When Genghis Khan Was My Lover

Excerpt from 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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