What She Carried, What She Missed

By: the YU Writers’ Guild  |  February 20, 2024

By the YU Writers’ Guild

Each month, the YU Writers’ Guild accepts submissions for a short story following a specific theme. This month’s theme was “Secrets, Secrets Are No Fun!” featuring stories that revolve around a secret. Members of the club voted on a short story to be featured in the YU Observer. For the month of February, “What She Carried, What She Missed” written by Rachel Gilinski was selected.  

If it were an option, Claire would carry nothing at all. She would pry her fingers out of their clenched fists—they had frozen stiff there, long ago—and lift her bare palms in surrender, the muscles of her forearms loosened, holding her breath as the tacks once held in her tight grip fell in a quick pitter-patter around her bare feet. She would unzip herself, at the tippy-top of her spine, and step out of her smooth skin, blood and bone and sinews falling into an indiscernible heap of gore and grief. She would float, weightless and unencumbered by any of the trinkets she had carried for too, too long now, if it were an option.

Above her hips, weighing her down, slowing her down, Claire carried a bulging belly with still-unfamiliar heft. She had never liked mirrors, the visual reminders of the way the rest of the world perceived her; she had never recognized her own appearance, and it blurred at the edges all the more now, now that it was a body so different than she’d always had. The belly she carried—she still couldn’t bring herself to call it a baby, what she carried—was patterned with branches and roots, silvery slivers where skin had stretched and split to accommodate the growth within. She covered herself in shirts too large even for this new body she carried, trailing the ends of her too-long sleeves along the ground, wondering what would happen if she melted down and joined them.

The bag she carried on her shoulder more often than others was a beige canvas tote bag, with a pink floral design winding and twisting around itself. The bottom was lined with crumpled receipts, each carrying its own story, of late-night drugstore cookies, of the haircut before last, of the same pink test that had brought her the news.

Claire carried a royal blue lighter, though she couldn’t smoke now; she liked to be prepared, to have a flame to offer if some stranger asked for a light. She and Alan had invited friends over, months and months ago; someone brought a joint and passed it around, someone left their lighter behind when they left. In the back pocket of her jeans, she carried a half-crumpled, half-smoked cigarette butt. She must have put it out halfway through, months ago or longer still, and saved it for later. When she remembered it was there, she wondered how long her pants had gone unwashed.

Around her long, bony finger, its nail cut short, Claire carried a small-stoned promise to Alan. The ring was a substitute, a stand-in. At first, her pregnancy was a secret that only she carried; when she handed it to Alan, he walked out of their apartment to find something to give her in exchange, to replace her secret with, to thank her for sharing her future with him. He was embarrassed about it, sliding his love onto her expectant finger; he had already been saving up, but he wished he could have gotten her a grander declaration; he promised Claire his future self would replace it with one the size she deserved.

Claire carried chewing gum in her tote, and she burned through it like it were paper, purchasing a new package the moment she started running low. This week she carried sugar-free wintergreen. She liked the fruity flavors too, maybe even more than the minty ones, but the taste of mint tended to linger on her tongue for longer.

Her friends, her family, all thought her load was light, but Claire carried a burden around her bones so heavy it hurt. She carried too much cushioning around her organs. It made her soft, and weak. She carried around too much adipose tissue. It was supposed to store energy, but she was always tired, and weak. She carried around an overwhelming amount of scientific knowledge about this burden, the terminology pertaining to thermodynamics and the calculations that could cure her of her lipid-stuffed cells, the result of countless sleepless nights spent on the internet while Alan snored softly beside her.

Claire carried grudges, resentment she had no intention of releasing, against the people no longer in her life, old friends lost to time and space and circumstance, old flames long gone cold. She resented them for leaving. She resented herself for being someone you’d want to leave.

She carried on her back, heavy as the world, all her insecurities. She carried every single comment she had ever heard about her body. The negative ones haunted her. The positive ones were even worse—a standard she would forever have to live up to. Her insecurities were deafening, these days that she was acting in direct opposition to them, eating for two when she was barely used to eating enough for one. Claire had carried a strong disgust for her body since she was a girl, but she couldn’t wear her organs down further when she knew she carried something precious in her womb.

Alan, excited to become a new parent, was already searching up how to babyproof everything they owned, every stick of furniture and kitchen appliance. Claire, carrying cynicism and hopelessness and the awareness that nothing was guaranteed, was terrified she was the real danger to its safety. She carried venom in her stomach lining. She unspooled her fear and wound it around her belly like bubble wrap, as if solely wanting it to be safe was a productive protective measure.

Claire still carried something she carried years ago. She carried it, though she never met it; she carried it, since she could never forget it. She carried it until she miscarried it, and now she would forever miss it, and now she would forever carry it. Claire would carry to her grave what she couldn’t carry to term. Claire would always be carrying the baby she never got to hold.

Claire carried a nugget of guilt at the base of her throat. She was almost certain it had once been smaller; it must have grown, since it had never been so heavy as to hinder her breathing until recently. If she asked Alan, he would gladly stick his fingers down her esophagus and yank the guilt out. She couldn’t ask Alan, because then she’d have to tell him why her guilt haunted her. She could barely admit to herself—and even then, never out loud—that she worried she was to blame for the empty space in her heart, where she would have kept the firstborn Alan didn’t even know he didn’t have. She couldn’t tell Alan, because he would look at her differently afterward. She suspected she’d never tell him, and that she’d never tell the baby she carried now—was it still too soon to call it a baby?—she’d killed its older sibling, who hadn’t asked her for much, but felt like too much to release at the time.

Claire carried an empty space in her heart. Nothing could permeate the emptiness; it was fenced off by grief and guilt.

No one ever talked about how heavy emptiness was to carry.