Milk Stains on the Bathroom Ceiling

Rachel Tallon

for Jonas

I hadn’t been sitting down for more than five minutes before the bare skin of my legs became suctioned to the grey leather seat by the gathering sweat.  The cool wind blowing in from the open windows ripped blonde hair from my ponytail and whipped it around my face, doing little to keep my legs cool. I grabbed the AUX cord lying on the center console and plugged it into my bare iPhone.  The white and purple marbled case broke last week when I dropped it getting out of my car after work. After a few failed song choices, I tossed my phone into my lap and clicked the worn-down scan button for the radio.

“Hey, are you ok?”

Jonas quickly scanned over my face before returning his attention to the road construction surrounding us that was winding to a close as the sun began to set.   The car behind us blared its horn. I pursed my lips and stuck my middle finger out the window. The forty-something-year-old man with feathering blonde hair took his hand off the horn long enough to return the favor.  Jonas laughed, causing kinky, light auburn hair to become loose from the bun on top of his head. His rosy cheeks and scattered freckles were much more visible now than when he wore his hair down (which was a rare occurrence).  We were driving around downtown in his scruffy Toyota Camry to kill some time before dinner with his sister and brother-in-law. While I loved his sister like she was my own, sometimes I couldn’t handle her. She knew Jonas hated being a third wheel and always made it clear to him that he was one.  I tagged along so we could gag as the couple played three periods of full-contact tonsil hockey.

I winced as I slowly peeled my legs away from the car seat, leaving a layer or two of skin stuck to the stained leather.  A quiet curse slipped out between my lips, causing Jonas to send another nervous glance in my direction. As the car drove over a section of particularly bumpy road, my stomach stretched and tore like fondant going through a roller.  I put a hand over my belly button to calm the tension and thought of all the damage I’d done to my body lately.


“I know when you’re lying to me.”

My knees curled so my feet could fit onto the seat with the rest of my body, and wrapped my arms around my legs to keep them there.  Jonas was right, and I wasn’t in the mood to put on an act to prove him wrong. The car rolled to a soft stop behind another line of vehicles and Jonas clicked off the radio.  He remained quiet, trying to get me to speak, but I knew what he was doing. If he stayed quiet long enough, I would talk. That’s how it had always been. And, damn it, it was going to work.

“I…Auntie Flow…she’s…I’m late.”

The words stumbled out like amateur clowns falling out of a miniature car for the first time.  My stomach tugged apart harder this time, and I pressed down harder to keep it together. The fingers of my other hand found themselves wrapped around the ‘oh shit’ handle hanging above the door.  Jonas remained quiet long enough for an awkward silence to settle over us. The streetlight turned green, but instead of going straight towards the restaurant, he turned right onto Mackinaw Street.  I gave him a confused look.

“Did you wrap it?”

The saliva in my mouth suddenly disappeared and was replaced by a jumbo-sized cotton ball.  I had just started the pill. This could be some weird side effect – I’ve heard it makes your periods less frequent.  I’ve heard they also make your hair fall out and make you gain fifteen pounds and make your boobs hurt and make you think you’re safe when you’re really not because nothing is one hundred percent effective except abstinence.  I hadn’t finished the pack either. I didn’t have a reason to keep taking them. I was spotting three weeks ago from the pills and ruined three cute pairs of underwear in the process. I threw the pack in the bottom of my purse and forgot about them.  Now, those small pink tablets stared at me like polka dots of silent judgment and I couldn’t see how something so small could stop something so big. I hated everything about those stupid little killers because they were an excuse to not use a condom.

Jonas took my silence as the only answer he needed.  I think he thought I was too embarrassed to admit I didn’t use a condom.  That I was embarrassed I didn’t insist on it. That I wanted to try having sex without one.  In reality, I couldn’t remember.

“We’re going to buy a test.”


It wasn’t the first time this had happened.  It wasn’t the last time either. It was just the time that messed with my head the most.  There was nothing special about it, nothing that made it stand out from every other time. But it felt different.  I think it was the moment it struck me that what was happening wasn’t right.

