We lost power, just as my body was turning to stone and sinking into the wet concrete of Sunday sleep. The whole house. The street. From here to Broadway there was no light, no heat, only a failing sense of time. The missing spark of the water heater, the lung collapse of my humidifier, the elephantine footsteps of a spider crawling up the wall, these things pulled me from a chaotic, yet lazy dreamscape. The electricity came back three hours later.
I am the author; awake, made of fragile flesh again, trying to write a fiction that means something. Already I’m failing. How I loathe semicolons. Semicolons are hidden street signs where it is most important to know when to stop. The meaning of this fiction is trying to out mean the inefficient words used to make its meaning. In the bedroom, my clock is stuck in the past and fails at its single task. In the kitchen, my coffee maker has a mind of its own, self-correcting and menacing, on time. This causes friction;
I require assistance. I have deficiencies, palsy in the left ocular nerve, they say. I see two objects when sleepy, two different words that look the same but are in different languages. One is a fork. One is a spoon. Knives don’t live here anymore, not for people like us. And I’m tired, so very tired.
I’m squinting, trying to focus on what could be my daughter’s shining eyelid or is it her wet tongue? The two words look the same at this hour. Eyelid. Tongue. But each one tells a different story. I should get some rest and try writing her small face once more in the sun. Meanwhile, my son is silent, his skinny throat lodged with feathers from a philosopher’s pillow. He didn’t get that from me. In three hours’ time will he still be bald as the egg from which he broke?
There’s truth in this, and then there’s bullshit.
I close my eyes; make them tick clockwise until I fall back asleep.
Anyone who says they don’t crave an audience is full of shit. That’s what the guru underneath my thumbnail told me, while we listened to Whitney Houston and drank a cocktail of expensive whiskey and Pabst Blue Ribbon over ice. It just works. Don’t ask me why.
Ask me this: With whom did you fall in love, author?
“Because I was spoken to in sensibilities that didn’t make any sense and so were not sensibilities but possibilities that I never thought possible, not with my hourly wage and our mothers, not with all the reasons not to try, but they remained possibilities all the same and someday I hope to achieve them or give birth trying.”
So, you want nothing of her and she wants nothing from you?
“In a word, yes. And that means everything, at least until we drown each other in breast milk and fall asleep forever.”
Each time I roll awake, the end of the world pulls at the blanket tucked around our tingling bodies.
A voice haunts the way I think: Author, author, author.
A voice haunts the way I think I must be. And in response, I build a room.
I build a room that balances on two chairs: on one chair an easel and on the other my model. Ah, if these porcelain walls could talk. I build the room and then I occupy it.
I am trying to write the diced fruit of lies. I’m trying to stay safe. Why am I trying so hard to convince my model that I can be funny? I can be funny. Fuck you, I can be funny. I tell myself to hold still.
Bob Dole was a pack a day smoker. He quit only after big tobacco failed to steal him the 1996 presidential election. Bob Dole hates Donald Trump and I laugh when he smiles, as he says this to a member of the post-truth media. I laugh at Bob Dole’s smile. It doesn’t make me feel better.
I can solve this. I can solve this with lies. Words lying to other words about a place that lives on the beak of a hungry chicken. It is winter. I no longer enjoy the taste of eggs, not since I gave birth.
I can channel the Clintons, write a lie into a sonnet, and send it as a valentine to my mistress. I have many mistresses, a million babies left in my ovaries getting ready to betray my self-concern. I’ve already run out of names to call all the baby darlings I have left, but I could try.
I could call out names that I hate as if ripping the pit out of a pair of praying hands. I could plant this pit in fertile soil, water it by spilling more blood on the surgical table. What would that do? Instead, I’ll experiment with new fidelities. That is, modes of birth control that ruin me and subsidize the fascists.
I got the IUD, while I still could.
Last year, I met a congressman at a fancy Fourth of July party in Malibu. He told me to kiss a rose, which I took to mean he was pro-life and oh come on. He so clearly expected me to binge on his best cocktails then purge in the mirror-ceilinged bathroom. He so clearly thought women should only drink the white wine. Please. Fiction has never reigned so sweet.
She’s a raging inferno. She’s hormonal. Stay clear, she’s fucking crazy.
Fuck the patriarchy. And fuck McConnell.
