Marissa Higgins: Inheritance

Ashley did not accompany her mother to the abortion clinic. Her mother drove out of state, to Rhode Island, for reasons Ashley, at fifteen, did not understand. Going to the clinic in Boston would be easier; her mother could take the T there and save some money, instead of paying a buddy of her boyfriend’s to use his family’s spare car for the day. Her mom only said you can’t move around this Earth with your life so close to you, and Ashley agreed, still baffled.
            You didn’t want a sibling, did you? Her mom asked her after she’d gotten a call from the clinic confirming her appointment for the following day. Sitting next to her mom on their back stoop, Ashley said, Nah, I don’t. Her mom leaned in so their legs rested together as they watched rain clouds taunt relief.
            Ashley never gave siblings much thought; nearly all of her classmates had a sibling or two, or step-siblings. But Ashley’s family was less defined; her mother’s boyfriend had two children from an ex he saw most weekends, meaning Ashley saw them too. She’d pour them bowls of cereal while her mom and their dad were passed out upstairs, sleeping off benders. When the kids looked especially bored, she’d walk them to the Dollar General and buy them each a couple of plastic toys from the buy-one, get-one bin. Ashley didn’t mention these details to her teachers or the parents of her friends when they asked if she had siblings. I’m an only child, she’d say instead, arranging a smile when adults cooed and told her how lucky she was, being the only kid, how spoiled she must be at home. Oh, Ashley would say, offering a self-deprecating shrug. Yeah.
            At home, Ashley slept on a loveseat. Her mother had a real bed that her mother’s boyfriend slept in when they were on decent terms. Otherwise, he said he stayed at his parent’s place in the town over, but Ashley heard her mother accuse him of sleeping around, too. He passively protested the accusation, and they kept seeing each other, his kids kept coming over with their wet eyes, and Ashley kept pouring bowls of cereal before she walked to work at the wings restaurant down the block.
            The day her mother had the abortion, Ashley worked an opening shift at the restaurant. Because she worked at the register, not in food prep in the back, Ashley spent mornings cleaning. Wiping down tables, scrubbing at bottles of ketchup and vinegar, sweeping, mopping. Some evenings, she worked the closing shift, and did all of the same cleaning, then returned the following morning, and did it again. Ghosts can leave footprints, she figured, so she did her tasks without pointing out this was objectively a waste of time.
            At three o’clock, she clocked out. Ashley brought home a bag of fried meat (three legs, five wings, barbecue sauce in plastic cups), white cheddar macaroni, and buttered corn. You still embarrassed to eat in the back with us, huh, her assistant manager said, watching her balance item after item into a tall paper bag. Employees got free lunch on days they worked, but Ashley got permission to take her share home with her at the end of her shifts. Oh, she said, adding a fistful of napkins and a couple plastic forks to the bag. Yeah.
            Ashley found her mother sitting in the tub with the bathroom door open. Her appointment had been early, around 10 a.m. The drive back to the south shore was probably an hour and a half, Ashley guessed. She’d read up on the abortion pill for her mom, using a computer at the library because the website was blocked on the school desktops. You’ll get one pill there, Ashley told her mom the night before the appointment. And the other one, you’ll take at home. You’re supposed to have someone drive back with you, she said carefully, knowing her mother was going alone. Her mom shrugged and said that she knew all of that, and asked Ashley not to forget to pick up some extra pads at the Dollar General.
           Sitting in the tub, her mother looked at Ashley. Your hair gets so greasy working there, she said. Look at you. With tight eyes, her mother looked more meek than judgmental.
           Ashley pressed her teeth down on her lip. Under examination, she realized she’d forgotten to buy the pads. I’ve gotta run to the store, she said. You should start without me. She placed the bag on the chipped toilet lid. Do you need aspirin?
           Her mother looked at her long and then looked at her skinny knees. Nah, she said. Thanks.
           You got it, Ashley said, back to her mother, face to the hallway. Right?
           Yeah, her mom said. No crowds blocking shit at this one. She paused, then added: Didn’t tell anybody, so nobody swayed me. Ashley wondered if she counted as anyone, and figured she did and didn’t.
           The walk to the dollar store was muggy. It was late August in Massachusetts and downtown, furthest from the beach breeze, the humidity was a bitch. Ashley got to the store and her denim cut-offs were tacked to her thighs. In the store’s air conditioning, she lurked in the baby care aisle and flapped her shirt from her back, willing chill to land on her skin.
           When she got to the register, the cashier made the same small talk he did whenever she stopped in for groceries or cleaning supplies; how’s your mom doing, you still in school, that’s great, huh, don’t drop out or anything, do you make the noodles in the microwave or on the stove, I can never remember, is your dad around? This time, he didn’t comment on the items—pink bubble bath, two travel-size bottles of Tylenol, a couple packs of cheese crackers, one light blue Gatorade (her mother’s favorite), and one 20-count of extra absorbent pads.
          See you, Ashley said, and he mmhmed.
          The plastic bag strained on her walk home. Ashley did not know what to say to her mother, though this was hardly unusual; Ashley never felt she knew what to communicate to a person. Moments changed too fast; a half-look, a car alarm going wild, a dog or a kid whining, a thick sigh. Whatever she thought up felt aged, archaic, even, when her voice was ready. The handle of the bag got thin as she walked up the hill toward their apartment complex. She carried the bag against her chest, cradling her hope.
          After she shut the front door and kicked her sneakers off, she heard her mother yell for her to come on upstairs. Ashley wondered what might happen if she ran and ran and ran. She would leave the bag, of course. She would leave all of it. The house went quiet; her mother wasn’t one to call more than once, Ashley knew. So she went on up the stairs. 
            Her mother scooted back in the tub when she noticed Ashley in the doorway. Her back pressed against the faucet. What’s all that, she said, face tilted to the bag.          
           Got some extra stuff, Ashley said. She held out the pads first and when her mother nodded approval, she set the rest out in a row on the magenta bath mat. Thought this might be nice, she said, fingers on the cap of the bubble bath. Soothing, or whatever. She felt dumb, then; is discounted bubble bath enough to soothe a gone baby? No, she figured. She thought of herself: stupid, stupid.
           Pour some in, her mother said. Ashley noticed she hadn’t started eating. Her mom turned the faucet back on, and as steam started to hit, Ashley leaned over the tub and squeezed the bottle. She avoided looking at her mother’s slight body and instead watched the bubbles born in the water above her feet. She glanced at her mom’s face and saw she was watching the bubbles too.
           I stole some extra sauces, Ashley said. The barbecue you like, with the brown sugar. She stole a lot from the restaurant but nobody called her on it: sauces, biscuits, damp broccoli florets. Ashley watched the bubbles grow as she spoke.
            Well, her mother said. Nobody has to know what we’ve got going on. She turned off the water. Bubbles sat high but Ashley could tell her mom still had her arms wrapped around her knees. Her mom asked: You coming or going?
            Ashley looked at the mirror; it had lost its fog already, so her pimpled face, all skittish eyes and thin lips, reflected her own self back at her. She thought she looked strong, like a perpetual beast. She tugged off her socks and got in the tub. She shivered from the water’s burn, knees facing her mother’s knees, shorts immediately soaked. Her mom handed her one of the wings and together, they chewed at the bones.