The Shelling

Swirls of movement slice past my eyes as I struggle to not feel the nauseous whisk of anxiety take hold. The innocent chimes of laughter burst up all around me, deafening the world beyond it. I sit spiralling into the frenzied joy of youth, dissolving into a prop. The breath of courage that I had swallowed prior to walking through those bright yellow doors was rapidly deflating like a cheap dollar store balloon hanging on carport pillars. My hips ache as the miniature plastic chair cuts into evidence of my late night wine binges. Women line the outside in a loose circle, grouped together in cliques, one eye on the hurricane and one all-seeing eye watching the perimeter, both judge and jury.

Blinking my own eyes, I try to refocus on her, pushing past my own blurriness. The sun glows through her amber hair and linen sundress, a halo amidst the swell of chaos. She stands there frozen, unsure of herself, like I, but less guarded, less tragic. A soft bravery shining insecurely but steady. “…On the bus, goes round and round…” blares on a distant yet shrill phone speaker, crashing upon our brief moment of serenity. Another rush of bright colours and piercing shrieks and she is gone, lost within the circling helix of a new story. I sit alone, silent, waiting for her.

*** 

Fucking narcissist. I exhale sharply in the smudged bathroom mirror, finally able to let out the disgust that had been marinating beneath a placid veil of welcome. Such lack of self awareness. I could still hear him complaining about his pregnant future wife through the door and her lack of educated recycling capabilities. Eye roll. He had even gone as far as to cut up the plastic rings from his 6 pack, slowly and methodically, a performance to emphasis his superiority I’m sure. A wheel barrel of complaints is not what I had bargained for when I had cracked open a bottle of wine, ready to sink merrily into the night with Leo. 

Leo was a new love. Our careful but sensual connection was a year young, filled with promises and ambitions of things to come. Something I had not felt in a very long time. His gentle hands tenderly sanded and polished my abrasiveness into a believable porcelain statue. There was a home here somewhere, within the weeds and the discarded trash. 

And there he was, Leo’s friend, infiltrating our lives with the magnitude of not separating plastics, as if it were our affliction to bear too. A little bit longer and then maybe he will vanish for another 6 months. Thank god for wine. I take a chug from the glass in front of me, the bitterness was sweet. I stroke my dark brown hair, ripping through the tangles without hesitation. I look tired, my wrinkles crackling against the caked makeup. My phone beeps. Time’s up. I walk over to the toilet and glance over at the plastic test laying casually on the counter.

Two lines. I blink. Two lines. 

My face burns with fever. The past flushes over me like a dye that I had already bleached from my skin. Another one. It echoes in my head as a searing pain unleashes itself from the base of my neck towards my temples. I sit on the cold tile floor, the cascading murmurs of self-importance from beyond the door filling the silence, a fitting soundtrack. Another one.

*** 

The twitch of his eye said it all and still he sighed in a somewhat comical defeat, “Another one.”I clenched the plastic in my hand, feeling the jagged edges pulsate, throbbing. The internalization of his words, a hypnotic chant. Another one? No.This was my one. 

My body stiffened against the porcelain toilet seat as I concentrated on my shallow breath, choking back the musky ambience of the bathroom. His mom’s ambitious attempt at modernity was desperate in the most mundane of ways. Geometric prints and faux cast iron candelabras, the uninspired advice from a Home Sense employee. I bent forward, reaching for the cream towelette hanging next to my head to wipe the exasperation off of my top lip. Another one. 

A pulse sign, a crucifix. This was a new sentence to my previous convictions that he was all to keen to impose upon me. A prison cell that my eyes were yet to fully grow accustomed to and still, I could feel Zack’s predetermined hand around my neck tighten with vigour. He slid down onto his knees in one swoop, forcefully grasping my shaking hands. The test fell to the ground with a cheap snap of the plastic. I stared at our hands, an unescapable togetherness now gathering more strength. I tried to pull apart, slowly easing my fingers away. He tightened his grip. Fingers cramp.

He had a daughter already. Not a father but he did have a daughter. He flashed around a picture of her, a year out of date, and moaned about payments that somehow were always forgotten to be made. She was an icon to me, a previous life without me. Foolish. My narrative was merely a watercolour that even I could see the true sunlight shining through. 

“Well, fuck me,” he laughs nonchalantly, but it’s not jolly, it’s cutting and it’s anything but carefree. “What are we going to do about it?” His chuckling continued, each convulsion of humour inducing my own voice to retreat.

