From the Mouth of a Whale
I have fledged that sprinkled crevice in the night between frozen blades of dead, dead grass and far, far hot stars. Sounds of real thunder, real traffic cars on Interstate 80 at two in the morning, pass by me. I watch a red minivan go by and I turn from the road. The cars don't see me as I stumble up and down a hill several yards from the road. I like their murmur. Imagine I'd frighten them. I would be a ghost.
I lay on a hill a few yards farther north from the road. I settle my head into the snow and ice and dirt. The sky falls on me, crushes my breasts. I let the wind blow over my eyelashes. Blink.
My mother and I travel across the country in a red sixties VW van and stop in a hotel somewhere in the Midwest. She checks us in and we go up to this large room with hardwood floors, one brass bed, a window and an antique bathtub in the center of it all. My mother thinks this chic and starts a bubble bath. I don't notice her undressing, but I gaze at her naked body and her auburn hair. I stare at her pale skin. Her neck and chest burned rooster red in contrast. Her breasts sag from the empty weight of having breast-fed me a few years earlier. Now I only know of them as cloudy pillows at night. I sit on the bed and watch her bathe and we are talking about our trip when there is a knock at the door.
I've always been afraid of the Mad Hatter. I memorized "The Jabberwocky" and "The Walrus and the Carpenter" but never felt at ease at the drunken tea table. I'm fine with frumious bandersnatches; I will let them catch me in their claws, fly me to the next safe spot. I love the Cheshire cat giving me advice, never explaining and then disappearing. But that short and sweetly drunk Mad Hatter has something up his sleeve. Worms chasing dragons on fungus don't bother me as much as short men paraphrasing bad poetry to bats. I can't even remember the rhyme correctly anymore. "Twinkle, twinkle little bat, how I wonder what you're at..."
Here's the Mad Hatter, short, with an air of dust in his scent and leather in his skin. He is an American Indian with long silver hair and his suit looks rotted wood gray with torn sleeves and cobwebs wrapped 'round his collar. He asks to come in and my mom inexplicably thinks this is a good idea. I am jealous and frightened; I leave, slam the door behind me and go downstairs to the bar to watch a football game. No one thinks it strange for a five year old girl to sit at a bar by herself. And no one except myself hears the scream from upstairs a few moments later as a team of gold helmeted football players chases and crushes a group of red helmeted football players.
I run upstairs and push open the unlocked door. The Mad Hatter has chopped off my mother's head. Her body—still in the tub and the bubbles pink with her blood. Her head sits at the foot of the bed. One hazel eye wet and open, the pupil closed and dark, she can't see me anymore. Mr. Mad Hatter leans on a bloody ax and smirks. He winks at me. Stands for a moment, tips his top hat, and then turns to leap out of the window. I run to the windowsill but only see a vortex into blue and dark. I cannot see the bottom or the monster. I'm afraid and don't jump after him.
I reel and fall. Numbness in my eyes and skull, too heavy to move. Darkness. Everywhere black. As I open my eyes again I stand on a balcony and look out onto a full, low yellow-white harvest moon. Round my body nothing but silence and wind.
A gush from another red minivan traveling through the light snowstorm. I roll over. My chest heaves and my vision has adjusted to the white dark glow from the snow-powdered ground. I rise to walk, but my legs have numbed, my feet and hands tingle. I can only kneel for a moment, look out onto the prairie. Glowing yellow and green eyes, far out in the grass. We consider each other. Its body, a dark and low shadow in the night and snow, moves under the stars and I can make her out. Some sort of cat. Large. Not a Mountain Lion out here?
I lift my mother's arm from my belly and slide out of the bed. Fear. I am afraid of my grandfather's cat. Tina. Tina weighs forty or fifty pounds. An ocelot. A type of wildcat. I think of the scars on my mom's neck from when Tina attacked her as a teenager. My grandpa teases me about how Tina hates children. But he never locks her up. Lets her roam free in his yard and house in Thomasville, Georgia.
