“she’s losing consciousness…”
The magenta-grey sky terrified her. She didn’t get scared easily; a rock, her unassailable ally lodged inside, the worst of weathers and the greatest of impacts were but a finger’s flick to her. If her skin got scraped, scrubbed, or grated clean away, she was sure the coarse surface would greet her assailant’s eyes.
But the purple firmament was rationality, and she, an alien roaming under it.
The world was topsy-turvy with a harsh line, purple atop white like cough serum spilling upwards instead of down. The whirlpool of incandescent yet dark-spotted clouds adopting the tropes of horror. This was not real; an acute assessment of her psyche offered no comfort, as she reckoned this was not her own doing.
She’d never been one of the creative clan of the world, she had simply, all her waking moments, paid fervent attention to what she could and couldn’t do, eyeing the noose, inches from her eyes, tightening in the hands of the shadow ahead, her ever obedient mother.
Be wise, patient, brave, and beautiful; be good.
Protect and love—love yourself.
The mantras her mother kept like angels. The angels did not matter here. Their replacement, fear in the woman’s pulsing, singing body, came down in fashion of gusts, and the playground horns sounded to wake her up from nothing.
She felt a kick inside her that was, she was sure, a figment of imagination. The child of her and an ex-boyfriend, though in her mind’s eye already a little girl, was a mere few months old. There was no foot with which to kick her belly.
Yet, she was presently struggling to recall how many weeks her child was, and more horrifying still, the sky was splitting. Crystallised stars poured through the cracks, that were, she knew from over the cliff face of consciousness, snow.
Within seconds, the white had eaten the ground and risen to knee-high, sucking her in place, but howling winds urged her on. Time was crossed out here.
The frozen torrent parted. Outline of a structure, a store emerged from the murk. In silence, a streamline of movements through flakes of snow cut her, and she was deposited inside.
To stop blinking would be visual suicide; nothing stopped here, and she was thrumming inside the pulse of this place, being egged on to listen to the thoughts of the wind.
“running out of time… we have to perform C-section…”
She was inside a supermarket. Soulless shadows danced. The apple-green hand soap stationed at the entrance, the labels on shelves that were always a tad slanted, the cashier signs that were too small to read from within the shop, all indicative of the supermarket: around the corner from her kindergarten on Vaudrey Road, in which her mother once trained her to be brave.
Her mother, half-faced as seen by the girl’s upturned eyes, fishbones spiking from her wrists and knees, was one second selecting tomato sauce and the next summoned by holy duties, gone. Left in the cold, expansive space of her mother’s perfume was a glass-scaled serpent snaking its way inside her, an overthinking child; this particular little girl, who in her infant days retracted her smile whenever relatives came over to, specifically, witness that adoringly pacified smile; instead, she would stare into their eyes, follow their shadows until they got creeped out. The adults went quiet and thought to themselves: how could this people-hating baby usurp their steeled mental image—smile, laugh, drool, wiggle, wrap your fingers around my big fat one, you’re the baby, play the part. Her blatant rejection insulted them. She set up self-defense as it was the relic of a time before—in the pitch darkness of her previous home, the girl had been trained to shield herself from the resentment in her mother’s blood, contaminated by her father’s abandonment. And so, at three weeks old, lying in the crib with the panoramic vision of her reality, she sought to prevent all poking and giggling and whispering and peekabooing and saliva glistening in crevices of teeth. She’d started to protect herself.
Under the supermarket’s florescent light, drips of sweat slid off the bottled sweet tea. The girl stood, waited for the perfume. She batted at the slithering snake, slime engulfing her rocky heart.
She will come. The girl glanced at the lady picking up soy sauce next to her, and glared; she would not ask stranger for help because who knew, they might put their greasy adult hand over her mouth and she, dragged away, soles screaming, while her chances of seeing her mother again dwindled for an entire life.
Self-defense wasn’t self-love, the blizzard whispered—and the woman, still the girl, chose to let the words die amidst the white.
In the end, the policewoman chided her mother like a dog, like the ditchwater beside the curb for getting her shoes dirty. “That’s not the way, Miss, to treat a little girl.”
“You don’t understand.” Her mother’s calmness shot back arrows; her lips too thin to be the bow.
The girl looked up and saw a broken sky beyond the ceiling. Obediently standing by her mother’s side, her teeth clenched. There must be a reason why they were in this embarrassment, and the only ones her six-year-old heart could come up with were her own ugliness, as well as the uniformed woman’s.
The girl was thirty-three now; she yearned for the moment to say what her mother said that day. She wished to shield her own little girl from the violent misunderstanding of the world, to yank her from the grip of people’s stupidity and vascuousness and pettiness.
