by Julian X  /  fiction  /  29 Jul 2007
Warm of sweat, the thick puddle between the legs, her hands unclench, her belly lacking. Behind the drugs, she feels the presence of another in a new way for the first time – here, now, manifest. A child.
The florescent light shines brightly on their blue aprons, surreal, ridiculous. They do not smile. To her, they seem as unconcerned with what they hold as do trashmen. “Congratulations. It’s a boy. He seems healthy. You can hold him, but only for a minute.”
“Excuse me?” But there was no protesting. Was the baby okay? Would they know? There was a history in her family. She had to know.
“Ms. Nichols?” The nurse had little Jacob in her hands. He looked so small, so alien, soft as a tiny vase and as easily broken, chipped, somehow irrevocably damaged. She let her world get carted off and waited to hear that God had not made it quite right.
The officer will come in, and his look will be as warm as he can muster while remaining firm; he will nod just slightly, a token nod, and he will begin as diplomatically as can be while all the while she is watching his face and wondering where his wrinkles came from. Another officer will stand alongside, making sure this man of bouncing jaw and oscillating wrinkles, who was just talking to my son, will not face the wrath of an irrational woman who they don’t listen to anyway. He’s also there to laugh if I fall over, but I’m not what they think. It’s not my fault. I gave birth to him, tried to raise him without a father – and it wasn’t easy. They’ll ask where the father is like it’s an accusation, like it’s my fault, like I made a mistake because my egg was fertilized, or because I had someone to fuck me who wasn’t the doctor-going type, or because I could have had an abortion or a miscarriage – you never get blamed for that. He was going to accuse me of being drunk, of those bottles in my sink in my house. Of being a bad mother because my son shoots that stuff – like I gave it to him, like my alcohol poisoned him in the womb. Oh, he won’t say it outright, but I know, I know, I’ll see it in his eyes –
She thought a child would cure her world.
She reads about weight loss and watches Oprah on TV, the flicker of syndicated shows reassuring her before she falls asleep in the chair, grasping the remote as if someone might appear, having broken in to change the channel. She looks but doesn’t really see the people moving in and out of the neighborhood, the house she knew as a child increasingly surrounded by foreigners, to whom she doesn’t speak. Her nails change from pink to grayish-white. Her hands twist, the skin dotted with red and pink, growing looser year by year.
The strange tissue-like paper beneath her crinkles slightly with her weight, then falls silent. The stupid paper seat, so large, tilted off one edge as she went to sit, and does so frequently; she is too embarrassed to say anything. Later, the tile floor feels good and cool against her bare feet as she returns, slowly, to her bed; soon they will not let her walk around by herself anymore or take care of her own shits. She reaches for the arm of the chair to steady her, but her hand is shaking, waffling. It is time for her medicine.
Steady, now. Breathe. Think. Pray. Pray again. God. Swallow. Ask for more drugs, though more won’t come. Hold. Swallow. Pray.
She can feel it eating away at her and knows this time is for real. She has been vomiting and there is a bit of muffin, a soft, squishy, easy-to-eat muffin caught on her nose, hazy in front of her eyes. There is a small blueberry attached to it. The overhead light makes her think of Jacob, of seeing him again, without the needles or the orange prison uniforms. Her parents, too, will be waiting. Perhaps that one love, the boy she’d known as a child, will be there too, though she does not know. The liver is gone after all the liquor and chemo. She has lived so long, outlived her only child, unwanted by her three grandchildren left in different women’s wombs. Here, at last, she thinks she has found the cure for life, for loneliness, for men abandoning her, for aging, for shitting on the seat covers when lucky enough to make it to the toilet. Here, beneath the intense white artificial light, in an antiseptic room, surrounded by people whose relationship with her is purely professional. Here, where they try vainly to fix bodies while the only fix for lives is losing them. The last thing she sees before squeezing her eyes shut is a bit of silhouetted muffin.
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