Mother’s Day

I’d have spun a room of straw into gold if he’d asked. Stolen watercress from a sorceress to bewitch him.

I pleaded to any deity that would listen. Give me a child. Not to love, but to anchor my husband to me. To us.

Motherhood would change me into a selfless being.

My husband would suffer contentment, and commitment would strike. Family would pull him back to us, shortening those weeks away on tour.

A baby would fulfill my end of the contract to be happy. That is how it is supposed to work. Baby, family, love. When you spawn, fulfilment and happiness are yours tied up in a big red bow. That’s the real thing. Apple trees and honeybees and snow-white turtle doves.

The dancing little man who heard my wish twisted my hope into the perverse creature I bear. It is a devilish trick he has played on me, but something is not right in my belly. The thing in my womb turns and twists and fights. The shape of a fist pokes from my abdomen.

I wished for a baby. Not a healthy baby. Or even a human baby. I forgot all magic comes at a price.

My wish child is a wizened gnome. I see him dancing in a field singing, gloating at the trick he has played. When he smiles for Mommy, sharp teeth are revealed.

It will chew its way out.

My husband assures me pregnancy hormones are screwing with my head. I’m feeding my own madness, and it feeds on me.

He is a musician, not a doctor, and he has no idea of the dark energy my zinging hormones create as they collide. Dissatisfied with my lack of faith in his assurances, he resorts to calling my mother in an effort to lift my spirits.

Since pregnancy struck, I have noticed my husband has developed an unattractive passive-aggressiveness to compensate for the kindness he now has to show me.

Howling monkeys signal my mother’s arrival. She prescribes a baby shower to give me a joyous lift toward motherhood. Best foot forward. Spit. Spot.

The gifts—baby clothes, soft toys, cloth books—are an egg timer turned on its head, the sands running fast. It reminds me some revelation is at hand and fails to reassure me of anything except that darkness lies ahead.

But when has my mother ever reassured me of anything except for my tendency toward failure and weight gain?

My mother and the party guests hold up the little knitted jackets and coo with delight, imagining a cherublike baby gurgling from its cot.

The baby twists and turns inside like a fat pink maggot celebrating its gluttony in the midst of a rotting placenta.

“You are glowing,” my mother’s friends tell me as I sink my swollen feet and ankles into the tub of ice with the party beer and wine to cool them.

Like fairy godmothers, my mother and her friends offer the gift of self-delusion.

I try to imagine a baby that is pink and cherubic as my mother touches my belly, and the child kicks her hard as a response to us both.

“Eager to escape.” She beams around. “Baby knows what a happy home this is and can’t wait to become part of this family.”

Gotta wonder what hormones are messing with my mother’s perception of reality.

I catch my husband’s eye, and he gives me a shrug and a hopeless smile. He has a habit of assuring me we are in this together, as if we are in an air-raid shelter during the blitz. Or I’m undergoing radioactive therapy to shrink a tumor. But his smile is crooked and unique to him, and I feel a rush of love as I try once again to make him understand.

“Something is not right,” I insist.

A lump grows on my back, a twin to my belly lump, pushed away by its stronger sibling. It is the yang to my gnome baby’s yin and has not been allowed to bloom.

“There’s no lump,” my husband tells me again, allowing frustration to slip into his tone. “You are as straight-backed as a Sunday school teacher in a Baptist church.” He means to be funny, but a mass presses into my back when I try to sleep. He doesn’t see the lump because it hides in the day. “The ultrasound would have shown up any problems.”

“Oh, all new mothers are terrified,” says my mother dismissively, as if fear is a good thing. “Everything is fine with the baby,” she tells me firmly in that tone I heard growing up. No begging to differ with that unfounded opinion.

To undermine her, there is a sharp jab, as if the beast inside has snatched my intestine through the womb wall, plucking it like a guitar. Despite the prenatal abuse, I feel a vague kinship, a bond with the entity for its churlish response to my mother’s hollow words.

I shudder, drawing up my knees, then sink my feet back into my bucket of ice water. There is more room in there now. Several wine bottles have been consumed by my mother and her friends. My husband drinks water. He is trying to stay sober for the baby. It has been a long hard stretch for him too.

My mother and my aunts are old wives and determined to share their old wife wisdom.

A craving for oranges? Expect a ginger baby.

Don’t rub your tummy too much; the baby will be spoiled.

The baby will get brown spots if you drink coffee, and spicy foods burn the baby’s eyes.

Close the baby’s mouth when he sleeps or he’ll get adenoids and never ever look at the moon.

