Jupiter Park

Latisha bought the house on Calliope Road with the money she earned as a hairdresser after the abortion. This is the first time Yosiah is seeing the place, the first time he’s been to Jupiter Park since the procedure. It looks exactly like the house she lived in with her mom, down to the chairs crowding the front porch. He goes up the walk, sloshing past fallen branches, part of a tree. Latisha doesn’t answer the bell on the first ring. He figures he should have expected that.

Yosiah looks back at the car, swallows. He knocks on the door and rings the bell again. Latisha appears slowly at first. The outline of her body is dark because the storm knocked out the power, but he knows it’s her. Her braids, pulled up tightly on top of her head, always itching in the same spot. Her red t-shirt. It is tighter now: she’s put on weight again, all the weight she lost before.

She pauses before opening the door. Then: “Hi, Yosiah.”

At the clinic, they scrubbed out Latisha’s insides and gave her the baby in a jar. When it was over Latisha swam up to consciousness, still woozy from the anesthesia, and saw a nurse with a tight ponytail and wisps of hair haloing her face. The nurse smiled, handed her the jar, and wished her good luck on the recovery. Latisha thanked her and left. She could hear machines humming in the next room, and loud, insistent chanting farther away. She touched the jar in her purse for reassurance. It had a label on it with a number, the date, and her name. In the clinic bathroom she washed her hands quickly, and then her face, to get rid of the sleepy feeling. When she pressed on her eyelids she could see Yosiah and Caleb, the two men that formed the center of her world.

“Caleb’s with me,” Yosiah says.

Latisha looks past Yosiah’s shoulder and waves, but the window of the car is tinted in dark streaks from the rain, and she can’t see if Caleb waved back. Caleb finally climbs out of the car. He looks hungry, like always. She asks him how the storm made the drive. Caleb says it was terrible, and it was: he is still soaked through from when he tried to fix the engine. She ushers him, and then Yosiah, into the house. There is food, most of it chips in large bags, on the counter. Latisha says she was getting ready for a party when the storm started, although she hasn’t yet made friends among her coworkers at the salon. There is more than enough food for the three of them, especially now that Latisha isn’t eating for two anymore. She doesn’t need to say it. It’s there in her gaze, the way she turns towards the counter and away from Yosiah.

Latisha starts making potato salad, cutting big, uneven hunks of potato and tossing them into a bowl with some dressing. Caleb collapses onto the sofa. Yosiah ducks out the back door and onto the lawn. His feet slip on the wet grass. He sees a snake slither through the fence and onto the neighbor’s property. Latisha’s backyard sounds like it’s whispering: trees brush against each other and the house; mushroom spores swell and burst when he steps over them. Humidity creeps through everything. His throat tightens from the heat.

He hears the back door slide open. She comes out and stands next to him, hands on her lower back, the same way she stood when she was pregnant. “What’s going on?” she asks softly. “Why you down?”

The first time he met her was when his mother took him to catch fireflies at Jupiter Memorial Center. Latisha had on a purple dress and no shoes. They flirted as the sky broke open and she bent down to put her shoes back on, ready to outrun the rain. Yosiah scratches his arm. Latisha heaves a sigh and takes his hand.

“They gave me a jar,” she begins. “With the baby fluid in it. I didn’t want to tell you before, but now –” she stops herself, looks back at the house, then down at her feet. Yosiah can see the glint of nail polish on her toenails.

“What for?” he asks, wanting to vomit. He closes his eyes, trying to shut out the picture of his unborn child floating in a jar, like pickles. He wishes he was back at the fast food restaurant in his work shoes.

“I requested it,” she says, so quietly he can barely make out the words. “Even without the baby inside me, I needed to know if you were the father.”

Yosiah opens his eyes, shuts them again. He can hear a dog barking. He wonders where she keeps the jar, if it’s tucked behind the bobby pins on her bathroom counter, next to the pot of lotion she puts on the dry patches between her shoulder blades and on her elbows. He suddenly feels the fierce, almost carnal, urge to find the jar of baby fluid and throw it against a wall. He pushes past her and goes inside.

