Fiction

Excerpt from The Perfect Age”
The New Quarterly, 118 – Spring 2011

Marion was upstairs in her study when she first heard it: a Japanese woman was singing in the hallway—high-pitched, melodic and achingly sweet. For a moment Marion lost her bearings: cherry blossoms hung low and heavy on outstretched branches, a temple glimmered in the distance.

“Watashi no shyumi wa jyoba desu. Watashi wa depato ni ikimasu.”

Marion opened the door. Isabelle, her ten-year-old daughter, gathered up books from the computer table then danced in slow elongated movements to her bedroom. The long golden hair that she hated to wash had been hastily jammed into a bun.

“I didn’t know who it was.”

“It’s just hiragana.” Isabelle did a quick pirouette.

“Hiera what?”

“And katakana—ways to memorize names and days and stuff.”

She finished on demi-pointe, slender arms arched over her head. Marion drew Isabelle close, surprised by the delicate feel of bones beneath her t-shirt. She looked into her daughter’s face, fragile and gorgeous. As she walked back into her study the singing began anew.

The loathing was back. Voices yapping inside. Marion stared dully at the rain streaming down her windshield as she waited for thirteen-year-old Dinah outside the math tutor’s. She was remembering her dreams from before the depression, a burly dog driving her around in a cab, night after night, and she, incredulous, even in her dreams, wondering, why the dog?

And the ultimate irony: she’d agreed to a dog shortly afterwards. And now she lived daily with its skulky brown shadow, both girls at school, and it was just her and the dog, looking up at Marion as she put breakfast dishes away. Don’t you know, she wanted to say, there’s nothing left.

Dinah emerged from the house, book bag slung over her shoulder, affecting a cool, unperturbed stare. No doubt she imagined herself strutting down the runway of the upcoming school fashion show, a ridiculous idea as far as Marion was concerned and not something she’d ever imagined her own daughters doing. Dressed in army fatigues and high top runners, Dinah looked old. No longer her goose girl. Once they’d turned ten, Marion called her daughters goose girls, loving how it evoked heads bobbing on long legs, beauty bursting through the ungainly.

But I can still see her in there, she thought.

Excerpt from “When Genghis Khan Was My Lover”
The New Quarterly, 125 – Winter 2013

Her mind flew back to the last miscarriage. She’d lost too much blood during the D&C and had to stay overnight. She’d spent it in the maternity ward with three other women. “I’m sorry, dearie,” the ruddy-faced nurse had said in her Scottish accent, “there’s no where else to put you.”

Sequestered behind curtains, she lay awake listening to soft snuffling sounds, the rustle of bedclothes at the first wail of distress, a sudden hush descending upon the entire room when an infant found its mother’s breast, heart wrenching squawks upon losing it.

Kate saw herself on the floor at home, curled up in a ball, mewling. The baby had been seven-weeks-old, no heartbeat.

“Oh, Griffin,” one mother softly uttered, followed by another’s “You are a hungry girl.”

She remembered waiting outside the operating room, shivering in her hospital gown, Richard fielding calls on his shiny new cell.

“How could you?” (and this their last IVF)

“Come on, Kate,” he replied, his face hard and impassive, “I can’t just stop working. You know how this can go. It can take hours.” She wanted to kill him.

At odd intervals, the squeak of isolettes as mothers wheeled inconsolable infants down the hospital corridor. She saw herself being wheeled into the operating room; a sea of bright lights and masked faces.

“Scoot down,” one of the nurses said. Then, “Oh, honey, you forgot to take your underpants off.” Clumsily she reached down and pulled them off; it felt like the hardest thing in the world.

The nurse asked her name then gently tucked her hair into a plastic cap. “There, Kate,” she said gently, “Now, take a breath and count to ten.”

“I can’t,” she wailed, “I can’t,” knowing what would come next, the damnable nothingness.

The nurse’s eyes looked into her own, brimming with sympathy. Like a mother, it occurred to Kate, and everything went black.

Then towards morning, so muffled Kate almost missed them, the forlorn sobs of the young girl next to her. What did she have to cry about? Ungrateful wretch. Kate had caught a glimpse of her baby when she’d passed her in the hall—tufts of blonde hair, impossibly small. Her breasts ached. She pictured scooping him up once the girl fell asleep, tucking him into her coat, and heading for the elevator, no one the wiser. Her mind raced. They could start a new life somewhere, Italy or France, one of those places Richard was always talking about, and no one would know—

Kate stopped. Dropped her head into her hands. He would never agree. Not in a million years. It was useless. She was useless. The girl cried herself to sleep as the sun came up.

So that in the morning when the second time mom saw her getting ready to go and offered, “I’m sorry about your baby,” Kate replied, “Oh, don’t worry about me, I have a beautiful daughter waiting at home.” The lie slipped out of her mouth effortlessly, as if all this time it had been coiled up underneath her tongue like a snake, waiting.

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