
Sam stirs, rises up on his elbows, shows us his disheveled, grassy face. “What?” Sam says. “What?” His eyes are open but creepy.
“He was asking if you’re awake,” I say.
“I’m awake, I’m awake,” Sam says and lies back down, not awake at all.
The boy says, “You looked dead.”
The words hang here. The boy throws another blade of grass towards me but it flutters in the wind and falls short. I don’t feel like talking to him anymore. I look back down at my book. Someone had underlined the packing list. …24 wool blankets, 50 lbs. of tobacco... A blade of grass lands on the page like a bookmark. I look up at the river. This is where they began the journey—the depressive Meriwether Lewis and his even-keeled partner, William Clark.
I look over at the boy. He freezes, clutching a handful of grass he was about to throw at me. He’s probably 15 or 16. If I had kept my first pregnancy, this is how old it would be. I get up and lunge at him like he’s a pigeon and he rolls away from me, squawking down the hill.
I stand over Sam and kick him with my foot.
“Sam,” I say. “Let’s go on a road trip.”
He looks up at me, grabs my foot.
Charles is my husband.
“Of course not with Charles.”
Sam sits up and nods.
Sam and I leave for our trip in the car my husband has prepared for us—changed the oil, inflated the tires to the optimal pressure, kissed Sam and me on our foreheads both. Outside city limits Sam’s mood noticeably improves.
“What if we had packed using their list,” Sam says, paging through the book. “Opium, guns, a sea grass hammock, pewter penis syringes, laxatives, compasses thermometers, red lead. This is a poem.”
I drive on the industrial roads along the river, trying to stay as close to their route as possible.
“Did you know they had a dog?” Sam holds up a picture, a pencil drawing someone had traced of the St. Bernard in the book.
I swerve as I try to get a better look. The dog looks insane. Tongue out. Eyes, eggs. I right the car back in the lane.
“He was named Semen,” Sam says.
“That’s weird. Why, because of his, like, virility?”
Sam looks at me strangely and squints at the dog. “Yeah, maybe,” he says uncertainly.
We drive for a while looking at squat warehouses and storage facilities.
Sam leans against the glass, his face weirdly smug. “You know I said Sea-Man, not semen. Why would someone name their dog semen?”
“I don’t know,” I’m laughing. Before this last year semen had been in the same category as snot, and then suddenly it was precious, never to be wasted, to the point that it seemed plausible that you would name a beloved pet after it.
Overtaken with jealousy of a pregnant woman in a gas station bathroom, I leave without washing my hands. I sit in the car and cry loudly with my mouth open while Sam pumps the gas. When Sam gets in the car he begins to cry too.
“She made a show of struggling around her belly to reach the soap and turn on the faucet,” I say to Sam. “Her face was so swollen with self satisfaction, like she’d put that baby in herself by eating it…” I start sobbing again and I can’t finish my thought.
We sit in the car, blocking the gas pump, crying until it gets dark. Then we drive a few feet over and go to the bar. We drink whiskeys and bourbons in honor of Lewis and Clark. We get drunk.
I find myself standing in the muggy night, under a mosquito zapper, holding a warm phone in my hand while someone, Sam, retches in a bush nearby. I wait for the person on the other end of the line to say something so that I will know who I’m talking to. My mouth feels dry and I have a feeling that I have just made several excellent points. The person on the other line hangs up and I feel victorious.
Inside, we drink more, and Sam and I take turns saying, “I made you and I will destroy you,” to each other and to the bartender. This is a line a girl we went to grad school with said her agent told her when she’d tried to leave.
“I made you and I will destroy you.” When I say it I picture that I am wearing a coat made of Dalmatians.
“Enough, enough,” Sam finally says. “You sound like Marielle.” Marielle is his wife. Was his wife. She is a French Canadian astrophysicist.
“She said things like that to me all the time,” he says, “things only a villain in a movie would say, and then later, she would say I said them. That is the craziest part. She would completely invent my end of the fight. I would say, ‘I was ASLEEP! How could I have possibly said any of those things?’ She would just project the most awful shit onto me.”
“But she’s a scientist!” I say.
“She’s very smart,” he agrees, “and only insane in this one narrow area. I don’t know how it was possible for her to know me and see me one moment, and the next for her to be having this awful argument with whoever she’d superimposed over my body.”