*** 

Leo gasps. His voice could barely contain his excitement. “Are you sure?” He grins, sitting next to me on the mint green leather couch. “Yes,” I nod, unable to meet his eyes for the embarassment of him seeing the accumulating anguish in my eyes. He inches closer to me, worry clouding over his elation. “We are going to be okay.” He says but he doesn’t know. His hands lightly stroke my hair as my head collapses on his open shoulder. 

Once again, Another One. The first time I begged for their hands to enter me and to rip away my own flesh, ignorant to the trauma that the signature on that piece of paper would grant permission to. Cut and cauterize my insides, please. Cleanse my body of the remnants of our toxic infatuation. 

I had had one fleeting moment of wavering conviction, merely an act of habit. And as much as I would have love to have felt the guilt, I didn’t.  There was a blankness, a blindness in my maternal extinct because this was not a life, it was a death. The feeling of not feeling was a comfort. 

One doctor had done his best to dissuade me. A doctor not much older than late 20s, softly caressed the ultrasound wand over my bare stomach. It was a mandatory examination before the problem was taken care of; one last implemented road bump on this tumultuous joyride. The device was surprisingly warm amid the sterile coldness of the blank room. Zack stared down at his flip phone, clicking away at the T9 keyboard frantically. “About 10 weeks.” The doctor looked at my face for a reaction, searching for the slightest wince of hesitation to pounce upon. Unsatisfied, he pushed forward. “And there’s the heartbeat.” He tilted the screen closer towards me, pointing his precisely manicured index finger at a flickering light. An itchiness from within, the dirtiness of his sin growing within me, his parasite. 

With a push of a button the sound of a train charging forward erupted over the speakers only matched by the impassive clicking of the cellphone’s keys. Alone but surrounded within and around, the numbness swelled over me and cradled me softly in the arms of its cushioned protection. The noises were swallowed by the sound of my own heart beating in my ears as I lay motionless on the table like a cadaver, in a quiet desperation for the exam to be over. 

But here I am. With him… Him, my chosen one, Leo. Not the one who had chosen me. The test lay between us, not dividing us but announcing itself. Her, not him in me nor him and I, but her. Another choice that wasn’t a choice and I leaned forward, allowing the toxicity of motherhood to crack through the gates. A beginning and my end entwined together.

***  

“Here we go. We’ve got another one, Max? You’ve got the be kidding me. That makes a hat trick today.” The gurney I was on was lined up in the hallway, a traffic jam of surgery patients waiting to be attended to. “Someone should tell these girls that birth control is free.” I could see the outline of a male nurse, chuckling around the corner. Pinpricks of humiliation seared against the base of my spine as I lay there draped in a heavy white blanket. I was suffocating in hospital linens and smothered in guilt, sweat rapidly pooling in all the wrong areas. 

The room I was moved to was a large surgical area. Tubes and instruments cluttered the walls and tables. No one had explained anything to me and perhaps that was for the best. All I had been given was an appointment date and a list of items to bring. Fuck. I counted 7 people in the room all together, all wearing various colours of scrubs, even moving around the room with a task to do. No one acknowledged my presence, even as I was wheeled into the centre of the space, they had just parted like the Red Sea. I wasn’t a person, I was a job, a task, another one.. And as they undressed me, they didn’t address me. A slab of meat at the butcher. I lay there naked from the waste down, in a paralyzed panic, watching the instruments glimmer in the blinding overhead lights. A deer in the headlights, yearning for the crash already.

“Now, count down from 50.” A nurse strapped a mask over my face from behind. He hands gripping my face to hold it in position. I didn’t count, instead I gasped in the air, frantic to dim the lights. And as the fog of sleep hazed over, I felt that all too familiar numbness take over. A dream to dream a dream. 

***

“And then they just cracked me open like an egg, and pop- there you were.” I pull up the blanket, carefully tucking in the sides like I know she needs them to be. Snug and smothered like a mummy.

“How did they put the egg back together again?” 

I pause, faintly rubbing the length-wise scar across my abdomen. I kiss her forehead, not answering but squeezing my lips against her skin in a firm shush. 

“Eggs are supposed to crack, sweetheart. It’s what they are supposed to do.” I click off the light and sit until the shallow breaths deepen and ease into the clouds. The kaleidoscope is postponed until further notice. I pull the door over, stepping back into the blaring daze of the hallway lights. My body aches from the exhaustion of the day and I melt slowly into the queen-size bed in front of me. My body, this vessel has earned its fractures, tethered with adhesions, deserving of its brief slumber.

Just one amidst the deafening tales of other cracked open shells.

Another one. 

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