Tag: complete story

Summer Gods

Midday finds her in front of the stove, frying two eggs in butter. Even with the windows open in the kitchen, it’s hot enough to justify idleness, not that she believes she requires any justification. She’s been reveling in childhood pleasures all morning: full glasses of milk, improvised calisthenics on the balcony, handfuls of chocolate-filled breakfast cereal, hours seated on a stool in front of the small television in the bedroom. Inspired, she removes the cushions from the sofa and discovers, with her characteristic, unpreocuppied joy, the web of copper rods that form the chassis. She’s enchanted by the idea that the things around her possess a structure and core she knows nothing about. Armed with this knowledge she marches about the grounds, collecting pocket radios, glamorous floral hair pieces, tubes of ancient lipstick, golden picture frames and other mysterious, valueless elements of her life. In the living room she plops down onto the floor and begins taking them apart, one by one, dumping the dissected remains in the brown paper bags she packs her husband’s lunch in. Occasionally she encounters something she likes – a soft, tactile on/off button, a cut-out from a food magazine behind her wedding photograph, several spring green circuit boards including the motherboard from a computer case found next to a dumpster outside. Lifting it up for closer inspection, she’d been shocked by its appearance. With its miniature saffron towers, thin silver lines and bright blue background, it had looked like an aerial view of a seaside town to her. She’s more overcome by this revelation than she had been, nearly half a year beforehand, by the two red marks on her pregnancy test.

The last item in her pile is a VHS tape she’d located at the bottom of her husband’s filing cabinet. It’s not labeled, so she assumes it’s useless. He has a habit of placing white stickers on important items and writing wordy, sometimes poetic (in a junior high school way), descriptions on them. Since childhood he’d nursed a great infatuation with the video camera, producing stack after stack of tapes, each with their own sticker. She often amuses herself by rearranging them into geometric forms, stopping to read what’s written on each one. “Neighborhood barbecue ’02, minute 2:46 features Tubby Theesfeld falling off the trampoline”, “High school prom, please excuse the awful tie”, “View from ambulance ’99 (broken ankle after slipping down the stairs of the gym)”, “The train that runs all night on New Year’s Eve”, “I can’t help but get excited by windy days”.

She’d initially picked up the nameless tape with the intention of dismembering it, but now she stops. She crawls on over to the television, popping the tape inside the VCR and pressing the buttons on the player experimentally in the dim light, until it clicks softly and begins to whirl. Sitting on her haunches, she watches curiously. There’s no sound, not even her husband’s playful cry of “Action!” The image appears one chunk at a time, letting her analyze one bit before slowly producing the next. There’s a column of data on the right hand side, small white numbers followed by units of measurement: centimeters, frames per second, decibels. A triangular shape with a cut-off top, like the skirt of a young girl, appears, and it is only when the white and gray contents of the triangle reveal themselves that she realizes what the tape is.

It’s a copy of the ultrasound. Undoubtedly it must be a copy, since she’d destroyed the original. She had ripped it to shreds and set it alight in a trash can, while he watched from the porch, arms crossed over his chest. The memory of the burning of the ultrasound is clearer in her mind than that of the ultrasound itself. All she can recall is that she’d been in a bad mood the day of the visit, furious with morning sickness and the strange new shape and texture of her body. Her husband had held her sweaty hand but not looked at her, cooing over the screen with a delight that was foreign to her. She couldn’t remember it doing anything of interest. Had it really squirmed like that, distorting the picture, rolling and slipping around in placental fluid, a solid mass deep in her gut, beating and bare? She feels heavier now than she ever did while pregnant.

She removes the tape and, flipping open the cover, puts two fingers on the black magnetic tape. She keeps them there briefly before changing her mind and reaching for the tube of dark lipstick. She considers writing “I’m sorry”, but there’s no one left who would accept her apology. “Baby” sounds too cutesy. In the end she writes nothing. She gets up, the tape under her arm, and washes her face in the sink. Then she picks up all the things she has taken apart and carefully puts them away.


The paunch isn’t visible when she stands up in the tub and looks down, but it is when she turns a little to the left, towards the bathroom mirror. Her upper body feels heavy, not because of its actual weight but because of the weight of her gaze, examining all the crucial aspects of her anatomy, or at least those she deems crucial.

She wonders if she’ll look okay in that dress she’d seen in a store window, a dress she feels she has neither the physical nor the mental attributes necessary to pull off. A good dress requires sass, she recalls someone having told her, and she possesses none. It’s not that she’s self-deprecating, it’s just that she understands to a level exhibited usually only in the solving of mathematics problems. She’s an analytical mind, so to speak.

She can remember the exact moment of her life, down to the exact second, that it became important to her that she look good in a dress. Before that moment, she had adopted an attitude not unlike that those of social deviants, except she harmed no one, and her deviance was restrained to the two feet to every side of her. She had given off a mildly caustic aura, like a two-day-old whitewashed wall. After that moment, she was suddenly consumed by a desire to please, not generally but specifically, and in her desire to do the latter she found herself unwittingly complying with the former. It’s not something she is used to. It’s not something she’s happy about, and how’d she become the girl who makes herself unhappy in the process of attaining happiness?

It used to be something she laughed at, even condemned. Her personality was set in stone, and what a personality it was! Rough, blunt, uneasy, never eager. She’d known it, and she’d brushed off the people who told her what an ugly fact of her life it was. She was a modern St. Benedict, and she knew one didn’t change the what one doesn’t like.

How’d she become the girl who stares at a dress? What she wants is to change the image you have of her, but not her image in itself. What she wants isn’t the dress, but rather the image of her in a dress, safeguarded in your brain’s pleasure center. How’d she become the girl who wants you?

