I realized that I forgot to give you a free story on Wednesday. This was an oversight. Largely because I was so excited to tell you about Geekery.
I’m going to switch Free Story day to Fridays both HERE, and on the Blue Lit blog.
There are a few reasons for this.
- Free stories are excellent, but my blog traffic is never terrific on free story days, neither is it on Fridays. So I’ve decided to put something you’d rather not read on a day you’re less likely to hang out at my blog anyhow.
- Friday is becoming a day in which I must accomplish a BAZILLION things. This is my last old story, so starting next week, I’ll be giving you scenes and chunks from my yet-untitled novel-in-progress. Of course, this is cool for you because you’ll get to see the (likely vast) difference between a novel in draft stages and what it looks like when it’s all finished.
- I’m in the midst of three reasonably big projects. I’m happy to report that they’re writing projects or writing-related projects. But Friday brings me some consistent deadlines/times to get stuff done for the rest of 2012, and my psychology of deadlines works best with Friday as one.
This story, “Family Bed,” is definitely one of my best stories to date. I hope you’ll like it.
Mara scooted half-awake to the edge of the bed. Her baby was air-cycling behind her, knocking the small of her back, causing the mattress to shake, causing her to feel a little nauseous, causing her interrupted sleep to recede into wakefulness. She did not want to see the baby’s face. She was a little afraid of it and its contorting mouth, eerily empty in the night, seeking. She hoped that if she held her breath, the baby’s air cycling would stop; the baby would forget she was there. She would be able to relax, to slacken the muscles in her back the way they had not been since the baby was born.
She was never alone and she was very lonely. She caught one of the baby’s feet to stop her kicking, but she did not look at the baby. She looked at the ceiling and felt herself sink deeper into the mattress, thought of the way her stomach looked now, gray and mottled like silly putty that had carboned too many comics, soft and floppy, sagging below her hip bones. She pitied it and herself. She wondered if she would ever have another lover, if anyone would take her and her ugly belly and her gorgeous baby, and if she would be able to figure out how to have lovers and a family bed. It seemed as possible as having a pet elephant. As possible as having the baby’s father, having him the way she had asked him to be had. She remembered when she’d talked about her fear, the way the reality of the baby pressed down on her lungs and her security and her confidence like the fetus did on her bladder. He’d smiled and smoothed her hair behind her ear with a large finger, pretending empathy. He’d said, “You’ll be a good mom.” And then he didn’t say anything else until later, and then he’d said she was too tricky and he left. And she missed him, but only because he was a he.
She wanted a triangle instead of a line. If she could get a triangle, a third point on the chart of her family, she could maybe get a square, and then maybe a pentagon. She thought about the laws getting made at points east and west that said same sex couples were now legally families. No law for her and the baby, she was a fringy not-a-family. She thought of Ariel Gore and Anne Lamott whose books about being sexually liberated women and then single parents she read. But Ariel Gore was an exotic-looking rebel who had her baby at 19 inItalyin a stainless-steel-filled hospital that didn’t speak her language. Anne Lamott was older, established, already successful. She’d had marriages and abortions and loves. Mara wanted just one of any of those things. She would take exotic looking. She would take divorced, even. She did not want to be alone and ordinary.
Mara had brought the baby home from her parents’ house a few hours away late one night. It had been one of the first nights of fall and she’d wanted to roll down the windows and grin into the air so that it would dry off her teeth and they would stick to her lips and ache. But she hadn’t because she was afraid of freezing the baby. She’d pictured a dull blue nose and iced eyelashes and shuddered. Also, she’d been afraid of waking the baby and having to pull over: afraid to pull over because she’d been sure if she did, she and her car and her baby would be hit and killed by a semi. Flexing each of her butt cheeks in turn, she had let her mind relax. She’d tried some yoga breathing, then some Lamaze because yoga was too subtle. She’d become certain that the house would be burned down when she got home. But the house hadn’t burnt. She hadn’t crashed the car. The baby hadn’t frozen.
She went to sleep and dreamed that she lost her down comforter. In her dream, she was angry at herself for missing the comforter because she did not purchase it. It had come with an apartment at some point, and it had some unique stains. She washed it in the washing machine even though the tag said “dry clean only,” and it was the best blanket she’d ever owned. She had many other blankets. But in the dream, she would not settle until she found the feather blanket. She never found the blanket, but a tall bald man with a pointy nose and tailcoat kept giving her clues that led her to odd places like the bottom of a river and the scaffolding around a bank that was sinking because its wooden foundation was being eaten by termites. She dreamed about the way wood looked melted after termites inhabited it.
Sometimes the baby did not seem human. Sometimes, she thought the baby was a very ugly little parasite. Sometimes, she thought the baby would relieve her of her identity. She would become a drone, existing to sustain the baby’s life, sloppy and abundant, a nutrient provider. She would end up more alone and less herself. The baby would wake her, pasted against her back, sucking on something, the back fat her nursing bra squeezed into a mound, the base of her wing bone. A lot of things scared her now that the baby had come. Things she did not predict would scare her. For instance, staircases. Mara had nightmares of falling down the staircase with the baby, losing consciousness at the end of the fall and waking up to find the baby a pool of blood under her. The thing was – the terrible thing, more terrible than that dream – she was relieved in the dream; she was relieved that her baby was dead.
She’d explained the dream to her mother who was skeptical.
“But can you imagine your life without her?” her mother had asked.