I run my fingertips against the grainy paint on the walls of the hallway until I find the bathroom and turn on the light by stepping on a wood stool Grandpa made for me. I leave the door open because I am afraid. As I sit on the toilet, Tina strolls in. Huge and yellow and soft and spotty—not at all cuddly. So afraid, I can barely breathe but I think I should not scream. I finish and move slow; I wipe myself and flush the toilet. Tina is pacing in front of me as I stand and then step on the stool to wash my hands. She begins encircling me. When I step down to leave she decreases her radius around my legs and I freeze in horror. Time stops. Somewhere, Tina forever strolls around my tiny body. But now she brushes against my legs and purrs as she leaves the room.
I can hear the cat's tracks in the snow, she has approached. I can see the glowing dusted powder on her yellow fur. She tilts her head, tries to meow, but it sounds like a muffled roar. She turns east and looks back at me. This is an order. I stand and pull up the collar of my p-coat. I can feel the wet and cold seep through my bloodstream and jeans.
She brings me back to the road. I look up at the stars and then down again. She's gone.
A yellow Bronco truck pulls to a stop and a man rolls down a window. He has said something, opens the door. I cannot move. He gets out, helps me into the vehicle and I am blown over with warm air and not-yet-smoked cigars. He smiles at me, but I am afraid. I feel ready and alive again. Ready to bite and scratch and scream, except I've fallen asleep or am drunken by the shock of cold against heat.
The power is off in our apartment and it's cold, dark. All of my books sit in the bookshelves. I've put away all of my papers. I washed the dishes, vacuumed the carpet, washed the kitchen and bathroom floors. We argue, but there is no sound as he grabs me and pushes me onto the bed. He is quiet and strong and he flips me over with little effort. He pulls off my pants, shoves the back of my underwear out of the way. Why don't I do anything? It is not like Mike. I know it. I am afraid and he sticks his penis up my ass. He pushes hard and slow and holds his hand over my mouth. I feel his pelvis bone against me and I know why I haven't fought. As the pain explodes up inside me, through my chest and out my throat in a stuffed and distant scream, our son stands up in his crib. He's looking at us and crying. He is cold and thirsty. Mike pulls out—one long slide and jerk of relief. Zips up his pants, goes looking for a blanket, water.
I am closed up. Bleeding.
But there are days when I am in his arms. Now. Was that a dream? We don't have a son. Everything is melded. Molded. I feel Mike's cum down my leg again and I think of the abortion.
The man shakes my left shoulder. My eyes cannot open at first. Too bright. He says something again. I can open my eyes enough to see that the storm has worsened. Blizzard. We sit in a parking lot somewhere. He looks pained, grimaces, gets out of the car. His door slams against the wind.
I drive myself to the clinic because I won't let Mike pretend to care. No one with me to drive me home again means I don't get any medication for the pain of the procedure. I arrive for my appointment at what looks like an office building just yards down the street from a bar. I have to show two ID's through a double paneled bulletproof glass window. A Latina woman presses a button and I walk through the first door. I walk through a hallway with more bulletproof glass on one side and six or seven nurses and assistants all watching me. They look me up and down. I hear another buzz, open a second door and sit on a cold chair for an hour, listening to Sesame Street. A couple has come in and brought their two other small children. The husband squeezes his wife's shoulders. I hear them speaking. She is not here for an abortion but to get her tubes tied.
The door opens and I fall into someone's arms. I am carried inside a building. Carpets and lights. Reds, yellows, browns. Someone walks ahead of us and opens a door. He sets me on a bed. Leaves something on a table nearby, hands money to our guide. Shuts the door. Dark again. Alone
They call my name and I go into a small office. A nurse describes the abortive technique. First an ultrasound with cool jelly to get a picture of the fetus and estimate how many weeks pregnant I am. I will wait some more, she sighs, in the "relaxation" room. After that, I will go into an examination room, lift my legs into stirrups, a nurse will hold my hand, the doctor will swab me, prop me open and then (slow) stick long metallic tubes, one at a time, increasing in diameter, up inside of me to dilate my cervix. She takes what looks like a silver pointer device and smoothes it slow through her fingers and thumb curled in a ring. Now she widens her "O" and pulls out a wider and what looks like a longer pointer. "Then he'll put in another tube and kinda vacuum out the fetus."
I know it's a fetus. I preach that. But I've named him. Jonah. I whisper it to myself for three straight days before I go to the clinic. In the relaxation room are three other women, a miniature water fountain, new age music, and a mesh wire shatter-proof window looking out at a brick wall. I wait for an hour, stare out the window.
