Second place, the 13th Annual 'Austin Chronicle' Short Story Contest
"What do we want? What are we hungry for?"
It was an unprecedented pleasure to walk around naked, especially with as pregnant as she was, especially at night when there was just her and the streetlights outside her front window and the dog curled up at the foot of her bed. No matter how tired it was, it got up. The dog suffered from hunger or restlessness or else it had a dream to wake from. Rabbits. There were always rabbits in her dreams, taunting in Spanish: "Ven aqui, perro."
At night in her home she didn't need lights. The Collie's unclipped nails tapped on the blue tiles in the bathroom then sat on her feet while she squatted on the toilet to pee. Since she'd begun to show, nighttime had become her favorite. Everything reverted to tactile senses. She seldom liked to see herself in that condition but often touched her taut expanding skin and protruding navel. When passing mirrors she looked down, not away, just not directly at herself. Always she caught her form in her peripheral vision. How big you've grown in such a short time. In a song she heard From little things, big things grow, from little things, big things grow, harmonica interlude. And now she believed as much.
For days the news stations, all of them, ran a story of a woman who killed her four children in a bathtub; one by one she calmly summoned them into the bathroom and drowned them in the same water. That should have been evidence enough for the authorities that she'd lost it. Who in their right mind wouldn't change the water after each child had the life drained from it? All that day and the next news stations showed grainy images of the house cordoned off and police milling about the front yard. Some of them cried in view of the cameras and others didn't but might have done so inside. The police chief, a heavy man in shiny cowboy boots hung his head and shook it from side to side as if trying to expel water from his ears. His actions told the world, "Now anything is possible." Later, at a press conference, the woman's husband spoke in support of his wife who'd had a bad day. His stoicism killed her each time she watched it.
Her grandmother would take her mother shopping when she was little and in the toy aisle pinch her or tap her hard about her little body. Her grandmother later laughed about it at family dinners and called it conditioning. Eventually her mother didn't want toys and was happy when she received socks and pencils and pants for Christmas even when the next morning she had to watch her friends play with their new toys in their front yards or in the park down the street and she played with all her old broken ones. The little girls made fun of her things. The boy liked her, though.
This wasn't the first time she had been pregnant. At twenty-one, in college, she took a test, pass-fail, and discovered the life growing inside of her. She went to a clinic for an abortion. Each of the two guys who she suspected was the father paid for half of the hundred and fifty dollars when she told them she'd be responsible for the other half. Afterwards, once she was clean inside, she missed a weekend of work which made rent late and that was what upset her the most because if rent was paid on time every month for six months residents would be included in a drawing for a trip to Cancun. All inclusive. That was the middle of month four. She was in her second trimester. Five months later she was caught cheating by the nicer boy and in desperation told him that she was pregnant again and he told her that he didn't care, that she was a liar. She threatened to kill herself so he'd stop being mean. She went so far as to tell him she had a gun. He believed her, always, and went back with her.
Nothing died that time, not literally at least.
When she was little her mother had a Barbara Streisand album with a French title: Je M'appelle Barbara. One night it played softly in the living room and she went out there, not all of her, just peeked her head out her bedroom door. Night swirls danced before her eyes and for a second she thought she had stepped into a Van Gogh painting. Her mother lay on the floor making love to an ugly Italian without a blanket over them though in the dark they both looked dressed. Their heads were so close to her bedroom door that she could have kicked them. She could have gone in her room, come back out, and dropped anything on their heads and they never would have known what hit them. Instead she crawled back into the bottom bunk of her beds and put a pillow over her head and catalogued that image closer than she had meant to. She put it under D for "disturbing images" instead of T for "things to forget" like she should have.
The applesauce jar stayed stubbornly closed so she stood in the kitchen, the light from the fridge shining on her big and obtuse body, and ran the cap and jar under hot water from the sink's tap. Somewhere in a drawer was a round piece of flaccid plastic, more reddish than orange, like a piece of bologna going bad. She could have used that to twist open the jar but the water felt so good on her hands. She set the jar on the floor at her feet, took the sprayer from the edge of the sink, and showered in her kitchen. The once warm water turned quickly cool as it gathered on the linoleum. The dog lapped at the water on the floor beneath the table with the two chairs pushed up to it but hid beneath the table when it got too wet. With liquid soap she lathered up her breasts and legs as far down as she could reach and her buttocks and her neck and other parts of her body that weren't always so there. Dark and straight hair grew in her once smooth armpits.
With a pop the applesauce jar opened. The dog barked at it in response.
A tired housewife in the Midwest gave birth to septuplets and some people complained it was more than God should allow to one woman when so many others can't even have one. They said she was laughing in their faces and mocking them. The doctors warned her repeatedly that it wasn't a good idea to carry all seven to term but she and her husband told them how much they'd grown to love the seven little gifts from God and to think of all the publicity they'd get. Once the babies arrived people came out of the woodwork to offer help and give her things for free like she'd won the lottery. Fertility clinics boomed. Pharmaceutical companies swooned. They ran out of names at five but negotiated the last two with Fortune 500 companies. Aaron, Adam, Sara, Laura, David, Chrysler, and Kellogg.
Her Collie had puppies and now her teats hang low and swing like an old woman when she walks. But the bitch isn't old. She birthed five puppies in the back, behind the house, in the shed that was once a garage for one car if that one car had been a convertible and the driver, each time the car was parked, could climb over the seat to the back and slide down the trunk; otherwise there was no room to get out. In that crowded space, beneath an obviously paint speckled tarpaulin and beneath two tires, the dog strained but asked for help. It rained that night and the dog whimpered, but asked for no help. It licked itself almost obsessively as the pups spilled out of her. And then came the warm rain that pooled quickly in holes in the yard she had dug and it seeped beneath the back of the shed and then soaked beneath the rotted floor and leaked in torrents from above where the roof had always meant to be fixed. The Collie put one pup in her mouth and carried him into the house through a doggie door in the back and looked around the living room for a place to deposit the wet and matted newborn. She looked a lot like a mother with wet and soapy hands looking for a dishrag when the phone rings. And finally she set the first puppy behind the sofa where the curtains from the window, too long for the casing, bunched on the floor where no one could see and the edge of the area rug stuck out from beneath the back of the couch. The dog trotted back outside and got a second pup and then a third but the fourth and the fifth drowned by the time she responded to them; they lay lifeless like balls of lint but she brought them in anyway the way a mother would.
The two dead ones began to stink after a short while but the mama continued to sit by them at night like found pretty things she knew she was not supposed to have.
She had no idea she saved all the boys, being a dog and all.
In the dark kitchen clumps of applesauce fell into a yellow and cracked bowl and then she topped it with cinnamon. She ate it at the table with a wooden spoon that was on the counter. With six clean dishtowels she dammed the water so it would not go into the living room. That satisfied her.
She hoped beyond all hopes it'd be a boy that came out of her. A boy would love her to bits although later, much later, years and years later, he'd leave. She wouldn't raise a little girl the right way, knew that to be true. She wanted her mother to know.
"What time is it?"
"Late. Very very late." She paused and with her bare foot pushed a puddle of water closer to the stove. "I hope to God I have a little boy."
"So do I."
"I don't want a baby girl. Not at all," she tried to drive the point home. "I wouldn't want to risk her being like you."
"Or like me."
"That's all I wanted to say."
After her eyes had adjusted completely to the dark she could see that green and white fuzz grew around the inside of the lip of the jar. As far as she could see there was none on the surface of the sauce itself. With a paper towel she wiped the edge and ate what was left.