AMIE SOUZA REILLY
Sometimes I think about the gap between “mother” and “motherhood,” the difference between the person and the state of being that person. This story came out of that space, and it is a little about my own mom and a memory I have of her in a purple bathing suit, but mostly I wrote it for my baby, who I never wanted to put down but is too big now to be carried.
The baby is crying. I am lying on the floor in the bathroom—white square tiles, tangles of my hair, the crystal blue rocks of cat litter—and still the baby cries. Below the waistband of my shorts, in the shadow of my pelvis’s crest, I check the hole in my flesh. It is on my left side, round as a dime, scar-pink and a little shiny, cut the whole way through.
The baby is crying and I stand up and walk to her room. Her neon wailing falls silent as soon as her head hits my chest. She is growing so long. Her tiny big toe hooks into my hole. It doesn’t hurt when she does it. She sucks her thumb and hums a little.
It’s not a c-section scar, my hole, because I did not have a c-section. But it appeared shortly after her birth. When? my husband asked, in the early days of parenthood, though not much before he filed for divorce. When did it appear? When she was evacuating the birth canal? I could not believe he phrased it that way. But he did. I didn’t know when it appeared. It just opened, a little o.
At first I was embarrassed of my hole. Perhaps even a little afraid of it. Never had I heard of a person growing a hole, living with a hole. My cousin had a hole in her heart, but it was repaired with surgery when she was an infant. I hid my hole from my doctor by covering it with a square of gauze and some tape, told him I’d gotten a tattoo. He raised an eyebrow and moved on, finished my postpartum exam, told me I could tell my husband I would be back in action soon.
Other than my former husband, I am the only one who knows about my hole. He won’t tell. Who would believe him? My hole is my secret.
In the kitchen, in the living room, in the car, the baby is happy. My hole is a nothing-thing. But when I pull into daycare my hole throbs. In the rearview mirror, the baby’s eyes are as big as her fists and her fists are in her ears, rubbing and rubbing. Peggy at the daycare meets me at the door, grabs the baby. She holds the baby’s fist in her withered hand and makes the baby wave at me. The baby’s bottom lip sticks out, casts a shadow on her chin, and it looks like a bruise. I pull at my shirt, pull it away from the heat of my hole. I have no choice but to go.
I stand in front of my class of eighth graders. An object in motion stays in motion, I say. My hole feels like the ring of fire a daredevil motorcyclist zooms through: death-taunter, thrill-seeker. I tell myself my hole is hot because it is Monday. Remind myself how the pain sometimes flares wide on Fridays. The baby sees her father every other weekend. Jax, the red-headed kid in the front row, is looking at the front of my shirt, waiting for my breasts to leak again. I weaned the baby two months ago, but he hasn’t forgotten.
I want the bell to ring, I want them to leave, so I can lift my blouse, so I can rest the cool edge of my water bottle against my hole, so I can pick up my phone and scroll and scroll and scroll through pictures of the baby. I will text Peggy and maybe she will answer right away, send a new photo, the baby with mashed banana on her face, strained carrots in her hair.
The text I get is from my mother. She needs me to come over after I get the baby from Peggy’s. She needs me to help her pull the holiday decorations out of the crawlspace. She needs me to do her dishes, make her grocery list, gather the damp tissues she drops around her house and put them into the trash. She needs me to empty her trash.
When my husband left he said I had become foreign to him. That my hole took up more space in my head than he did. I told him holes are the opposite of taking up space. I don’t know who you are anymore, he said, and the crumbs from his breakfast shook loose from his beard and landed on his shirt. I don’t miss him much.
The bell rings and my students are sliding binders and tablets into backpacks, grabbing skateboards, waving, angry about homework. I barely remember how we got to the end of the day.
I have a memory of my mother on a beach that was not the ocean but a rather large pond. I am five, perhaps six, and I ask her to let me bury her in the sand. She is sitting on a blanket, resting on her elbows, her hair is frosted, the lenses of her sunglasses are cross-hatched with scratches. Her swimsuit is purple, her skin is nearly translucent, she is smoking a cigarette. She looks like a dragoness. Let me bury you, Mom, please, it will be fun. Fun for whom? she asked and I said, For me, confused that she didn’t already know.
I buried her, plastic pailful by plastic pailful, and she hardly said a word. The sand was warm and I put a bendy straw into a can of Coke, placed it near her sunburnt ear so she could turn her head and sip. When I was done she wriggled until she broke free, and then stood up. Most of the sand fell onto the blanket except for the thin layer that clung to her skin, a soft crust.
Peggy always has the baby all packed and ready to go when I arrive. My hole, upon entering the parking lot, contracts, and I place my hand over it, lovingly. It no longer seems strange to have a hole. I know why it’s there. At the door Peggy is cradling the baby, who is asleep. My hole quivers. A slight fever, she whispers to me, I think it might be her ears? You’ll need to call her pediatrician. The baby’s nose is red, a clear thread of mucus has dried above her lip.
The baby sleeps in the car, the pediatrician can’t see her until tomorrow, my mother is waiting. I drive the long way so the baby can sleep. My hole is tender as a question.
When my mother had walked toward the water to rinse away the sand, the sun had been in front of her, so she was all shadow and shine, radiant all the way through. The water lapped around her ankles, then her shins, green and thick. Don’t drink my soda, there might be bees in it, she shouted over her shoulder. My lips were already pursed, I was already leaning over the can. And then I heard them, buzzing yellow jackets, their frantic threats of sting, their angry wing beats fluttering my eyelashes. I moved just in time.
Now my mother is diabetic, is recovering from chemotherapy, is aging. I have asked her to hire a nurse and she refuses. The last time I stopped over she smelt of sour milk. The wreath that hangs from her front door is handmade, bittersweet vines bent into a circle, leaving orange-red smears on the glass of the storm door, which is unlocked. Inside, I hear whimpering. Mom, I call out, not loud enough, the baby is still sleeping and she is in my arms. Mom.
I find her upstairs, in the bathroom, on the floor. The water is running, the air is cool. The baby’s fever warms me. My mother is naked. My back, she winces, and the water is spilling over the lip of the tub, across the floor, kissing my shoes.
I crouch and the baby smacks her sleepy lips. Why didn’t you call me? The baby’s toe is hooked on my hole again, my sweater bunched over the fat rolls of her ankle. My hole feels the way my mouth did in the hours after my wisdom teeth were pulled—the wet ache of absence, the pain-relief that comes from poking it. I have to put the baby down in order to help my mother. I lay her on her back. She splashes a little.
I roll my mother over and there is a sucking sound, not from her mouth, but from her waist. We look at my mother together, the baby and me. In the shadow of her hip bone, water trickles into the shine of a hole, round as a dime though a little puckered at the edges. I knew you were on your way, she says. Her hole is not as pink as mine and I place my hand over it, lovingly. It constricts, I feel it. The white square of soap, loosened by the flow of water, falls off the ledge of the tub and stops at the baby’s foot. Before I can pick it up, she kicks it, and it slides until it gets caught in the tangles of my mother’s hair.
Amie Souza Reilly lives in Connecticut. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in Atticus Review, HAD, Smokelong Quarterly, Catapult, and elsewhere. She teaches in the Department of Languages and Literature at Sacred Heart University.