We were in my dorm room.  In my room. On my bed. My safe place.  And he was on top of me. His body between my legs.  The way his hips forced down against mine hurt. His hand on my chest.  The way his hand kneaded my chest like unruly dough hurt more. His lips on mine.  The way his lips pushed – forceful and unforgiving – hurt the most.

He was my first – for so many things.  First real kiss, first real boyfriend, first…time.  And I was ok with all of that. I was ready for all of that.  I was ready to make out with a man and hold his hand in public and show him off to all my friends.  Look at this everyone!  I got a man! A man!  I was ready to think about spending a while with someone.  Not marriage, God no, but a long-term relationship? Hell yeah.  I wanted this. I told myself that.  I want this.

His hand dove into my hair and yanked it back.  I gave a soft whimper as my head was forced back against the pillow.  He pushed harder against my lips – how was that even possible – and pressed down even more against my hips so I couldn’t move them.  I felt my heartbeat pick up. Heard it thundering in my ears. I couldn’t breathe.  I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t breathe.


His hand in my shorts.  His hands pulling my shorts down.  His fingers shoving my underwear back.  I most certainly did not want this.


I jerked away from his mouth.  I grabbed his hand and ripped it away.  He barely moved. He didn’t move. He was close.  Too close. My heart was thundering still, the sound filling my ears.  My breaths were quick in-and-outs, like I was playing beach volleyball by myself against a team of Olympian stars.  I couldn’t get enough space, couldn’t get enough air, couldn’t get enough to speak. 

“What, babe?”  His voice was solid as he brushed a hand through his blonde hair.  He stared down at me. I opened my mouth to talk, but I couldn’t yet, so I pressed a quick peck to his lips to soften them.  He locked his lips against mine, holding me still for a moment, before I broke away again. His wrist slipped out of my hand and trickled down to my underwear.  He played with the fabric for a moment before I blurted. 

“Can we…not do that?”

He paused.  His rounded features tensing into a firm glare.  A look I think he’d perfected for the exact moment I asked that question.  I squirmed and dropped my gaze to his chest. His bare chest, since he’d taken his shirt off moments in.  Or did I do that? I couldn’t remember. It didn’t matter. His shirt was off and so was mine and everything was too bare.

“Why not?”

I knew this question was coming.  He always asked, but never in a way to figure out why I didn’t want it.  No, he was asking why he couldn’t have it. I saw it behind his eyes. The way they stared at me with disappointment.  The way he sighed made it sound like he was annoyed. That he was frustrated he couldn’t have what he wanted. I wasn’t ready to give the answer I wanted to give.  The one I should give. You’re rough.  I don’t like it.  It hurts. I don’t want to.  

“Cause…I don’t want to…right now.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”  I just don’t want to.  Why did something have to be wrong?  Why couldn’t I just not want to in the same way I want to?  I want to cause I want to. I don’t cause I don’t. What’s the difference?  Sometimes I just wanted to kiss or cuddle or kiss and cuddle. Why did something have to be wrong because I didn’t want sex?  I don’t want this.  I don’t want it rough and hard.  It hurts. 

“Then why not?”

The way he looked at me still makes my stomach strain.  Like he didn’t understand I didn’t want sex, that I didn’t want his hands on my body, that I wanted a moment to breathe.  That I signed my body away to him to have any time he wanted when I had sex with him for the first time. He gave another frustrated sigh and moved off the bed.  My heart continued to thunder in my ears – banging away like hockey fans clanging pots together and drumming on metal pans.

I didn’t want to make him mad.  It scared me. Made my stomach churn with nervous energy like the first time you step into a canoe and you wobble as you try to get your balance.  His face would tighten like a towel twisted until it curled into a fabric snake. He would stop talking sweet-nothings and start snapping things about how it was annoying and frustrating to lead him on like that.  He’d snap about how, really, I led him on by kissing him when he walked in the door, and how he just wanted to come home and have some alone time with me, and how I shouldn’t kiss him if I didn’t want to have sex with him (because doing so was leading him on).

