A Swollen Woman

Phil’s phone goes off. He rubs his fingers against the napkin on his lap before fishing it out of his pocket.
“Feel free to take it,” says his friend.
“Ugh. Sorry,” says Phil. “I should.”
His gaze switches from his friend to the horizon, seeing without seeing, as he answers. “Hey,” he says. “Having dinner. Let’s talk in a bit?”
“Sure,” she says. “I really need to talk with you.”
“Alright.” He registers the tone of urgency in her voice. “I’ll call you,” he says.
“Sorry,” he says to his friend, returning the phone to his jacket. “Catalina.” He grabs a slice of pizza and bites it.
“Still in touch?” His friend raises an eyebrow.
Phil shrugs.
“Didn’t you say you wanted to break it off?”
“Yeah.” Phil nods and drinks beer. “We talk less frequently now, maybe once per week,” he explains. “I think she’s beginning to get the picture.”
“Just flat-out tell her you’re not interested, no?”
“I guess.” Phil shrugs again.
“Cata?” says Phil into his phone as he crosses the street.
“Hey, baby.”
“How are you?” asks Phil, as a couple walks past him, hand in hand.
Catalina takes a long deep breath. “Where are you now?”
“Waiting for my tram. What’s up?”
“I really need to talk with you.”
She sounds serious.
“What is it?” asks Phil.
She sighs.
“Hello?” asks Phil.
“What time is it over there?”
Phil checks his watch. “10 p.m.. 4 p.m. there, right?”
Phil starts walking slowly.
“Yeah,” she answers eventually.
“Are you okay?”
She sighs. “Where do I begin...”
A motorcycle drives by with its engine reverberating loudly. Phil sees a brown cat jump away, disappearing behind some bushes.
“Hello?” asks Phil. “Cata, my phone might die anytime soon.” Fucking batteries, always running out.
“I’m sorry, it’s just... I don’t know how to tell you this.”
Phil ponders. Maybe she’ll finally grant him a gracious way out of their precarious relationship? “Start from the beginning?”
“Okay.” She takes a big breath. “This morning, on the way to work, I had a pretty bad accident.”
“What?” Phil frowns slightly; this is not what he envisioned. “Car accident?”
“What happened?” He stops near the garden that swallowed the cat and leans down to look for her. He finds no trace so he resumes his stroll.
“The car is totaled; I had to call a crane.”
“Whoah, that sucks! Are you okay?”
“Well, nothing happened to me,” she says. “Luckily; it could have been much worse.”
“Oh, good. I’m glad. That’s what really matters.” Having reached the end of the tram stop, Phil turns around and begins retracing his steps. “How did it happen?”
“It doesn’t really matter,” she says.
Phil hesitates. “I’m sorry,” he says finally and he takes his phone away from his ear quickly to check the dreaded battery indicator. The phone will die soon.
“A car jumped the separator, came the wrong way, and fast. We crashed practically head-on. This guy... he must have fallen asleep at the wheel.”
“Ugh, seriously?”
“Where was it?” asks Phil, though he’s not very familiar with her city.
“It doesn’t matter. Listen, I...” She trails off again.
“What about the people in the other car? Are they okay?” The tram ought to arrive anytime now.
“I don’t know, Phil. I think the guy broke some ribs.”
Phil sits down in a bench. “Fuck, suppo-.”
“Listen,” she interrupts him, “I got this bruise so I decided to see my uncle Roberto. He’s a doctor, remember?”
“Right.” Phil vaguely remembers having met him when he came to visit Catalina; he met so many people it’s all a bit fussy. “How bad is your bruise?”
“It’s just a purple spot from the seat belt. But better safe than sorry, right?”
“Right.” He sees the tram coming down the streets three blocks away. “Good. I’m glad you’re okay.”
“Well, there’s mo-”
“Look, my stupid phone is really dying now, I can call you in half an hour, once I’m home.”
Another long pause. “Sure,” she says.
Phil presses the button on the tram door. He hops in and finds an empty seat behind a sleek guy with a large afro. “We could continue talking, but we...”
“I’ll wait for your call,” she says and hangs up.
He looks at his phone and shoves it in his pocket. He really ought to buy a new one.
During his ride, Phil imagines Catalina’s green car crashing against a blue car. Bang! There’s a flash of shattered glass and Catalina storms out furious, to find the other driver waking up to the pain of a broken rib.
Phil met Catalina in a beach resort where both were taking a break from their studies. He was travelling with friends; she with her mother and an aunt.
After two days exchanging casual glances, Phil abandoned his friends and swam to her in the ocean.
“Hey, you,” he said.
She turned to face him. The water reached her shoulders; her long brown hair was soaked. She had to cover the sun with her fingers to see him.
“Oh, hi!” She smiled.
“I’m Phil.”
“I’m Catalina.”
