You Shall Have
The day of the storm, with the exception of the sudden drop of its odd orbs onto the road leading her home, is as typical as any other Thursday.
She does not work, due to her condition. After the last miscarriage – seven months into things - she had to go away to re-learn how to breathe without screaming. Since, she has collected disability and divided her time carefully, like the strands of a braid.
You are supposed to talk through these things, as if the words are limited, are tied to something concrete, and at some point they, and the thoughts, will run dry and you will be empty again. But the emptiness is the problem. Maybe, she thinks, if she can hold onto the words, she can hold onto what she lost. After the blood she had dreams where she held her baby swaddled in blankets. Then the blankets would lighten somehow and she would pull them open only to find them empty. Other times they would disappear entirely and she would search franticly for her child only to wake up with her chest heaving, gasping for air. The dreams became her lying in bed, with her small infant curled on her chest breathing deep, nestled into her. Her heart would fill up with joy and she would wake with silent tears streaming down her face. She wished they were made of something corrosive and could dig channels as proof that once she had the sweetest little one there ever was.
Just a little trip
Her husband packed her bag. He made arrangements on the phone, outside. Her ears rang and her throat was as raw as her lungs. She asked him at one point, when it was suddenly quiet, what all the noise she’d been hearing lately was. He buried his face in his hands and his shoulders quaked. She stepped back and the noise started again.
She didn’t like the way he said goodbye. She didn’t like the beige walls. She didn’t like the squeaky cornstarch white uniforms all around her - they looked like they were waiting for bloodstains.
She shops for groceries. Everyone in the store is accustomed to her. Schoolchildren who ask questions loudly are safely tucked away around 11:30, which is when she likes to go.
eggs – 2 dozen
Gerber mashed bananas
Her husband is a patient man, but is only human. He owns the grocery store that lies six miles from their home. He is as loyal as he is lost, as devoted as he is selfish. His girlfriend lives four miles from the store, in the opposite direction of their home. On Thursdays he lingers with her until the very late evening and when he returns home, smelling of another woman’s sheets, she asks how inventory went. He loves the woman his wife was when they were seniors in high school and she would sing “Night Moves” at the top of her lungs with the windows down on the dirt road leading to the swimming hole.
She is at the checkout counter. Louisa, the checkout girl, likes her job and likes the woman in a way that makes her smile brighten as her eyes turn down at the corners and her forehead creases.
Louisa: Oh! Look at her! What a sweet little outfit!
The woman: (Giggling) isn’t it darling? I just couldn’t resist!
Louisa: She’s getting so big!
The woman: (Beginning to shake) not too big.
Louisa: No, no! Look at those sweet cheeks; she’s still all baby!
The woman smiles too widely, her hands continue to tremble. Her husband, standing a few feet away with his back to the two women sighs and feels himself grow a little smaller. Louisa will keep her job of course, who knows what will set the woman off. Every day is nothing but a crapshoot.
Is quiet except for the stream of her own of chatter.
A Long Time Ago
It was New Year’s Eve and she was young enough to be spending the night with her grandmother, but old enough to wish she was somewhere else, old enough to have the red-tinged dreams of a woman. From a shallow blue basket the Grandmother drew two apples and placed them upon the warm wood counter next to a large knife. “My grandmother once told me that on New Year’s Eve” began the Grandmother, picking up the knife and centering one of the apples, “if you cut an apple in half horizontally without cutting through any of the seeds, you’ll have a child in the year to come.” She pushed the knife through the flesh of the apple and revealed the star at the center of the core studded with the snow-white insides of the seeds. “Just as well,” she laughed, “who wants to be in the paper for being the oldest woman in the county to give birth?”
Since Her Wedding
She has purchased a five-pound bag of apples every New Year’s eve. Her husband thinks she loves apple pie. It’s become something of a tradition, two or three apple pies on the first day of every year. In the last few years the dessert has grown salty.