Caleb is asleep on the sofa, his chin smeared with potato salad. His breathing is slow, even, unlabored. Latisha slips past Yosiah into the bedroom by the kitchen and shuts the door. Yosiah stays awake for a long time, wondering if the aching feeling in his stomach is hunger. He looks in Latisha’s fridge: Gatorade, leftover pasta, a defrosting pizza. Caleb murmurs and turns over, pulling a blanket tighter around his neck. Near dawn, Yosiah finally curls up on the floor and falls asleep.

In the morning they all awake, too early, when the power blinks back on and illuminates the entire house. Caleb folds himself upright and joins Latisha in the kitchen. Yosiah can hear them whispering about her mother’s eviction. Latisha’s mother lived with a man named Tink, who had piercings straddling each nostril, until the landlord caught Tink selling drugs in front of 4 their house. The conversation splits: Caleb’s voice grows lower, growling, and Latisha’s climbs higher, singing. She goes back into her bedroom and shuts the door. Caleb returns to the couch and wipes his face with his hands. He turns to Yosiah.

“You know you’re just gonna have to come back, right?” Caleb says. “When the next storm hits, Opal gonna be –” He makes a jerking motion with his wrist. “Blam.”

“I’m not leaving yet,” Yosiah says.

He starts thinking about his manager, Gary, and the two women with matching tattoos who are always there during his shift. Yosiah closes his eyes and sees bright, vivid green, the color of jungle leaves. The color hovers and breaks, revealing navy underneath. He opens his eyes. Latisha is still in her room. He knocks on the door. Caleb mumbles a warning, maybe watch out, or stay away, but she opens the door.

“Hi, Yosiah.”

Her room is smaller than the one she had in her mother’s place. As his eyes adjust, he can make out little tubes of eyeliner on the dresser. The question about where the jar is presses against his teeth. Yosiah can picture Latisha’s mother and Tink, driving around in circles with a negative balance hovering over their heads. He only met Tink once, but still remembers the way Tink’s left leg twitched as he descended from a high. The navy swirling behind his eyes becomes magenta tinged with orange. He swallows the saliva building in his throat.

“Does Tink know?” Yosiah asks.

The question catches Latisha off guard, and he can hear her cough in surprise. Yosiah missed the sound of that, the small curdle of phlegm that means she’s nervous, trying to hide how she really feels. It fills him with a comforting feeling. “No, nobody else knows, not even my mother.”

She rises from the bed and goes over to the dresser. She takes something out of the top drawer and hands it to him. It’s a tiny bottle with a white lid, like the kind you might put medicine in. Yosiah doesn’t know if it would have been a girl or a boy, if you can even tell that early. He is surprised to feel tears collecting in his eyes.

“I’m getting it tested tomorrow,” Latisha says quietly. “I’ll let you know what the results are.”

Caleb knocks on the door, asking if they’re finished, you know, talking. Latisha flips a braid over one shoulder and sighs. “Come in.”

The glance that Yosiah and Latisha share reminds Caleb of his recurring dream, where he is the only white boy on the plane. A rush of discomfort rises to his temples. He tries making a joke. Latisha laughs and he smiles, relieved, but the worry remains as a tight knot in his belly. Yosiah slides the jar into his pocket as Caleb enters the room. It has a heavy, liquid weight to it, like wet sand. He remembers the women at his drive-thru window, the way they ask for a double cheeseburger and a side of fries, microcosms that feel like family. Somehow he already knows the truth about Caleb and Latisha, or at least he feels like he does. It’s nestled there in the tight space right above his heart.

Olivia Lowenberg is a writer currently based in Connecticut. During her undergraduate career at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, she completed Honors in creative writing and also studied with visiting author Chris Abani during his year in residency at the Colleges in 2014-15. In August, she will begin graduate school at MF Norwegian School of Theology in Oslo, where she will be studying the refugee crisis and international aid policy.