“Maybe it’s because she studies things that are outside the scope of what a human should know. She studies black holes, energy voids. Expanding nothingness. How can she study that and then come home and look at you and see you for who you are? For the great, kind person that you are? Maybe it’s you who’s not seeing her? Maybe it’s like a star, you think you’re seeing it there but it has burnt out millions of years ago. You have the softest hands.”
Sam and I wake up in a hotel room in Omaha. I am wearing his boxer shorts, with one of my legs coming out of the crotch hole. Sam has a gaping wound on his arm that neither of us remembers him getting. If my husband were here, he would sew Sam right up. If Lewis and Clark were here, they would put gunpowder on the wound and give him a “Thunderbolt” laxative. All I can offer is another drink, a little bottle from the minibar. First, I pour some vodka on the wound to sterilize it and then in his mouth. I drink with him for company, and in hopes that it will hair of the dog me. This whole year I didn’t drink because I’ve either been pregnant or about to be, and now we’ve missed the checkout time and I’m going to keep drinking. My phone buzzes next to us on the bed. My voicemail fills up with messages from my husband. My voicemail runneths over.
“Don’t you think you’re maybe taking things out a bit unfairly on Charles?” Sam asks me earnestly. “The loss was probably hard for him, too.”
I lift my foot up and push Sam off the bed. He lands on his bad arm, and the wound reopens and bleeds. I call my husband and he tells Sam to keep his arm elevated, and Sam does, but he’s bleeding a lot and the blood is running down his arm and into his armpit. His armpit hair is slicked and curled with blood.
My husband hears me freaking out and hits Facetime. He looks neat and contained in his white lab coat with the pens in the pocket. Seeing him makes me start crying because it’s not fair that his sperms are lousy and my eggs are rotten. We could’ve had boy together with combed hair, who sits at the kitchen table and swings his feet.
“Switch the camera,” my husband says, his voice is tired and professional, even though he probably saw the boxer shorts, the unmade bed. He can probably hear the sounds that Sam is making. They are not good sounds. I figure out how eventually to switch the camera so he can see Sam and not me.
“Take him to the hospital,” my husband says quickly. “Go right now. Take an Uber.”
I take Sam to the hospital. They admit him right away. Numb the skin, give him stitches, bandage him up, but then we have to wait for several hours to be discharged.
“I think we would never have had as successful a trip as Lewis and Clark,” Sam says to me, and I realize he’s saying this to hurt my feelings.
“Their trip was not very successful,” I say. “The whole point of their trip was to find the Northwest Passage, which didn’t exist.”
“You’re very goal oriented. The trip was successful enough. Clark would have said it was successful.”
“But Lewis would not have. Lewis shot himself in the head.”
“You’re just proving my point. That is exactly what I mean. We’re both Lewis. If two Lewises had gone on the trip they wouldn’t have gotten very far.” He looks pouty.
“Did I do something to hurt your feelings?” I ask. His arms are so freckled in the hospital light.
“Your husband is the Clark. He can function in society.”
I’m not going to talk to him about my husband. “Clark seems like the kind of guy who if he was alive today would wear a leather shoelace around his neck and run a mindfulness startup.” I think I’ve made a funny joke, or astute observation or whatever.
“You’re such an asshole,” he says, and he’s looking at me, but I have the impulse to check over my shoulder to see if he is talking to somebody standing directly behind me.
If Sam had suggested we turn back, I would have, but he doesn’t, and I don’t bring it up. We get up early and drive through the flatlands. We drive and drive. I hit a possum on a two-lane blacktop. I pull over even though it says I shouldn’t and look at his little pointy teeth and black eyes. I am thinking it’s possible, unlikely but possible, that he is playing dead, that this is what possums do, but then blood begins to trickle out of his nostril.
When I get back in the car Sam asks me if I remember sleeping with him. I am still thinking of the possum’s face, its ugly, scary, tender, little, dead body. I read somewhere that possums raised their young well, that they kept family units longer than most other animals. Sam takes my chin and turns my face so I will look at him.
“The truth is I don’t remember it,” I say, and as I say it something comes back to me. A post-cum-slack face. His, I assume. This irritates me. What am I supposed to do with this information? What does he want from me?
