I am in a hospital, having a baby. I suppose I love children, but shit, I’m having a fuckin’ baby, after being pregnant for a year and a day or maybe longer. I’d expected my belly to be bigger, I think, more than just a shallow rise against the sheets. I anticipated a full swell, high tide. Real pregnancy, not just the suggestion of it.
There is something wrong. With either me or the child (my little womb mate, I say with affection), no one knows. Doctors have hooked me up to monitors, stuck needles into my gangly child’s limbs, taped sensors to my sunken chest. At night, I tear them off in my sleep. The machines beep angrily, jerk me awake. I call for my mother then, but have only the cold hands of faceless (faithless) nurses to soothe me. They tell me I do not have a mother, that Sarah, dear, it’s time to grow up. After all, you’re having a baby.
I spend forever in the hospital and still the baby does not come. I ask a nurse for the date. She tells me - June 19th, 2005. I am ten, nearing eleven. I ask for a mirror, stare at my face. The round cheeks, full soft mouth, unlined forehead, thick eyebrows. All the hallmarks of my childhood, my past. My present now, somehow. I start to cry, because I am a child and this is what children do.
I can see through my belly now, to the little translucent fish swimming inside. I like to place my hand on top, feel the fins flick through the surface against my skin. As time passes, the fish gets more colorful, growing vibrant as I fade into the bedsheets.
I don’t notice it at first, my fading. Not until a nurse brings me a mirror. I haven’t asked for the mirror, haven’t even hinted that I might like to see myself. But suddenly she is in my room, and I am staring myself in the face. I think I might scream, because the girl in the mirror isn’t even me. Or I guess it is, but I’m not a baby anymore, not even a child. Looking me straight in the eyes is an old woman. Her hair hangs lank around a thin face, not gray or white or really any color at all. Her mouth is small, tight. She is thin thin thin.
She is me, but also not. I look down to my stomach, to the fish inside. And it isn’t a fish anymore, but a human, a being with hands, eyes, a mouth. Opening that tiny little mouth, it yawns, its limbs stretching out, opening wide to the world, its nakedness exposed.
A girl, and she is growing straight brown hair. The next day, her eyes are wide and hazel, just like mine. Suddenly she is no baby, but a tiny person. She tries to sit up, but hits against the clear skin of my belly. I talk to her, and she opens her mouth to speak but chokes on amniotic fluid. Becoming aware of her nakedness, she curls inward, making herself as small as possible, looking up at me with eyes that open big and ashamed. She sleeps fitfully, her limbs pushing against me from the inside, uncomfortable.
She soon grows too big for me, so big that her face presses against the underside of my skin and I can’t escape it. She yawns and my stomach starts to tear, little fault lines finally cracking. She stretches and I rip, from ribs to groin. I scream, because that’s my natural instinct, but no pain actually comes. I watch in horror, and a little bit of wonder, as the baby - the girl - climbs out. She emerges, and lays down next to me, curling her little arms around me and hugging tight. She doesn’t cry the way new babies are supposed to, but instead says hello.
I touch her on the forehead, the still slick hair, the slippery limbs. She cuddles closer and I wrap my body around her, pet her hair. My skin is gray against hers, new and pink, and slowly I crumble, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I am nothing and she is here.