She grabbed his arm just above the elbow. Her bony fingers clasped, unclasped, clasped, unclasped--like one's thighs in that second after climax, wanting that tiny bit more. Wanting for that feeling of pressure and numbness not to end. Never to end. Oh God no.
And as she let go of his arm for the second time, she opened up to him about how her baby had died--her only son. How he had been over there--across the cold, gray ocean, over the dark mountains, beyond the snowy trees--deep in the dry and crystalline desert.
How he had died alone, on a dusty street in a city where she could not reach him. A street she had not even heard of before she learned of blood leaking out of a hole in his stomach turning the pavement red and sticky (the blood would leave a stain much like an oil leak would).
She told how he had taken his last breath among strangers and how his blue, blue eyes had glazed over like a pond in winter.
All of this had happened, she said, without her knowing.
She grabbed his arm again. (Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze went her fingers like a blood pressure pump. The arm tightened and flexed ever so slightly.)
She had only felt, that day (or night, or whenever it was) a tug deep inside of her, in her bones almost and then she knew he was gone. But before she had heard for certain she had gone on smiling on that day of the death of her only son because that is what one did on any normal day. One played tennis. One ate lunch at the club. One bickered with one's husband (who was not the father of her son, after all) about something inconsequential (like quitting smoking, for example) over cocktails.
She let go of the now limp arm.
Then, to avoid the pitying eyes, she dug into her purse (a Nantucket basket bought as a remembrance of the many golden summers they had spent on the island) for her slender, filtered cigs. When she found them, she left the vapid and unfeeling arm and went to fill her lungs with impure air to go along with her impure thoughts.
So what if she'd grabbed his arm? He was young and sweet and so like her boy. (Oh, to feel close to him again.) His arm had that same firm, youthful sponginess she had not felt since her son had hugged her goodbye.
(Never demonstrative, that one time he cried a little and whispered, "I love you" into her ear just before he let go. It was said so quietly that she wasn't sure if he had really said it or if it had been a breath escaping, a sigh born out of the desire to get away from his clinging mother. Was it "I love you" or had it been "let me go"? This is what kept her up at night now.)
It was just a touch, a grab, harmless. She was not a monster, after all. She was just a mother.
Still, she couldn't help but wonder whether she was actually, technically still a mother. With this thought the years rolled backwards, erasing over themselves, ending at her boy slipping out, a seal pup between her thighs, on the day he was born.
She gasped for breath. A teenager carrying a tray of shrimp stopped and stared at her.
She moved to the far side of the veranda, away from the rest of the wedding revelers, and lit her cigarette, choking as she inhaled.
Wouldn't that just be it? If she'd fallen down dead right there at the wedding? She'd ruin the whole thing; she thought and laughed the laugh of the very, very sad.
The teenager was before her then, shrimp in one hand and cocktail napkins in another. She looked down at the shrimp, so pink and small, so easily snapped in two with the crunch of teeth. They were not whole creatures to her, but embryos born too soon. She turned away without a word.
What of the vulnerability of a human infant, she thought. Unlike a whale cow or a horse colt a human cannot immediately swim and twist and turn in the currents of the ocean or test its long, slender legs on the dewy grass in a field in Kentucky. Unlike a kitten in a drawer lined with newspapers and discarded pillowcases it cannot seek out the nipple and suckle there under its own power hanging on with suction cup mouth long after the mother cat stands up and tries desperately to shake it loose.
All a baby can do is lie in a bassinet and cry and wait and wait and wait for someone (anyone Dammit) to pick it up.
Why then, she wondered, were we not fashioned with a marsupial pouch in which to house our babies while they grew? Why couldn't a baby climb into a stretchy skin pouch located underneath the breasts? Why couldn't it climb in there right out of the womb and pull a milk heaving breast into the warmth of the pouch and suck away until satisfied and then somehow nudge or pinch or prod the mother to let her know when it had dirtied itself and needed cleaning?
Or it should be a self-cleaning pouch. Like those public bathrooms in Europe and New York, you go in, do your business and then after x-number of minutes they self-clean (screw you if you're still in there when they self-clean) by what? By shedding some interior skin and beginning again? Who knows? The point is that these bathrooms are fresh and without scents or suggestions for the next occupant.
So a self-cleaning pouch, she thought. Yes, that would make it all seem very feasible. She inhaled deeply on that thought and just as her muscles were relaxing she choked again.
A boy in black pants and white shirt (like any other boy) whisked another tray of food in front of her. Charred strips of indecipherable skewered meat, circling a congealing dish of sauce, glared at her. She turned her head away from the boy with his skewers and his boy eyes and inhaled deeply and looked back over her shoulder. She saw the man whose arm she had grabbed put that same arm around his hearty, young wife.
They were just so happy, she thought. She opened her purse dug around some more and then lit another cigarette before she'd finished the first. Just so fucking happy.
About the author:
Myfanwy Collins is a freelance writer who lives on an island with her husband and her dog. Visit her at http://www.myfanwycollins.com.