An essay by Cameron Witbeck

Every month, I pray for blood.

            Every month I pray to God that my girlfriend is not pregnant. And every month she bleeds.

            I pray because I am afraid. I am afraid because I do not know. I can’t see the future.

            When I was a kid, I wished that I could smell rain in the air like the Indians in old Westerns. I imagined that the rain smelled like wind flowing over fallen trees, like rust and dirt.

            I still wish I could do that, smell the rain in the air before it falls, before grey clouds cover the sun. I still wish I could always know before. I wish I could know how many days that I have left before I die. I want to know the volume of blood that I will lose. I want to see every moment of pain and loss in the world before it happens. I want to know so I can prepare, so I can defend myself and those I love.

            But I can’t. I can’t know these things because I am not a diviner. I have no magic. All I have is the past.



            I was fifteen. I was a freshman and I was sitting behind the high school before the Friday night football game.

            Up above me, the sky was a tumultuous gray with ripples and shards of dark blue cut deep into the clouds like scars. The wind pushed orange and red leaves across the green hill where I was sitting. Behind me, I could hear the crowd gathered at the game. The small pieces of individual voices were lost, ground up, and smeared together in one inseparable roar competing against the howling wind.

I looked out across the endless forest that bordered my school to the north, and across the fields that surrounded the rest. Nothing seemed alive. It was as if the earth was waiting for sleep, for the cold, white funeral shroud of winter.

            I stood up, brushing my hands down the back of my jeans to clean off the dirt and grass. I walked the fence lining the football field. I used the space in the fence that all of the students used to get out of paying admission.

            Sara was waiting for me in the stands. She was dressed all in white. I loved her. She read Hemingway and Faulkner. Her eyes were grey, and never fully open. Her light pink lips turned slightly downward. She was small and frail. When she moved, she walked with fear, as though she felt that at any moment a building would fall, a dog would bark, a gun would fire.

            When she saw me, she waved and made room for me to sit down.

             “Where were you?” she asked.

            “Just out,” I said, “Thinking.”

            “Do you want the rest of my coffee?” she asked, holding out the white, Styrofoam cup. The rim of the cup was smeared with the faint pink of her lipstick.

            “No,” I said, smiling at her.

            I wanted to tell her that I loved her. I wanted to hold her in my arms and feel her shoulders beneath her clothing. I wanted her dark hair mixed in with mine. I wanted the small bones of her fingers between my own.

            I didn’t do anything. She didn’t want me to. I had told her that I loved her, and she had told me that I didn’t. She had told me that I couldn’t love her. She said that we were friends, that we could never be more than that.

            I was fifteen. I didn’t know any better. I loved with the passion, rage, and confusion of someone who was beginning to learn what love was, and how much it could hurt.

            I sat beside her on the cold metal of the bleachers. She offered me her blanket. We sat beneath the white fleece as we watched the football game distractedly.

            She was silent. I could tell something was wrong. I spent minutes that seemed to turn into hours, days, rotations of the earth, trying to force myself to ask what was wrong.

            “James broke up with me this morning,” she said.

            “I heard that,” I said. We were not looking at each other. We watched as the red and white shapes of football players blurred and collided with each other against the green grass of the field.

            “Why?” I asked.

            We were enveloped in the pulse of a hundred conversations droning all around us. And yet, I felt as if I had never been so alone. Sara seemed like she was a thousand miles away.

            “Because I’m pregnant,” she said.

            “You’re pregnant?”

            “I’m going to take care of it,” her voice was like metal. Her words were like gears grinding into motion, moving on, and never stopping.

            “Take care of it?”

            “My mom made me an appointment for tomorrow morning,” she said. “I’m scared.”

She didn’t sound afraid. She didn’t sound like anything. She looked at me and the glare of the flood-lights above the football field was caught in the tears rimming her eyes, like two slivers of light embedded in her skin.

            “You’ll be okay,” I said.

            “Can you go with me? My mom is coming, but I need someone,” she said.

            “Sara… I can’t… I’m sorry.”

            “Why?” she asked.

            I said nothing. I thought about the white room I’d have to wait in. I thought about her absence from the room. The silence. The other people waiting. I thought about the waiting. The endless waiting until she returned to the room. I tried to imagine what she would look like. I couldn’t.

            I thought of James. He had hurt her and I wanted to scar his face. I wanted to break his bones. I wanted to make him bleed.

            “It’s okay,” she said, leaning against me in the cold air. It was dark by then, and the black, starless sky seemed infinite and terrifying.

            “Can I call you tomorrow?” she asked. “After.”

            “Yes,” I said, “Yes. Please call me.”

            We spent the rest of the game in silence, and in spite of everything, the lines of her body felt perfect against mine.

            As we left, rain fell out of the black sky. I held her once again before she left. And when she was gone, I could feel the rain washing her away from me.

            When I got home, I took out the bottle of Southern Comfort that my best friend had given me over the summer. I opened my window and lit incense. I took out a pack of cigarillos I had stolen from Walgreens. I turned off all the lights and sat in the dark with the burning ember of my cigarillo floating in the blackness. The bitter yet rosy liquor made me feel warm.  

            I went to my bed, covered my eyes with my hands, and prayed.

            Hail Mary, full of grace, the lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, Amen.

            I prayed until I fell asleep.

            Sara called the next day at one in the afternoon.

            “Hey…” she said. Her voice was soft and weak. It sounded like she wasn’t there, as if she was speaking across the room at a phone hanging on the wall.

            “You okay?” I said.

            “No. The doctor said,” she began. “He said that I might never be able to have children.”

            She was silent before continuing in the cold, metallic voice I had heard at the game. She talked about complications, about the possibility of scar tissue. She was so small. The doctor had said that nothing was certain.

            “It’ll be okay,” I said, “I love you.”

            “Don’t Cameron. Just. Please. Don’t.”

            “I’m sorry. It’ll be okay. Okay?” I said, but she said nothing. “Sara? It’ll be okay. It’ll be okay.”

            I was fifteen. I didn’t know any better.



            Sara and I fell apart. We stopped calling, or even talking to each other. We reminded each other of what had happened. She moved away sophomore year, and I left the year after that.

            The last time I saw her was a few years ago. She was walking with some guy at a grocery store. I hid behind another aisle. I didn’t know what to say to her. What could I have said?

            I heard she married that guy.

            For years, I would lay awake in bed and think about Sara and the child she never had. I tried to imagine what it would have looked like. I imagined that he would have been a boy. He wasn’t mine, but I imagined that he had my blond hair, my blue eyes, and Sara’s small bones and down-turned lips. I gave him so many names that I have forgotten them all.

            When I met my girlfriend three years ago, I began to imagine introducing them to each other in a park as we laughed and smiled beneath trees. I imagined him sleeping between her and I, as the sun burned behind the shades of a bedroom in some distant city.          

But these are just fantasies.

            I am 23 now. He would have been 8 years old this spring.

            But he never was. I failed to fight for him. I failed to ask Sara to reconsider. He stains me like the small drops of blood on white sheets that I pray for every month.

            I pray for blood because I am afraid that I will fail again. I have no magic. The rain still surprises me.  When it falls, I wonder how I can protect someone I love from the world. How can I protect them from deep water and wild dogs, from hunger and pain and death and loss?

            I pray because I don’t know how; because I will never know how.

            All I know is that someday, I will have to try. Someday, I will stop praying. And no matter what comes, I will have to try.

Cameron Witbeck is a 23 year old writer from Michigan. He works as an associate poetry editor for Passages North literary magazine and studies in the MFA program at Northern Michigan University. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Cream City Review, Camroc Review, Strongverse and others.

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