In The Back Seat
“Birdy!” she says, in a high, syrupy voice, “Look honey, birdy! That’s a blue bird, look how bright he is!” The rearview mirror shows a silent car seat with a plastic composite inside, wrapped in a soft white cotton blanket with small light yellow ducks printed on it. The baby was put together in a factory that sits three days away by airmail. She sent a picture of herself and her husband in a manila envelope with a large check and an index card with her address carefully printed on it. 18-25 days later she received a large cardboard box. The baby was heavy and she was overjoyed by the realistic weight and look, but what kind of mother doesn’t adore her child’s face?
What were you thinking?
Her husband was too terrified to call the doctor when the thing arrived. When she came back home, after she’d been cured, her eyes stayed wide all the time. She would look at things for a long time, small things, dust, fingernails, all the teeth in a set of keys, the weave of the fabric of her skirt. She cried so quietly you’d think it was the coo of a dove. There was something in the turn of her back, the curve of her shoulders, her shivering hand cutting a bulb of fennel. She needed a shield, a steed. Not a snake. Not a stranger.
There are lullabies tangled like climbing vines. There is a piercing want that digs its leaf-vein thin roots into the lining of her stomach and metastasizes. There is a fluttering like tiny wings against a window and a pulse so quick it defies scientific reason.
The Last Bad Day
Four weeks ago she left the market on her Thursday. She walked to the end of the block and turned left to go to the post office to mail family pictures to her parents - who had yet to fulfill their duty and become doting grandparents. There’s a fair-weather pair if there ever was one, she thought. She stopped on the driveway, steps from the mailbox, and watched a line of ants move past her toes in a small inky stream. For a moment she marveled at nature’s plotting and wiring. When she found the end of their line she screamed and covered the baby’s eyes, burying its small head in her chest. The ants marched to and from a hummingbird, green, matted, flattened, embedded in the cement, its long beak stretched for air or nectar or salvation. The shaking started and she fell, only to find herself lifted off her knees by strange hands, her grip inseparable from her child for days after. On the Day, when the storm hits, the tiny bird is all she can see; it replaces the road and the car and the trees. She tries to find a lullaby to calm herself but at first they’re all too knotted to separate as quickly as she needs to.
Scientists and locals disagree. Some say it was a mini-tornado, a strange vortex of wind and weight. Others cite a history of witchcraft, unsettled spirits and lost energy re-accumulated. All she knows when it hits is what she can see through the windshield, the steady thump on the roof of the car echoing the tremor in her hands and the pounding of her pulse. Small, unripe apples, premature, cut off in the beginning of growth raining down hard all around her and the dirt road.
The apples fall and her thoughts are brambles; the flattened feathered thing that used to beat time with its wings; her Grandmother with a knife in one hand and a promise in the other; the cramping pain, the rush of blood, doubling over and clutching her middle as if her outsides could keep what was inside from hemorrhaging and flowing away. As she doubles with muscle memory she forgets the wheel of the car and skids on the hard fruit. She and the baby and the car, now with less than a minute left together, slam into a tree and in the rolling that follows she thinks of nothing for the first time since she made herself stop screaming so long ago. The shattering shouts for her and she thinks that it’s kind of all that glass to do all that work so she won’t have to.
She hauls herself through the shards that were once the passenger window. The baby was thrown, car seat and all, through the windshield. Her husband must not have belted the thing right when she asked him to install it after the little one came; the seat was so bulky and heavy and the baby was crying so she’d had him do it. As she pulls herself free of the twisted metal a piece of glass finds its way into the thick vein running through her upper arm. She drags the dead weight of her legs across the ditch they rolled into; mothers have done far more painful things when their children are in need. For twenty seconds the glass holds its own in the tear, allowing her to reach the baby, whose heft kept it from flying far. As she grabs her plastic progeny, still whole and healthy, the glass is pushed out and for her last thirty seconds of consciousness she sings strains of her favorite lullaby hoping to calm the child until someone can find them; “Hushabye, don’t you cry, go to sleepy little baby, when you wake, you shall have…” she whispers a promise but it falls on inanimate ears.
Seven minutes later another car brings a man in pursuit of the source of the apples and the scope of their damage. She has been dead for four and a half minutes, and when his mind finally makes sense of the picture that her body forms wrapped around the doll he can see no resemblance between her bruised, slashed face, and the molded plastic she holds. He finds it odd, while trying to get to her, that a blood soaked toy should be so heavy.