We stop for lunch at the Subway on the Pine Ridge Reservation. A nun is sitting alone eating a meatball sandwich. Outside two kids are kicking around a lampshade. The Reservations are the result of Lewis and Clark too, the expansion westward, greed, the desire of the black hole of capitalism to expand.
We also stop at Mt. Rushmore. The heads of the presidents are smaller than I expected. Sam and I are able to set aside the weirdness between us to agree that after seeing it in cartoons, in real life it’s underwhelming. “What kind of a maniac sees a mountain and thinks to do this?”
In the car I ask him to show me his arm. I can tell he wants me to ask, he wants my pity. I help him rub on the antibiotic cream they gave him. The stitches are black zigzags. I liked it when we were talking about ideas. I try to steer the conversation back to that, back to what is outside our window, away from his flesh, or mine.
“Read me the part about how they find all the dead buffalo rotting in the river,” I ask him. “Read me the part about how they almost starve.”
We stop at Judith River. Clark had named it after a woman he liked back home.
“Do you think the Judith back home lost something in the process? Like she gained a river, but lost a part of herself?” I ask Sam. He is reading the bronze plaque.
“What is this impulse of naming everything? To immortalize those we love, I guess.”
“No,” I say. “What does Judith have to do with the stream halfway around the country. It’s the impulse to make things that don’t belong to us our own. It’s about ownership and familiarizing the foreign. Our experiences are so limited, we can never see a stream for what it is. We can only see it as a symbol for the handful of things that we know, that were formed in the first ten years probably. Five years? Three years? You understand. There are only a few people and experiences that we are capable of knowing and seeing, everything else gets bent to their shape. When Marielle looked at you, she saw her first love or her father or something.”
“Whose face are you seeing?” Sam kisses me. “Whose face are you kissing?”
“Me? I don’t know. My own. My husband’s. My dead baby’s.”
“Not mine then?”
Sam fights with me in a diner on the border of Idaho and Montana.
“You seduced me. You used me. You’ve slept with me almost every night of the trip.” He is talking loudly. He is so aggrieved.
I make my eyes go wide. Did I? Had I?
“Oh shut up,” Sam says. “I’ve wanted you since grad school.”
I suppose I had wanted him too. Or I didn’t. Who cares!
“You’re misplacing your grief over Marielle onto me.”
He knows this rationally to be true, but that makes him double down harder. I think of that line, “I made you and I can destroy you.” What had happened to our friend from grad school? I had not heard anything about her in ages, I realize. Perhaps it hadn’t been an empty threat after all. Maybe the agent had made good on her promise. I want Sam to be Sam again so I can ask him.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” I say because I can’t take it anymore. It’s so boring. Why am I fighting with someone else’s husband? And my voice has a hardness to it that I know takes Sam by surprise because he yawns. It’s a big yawn, tonsils and fillings and all.
It would be best, we decide for me to continue the trip on my own. I drive him to a Greyhound station and then keep going over the mountains. I think about what it would have been like to cross these mountains on horseback and get to the other side and see more mountains. To be constantly horrified by mountains.
I arrive at the ocean. I eat a dozen oysters with horseradish. After dinner, when I open the trunk of my car, I see a roll of blue painter’s tape. I had been planning to paint the guest room a dandelion yellow. I thought that if I gradually transform the room into a nursery, nice and slow, no sudden moves, then a baby would appear in that room.
I take the roll and a sharpie, unspool some blue tape. I put a piece on the sign for the cul-de-sac and write SAM. I wrap a tangle of tape around a low-hanging branch of a pine tree and write CHARLES. Over someone else’s name already engraved on the bus stop bench, I stick on a piece of tape and write BABY.
My daughter is born. After Clark had married his river Judith, he had a son and named him Meriwether Lewis Clark after his dead friend. I, instead, named my daughter after the river near which she was conceived.
Hey, Jude, Charles sings to her as he changes her diaper and she moves her arms and legs around not knowing yet that those arms and legs are hers to move.
For more information about this piece, see this issue's legend.
Katya Apekina’s debut novel The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish is out September 18th. She also works as a translator, journalist and screenwriter. Born in Moscow, she currently lives in Los Angeles.
After a Mardi Gras parade, standing knee deep in trash, next to the statue of General Lee—this is where I met my husband. We didn't immediately hit it off, but we didn't not hit it off either, because a few months later we were living together. The statue was thankfully taken down May 19, 2017, but it still appears in the Google Street View.