She sat on the torn sofa and finally glued the last bone in place. She would write on the black, cardstock backing with white gel pen when she labeled the different bones. Just like in 5th grade, when her whole class received owl pellets, each containing a single mouse-skeleton to reassemble. After everything she had been through over the last year, it felt good to pin down what was left of it and label it in clear, scientific terms. Who knew, maybe as time passed, she would grow fond of the display. Maybe she would hang it on her wall and imagine flesh for it. She had a memory attached to each bone, a story to write for them…
In a split second they become so obvious, the two things that I realize. The first is that I’m pregnant, the second is that I don’t know how it happened. I hook up with the same couple of people sporadically and I hadn’t been with anyone for a long time. Through the bathroom window the sky bares its teeth at me. Loneliness calcifies. I could tell someone else but I’m not sure I can pretend to be happy about it, or if I even have to. I remind myself that my body is well equipped to handle this. I thank my wide hips. What if I never love it? What if it’s not even mine? When you try to find answers where there are none, the nature of the task drives you mad. You know you will lose even before you know that you will never stop trying. I become a caged animal. I try to escape because I knew I can’t.
I grew up Catholic and left the church without regret. I imagine the people I knew as a teenager and what they would say if they knew me now. I imagine the way they would touch the rose gold crosses hanging around their necks, as if to remind themselves that they are not like me. I would ask them, Couldn’t there be a second Mary Magdalene to usher in the second coming? I would ask them, Do you think you can have an immaculate conception even if you’re not a virgin? Why not? Besides, those celibate preachers had us touching the lean skin between our breasts while we murmured the son during every mass. What could they teach about a woman’s body?
All food has become tinny and dry. I struggle to take care of myself, I couldn’t feel less maternal. I call my friend Atticus, the King of Last Night. We get drunk together. It is horrible and necessary. I play the pinball machine at the back of the bar where my face becomes a distortion rolling on the surface of the silver marble. I remember how my mother ate so much liver when Oli, my baby sister, was born. So much liver, I can feel its grain between my teeth now. I clench them to crush the sensation away and wake up in one of my nightmares. The one where my teeth are crumbling with such violence that they are choking me, making it impossible to tell my mom, who’s on the phone, that my teeth are crumbling. My teeth are crumbling, and it’s all blood and bone falling into the bathroom sink. One of the fragments becomes lodged in the bar of soap.
In my inertia I stay in my tiny apartment, forgetting that my future child will take up space. If I could, I would scratch a new home for myself in the face of the Earth. I would wear my fingers down, leaving all ten fingernails inside the tunnels I create, burrowing. The overripe drip of the summer sun will go on without me. The flowers, rooting far above my reach. When the bathroom door is open, I can see every corner of my apartment from the couch in the living room. In the winter, when the window’s always shut, the dust moves in accordance with my breath, my movements; I like it that way. If I ever left, I would crawl to the center of the Earth, as far away from heaven as I could be.
The lonely pregnancy is an anchor dragging me to the bottom of the ocean. In the silence every word is amplified, every interaction a raggedly inhaled breath. I visit Anne, a friend from college. She will have kids someday soon, it is written in her five-year plan. I sit on her couch gingerly, worried that the leaden weight of my body could break it; like I could crash, tailbone first, into her cellar. If I relax for even a second, I could come undone.
When men stub their toes they howl like baby wolves. They revert to childhood somehow, or pull their yelps from some layer of their ego that exists without expectations. They forget that they have to be tough. It makes me feel closer to them when I witness it. I also have toes that are often stubbed, and I don’t howl, but I pinch up my face, and sit on the floor and take a moment to revel in self-pity. If someone is in the room with me, I expect them to ask if I’m ok, even though we both know that a stubbed toe is both ok and not ok at the same time. At any rate, there is no cure for a stubbed toe. But there is a remedy, which is to momentarily lose yourself in the pain, to howl, or pinch up your face, to sit on the ground and be asked if you’re ok. I stub my toe on Anne’s coffee table when I stand up from her couch, preparing to leave. She does not ask if I’m ok this time, she is too worried about the other parts of me. A toe is just a toe.