It reminded me of how Dad would yell at Mom when they used to get into arguments.  How he would scowl and grumble as he came into the house smelling like someone had opened six cans of beer and let them sit right underneath my nose.  The arguments were about work and school and housework and family and money and everything a child shouldn’t have to worry about, so I was sent to my room.  Sometimes I didn’t listen. Sometimes I watched the arguments happen and saw the milk and the dishes and the insults being thrown. But I always saw the aftermath.  Crooked pictures. Milk stains on the bathroom ceiling. Trails of tears. I didn’t want to clean up spilt milk again, so I tried my best to keep Richard from getting mad.

So, I tried asking him to be gentle instead.  It was weeks ago when I had driven to his house for a weekend visit.  We were making out on his bed at his parent’s house and he’d pushed me so hard into the mattress I felt the springs dig into my back.  I paused, pulling away for a breath of air that wasn’t his, and asked him then to be more gentle. That I liked it that way. I liked it when he touched me softly.  He made a face like he’d just sucked on a lemon for the first time in his life. I felt my cheeks flame as he pulled away. Was that how this worked? It had to be rough?  Was I going to lose him?

People don’t break up for this reason…do they?  Mom drilled it into my head that I deserved a man who would treat me right.  A man who would bring me flowers and take me on dates and tells me I’m beautiful and loves my family and my family loves him.  Or maybe it was all the Hallmark movies we watched together. Sometimes, Richard brings me cheap flowers that wilt quickly or sprout mold after a few days.  We went on dates every once in a while. Once, he called his mom in the middle of dinner to tell her how good his food was. It was a burger with glazed donuts instead of the traditional sesame bun.  He tells me I’m pretty when I’m changing my clothes. He’s taken my brother shooting and has promised to fulfill his lifelong dream of duck hunting. My brother thinks he’s amazingly cool and, by extension, thinks I’m cool now too.  I can’t give up all this happiness for something that only happened a couple times, right?

“I…we can.”

He asked if I was sure as he began to slide down his boxers.  When did his pants come off?  He was asking to make sure I was alright.  To make sure this is what I wanted. And I did, right?  I wanted this. I told myself that. I want this. He came closer to the bed.  He pressed a soft kiss to my cheek and repeated the question. I closed my eyes and pushed down a ball of words.  He wouldn’t hurt me. He was going to listen. He was going to be soft.


He motioned towards my underwear with his hand and raised an eyebrow that said, “Then why aren’t you already naked?”


My hands were trembling with nervous energy after sprinting out of the store.  We’d only been inside for five minutes, but the whole trip felt like a lifetime.  Jonas already had us back on the road again. I couldn’t go back to my apartment to take the test.  It felt sinful, like it would taint the place even more than it already had been. Instead, we were driving towards a park in hopes that one of the restrooms there were open.  Classy.

“Son of a bitch.”

Jonas hit the horn with the heel of his hand.  The light was green, had been for about twenty seconds, and the driver in front of us hadn’t even taken his foot off the brake pedal yet.  The streetlamps were poking their light inside the car just enough for me to see Jonas’ crinkled brow and crow’s feet. He was odd like that.  The crow’s feet didn’t appear until he worried about something. Like an exam or a girl or someone close being hurt. I kept my hands wrapped tightly around a white plastic bag that was so thin you could read the box inside.  DIGITAL Pregnancy Test!  Only Test with Smart Countdown to Result!  Results 5 Days Sooner!  It was like that ornery old cashier was still glaring at me through her chunky eye make-up and badly dyed hair.  I’ve never felt more worthless than the way she looked at me. Like I was worth less than the total cost of the tests ($26.76 for three, because they were on sale).