So, here we are. I’m working through something. Working through you. I have a lot to process, using someone who won’t leave me alone: Woman, woman, woman.
In this I am more eloquent than all the noise. In this I hope to recover.
As a very small girl, I spent afternoon recess sitting on the curb, alone and shirtless, pretending to breastfeed a baby doll, which my mother found at the Goodwill on Forest Ave. I told my mother, I was going to let the baby die. I told her, I hated the baby because it smelled like dust and that I must be allergic to dust. And the baby did die, dozens of small deaths because I could not make milk, because I only pretended to want to feed her.
Author’s note: my children smell like fresh cotton balls, brown sugar, and rancid peppercorns.
I had these little nipples that perked up and tickled beneath the hard, pink plastic of the baby doll’s hopeful lips. Though I did not know the words with which to express it, I found the experience erotically satisfying. I never wanted baby lips. I wanted adult lips. Today, the kids use Snapchat.
One spring, I spent a hard-earned twenty on foaming vanilla lotion from The Body Shop. He said it made me taste like dessert and I thought what I good trick.
This feeling did not last into real adulthood. My erotics have become more concerned with location, light, and fingernails. Less about lips, or plastic.
One night, the sex offender in the apartment next door fell asleep with a lit cigarette. I abandoned the doll, letting her melt into our stained carpet during the ensuing fire. My mother flirted with a fireman, the one who saved our hamsters. For three Christmas seasons, my brother and I mated teddy bear hamsters. We sold the finger-sized litters to pet stores for cash that we used to buy each other gifts.
I am made of and for an economy that wants me to fail.
After the fire, we all smelled like dust.
If this is supposed to be a piece of fiction, then it is failing, and the audience is unconvinced.
Every morning, a grown-up scopes a camera down the pipe of my throat. It goes down so far, the eye is met with a frail fragment of shit and the shit says into a microphone, “You need to worry less and eat better, or else.” The shit says, “You will be safe, and your life will be whole, maybe.”
Author’s note: I’ll teach my children how to tell the truth, the good and fair truth, but I will also teach them how to lie and how to smell lies on the hands of others. I, too, have much to learn.
I say: Try not to take yourself too seriously this time. Some stories can be mere scrapes on the knee, hidden by a fabric Band-Aid, the thick kind. Our mothers will want to call this trauma.
Sometimes a scrape is just a scrape and it can feel good as it heals.
“Every person can be wonderful, and every person is capable of horrible, horrible things. If I say the word: radical, how will you be?” This time, I am the mother that’s asking the questions.
An eagle in a white lab coat, smoking a cigarette, cuts open a six-inch scar that has blossomed on my stomach and says, “I’m afraid, my dear, it all has to come out.” He takes it all, and then sews me back up using an opposable talon as a needle. I didn’t sign any kind of release.
My mother sends a rare text message, “She is clothed in strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future.”
And I say, “Since when do you speak in proverbs?”
And I say, “Who is she?” And then whisper atheist under my tongue like a sacrament.
And then whisper I’m pregnant like its April Fool’s Day.
It’s the only prank I was ever good at.
Memory is held in the body.
My body contains stories that tie bone to bone. My stories are held in each cell, plump with joy, sacrifice, and luck. Woman. Author. Author. Woman. Sacrifice, luck, and joy. There are other things, but not here. Not here.
Stuck in my teeth is the pulp of laughter, which I’ve sucked and gnawed on until it turns to cheap wine, like Dimetapp. As a young girl, I often pretended to be sick. Prescriptions are tucked in every family album.
Is there anyone for whom sex is still a dirty word? Look again. Review your definitions. The new dirty word is domestic. That is: /dəˈmestik/ (adj.) The color of wrists tied to bedposts.
Synonym – A country song.
As a young woman, the boroughs in which I frequently loved were haunted by a gang who initiated members by demanding a machete murder of a woman walking home, alone, at night. The blade sliced my belly from exposed hip bone to bone, just below the bikini line. My blood spilled bravely onto the street. Tiny gobs of pearly fat stuck in taxicab windshield wipers and kicked up the legs of a rude group of cyclists and one cute skateboarder.
As a young mother, I became invisible. I became the sound a breast pump makes: no way, no way, no way. Or, maybe: it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.
Tisket: /tisket/ (n.) A secret. Synonym – your origin story.
