Fiction · 06/26/2019

Something’s Gotta Give

The Walgreens air is buzzing a faint yellow-green that mutes everything inside you except the pain clenching and loosening its fist in your belly at intervals too random to decipher. Go for a walk, the midwife said when you called her an hour ago. Waiting in the Baby Needs aisle for the burning palm to slowly let go, you picture yourself at the center of the transparent blue teething ring in front of you. Your eyes frisk the rows and columns of precious nubs growing from its plastic skin, and the uniformity there coats the hand inside with a layer of ceramic calm that fractures as the fingers begin to close again. From inside this flimsy armor, you spot the breast pump the midwife said you’ll need. On the box there’s a woman in a blazer, her face marked with forgettable beauty, her eyes reaching for something beyond the frame. Her smile is like a beckoning window that opens onto a narrow airshaft. Without it, she would be naked, you can tell, even in the blazer. You abandon her and move on to detergent and toilet cleaner. From the shelf above the Dawn and Palmolive, you pick up a sponge sealed in plastic and use it to sop up an imaginary mess. Then a flash of shiny-shiny lures you to cosmetics, where you get religious and vow to quit biting your nails again. On a rack of polish so close to the floor it brings you to your knees, you find the color of your redemption. Wet ‘n Wild calls it Tantalize, but a better name might be Seven Day Itch because (a) you can never go wrong with a Marilyn Monroe reference in matters like these, and (b) when you find this grey-lavender shade on your panties it means bacterial vaginosis. Have you ever seen what the cells look like under a microscope? They form a bright, cosmic whorl like something light-years away. A distance so mystical it can turn your wondering to mush, or harden it to cracking, and when it does, glistening beneath its shell, you’ll find the bright yolk of panic you thought you’d swallowed, the wet, webby world from which your newborn infant will soon slip, the pink ruins of his fetal home a crust on your thighs, his fingernails already long enough to draw blood. Is it their sharp translucence that sends your eyes to the clock? You could spend the last of your strength searching its round face for clues but numbers higher than two are beyond the boundaries of instinct, and the lines that point to minutes and hours will be too short and finite to mean anything, so grab the ring that holds them together and aim for the black space between the clown’s lips. If you can’t let go, it’s okay. Just tell yourself your chains are made of things like air or cookie dough because, in one way or another, they probably will be.

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Robyn Carter’s writing has appeared in Conjunctions, Ninth Letter, West Branch, Colorado Review, NanoFiction, A-Minor Magazine and other journals. She serves as a San Francisco WritersCorps teaching artist in residence at a public school in the city’s Tenderloin neighborhood.