Actually, it isn’t difficult to figure out how, or why. As with many matters, it was mainly about timing. The ticking hidden inside her breast combined with your sudden, impossibly opportune and impossibly coincidental appearance in her life, making you both a welcome and puzzling diversion, one she does not understand but wants to understand with a maddening intensity. You had very little to do with it. How’d she become the girl who could become possessed by your presence, or lack thereof?

It occurs to her that she is reforming herself in an attempt to reach you. It’s an idea she hates, one that makes her plop back down into the bathwater again. She’s going against the grain, she’s going against her principles. She’s knowingly becoming a better person, or rather, putting on an impressive show of one. She’s acting, and while she’s surprised and pleased with her performance, she’s conscious that that’s just what it is: a performance.

No one would have guessed she’d act this way, pulling at her flesh in the bathroom mirror, imagining herself in an infinite series of dresses, each more appealing than the previous one, and the last of which will guide you to her. But then again, no one can be expected to guess the inner workings of a heart. No one can be put to blame, pushed against a wall, seated beneath a solitary light bulb in a darkened room. It’s no one’s fault, not even your’s, even though you’re the catalyst. You go about life, complaining about this thing or that thing, picking up dry cleaning, trimming your nails, unaware of what you have started.

When she stares at the dress, tulle, white, flashy collar, a yearning begins in her head and travels down to her stomach, wallowing, spreading out. It’s inconceivable that this feeling might not make its way into the floor, across several city blocks, into your feet. It’s unimaginable that you do not sense it in the throbbing of your toes, or at the very least your gut, like a far-away molecule feels the rumblings of a chemical combustion. When she looks at her naked body in the mirror, clinically, logically, how can you not lift your head up and realize it, whether slowly or suddenly?

98% of people are stricken by a familiar feeling in their lifetimes, she once read in a magazine article, and she’s horrified to learn that she shares something so personal with just about everyone. It’s supposed to be noble, she’s learnt, unselfish. Unselfish? She’d always been told she only thought of herself, had it thrown in her face by various people on various occasions. She doesn’t think of you constantly, but she thinks of you when it counts. Damn it all, she thinks, damn it all to Hell, what is this crap? And after thinking this she smiles a little, and then more broadly. She’s absurdly pleased to learn that, despite everything, she hasn’t lost her bad habit of cursing.

Accelerated Gestation, Or, When Things Are Right.

On Wednesday the babies of Petrichor disappeared from three thousand four hundred seventy-two collective wombs. Fifty-four gynecologists told three thousand four hundred seventy-two women that, within forty-eight hours of each other, their fetuses had vanished completely and absolutely selfishly, without even a bloody stain to mark the divorce of organisms.

The fetuses had ranged in age from 11 weeks to 39. The oldest fetus had a name, twelve newly-sown booties and a trust fund. The parents of the youngest were not even aware of its existence, but for days afterward his mother would feel a certain soreness in her belly that she could not attribute to any medical condition.

Some of the mothers, labelled “carriers” in the case filed twelve hours after the emergence of the first twenty incidents, were within prime reproductive age, had salaries well above the poverty line and enjoyed relatively peaceful lives on streets known for aesthetic qualities and family-friendliness. Thirty percent were either much too old, Jeopardy watchers (what is birth control?) or much too young, get lucky girls. Two out of every ten were lactose intolerant. Two out of every ten held decidedly unsavory professions.

Over the course of a week, three thousand four hundred seventy-two females began falling by the wayside, into clumps and cleavers and wells of their own specific construction. A few took it completely in stride, swallowing up the harsh hand of chance with personality and a dab of gumption. Almost all of them told themselves that it didn’t matter, not for a fetus, not for that, not, not at all. Three thousand three hundred wept into toilet paper in the bathroom, fifty-four took up smoking again. One set up a group for grieving, and she would have found three thousand four hundred seventy-two exactly like her, had it not been for that night’s meteorological forecast.

It just so happens that, on Tuesday, six days after the disappearance of three thousand four hundred seventy-two babies, the usual weather man on Channel Four, a slippery-slick man fifteen of the three thousand four hundred seventy-two had once nursed painful crushes on, was replaced by a small, spaghetti-skinny girl in slacks. “Tonight,” she said, peering a little sleepily into the camera, “at eight fifteen, it’s going to start raining children.” She got in a wink before an authoritative arm pulled her off the air.

Not all of the three thousand four hundred seventy-two women, females, carriers, mothers saw the broadcast. Most of them, in fact, didn’t see it until two days later, while they were being individually interviewed for a police report. Upon their first viewing, one thousand seven hundred started sobbing from sheer force of impact. One started sobbing because she owned the exact same slacks the mystery forecaster wore.

In any case, at eight fifteen in the evening, Tuesday, exactly three thousand four hundred seventy-two women found themselves jumping off hospital beds, abandoning ovens, jolting out of mail rooms and going outside, for no real reason. And then, almost through divine intervention (even though nine hundred of them were hardcore atheists), they all stuck their arms out split seconds before, out of nowhere, babies catapulted out of some atmospheric layer, falling with all the force of human beings weighing from five to eleven pounds, crashing in the most perfectly ungainly way possible, but beautifully, beautifully, beautifully, safe and sound and a few suffering from mild infection, into the cradling limbs of three thousand four hundred seventy-two women.

None of the babies were paired with their biological mother. One woman managed to nab two, twins not related to each other by any conceivable bond other than that of simultaneous falling. And yet, no posters were put up and no children were reclaimed. Each mother felt, more strongly than any of them had ever felt before, that she could hold her babe up and know that it was rightful, she and those other three thousand four hundred seventy-one women and three thousand four hundred seventy-one kids, absolutely rightful in the purest sense of the word.