The first time I try pizza, I’m twenty-six. Devin thinks this is a joke, but it isn’t. It’s past midnight, and everything is tinted yellow. Harsh and fluorescent. It reminds me of my childhood; of sitting barefoot outside a gas station, illuminated by neon signs; of chain-smoking Camels and rebelling in chunky, black eyeliner. But I’m not outside a gas station, and I quit smoking years ago. I traded in black eyeliner for black pantyhose. The nostalgia I have for this rips my chest open, spilling my sparkly, cotton candy guts out onto the pavement. I look around at the wash of professionals in trench coats and hope someone else is having a similar experience, that they too are quietly mourning an adolescence they hoped to forget.
“It tastes like overpriced cardboard.” I chew. “With chunky tomatoes.” I chew some more. “And too much cheese.” I spit the mouse-sized bite out before I can swallow and wipe rouge oil off my chin with a white, flimsy napkin. I’m both disgusted and surprised by the amount of grease a single slice of pizza produces.
Devin has a meltdown on the curb adjacent to the pizza stand. The pizza guys know him by name and are waiting for him to give a thumbs up regarding my “first time.” Devin ignores them and with a flick of his wrist. He calls me “pizza challenged” with what I assume is his disappointed face. We haven’t been seeing each other long enough for me to know, but he looks flustered, like he just got caught backing into a parked car.
Devin folds his pizza vertically, takes an overcompensating bite, and sighs. It’s never been more obvious to me that I’m an alien in human clothes. I pretend to belong by laughing at him, as if Devin’s ability to degrade me is something new and astonishing, an unprecedented feat. I stomp my off-brand heel into my big toe until pain shoots up my leg. When it settles on my femur, I exhale. I like Devin. I like to think I like Devin. I like being an accessory to his narcissism. I like that he never lets me walk with traffic and that I fit in the crook of his shoulder like a child would. His modest, two-story apartment has a balcony overlooking the park, and it smells like rosemary. Devin tells everyone he meets that he’s from Southern California, as if that’s supposed to give him some kind of street cred or validation that being from anywhere else wouldn’t. I find Devid kind of sad, like as a person. One morning, while pretending to do yoga in his apartment, I decide he’s the product of a bunch of people he met once and was impressed by. If Devin were a puzzle, all of the pieces would be wrong, stolen from other, more interesting puzzles. He doesn’t know this about himself because he’s a coward. He’s Hollywood attractive, which intimidates me. But he pays. He always pays.
Sometimes, when I sit on the subway and watch other people advertise their love, I imagine how it would other people advertise their love, I imagine how it would feel like to carry Devin’s baby. To wear a floral maternity dress that looks like a couch and extra-large shoes with orthopedic inserts, sturdy enough to secure my ballooned feet. I drool at the prospect of a basketball-sized human breaking my ribs with its demon feet, of people giving up their seats for me. I only agreed to go out with Devin because he wears nice shoes and doesn’t have dirt caked under his fingernails. For fun, he goes karaoking in broad daylight—and completely sober, he says—which is brand new territory for me. Before Devin, I didn’t even know “karaoke” could be used as a verb. When I told him I work in finance, he rolled his eyes. He wanted someone interesting: an artist, a vegan chess player, a tarot card specialist. This only made me want him more. I can draw stick figures and play checkers. Once, I listened to a lady predict my life just by reading the lines on my palms. But I wear the same suit every day to work and only brush my teeth sometimes. I rarely leave the office before ten. Devin lives off a trust fund from a great-uncle he never met. When I bring up his lack of professional ambition, he says, “Work is a terrible way to waste life.” But he’s just privileged and can’t understand suffering as a real concept, like outside of a video game. This is probably why I want him to impregnate me, so my kid won’t have to suffer, and, in turn, I won’t have to suffer. I only eat real meals when Devin pays for them. Otherwise, I boil ramen or fry an egg. I can make a dozen eggs last for twelve days.
The pizza guys lower their heads in defeat when I toss my slice into the garbage. Devin won’t look at me.
On our way back to his apartment, I ask if he wants to be a father someday, like in the not-so-distant future. I feel stupid. I want a cigarette, but I don’t smoke anymore. I gave it up for Lent five years ago. It’s the one honest thing I’ve managed to do. The streets have quieted into what I assume is suburbia. I trace my fingers along the family brownstones and imagine this is what life could be like if I lived below 141st St., pregnant with Devin’s baby.
“Yeah. I want kids someday.” He smiles. “Just not with you.”
My larynx shrinks. “Oh.”
I can’t help but think Devin’s only rejecting me as a potential mother of his children because I don’t like pizza. I’m already cataloging prospects while Devin unclasps my bra. Dan from Accounting. Brad from HR. Aussie from Sales. My lease is up in June. My landlord is increasing the rent because he’s such a stand-up guy. I have to start liking pizza if I want to be pregnant by spring. I research different kinds of pizza while Devin snores. Vegetarian, margherita, baked ziti, pineapple, smoked salmon, penne. I can do this. For the baby. For the embryo that isn’t even an embryo. I just have to adapt to pizza. I can manipulate a rich man and his rich sperm and eat carbs while I’m doing it. People do this all the time. It’s like an elementary version of Watergate.
“Pizza Talk” by Gabrielle McAree and the artwork titled Sudden Fiction by Yasmeen Abedifard appeared in Issue 41 of Berkeley Fiction Review.
Gabrielle McAree is a writer from Fishers, IN. She studied Theatre and Writing at Long Island University Post. Her work appears in X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Reflex Press, Tiny Molecules, Versification, (mac)ro(mic), and elsewhere. She’s on Twitter @gmcaree_.
Yasmeen Abedifard (She/Her) is an Iranian-American 25 year old Bay Area Native and a recent M.F.A. graduate in Visual Arts from Cornell University. Her work is centered around storytelling mediums, such as comics, storyboarding, and animation.