He raised his hand over the surface and offered it to her awkwardly.
She laughed and shook his hand. “Nice to meet you, Phil.”
They hit it off. He got along with her family so well that she invited him to visit her in her hometown and, when three weeks later—before the end of the summer break—he came for ten days, she introduced him to everyone in her life.
Having brewed some tea, Phil takes off his shoes and sits down on the olive sofa in his living room. He unbuckles his brown belt. He clears his throat as the phone, now plugged to the wall, rings.
“Hi, Phil.”
“Hey. I’m sorry,” he says.
“Home now?”
Phil observes the steam rising slowly from his yellow mug, swerving and disappearing in the air.
“So... what happened to your car?”
“I don’t give a fuck about the car!” she says.
“Geez, okay!”
“Listen, I went to see the doctor, my uncle, right? He checked me and said there’s nothing wrong with my bruise, with the accident but... well, he... he said, uh... he said he’d want to run more tests because...”
She laughs emptily. He imagines her shaking her head in disbelief. “He actually congratulated me.”
“Congratulated you?”
“He said I’m pregnant.”
“What?” The wooden skeleton of the sofa creaks softly as Phil straightens his back and his weight shifts. Ugh, having a kid with Catalina—who was, effectively, a stranger, living far away—would be... tough, to say the least. He’s not prepared to have children, he’s only twenty-three, he must finish university first! A rush of adrenaline begins to cloud his thinking. “Er, you’re...”
“Relax,” she says. “I’m not.”
“Hmm.” What was it Catalina had said about abortion? Phil thinks back, trying to recall a conversation they once had, as she drove him through some lush mountains around her city. Had she said she supported abortion? Phil no longer remembers.
An image forms in his mind where he’s holding a baby, holding his baby. The baby is wrapped in a blue blanket and cries with both eyes closed. He scratches the top of his head and then his armpit. This isn’t the life Phil wants, this isn’t a life he can afford to have. Fuck.
“He said I have to be pregnant. At least three months.”
Phil does the math; that would be roughly the time they met. Fuck! He considers briefly the headaches of paternity tests. How do you demand one from your partner?
“I told him it’s impossible,” says Catalina. “I’ve been getting my periods.”
“I see,” says Phil, his distress receding as her reassurances finally take root. “So you’re definitely not pregnant?”
Phil nods and sighs with relief. “Okay...”
“He said if I’m not pregnant, there’s something else. We decided to run some tests.”
Phil feels the dryness in his mouth and reaches forward for his tea, from which steam no longer rises. He sets it back on the coffee table after a small sip.
“I don’t know how to...” she says.
Phil says nothing.
“Well, it turns out... I’m sick, Phil.”
“I might have cancer.”
“Jesus fucking Christ.”
“I have a giant tumor,” she goes on. “It basically ate my whole left ovary.”
“Seriously?” He spots a dark spider crawling on the wall.
She begins crying. “It’s huge, Phil. Roberto could tell something was up just by looking at me!”
Phil scratches his head between clumps of hair. “I’m... I’m sorry!”
“They ran some exams. Big machines, deafening, nauseating. The oncologist said my ovary—or rather, this evil thing growing inside me, invading me, this... this alien tissue, this fucking abomination, this... tumor—is bigger than my lungs.”
“Ugh,” said Phil. “You hadn’t noticed it?”
“No. It’s very obvious now, though. I do feel very swollen on the left. Is it possible that it got inflamed with the crash? I don't know...”
“I see.” Phil takes another sip of tea, wondering what to say.
“They’re running more exams tomorrow. The oncologist said we should remove it as soon as possible. I might even have surgery tomorrow or Thursday.”
“Ugh, man. I’m so so so so sorry, Catalina!” He lets his head fall back against the sofa and looks at the rooftop. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Depending on the type of tumor they may remove both ovaries.”
“Fuck,” says Phil. “But that would me-”
“Yeah. I would no longer be able to conceive,” she says coldly, distancing herself from the possibility.
“Let’s not get ahead, I’m sure it won’t come to that,” says Phil.
“How can you say that? How can you know?”
Phil frowns. He can’t.
He thinks back to a long conversation they had in some cozy bar when he went to visit her. She said this world is so messed up she would never bring new creatures to it; if she was to have children, she’d adopt. Of this Phil is certain.
“Can you imagine if I lost the potential to become a mother?”
The black spider disappears behind the corner.
“What kind of woman would I become? I would feel so incomplete, damaged... like I’ve forever lost something sacred.” She starts crying again.
This changes everything. He makes up his mind. “We have to be strong, Kitty. We’ll be alright,” he says, trying to sound confident and clutching the phone tightly. The phone feels hot against his cheek and his head is beginning to hurt. He starts considering the implications of missing the next few days at work.
“I’m glad to have you to get through this, Pip,” she says. “I don’t know if I could deal with this alone.”