The mental time-travelling saw the woman venturing into the store. Cries of ventilators and laments of empty racks her only company. She was transfixed, in this moment, by tranquility. But as she peeked from the frosted windowpanes—wanting out, really out—she was reminded that unreality had her under its thumb. Her spine a thousand nailed fingers, scratching her skin from shoulder blade down to the small of her back, unnamed desire pervading her body—she needed to find out the reason behind her fractured consciousness.
And so she moved. Footsteps on linoleum floors reflected off to the ceiling. A glint in the distance dotted a homely shape.
In her direct line of vision, a baby bottle snuggled on a lonely rack.
Her outstretching hand arrived at its warmth, its kindness spreading through her palm. A wave of foreign fragility lapped at her, calling upon her deepest well, for tears.
Then, a cry.
Helpless, hopeful, threatening, precious, life-giving.
I’d give everything to you. She knew the words before she recognized their meaning.
An invisible string strummed by a calloused finger—she walked.
A baby was bundled in a tattered blanket, on the floor, a jewel.
The soft body, the emanating heat, the draft of air that signaled life, tethered the woman, who felt she’d never fly again, and she’d never want to. The baby, a flame against the woman’s chest, gave her teetering core a definity she’d never felt; she could feel the baby’s vocal cords, ready to announce life that would in turn, entrust life itself.
She gave her—it was sure to be a baby girl, she knew—the milk, watching her tiny lips wrap around the teat and gulp ravenously, throat bobbing up and down, while the woman’s arms, sensing their supposed duty, rocked ever so slightly. Brown eyes stared, they pierced and caressed the woman’s eyes; she was comforting her. You’re doing a good job, I love that you’re being a good person to me. You are the perfect person, the only, she was saying with her pupils, her lashes, her eyelids, blinking out Morse code.
The woman’s forearms shook just as the last drip of milk disappeared, and the first signs of tantrum showed. Tears tiptoed. As the baby’s eyelids squinted to take away the gentleness she’d seconds before given the woman, burning tears rushed out of the woman’s eyes, falling onto the wrap, which, she was shocked to see, was now of silk.
The woman and the baby were crying together.
The baby fidgeted inside her strong arms, well capable of satisfying her, pacifying her, praying for her to be okay. She knew what the baby wanted. She put her on the rack beside the empty bottle.
Then her legs, electrified, carried her towards a newfound mission—she was exchanging hate—or fear—for love. She would arrive at love as soon as she put the baby inside a crib, hang toys above her, and sing.
So she tore through the place to find those items, her allies, her tools. And by the grace of God, they appeared on the floor, already assembled.
She put the now rapidly sniffling baby inside the crib with paper angels singing in arrangement above. There.
But she didn’t stop her crying; if anything, she threw her tears at the woman.
A penetrating hatred shook the woman’s heart, flinging her back to when she was a girl, a crudely drawn stick figure wrapped with the serpent—had this poison been asleep day and night after the girl’s feeding, or has it simply been silenced through control? She was that little girl again, under the sign that said condiment, she was abandoned by her mother at the supermarket—she knew now, she recognized that selfishness—I can’t do it, I can’t love her now, her mother was thinking these words with hands snaking through bottles of tomato sauce.
This place was where her mother tried to unlove her. The profundity of all this ugliness, buried in her past, dawned on her when the baby reached out her hands, chubby and pink-fleshed; they were claws that were going to gouge holes in the woman’s life. But the woman was willing to be damaged, to be torn apart. She needed the baby to destroy her.
She was her life.
The baby was the pain, the suffocation and endurance of her mother’s methods, her conviction in her own unworthiness, her self-hate; but she was also what the woman had been reaching for all her life—the endless flailing for a lifeline that was all this time, thrown by herself from the shore, a steady arm, a gentle hand, that was after all this time, her own. When she was tearing her skin apart to be the baby her mother would want to love, her mother simply saw a piece of rock. The baby, years ago, lying in the crib, walking to school, braiding her own hair, and hopping onto the dining table, was putting her hand, over and over across her mouth, to stifle her own cries.
She was tired and she was not loved, all her life she hadn’t known that; she simply felt and felt and felt, and let the snake strangle her voice, and then destroyed inside of her, was her capability to love.
Her hands cupped, wrapped around the pinkish creature of her beginnings, the straight spine with vertebrae still somewhat out of place, dug into her palms. She held the baby against her breasts, a whole body against a broken one—trembling in unison. Outside, the snow had stopped to listen. There was no time wrapped inside this baby’s skin, her forked veins and rushing lungs, she was at once past and future. The baby contained all that was the woman inside her tiny warm body, naked now. Her blood was hers.
So the woman sat there, cradling the baby in her arm, the crib empty but a gentle fog blanketed them like lullaby, putting the souls to soundless sleep.
“…the baby girl’s fine, 7.2 pounds, healthy…”
She opened her eyes, her body, a gouged hole, against the hospital bed—a cry, from within her own body, from a time before, in the pitch darkness where she and her daughter knew each other for the first time; her heart was full to bursting and she knew, she knew, she was hers to love.