My stomach was pulling again.  This time it was ripping a part of me away.  This wasn’t me. I wasn’t the type of girl who got into this situation – taking a drug store pregnancy test.  I graduated high school third in my class. I was the goody-two-shoes who wouldn’t dare touch a drop of alcohol.  I was a virgin until four months ago! This wasn’t me!

“Delilah.  Breathe.”

This wasn’t me.

This wasn’t me.  I didn’t do this.  I didn’t get into situations that could hurt me.  That could ruin me. That could take what I’ve made of myself and break it into a thousand little pieces.

“You’re going to be alright.  You’ll be fine.”

I needed to figure out what I was going to do.  I’d stress myself into lunacy if I didn’t create a plan.  My plan was to erase this whole thing from memory as soon as possible.  Pregnant or not pregnant, I was not having a baby at nineteen. I couldn’t do that to my grandmother.  I couldn’t do that to my mother. I couldn’t do that to me. If I wasn’t pregnant, this would be easy. I could toss the extra tests and throw out the used pee stick and forget Jonas and I ever spent an evening driving around town looking for a public park restroom to use.  If I was pregnant, there was only one thing I could do.

“Delilah?  Are you breathing?”

There was only one thing I could do, but getting an abortion wasn’t me.  I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t take a life. I knew the horror stories. Girls walking into clinics with pillowcases over their heads.  Random strangers begging, pleading,screaming at those same girls to stop what they’re doing. To stop thinking about their lives and focus on the bundle of cells multiplying in their bodies.  But at the same time, it was me. This was my life. I had worked so hard to build what little I had. Even though the foundation was crumbling, this was still my life!  I–


He ripped me from my thoughts and pulled me back down to reality.  Back into his car that was littered with trash he swore was from me.  Back into my body that was curled up in the passenger’s seat. Back into the present.


Jonas pulled off the road into an empty gravel parking lot.  The lone streetlamp rested on top of a wooden pole that was roughly weathered.  Chunks of wood were pried out by forceful wind and unforgiving rain. To our left was a public fish cleaning station.  Iron grates replaced the windows around the large, stained basin for fish. The one-person bathroom was large (almost bigger than the freshman dorm rooms) and was in the building as well.  I had been here once before last spring when I went fishing with my older brother during his visit.

“Is this ok?”

I didn’t answer him.  Sprinkles of rain began to fall from the sky as we stepped out of the car.  It was like the weather knew how to set the mood so we didn’t have to worry about emotions ourselves.  I made Jonas come into the bathroom with me even though I knew he’d be uncomfortable. I don’t think I would have done it if I was alone.

“Are you going to tell Richard?” Jonas asked, “even if you aren’t?”


The word blurted out before I had time to think it through.  I’d gotten him out of my life and there was no excuse large enough to bring him back in.  If I was pregnant, I was going to figure it out on my own and I would be telling as few people as possible.  If I wasn’t, this secret was going to live and die with Jonas. It’d be erased from my memory the moment the test was negative because everything would be over then.

Jonas nodded his head, then handed me a pregnancy test from the box and read the directions.  Neither of us had done this before, but I had seen it done several times in TV shows and movies.  After pulling my pants and underwear down and sitting on the toilet, I removed the blue plastic cap off the test.  The now-visible end looked like a stiff piece of paper, like a cross between a piece of cardboard and a tissue. I wondered if it’d flop over like a flimsy tissue when it got wet.  Jonas began rambling about a bitchy text he got from his sister for missing dinner with them while I took the test.

This pregnancy test was digital.  Meaning, the results popped up on a little screen like the ones on cheap techy McDonald’s toys.  There was an empty bar that would fill with four blocks. Once the bar was full, the results would be given as either Pregnant or Not Pregnant across the screen.  As I pulled my clothes back up, the first block was blinking into its place.  At least we knew the tests worked and weren’t garbage. As I washed my hands, the second block began blinking into place.  The first block was filled with solid black. By the time we made it back to the car, the third block was blinking and the second had been completely filled in.

The last block on the timer appeared, but the results didn’t pop up right away.  I closed my eyes and pushed my hand into my stomach.