They call my name and I go into another large waiting room. In this room are the mothers who have just finished their abortions. They are in recliners and drugged. Groggy, grumpy. No one is crying. Someone offers me Clonazepam, but rescinds the offer after looking at my chart.
Now the cold jelly and ultrasound. Jonah is twelve weeks old. He rests, a tiny ball of lizard at the bottom of my womb.
While I lie on the table with my legs in the stirrups, an Indian nurse holds my hand tight and tells me to stare into her big black eyes. For a moment I am hypnotized by her clear dark complexion and dark hair. She caresses my hand light and says the doctor will be right in. I like the dark makeup around her eyes and am convinced that her hair is blanketed silk in a bun...
It takes three minutes. Probably less. First the doctor puts on gloves. He and the nurse grimace at the chart. "Are you sure there's no one to pick you up?" I shake my head and the Indian Goddess squeezes my hand tight. I know this will be the most painful experience in history. He props me open, sticks a swab inside. And one-two-three long metal tubes are shoved in and out in succession so high inside that I feel it in my diaphragm. And then the pain seeps in up into my guts and abdomen, my legs pulse and ache. He suctions out my insides.
I am a gale wind into the Yuba River. Four, with a life preserver on, kicking and screaming. I cannot swim. I hear people laughing, somewhere there is my mom. And a man heaves me. Flown through the air and splashed down in the middle of the river bed. I sink to the bottom with my eyes open. My feet have touched bottom. I take a moment to look at the pebbled water-greened bottom and feel the flow pull me south. Away. I kick; rise up, up, until my head splashes up for air. Gasp air through wet mouth and nose, hair in my face.
I cry and pass out from the shock. When I wake Jonah has joined the others in what looks like a roll-away vacuum cleaner. My Indian angel helps me put on padded underwear and my pants. Holds my hand as we walk back to the recovery waiting room. I feel empty and light. Float away. I lie on a bed. I cry. The staff stares with disapproval because it is causing the other patients unease. I stop crying to sob. Fall asleep.
They are spouting rules and information to me. They give me a shot in the arm. Deprovera. No sex for a month. Take these pills twice a day until they are gone. Here is your next appointment. Monitor your bleeding. A bag of cheap condoms for the road.
I walk back to my car and two black kittens come out crying. So skinny. I ask a boy sitting nearby if they are owned and he shrugs. Momma's owned, they get by. This might be stealing, I'm not sure. But I take them with me to the car. There's a ticket on my windshield: 28 bucks. It is stealing, so I let them go, and one looks up at me before scattering back around the corner. He wants me to go after him, not the other way around. But I can't.
My crotch has numbed—burns at the same time on the twenty mile drive home. Don't pay attention to the road around me. Everything learned response. I think about water cooling me. I'm back—close to it now.
We arrive on Harleys. I have latched to the back of a big man when we stop on dirt. Get off. Everything is dusk. It's quiet. I'm ten. Everywhere is shimmering and light and heat. I hear a murmur of white noise. Water. But I don't really hear it. Quiet. I know the noise is there—or was. Lost. Blurred into the glimmer and glare from all of the objects around me. Motorcycles, a fire pit, a picnic table. Sleeping bags on the dirt. The sense of a rush of people all around. I don't know any of them. I do know that my mother is nearby. I can feel the smooth heat that her body would leave behind in a room, dissipated into the air that I breath. I smell her skin and its perfumed oils. Sandalwood. Lemon. Marijuana. These smells mix in with the honeysuckle blossoms and wet dirt of the river that rushes over and through rocks and shore. The river is the only clear vision I have. All motion and energy in the sleek silk of the clear water.
I want to swim. My head burns, my bones ache with the gesture of standing still. But I don't run into it. I wait. I'm watching a figure. A man. I can't see his face, but he has disheveled blond hair and at the top of his left bicep a tattoo of a green heart with a green ribbon waved along the surface that reads "Angels." He wears a white t-shirt, leather vest, and tattered, oil slicked and torn jeans. I watch him work. He steps into the river up to his thighs. Bends down into the water and moves a rock, a large rock, closer to shore, stoops down and settles it into the water, trudges back in, bends down for another rock. I've an image of his arms strained against the weight, the tattoo stretched and folded into a smirk. He brings another rock to the shore, stacks it onto the last stone. I'm watching him perform the repetitions. But I'm him too and feel the wet and cold on my legs. Feel my toes numbed and water up my inner thighs. Feel the skin of my hands wrinkle and scrape against the wet and rocks.
