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Exorcist Exercise photo

Afternoon showers and Loaded by the Velvet Underground. It’s 70 degrees on the first day of April. Walking to CVS, I can’t get myself to strip off my signature thin Nikon coat. I’ll feel naked, exposed. I fear when I won’t be able to wear long pants anymore; I’m a different person than I was last summer, when I was constantly clad in denim shorts. Last night I dreamt my mom and I heard firetrucks and turned the corner of our block to find them at our house, which was burned down. She collapsed to the ground in shambles and I comforted her, like I did the morning my dad died. Somehow, in the midst of this ash, I found out I was pregnant. So now I amble guiltily through the labyrinth of aisles, three water bottles tucked under my arm, looking for a test. I discover the familiar white and blue boxes close to the registers and think of course—a popular item to steal. I used to slip them into my tote bag often when I was a teenager, slightly more reckless than I am now. Instead I hand it to the young woman working, hiding my humiliation, as if I’m 16 and not 22. I frequently forget that I’m at an age where it's considered appropriate to have a baby.

Paul is playing video games on his couch. “Don’t take that here,” he says.

“Why not?”

“I don’t want to be the first to find out.”

I roll my eyes. “Then I’ll lie.” I walk past his unmade bed to get to his bathroom and slide the door closed. Colin’s bedroom door is the same; it makes the inside feel like a coffin. I read the instructions as if I forgot. I place the stick under my capricious stream. I count to five and watch it turn pink. When I pull it out, put the lid back on, and place it on the sink, I realized I’d counted too fast, too eager. I wait three minutes and the line is faint. I decide I’ll do another later. I text Colin the update.

On Paul’s balcony, live music swirls through the air in the distance. A cover of “Shut Up And Dance.” “Out of all the songs to play,” I complain, “why would someone pick this one?” It still sounds nice, a disembodied voice, hushed by the breeze. A bright yellow tree attracts a swarm of bugs I can’t name, just little specks floating clumsily. Two intertwined bees whir by Paul and make him stumble.

“Are they fighting?” he says.

“They might be fucking,” I say.

I finish my cigarette and we go back inside. There’s something distinctly Californian about his apartment, though we’re in Pennsylvania. Even in the winter, it’s humid in here; you always get the sense that if you step outside the sun will beat down on you. On this day, it’s actually true. We stroll toward the cemetery, embarking on what we dubbed as “Exorcist Exercise,” cautiously crossing the streets after Colin and I were centimeters away from being hit by a car the other day.

I point to a green sedan. “I love that color,” I say. We point at different vehicles and offer opinions—a baby blue truck, a deep blue van, and I quietly chuckle at this light conversation, as if we’re making small talk about the weather.

Cocooned in between clusters of tombstones, he lights a joint and talks about drinking and seeing his ex at the bar the other night. We talk about dreams and avoid the two cop cars parked beside each other in the gravel next to a massive monument. “I was talking to this one girl,” he says, “and then I was talking to this other girl and we kissed, and the first girl got mad.” I keep reaching out my hand for his Juul. Trudging through the grass on this sweltering day gives me the same sensation of walking through a desert. I feel blissfully stranded and refreshed, like nothing and everything could hurt me. I point to an orange car parked behind a fence. “It’s a peach,” I say.

My phone vibrates with a text back from Colin: I’m sorry for continually subjecting you to bodily nightmares. I don’t realize until later that he’s not only referring to the possible pregnancy, but also to the other night when he swayed me into going to the bar even though I said I wanted to take a break from drinking because it’s been giving me a sharp, nameless pain in my ribcage the next day.

Paul has been getting the same ache, too. We formed Inflamed Lungs Club, thinking that was the problem, though after further research I estimated it was actually swollen stomach lining. So now we’re partaking in Exorcist Exercise to help our deteriorating bodies.

He says he feels like all his problems would be solved if he stopped going to that bar. It’s where I met him, while I was waiting for Colin for our first date. It’s where we dominate the jukebox, order drink after drink, and chainsmoke. The other week, I was there from 6 P.M. to 2 A.M. “But there’s just something about it,” I say.

“But there’s just something about it,” he repeats, like a slogan.

We read off the names of the deceased, the syllables silly in our mouths. I marvel at the tombstones that look like giant pencils—reaching upward, a sharp point penetrating the air like a miniature skyscraper. I say, “Why would people spend so much money on something so phallic?”

“To be closer to God.”

I’m sweaty and starving as we’re walking back. It’s nearly the evening, but not quite; we’re stuck in the weird limbo period of the day where nothing feels appropriate. “You live really close to it,” I say. He nods. “When I die,” he says, “just roll me down the street.” I picture myself pushing the casket, causing traffic on a summer day, like this one. A cigarette dangles from my mouth as I’m laughing, like it’s a party instead of a funeral.


image: Danielle Chelosky