A large glass of wine at dinner, then feed the baby. He’ll be sleeping through the night in no time.

They roar with laughter and nod wisely at that one. My husband catches my eye and shakes his head. He heaves a few more ice cubes into my foot bucket and kisses the top of my head.

I close my eyes momentarily and find I am sitting in a puddle. Blood? I leap out of my ice bucket, and sure enough, I am oozing some vile secretion. My chair seat is wet.

My party guests flap with panic—with one exception.

“It’s time,” announces my mother with great joy as I eye her with horror.

When you wish upon a star, be careful what you wish for. I contract as it humps its way toward life. A cackle from my womb rises to my ears.

“Why is she laughing? Is it the gas?” My husband catches an echo of the fiendish giggle.

We are in the delivery room. How did we get here? The midwife stands by a table of equipment. The giggle is silenced by a mask over my face.

I push it away and howl. “He is tearing me apart.”

“Hush,” says the midwife. “You’ll mend.”

She pricks my finger, and a drop of blood falls on the snow-white hospital linen.

“It’s all right,” she tells my husband, who is ashen-faced. “She won’t remember any of this.”

I suppose if that is true, this is why some women have more than one child.

The room shimmers with pain waves. I hear breathing—mine—his. At some point, my husband wipes my brow, and the concerned expression he fixes me with injects hope into my being…perhaps we might live happily ever after? We three?

But when he sees the abomination I have carried all these months, horror will replace concern. The plan to draw him back will instead repel him. My mother warned me not to love too much. She warned I would lose him, and she is right; I’m too shallow to anchor him.

Hope is not a feathered thing. It is a plank we walk toward a sea of pain.

My husband tells me we are nearly there. We? And he is unduly optimistic. I, at least, am going nowhere and neither is the baby.

My husband tells me we are nearly there. We? And he is unduly optimistic. I, at least, am going nowhere and neither is the baby.

The midwife reaches for an implement from the instrument tray. She explains what is going to happen next, and I am not required to give assent or acknowledgement. I think it is bad but the purple haze in my head makes the words dance in muddled chaos. From my husband’s aghast expression, I would guess it is best I don’t reorder her words. Instead, I let them float around the room, unconnected sound.

The baby grips the walls of my uterus, loops his feet in my fallopian tubes like a bungee jumper fixed to the platform. The midwife grunts. She will drag him out regardless.

It’s too late for more drugs. That is the only significant piece of information I can comprehend, and the only thing that matters to me right this minute.

“Cut it out then,” I moan.

Apparently too late for that too.

Perhaps a kindly sprite hears my plea because without warning, there is a wet, searing hot ache as the thing inside me is torn free.

My ears ring with silence, and my body shudders from sudden emptiness. The midwife grapples with a wriggling beast, wrapping it tight in a faded towel. I can’t see much. A red face.

Black hair weaved with some secretion like a melted crown of mucous.

“Wow,” is the only comment my husband has to offer. He offers a weak smile as the remnants of the little creature’s nest and the hunch of a twin he dragged out with him ooze from my vagina. So much has oozed in this hideous process, I don’t hold it against my husband when he makes a suppressed gagging sound.

There’s no cry. Fear grips me. Did my baby sense my horror and wither under my repulsion?

Even if it is a deformed, angry gnome, I could love it—I am somewhat reckless about loving boys who won’t love me back. I could love an abomination. I know I can. Please. I can’t go through this again.

It finally chokes out a high-pitched wail. The scream grows with intensity and pitch. The midwife seems pleased with this.

“A boy,” she says and heaves the flopping fish onto my belly. I look down at its hairy features. The rumpled skin is yellowish, too loose. My husband asks for assurances that the baby is healthy, and nobody answers his question directly.

“Do you have a name?” the midwife asks.

The child stares at me with wide, unblinking black eyes. They are older than time and sparkle with malice. Its mouth moves in chewing motions.

“What’s my name?” it insists. “What’s my name? If you can’t guess my name, I take my ransom.”

The midwife tells me the baby wants to suckle and moves it to my breast. His black eyes gleam, and the hunger it feels is so desperate I feel it too.

He opens his little pink mouth, and I wait for him to sink his teeth into me.

About the Author

Maria Wicken’s work has been published or is forthcoming in Cobalt Review, Kakapo Press, Mystery Tribune, The Penmen Review, and Potato Soup Journal. She won the 1993 Reed New Writers Fiction Award with her novel Left of Centre (Secker & Warburg 1994). She has an MA in Modern Literature in Translation from Birkbeck College London, and has worked in PR and finance. She lives in New Zealand with her husband and two sons.