He does this until he has made a semicircular barrier that starts at the shore, juts out into the river eight feet or so, parallels the rush and flow of the dark undercurrent in the middle of the riverbed, and comes back home to the pebbled shore. He has made a pool. For me. And not so much as an acknowledgment from or to me.
I am wind in leaves and light as feathers running to the water. And here I stop and turn and my sight is pulled out and away from me. I am watching me unfurl my arms out to hug the world. I watch me fall slow and straight and fully clothed back into the water. I am lead and earth, metal and mud as water slaps my back and I sink in—but just a little. Air has caught into my shirt and jeans and buoys me. I float for a moment. And then I am myself again and I watch the bright world collapse away from me as my head and then my face sinks back, under the cold, clean water. And under here, I see my mom's wavy figure standing and watching with a group of men. She is all red and purples and yellows, holding a white can with red lettering.
I curl up in one corner of the bed and cry the evening of the abortion; Mike touches me. He tries comforting me by telling me how much he loves me, how beautiful I am. He doesn't mention Jonah. But his touch forgives my skin and I ask him to hold me. He gets hard and his hands travel down my hips and up the inside of my thighs. I cry, soft. I whisper, "no, they said i can't." But maybe Mike doesn't hear me and I can't stand to fight now. He seems aware that I won't roll over and so he pushes on my back and lays upon me when he enters. I am bleeding and open with wounds. It stings and I cry. "No, Mike." But he thinks he is healing me.
I go to the shower after he falls asleep. Sit down under the coldest setting. I need iciness and surging senses to see clear. Watch the red seep out from me, down the drain to follow something.
I remember a time when I think that I could map my love for Mike on the thousands of moles that dotted his body. If he would look in my eyes, I can do anything. I am God. Everything begins and ends within the fold of his skinny, strong arms. He rests his head on my breasts at night. I hold his head and run my fingers through his thick black hair. And this is life and comfort. I forget my memories, my childhood. I resist getting in our car and driving. And driving. And driving. Away. To somewhere open and cold and far.
But I am sitting on the bed and staring at the door to the apartment. I am leaving at nine in the evening and walking down the streets. Cold. I will go to the movies. I will drink first. A bar. A Tokyo tea... and the streets, people, Mike and Jonah will fall away. The roads expand and I am in Wyoming again. I am walking down Interstate 80 and only flat fields in all directions. Dead grass and every star in the universe. A thin layer of snow and no breeze. There are snow fences along the freeway in an uneven pattern. No manmade lights. Just a trucker now, a seafarer there in a family van. They will navigate the desert of Wyoming into the desert of Utah. Flat and ice into Godless mountains of snow. Right through me. I am sunken in this distance, walking down G Street, near our home. Want to scream. Agoraphobic, claustrophobic under the clouds. Wish it would rain. Mike's body is hot at night after work, his muscles tight round me. I am locked by him. And alone.
Build, build, build. I could not speak to another person if I tried. I want them all gone. Alone.
I sit in the shower at the apartment for an hour in the morning before work. After work. Hold my knees to my head. I can't cry. I am gone. Let the water pound me, trap me back inside. Hot. Wet. Far. Quiet and loud.
Sit in the shower in the Motel. Let the water pound me, trap me back inside. There will be a pill to make me smaller. Hot now while I fantasize the cold. Wet. Far. There will be smiling cats I must follow home to their trees; listen to the dead leaves rustling in the wind whispering. Quiet and loud and falling all around.
Lytonya Wename was born in Sacramento, raised there and in the South. She attended the US Air Force Academy and was discharged senior year, six months from graduation, for medical reasons. She then enrolled at UCDavis, majoring in philosophy and spending a great deal of time being miserable. Somewhere in all this she married her high school sweetheart, had a kid, and got divorced. She was accepted to the MA program at SFState despite the fact that she did not technically have a degree from anywhere, just a lot of credits. Her dream is to become the perfect mix of Oscar Wilde, Morrissey, Amy Bloom, the Cheshire Cat, and thunderstorms. Her e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org