She’d thought better of telling her the way she had days of regretting not giving the baby to a good Rabbi. At Seder dinner at a friend’s house, she had been five months pregnant. His mother with fingernails like fenders had said, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“No.” Mara was surprised that she told the truth. So much of getting okay with motherhood had meant tricking herself into believing that she would be fine. That she wanted a baby the way her body did. That she didn’t mind giving up alcohol and cigarettes.
“You’re awfully young.” The mother put her hand on Mara’s shoulder, “I have a nephew out inArizona. He’s a Rabbi. He’s young. He and his wife can’t have children. Your baby would never want anything, and you would know where it is. Think about it.”
“I will.” But the conversation had lain thick on her chest, unthinkable.
She repositioned herself on her side for the baby to latch without waking, peeled back her shirt, sniffed the front of it. She loved the warm, yeasty smell when her breasts began to leak – loved it because she had always loved the smell of babies, and only realized when she had one of her own that the smell of baby was actually the smell of breast milk. She reveled in the idea that she would smell like a baby for the next months. She remembered something she had read about a man drinking his lover’s breast milk, and got angry at herself for not getting knocked up by someone she trusted.
The baby wriggled itself closer and closer to her in their family bed. Mara rolled closer to the bed’s edge. She imagined that the baby was trying to figure out how to get back inside. She wondered about the future, if her deflated uterus and devastated vagina would house and birth another person. She wanted them to. There was cosmic justification in motherhood – a fitness with the world and a peace with Self-capital-s. She’d been at war with her Self since she was ten, trying to figure out which sort of woman she wanted to be, over-thinking small decisions, under-thinking big ones. It was amazing about motherhood the way the gore and indignity of labor and birth slipped from her memory, the way she could hardly believe herself when she told people, “It was the worst pain of my life.”
In the mornings, she watched the baby wake up. The baby rubbed her tiny fists into her eyes and arched her back, made a sweet squeal. The baby’s eyes opened and looked at their mommy. Mara watched her baby’s mouth move from one side of her face to the other, contorting into grins and grimaces and simple, instinctual looks of adoration. Mara smiled and the baby smiled back, exciting her cheeks into rosy puffs. The baby reached for Mara, caught her shirt, thrashed around. Her fists landed on the bed, made a hollow thunk and the baby startled, her eyes widening and looking terrified and wise. Mara offered the baby a breast. The baby lurched for it, latched and ate hungrily, crossed her eyes, gasped for breath between gulps. Mara felt her own eyes go out of focus. There was something ethereal about nursing, something that made her sure of everything and sure of nothing.
She was broke, so she had taken the baby and herself to the Department of Social Services. The room had been large, gloomy, loud, pale green. It’d smelled like soaked beans. Surly clerks behind plexi-glass windows with noise holes had shouted to conduct the lines. She’d felt anomalous but not extraordinary in her education, in her whiteness. During her interview with the social worker, she overheard the woman in the next booth explaining which child belonged to which daddy and felt naïve. Mara always assumed that people exaggerated when they talked about assortments of babies and daddies, and accused them of racism in her head. Her social worker, Mrs. Bennett, said, “They didn’t want to give me your card because they thought you jumped in order.” They were the ambassadors of bureaucracy.
“If I had, the line might have mutinied.”
“I told them you were already here.”
Mara raised her eyebrows, “Oh?”
Mara thought about the way she might become a woman with an assortment of babies and daddies. And then she thought, not me. She was smarter than those people. She had more resources. She would not be guilty about her whiteness. She would be sad about the inequality. She would be humble and unsuspicious about the accusing eyes she saw sliding through the waiting room with her. She would be angry that it had come to this. Ashamed to be here in the first place.
A lot of things made her angry now that the baby was here. Bad drivers made her angry. Alcoholics made her angry. Almost every time she thought of her baby’s father she got angry. She got angry because he loved kids, because he worked in a middle school with learning disabled middle schoolers. He was patient and loving. He would have been a good father. But he did not want to be a father, or so he told her. He did not want to be a parent with her, he said, because she was difficult. Because she was intense. Because she would have made him feel trapped, he said. She picked up the baby who’d begun to cry, held her against her chest.
The woman next to her had a daughter who was about nine. The girl looked at the baby, smiled. The woman pushed the stub of pencil she used into the form on her lap, trying to send carbon through to the bottom.
She rolled over and felt the baby spasming against her back, felt the baby’s leg caught under her back, wondered in her drowsiness how long it would take the baby to suffocate if she rolled over onto her. She was not awake enough to feel guilty for wondering, but not asleep enough to feel she had a good excuse for trying it. The baby caught her hair and pulled. She knew rationally that the baby didn’t do it on purpose, but she clenched her teeth and breathed long and hard out through her nose. She said, “Let go.” She reached behind her and grabbed the baby’s fist. She pulled her hair out of it. She pushed the baby closer to the wall and shoved a pacifier in her mouth. She said, “Don’t be a glutton.” She tucked the blanket in around the baby, hoped it would contain her.
Although the alarm clock said it was two hours later, Mara was sure it was a conspiracy. It had only been moments and she wasn’t fully asleep. The baby sensed her resistance and started to wail. Would you just shut UP! Mara thought. She rolled back over, pulled the baby close and shoved a breast in her face. The baby writhed around for a moment, the corners of her mouth downturned like a bass; she opened wide and latched. Mara counted the baby’s hairs, they were the color of charcoal. Mara let the baby suckle until she just let go and detached, and hoped she could imagine it away, that she would find this was all a nightmare, that the baby was just a photograph lying in her bed.