by | Aug 11, 2020 | Fiction, Issue Sixteen

The first woman who lived inside herself reported, via text message, that it was nicer than you would expect. Cramped, yes, but I can hear myself for the first time in forever, she wrote, and then the second woman found that this was true—that from the inside, the gurgles and sighs of her body became a source of comfort rather than shame, a white noise machine she had built for herself. The third woman reported that her womb was so warm she had been able to shed her cardigans and fingerless mittens. The fourth that her uterine wall was surprisingly plush, that she could curl up in any position and had lost her sense of where was up and where was down. They shared their delights with one another until they became a constant refrain, the surprised exclamations of women who for the first time did not need to adjust their selves to any self but their own.

            They sought reports from the other women, the ones who had not yet taken up residence, about what was happening in the outside world. Am I still dressing okay? the first asked her officemate, a woman who had never been known for her delicate tongue. Am I still dating? the second asked her roommate. The third liked to imagine her body walking down streets and tapping pens through meetings and sipping glasses of house red as men talked at her. Am I pregnant? the fourth woman texted a friend when she realized it was still possible for the outside world to intrude, and that it had. Is it Peter’s?

She, the fourth woman, wished she had not left her glasses in the outside world, and more than this wished she had some recourse, could do more than mold her hands around the tiny but ever-expanding sac of her new neighbor. Guessing at the life within. The first months, it was enjoyable to have someone she could speak with—someone to nestle her head against, someone to impart wisdom to. But from there, what? She was unsure how to communicate her news to the other women—not just her own uncertainty about the pregnancy, but the very fact of this intrusion. She began to push back as the baby expanded into her territory, grimacing as she felt the hands of her own outside body pressing down on her stomach from above. She felt contained in all directions, reoriented in space and time by this new and growing NEED and the ceaseless churn it brought to what she had come to think of as a space meant for her alone.

            What were her options, really? To cling to the baby on its exit and leave her body in all respects; to remain where she was after it had gone; to return to her old ways of living and all the shrinkings and niceities that entailed. The second option, the fourth woman thought, was the only choice; but one morning she woke to find herself pinned between her own wall and her baby’s back, and realized that here might be something she would regret losing. The thought of her body continuing on autopilot, arms and legs jerking on marionette strings while feeding, changing, soothing, this baby which was currently trying but failing to extinguish her. I will return to myself one day, she wrote the first woman before leaving herself, and Cardigans and scarves aren’t that bad, to the third. Still she waited a few more days before exiting herself, days spent petaling her fingers across her organ and this child in an attempt to lock into memory how they first came to know each other. And a year from now, two years from now, she will repeat this gesture, closing her eyes and rebuilding her sense that there is nothing in this world but her and this fellow creature given to her space. That there is no one she knows more or less than this child. That once she was large enough to contain the whole of them both.

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