Children played in the wading pool, splashing among the sprinklers. My
baby girl sat on my stomach with her sticky hands, outstretched arms,
and floppy bucket hat. My knees bent into a wedge and hovered over the
earth. Blades of grass tickled my back and arms while my insides writhed
“It’s nothing: a bad snack, too much sugar,” I said.
Soon the bright spots overpowered the dark ones, and the ceiling came
into focus, but the rest of me stayed in another place, cloudy,
“When did you last eat?” he asked me.
“A couple of hours ago. Grape soda and some gummy bears,” I said.
Catching on the jagged edges of each word, his voice sounded
otherworldly. Get it together; I wanted to tell him, but I needed him,
so I didn’t.
They took the gold band off my finger and put it in a bag marked with a
skull and bones. Scissors cut through my white shirt; the cotton sheared
into nervous shards. It was my favorite tee from a shop where the coffee
came in paper cups with stick figures stamped on them. The word sewed in
black thread above my heart was appropriate for a Canadian, but it was
also worked now: sorry.
“So, when did you last eat?” He asked me again. He had to make sure that
I was in the room and the moments weren’t flying past me.
“An hour ago,” I said. The monitors hummed and sang an offbeat tune that
didn’t make sense.
“It doesn’t hurt anymore,” I told him. His gloved fingers poked my
stomach, and the skin rippled around them like calm waters disrupted by
a pebble. Conjuring mother earth, he swirled the wand around my
midsection, smearing cool jelly here and there. Watching the screen with
squinted eyes, he waited for her to appear.
“There’s nothing in there—just blood,” he said at last.
I plucked the contact lenses from my eyes and handed them to the nurse.
The faces perched around me blurred into one another. A gown was tied
haphazardly around my neck and draped over my body. I looked down at my
bare hands—were these still mine? My blood, too, was slowly being
replenished with someone else’s.
A firm hand gripped my shoulder, and a new voice told me that everything
was going to be okay. I wondered when this would end—if I closed my
eyes for too long, would they reopen?
One of them covered my nose and mouth and told me to breathe in the
extra air. I expired and expired, hoping that I wouldn’t expire. My
drowsy eyes finally closed. The bulbs above me cast an orange hue over
my lids. Soon the glow turned to dusk—the sun set in an open field:
wide and far, a beautiful escape from this nightmare.
Weeks later, I arrived back at the hospital for a follow-up appointment.
The office reeked of sterility: buzzing lights, linoleum floors, the
scent of clean plastics and disinfectants. Women filled the green
leather seats that lined the wall like a baby-making assembly line
churning out the future. I waited for my turn, surrounded by their
protruding bellies—fanciful displays of fertility, some high up in
their rib cages; others low and full, concealed under flowing dresses
and billowy tops. They were fashioning arms, lungs, even toes too.
The nurse didn’t look up when I approached her desk. She pointed up with
a thin and wiry arm and told me to read the sign. I wanted to ask her if
I was normal and if the scar across me looked the same on everyone;
instead, I followed the instructions and let my identification rattle
into her tray.
I plugged my ears with music so that my head was filled with visions of
another place—crimson skies, sour candies, soft skin, barren trees.
When I looked up from my seat, I saw my friend. Even she was making a
furry creature. The size of a lime. Fingernails. Bones.
Wavy tendrils framed her face; pink swatches graced her cheeks. Starting
and then stopping, she rushed over to me. Her smile rose and fell and
then spread itself out across her face. She asked me if I was pregnant
again. And then, falling once more, I cushioned her descent with my arm
on hers, my feathery laugh, and a comforting tone.
They called my name, and I left the waiting room behind me.
The doctor spoke to the nurse outside the room. My stomach lurched as if
I was about to see someone that had seen me naked, splayed open with all
my imperfections—my crooked nose, my quiet judgments disguised as
shyness, the cracked skin on the ends of my fingers—laid out for him
to decide if saving my life was worth it.
Would he look like someone who tied my feet back to the earth, attached
my head back to my body, sewed up the hole inside me that spurted and
spouted until there was barely enough of me left?
From the examination table, he pushed down on my fleshy belly and
inspected it in sections. I searched in his eyes and the hollow valleys
beneath them for a tightrope to connect us. His features—dark hair
and round glasses—were in the right places. After the surgery, I
tried to recall his face, but the image was just out of reach.
He didn’t remember me. I reminded him about the emergency room and how
he’d put me back together. And I wanted to keep going, to tell him that
sometimes my heart felt swollen, engorged, and as if it might shatter.
The first time it happened was a few weeks ago when I still walked with
a hunch, not healed enough to unfold myself at the seam. We walked
through the park in the rain and were protected by low-hanging branches;
my daughter splashed her fingers in the puddles, marveling at the drops
that spattered around her. It happened again when my friend said that my
daughter resembled my husband, and I saw my daughter’s face mirrored in
his. I wondered if I didn’t see myself in her, would she see me? Later
she held out her empty bottle. Shaking it, she asked me for more, more,
Alyssa Giuliani is a writer living in Toronto. Her work has appeared in Tilted House.