Before the nurse closed the door, she poked her head in my room and said, “Sugar, you gonna lose your milk if that baby don’t suck.”
My eyes opened, crusted with sleep.
“Or you can pump,” she said. She patted the metal doorknob, her ring clinking against it. “‘Night, Rhonda.” My name is Brenda. She waved to my husband Ted. He waved back.
My breasts are rocks tonight, hard and full with hot undrunk milk. The night shift doesn’t know what she knows: they don’t walk around with my story inside them. It’s barely inside me. It trickles through the stitches in my stomach; it leaks from my nipples. My tongue is heavy and fat.
The nurse saw it all — the nurse and my husband. I want to ask one of them, but I’m still on a pain drip that has me tanked. Ted may know what to say.
“Sorry, I farted,” Ted says after the nurse leaves. He squeezes my hand like he’s telling me grave news. “It slipped out.” Then he tells me I did good work.
I think he’s kidding: I didn’t do anything. What I did — what I remember — is that I lay still, arms open at my sides, strapped down, crucified. I stared at a light. I smelled skin burning. I felt a tug; I felt bruised. They held her up, silent and blue, wet and motionless — their trophy. Everyone is safe, the surgeon told my husband as he stitched my broken body. They all left, following the baby, leaving me.
Ted tells me that the NICU still has her under lights, that she’s thriving. I think — briefly — They can keep her, then, if she doesn’t need me. But I remember the nursery at home, all her things. She needs those things — blankets and diapers. Pastel frames for pictures — photos I imagined would be taken after the hard work of labor, after pushing her into the world, after doing something. Sweaty and heroic, I would mother her ferociously. My daughter, I’d call her. The moment would be fixed like fossil. Friends would want to hold her, and I would tell them how I powered through, that I learned what I was made of.
I don’t think the nurse cares. Right now, she laughs heartily, her black hair swirling in her gin. Her hand digs into a bowl of peanuts almost out of her reach. She stretches toward them, past a lonely man who is stirred by her perfume. There is not a trace of me on her anymore: no breast milk, no blood. She is washed and clean and ready for something new. Their eyes meet, and she goes home with him, humming the last tune the band played. She will come back in the morning after washing him off her too, and she’ll greet me with feigned surprise: You still here, honey?
My story will come out in a scream one day. The pain will rise up, unable to stay hidden. I will heave it out in waves, in rounded bellows, moving it into the world.
Goddammit! I’ll tell this little girl when she runs a grocery cart into my heels. Can’t you do anything right?
My gown has become wet and sticky with yellow milk. Ted’s eyes grow wide, baffled. I reach for the buzzer and mumble something.
Minutes later, the new girl bounces in with a machine that has two suction cups attached. Her scrubs have Disney characters on them. She asks me, her eyebrows raised in a question: “Time to express?”