To have tisketed: /tisketed/ (v.) Past tense. I made up a better birth story; it was truer than the truth.
Tasket: /tasket/ (n.) The stain left on a lover’s neck after you bite harder than you’ve ever bitten before.
To tasket: /tasket/ (v.) A sexual act often requested with unnecessary humility by a new and hungry mother.
I have this dream in which Hillary Clinton is sodomizing Donald Trump with a studded, heirloom turnip while Bernie Sanders uses an abacus to count how many times Trump begs for his daddy. It is unclear whether this is rape or not.
Bernie Sanders makes maple syrup farmers look like ax murders. There must be an environmental impact in this story, somewhere. Call what’s left of your senators, today.
We cut the skin of a tree and it bleeds sour nectar, then we find a way to boil it down to brown gold. This brown gold has the seduction of heroin but it’s good for the kids. I’ve read that maple syrup is often swallowed to help celebrities lose postpartum weight fast. We’ve lost sight of what matters.
There’s a fine line between trying to be funny and just being frivolous. This voice is struggling to distill the two possibilities properly. Time is spare here.
There’s a garbage chute of a narrative fighting its way into the walls of this room. The room I am building can’t quite master its own domain.
Even the pacifist bow hunter has wet dreams about discharging his weapon into a crowd of tourists. The difference between him and the enemy is that he writes love letters on tissues into which he masturbates before going back to sleep. The enemy shoots off with his eyes closed and doesn’t leave a note. This enemy only leaves a false confession.
Write something funny. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Not always.
A Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim walk into a bar …
I’ve never known anything of organized religion; am I allowed to resent my mother for raising an atheist?
Only when she started wrapping up each conversation with “You’re in my prayers.” This after she turned sixty and moved out of the apartment in which we raised ourselves and moved into a gutted Kia Sportage with an old carpet pad in the back, and a sleeping bag.
Only joke I’ve never been able to forget: You’re a mean drunk superman.
And the breast pump says free bird, free bird, free bird.
To Convince: /kənˈvins/ (v.) To write a story that does not include an apology. Synonym – the truth.
Convincing: /kənˈvinsiNG/ (adj.) The impending sunrise.
I used to let my body do many things I now regret, things I do not want my children to do.
I once wore the costume of a prepubescent angel. I marched on downtown Boston threatening to cut the straps of designer handbags with a pair of craft scissors. I flitted over the Commons and told children that Santa Claus was not real. These are not necessarily the kind of regretful acts that I used to let my body perform. These are just examples of performance.
On one late night, from the perspective of memory, a circumcised lover licked privilege off his strong, slim fingers after rubbing his hand between my unshaved legs, then I pretended to enjoy giving him a blowjob. I thought, at first, that I would enjoy this but four minutes later I was not so into it but felt obligated to finish the responsibility.
This was like opening a gift and then having to break down the box in order to recycle it as per the city guidelines. The blowjob was the breaking-down-the-box part.
Back in Boston, I used to frequent a basement bar called Our House. There you might still find my angel wings stapled to the back wall, next to a sign that reads, “We ain’t your mama’s bar,” if the bar is still there at all.
I got out of bed thrilled that there was still so much night left to dwell in. I had so many more hours to return to that lazy chaos, to keep building my room. This was a moment of rare silence I wanted to bathe in. I thought I had more time.
Then the coffee maker begins to percolate. This can’t be right.
One child is snoring, while the other’s eyes turn brown.
I watch our next-door neighbor shuffle around his back yard in thin boxer shorts and an army parka calling, “Mindy. Mindy? Mindy.” Or is it Whimsy, whimsy? And I don’t know if he’s looking for his wife, long dead. His daughter, in California. Or a favorite squirrel, hidden away for the cold, cold winter. My money is on the squirrel.
I make a hard boiled egg, even though it smells like sweaty rope. I ignore the ghosts laughing at me through the blue gaslight of the stovetop. Fast protein. Humming a national anthem, one that does not belong to me, I slouch over my heavy breasts and begin again.
Loie Rawding is a writer and mixed-media artist from the coast of Maine. She is a Teaching Artist with The Porch Writers Collective in Nashville. Her debut novel, Tight Little Vocal Cords, was published by KERNPUNKT Press (2020). See more at loierawding.com.