I stand in a Rite Aid holding pee sticks and condoms, even though I have little use for either. Options that depict a scene that is much too late. A poppy seed, the internet told me. No bigger than a poppy seed.
I place my palm against the poppy in my belly, turn to the cashier with a look of desperation. Should I spend $15 on a plastic stick so I can discover what I already know? The cashier isn’t looking at me. He is staring out the front window, playing with a plastic yellow WWJD bracelet on his hairy wrist. I push the pee stick into the pocket of my hoodie, place the condoms back on the counter.
“You don’t need these anymore?” he asks.
I head straight out the door. Nobody asks the right questions anymore.
One pee later and I am slurping soup for both my poppy seed and me.
My mother picks a blond hair from my shoulder, tucks the tag in on the back of my sweater. Her fingers are cold against my skin. I cast her a look. Her eyes water. She sits down across from me and sucks soup from her spoon.
“What’s wrong?” she asks.
I open my mouth, close it. I could tell her, but I know how it will go. She is a hijacker of my emotions. She will feel my sorrow tenfold of how I feel it. She will cry and I will hug her, tell her it’s okay. Guide her through her misconduct of my own feelings.
“Nothing,” I tell her. Lift the bowl to my lips and pour it in.
Her eyes roll in her head as if I am seeing something she isn’t, as if I am a medium able to gauge ghosts and she’s looking for them. I don’t tell her that the ghost is in my belly. I don’t tell her I’m carrying the poppy seed of a dead man, a man buried not two weeks ago after being found in the driver’s seat of a running car.
Her eyes catch something and widen. “Are you upset about Derek?”
“I’m not upset.” I finish the soup, drop the spoon into the bowl. “Stop obsessing over me.”
When she reaches for my hand, I storm to my room and slam the door behind me. I lie on the carpet and fold my fingers over the world suspended in my skin.
There’s a light knock and, when I turn, I can see my mother’s pink terry-clothed slippers in the crack beneath the door, framed by dust bunnies and cat hair.
“I’m sorry,” she says. “I don’t mean to upset you.”
I feel sorry for my mother, but it is a strange kind of pity. It is the kind of pity you have for someone when you are the cause of their pain. It is strange to victimize your own victim, to want to save someone from your own wrath. I wonder if the little poppy seed in my belly will feel the same about me one day, will emerge with my likeness and my cruelty and have a personal obligation to be my despair, if only for the reason I have forced it too often to be my consolation.
I yell the news through the door, tell it to the slippers in the door crack.
With the haunt of poppy seed in our house, my mother begins to hum more often. To buy tiny shoes and vitamins. To use high-pitched voices when addressing my belly and rub my shoulders when I’m too tired to push her away. She does Poppy’s astrology charts based on the due date and hangs it in the kitchen next to my own. We can’t see Poppy yet, but my mother seems to sense it everywhere.
I take the poppy seed to visit its father. We stand on his grave and look down at him, somewhere beneath the dirt. I explain how he died — strung out and alone, the driver’s door open and his wallet missing. The dashboard beeping as the keys dangle from the engine. Poppy seed does not yet have an opinion on the matter.
My mother has nightmares that I lose poppy seed, that poppy seed emerges deformed, that poppy seed’s life results in my death. I lie in my mother’s bed, brush her hair from her forehead. I do not tell her that I have had the same panics, the same anxieties.
Instead, I hum to her. I let her put her hand on poppy seed’s little world. We fall asleep like this, curled into each other. Russian nesting dolls with painted faces.
When I go to the doctor, they tell me poppy seed is not a poppy seed at all. Poppy seed is now a grape.
My mother hangs Grape’s first photo on the refrigerator, next to a painting I did of Elvis when I was three years old. It falls off every time I swing open the door to eat cottage cheese from the carton with a spoon.
My mother’s excitement is big, impending. It pushes into me, and I find I have no room for both our emotions. I have no room for myself at all anymore, I am being pushed out and away. My organs are being squished by the growing vegetable inside me. A foot on my kidney, a head pressed to my ribcage. A grape, a kumquat, a lemon, and, in a few months, a pumpkin. Always existing, never fully seen.