I try to go to a yoga class for the first time in my life, a special one, just for pregnant women. Compared to the other expecting mothers, I am made of ash. I do not glow. I follow along during meditation, trying to roll a ball of light up and down my spine. It should float gently, a paper boat on a placid lake, but it does not work this way. Instead, I feel my ball of light swirling violently down towards my abdomen. My bulbous belly wants to capture the light and snuff it out. The last of my hope drains through an umbilical cord, I leave the class quickly, before anyone can ask me when I’m due.
Starla lives in a world populated by possibilities. I don’t know where I met her, I pulled her from the twilight. I’m endlessly thankful for her company. Starla’s the only one I can stand to be around as I head into the seventh month of my pregnancy. We smoke herbal cigarettes and contemplate the possibility that I am carrying a baby pterodactyl. At times I could believe it, because whatever is in my womb seems intent on pressing against my ribcage, winging its way up into my chest cavity as though my belly is not enough for it. I suspect that what I have to give will never be enough for it.
The contractions come on all at once, as though someone is wringing my guts out like a sponge. Something is wrong and I know it right away. I call no one but a taxi. At intake I give all the wrong answers. They just started? And they’re how close together? It’s like the nurses want me to make sense of it for them. Finally, I’m taken to a hospital room with horrible yellow wallpaper- the color hurts my eyes. I feel everything, including something beating against my pelvic wall. The small fists turn to claws and it is pulling apart my flesh- burrowing its way out. My screams are disembodied and go unanswered by the nurses. My distended belly button opens-a new eye. Finally, some doctors rush in, but they freeze when I rip back my sheet and show them the hole in my stomach that is opening up. Inside I’m just black, no blood. Whatever is pushing out of me is doing so without the benefit any natural lubrication. It’s dryness scrapes through every inch of my insides and I pass out- missing my pillow and banging the back of my head against the wall.
I’m dragged from my sleep by a blood pressure cuff squeezing my upper arm. The nurse that is taking my vitals will not acknowledge my consciousness. Hey… I begin but she cuts me off, The doctor will be with you shortly. An IV drip runs into my other arm, just above the elbow, I bend my arm to feel the catheter burrowed into my vein. I realize now, that I should be cradling a baby, and for the first time I really want it. I want to look into its filmy eyes and rest it’s clenched up fist against my chest. Hey, I want to see my… The nurse whisks out of the room before I can finish my sentence.
I arrive at my apartment with the bundle of dead matter that the doctor forced into my arms. No one had an explanation to offer, the only thing they would tell me was that my health was stable, that I could go home. I toss the prescription for Valium that the doctor gave me into the trash. The fear and anger and confusion is a rubber band stretched to breaking point between my shoulder blades. I can’t breathe or sit. I try to take a hot bath but I sink to the bottom like a petrified piece of wood. I finally unravel the blankets to look at the dusty heap inside: a ball of yarn made from human refuse, hair, teeth, nails and bones. I sink my fingers into the repulsive mass and begin separating the bones from the hair.
As I complete the gruesome task, I find myself hoping that there is a wishbone amongst all the tiny bones and filaments. I know that most creatures don’t have wishbones. It doesn’t matter now if the wishbone would have caused a deformity. The child didn’t have a life to live, deformed or not. If I found a wishbone, I would set it aside- the only bone that I would not glue onto the black, card stock backing. I would grip both sides of the wishbone myself, so that my wish would come true no matter which way it broke. I would wish for a baby, a soft, living one filled with the novelty of breathing. I would close my eyes and pull.
Andrea Dreiling is a writer and artist from Denver, CO. She has been featured in literary magazines like Teeth Dreams, Birdy and Stain’d. Follow her shenanigans on Instagram @dread._ofbunnycauldron.