Thursday, February 2, 2012

The pregnant lady

In my dream, I am pregnant. I’m not exactly sure how far along I am, but I know that my belly gets in the way of things like steering wheels, tables, other people, and being close to anything.
            Because of this, the outdoor café table at which I sit is far enough away that I have to look up from the book I’m reading to reach for my cup of tea. I notice a man in a suit in the ironwrought chair across from me. His appearance does not stir any emotional response in me at first except for a mild surprise. I immediately understand why.
            This man is the devil.
            He sits straight-backed and still in the chair, one leg cocked and resting on the other. His hair is sleek, slicked, curly and dark. His skin is pale but not noticeably so; the crisp cream-colored suit he wears compliments his strong, sturdy frame nicely.
            The only inhumanity that betrays him is his eyes: they are bright bluewhite, as if his brain were an electrical plant gone AWOL. His face is no face and every face; handsome but indistinguishable. He does not blink. He does not smile.
            I don’t either.
            “Hi,” I say, closing my book.
            “Hi,” he says in a rich, silky purr.
            I know this man well. We’re past small talk.
            He reaches out an unblemished hand and picks up my teacup. He moves with a fluid, unbroken grace that only exists for him. He sips, never taking his wild, lurid eyes off mine.
            Later, as we talk, I realize that there is steam rising from my cup where there wasn’t before. Every so often I check. The tea never cools. I don’t touch the cup again.
            “Your child will have a good singing voice,” he says in his own sweet baritone that nearly drove me out of my mind with need for him. “Your child will have good eyesight and gentle hands. It will grow wise and compassionate. It will love easily and be loved by nearly everyone close to it.”
            “Nearly everyone?” I ask, the answer dangling just out of reach on the hinge of my mind.
            He nods once, slowly. For the first time since he sat down, his eyes stray from me. I look at him now in profile.  As he speaks, I watch with interest the words riding out of his mouth on a heat shimmer so intense it blurs the color of the space behind him into a watery grey.
            “Your child has nothing to prove to you. But you won’t remember that.”
            I cock my head. I am not angry or defensive or even confused. I am curious.
            The baby kicks me high in the ribs once.
            “I would never ask it to prove anything to me. Unless I were teaching it how to argue.”
            The devil sighs. Twin blasts of heat billow out from his flared nostrils. The air distorted by the heat is mesmerizing. There is no breeze in the cool spring morning, but I catch a whiff of burning leaves.
            He returns his face to me, etched in lines of sadness. Those lines look foreign, alien, on the plain white clay of his skin. His eyes spark with something that is not sadness. It is not greed or rage or lust or envy or hunger or pride. It is not human; it is not emotion. All I know is what it is not. His eyes spark and glitter, and the not-knowing is the water that urges the feeling of unease into full, queasy bloom. It is never outright fear, not around him.
            “What do you gain from having this child?” He asks.
            “The knowledge of another part of myself,” I reply.
            The baby kicks me again, this time low.
            The devil stands up, not even a whisper of silk on silk accompanying his movement. It is then that I notice a song playing softly through the speakers on the café’s eaves:

                        Time it took us
                        To where the water was
                        That’s what the water gave me
                        And time goes quicker
                        Between the two of us
                        Oh, my love, don’t forsake me
                        Take what the water gave me

This song would be playing throughout the rest of the dream.
            The devil rests a hand on my shoulder. My eyes trail up the length of his arm. The suit fits him so well there is barely a fold or a ridge. He’s got his eyes on me, those cold-burning blue eyes, those eyes that have seen the firstborn chaos of the universe, those eyes made of entropy. They uncouple me from the hook of reality.
            When I surface from the moorless depths of disassociation, I am sitting at the edge of a large lake at dusk. I breathe in the dimness, but my lungs cannot expand.
            Partially because the darkness is thick and sticky and it coats my lungs like tar. Partially because the baby has grown so big that it presses against my diaphragm. I cough, but it does no good.
            Darkness drops fully like water from a bucket and I look for the source of my unease.  To calm myself, I begin humming under my breath.

                        Lay me down
                        Let the only sound be the overflow
                        Pockets full of stones
                        Lay me down
                        Let the only sound be the overflow

It’s a struggle to stand. I keep stepping on the gauzy, flowing dress I find myself in. It feels wonderful against my skin, but it’s little comfort. With the smell of rotting lake all around me and cold mud sucking at my knees and feet, I am immobilized by the mire in my mind.
            The moon is broken and sickly, gives off a drunken yellow light that does not illuminate but confuses. I grab at something near me upon which the light sizzles like sluggish oil. It’s an oar.  I pry myself out of the swamp by clawing up its length. My legs are rubbery and uncooperative, so I stand swaying for a moment, resting a hand on my belly and feeling the mud squelch up between my bare toes.
            I can’t catch my breath. But years of dealing with asthma have taught me not to panic and gasp, so I don’t.
            In, out, in, out, in, out.
            There are soft voices behind me. Familiar familial voices.
            Oh no.
            The thought sparks in my head and lights a flame of fear. I know what this means. When I dream of water, I dream of drowning.
            There is a log cabin set several dozen feet back from the lake. Lights burn fitfully in the windows, casting shadows that leap like rabid things over the walls. The voices inside are risen in song. I open the screen door and the flickering candlelight flays me. I cringe and squint and am assaulted by life, foaming at the mouth. My family, extended, adopted, all, is crammed into the cabin. They are exuberant, they are wild, they are loud and completely unlike themselves. They dance as if there is nothing left for them in the world. There is gravity here, and it grabs at my chest, wanting me.
            Hey!” I scream into the light, the heat, the rush, the motion, the oppressing life. “The water is rising! You have to get out! Get out! Get out!”
            I lean as far in as my arms will let me, my hands holding onto the outside edge of the doorframe for dear life. For a moment, the terror of getting lost in the press of bodies overwhelms the sick, sinking knowledge of the water behind me.
            Nobody hears me. Suddenly, my feet are cold. I jump and look down. Water, ankle deep. Moonlight slathers itself on the little lapping ripples like rancid butter. Still gripping the doorframe with both hands, I twist my neck as far as it will go. The grass is gone. The gravel path from the lake to the house is gone. The creeping fingers of the lake have taken it all. The darkness, I realize then, did not grow down from the sky. It grew up from the water like vines and infected the world. The smell of decay, of murky, evil water, gets thicker. I feel it trickling into the hollow spaces in me, filling me, making me feel heavy and awkward.
            I hear singing in my head:

 They took your loved ones
But returned them in exchange for you
But would you have it any other way?
Would you have it any other way?
You couldn't have it any other way

I rend myself from the doorframe of the cabin and shut the door against the painful light inside, against the rising liquid darkness outside. I pray that my family is safe from the water inside the cabin. I hope that the energy they create will be enough to fight the water back. I cannot help them now.
            The water is knee-deep. My dress is no longer gauzy and light but floppy and sloppy. I slog back toward where the bank of the lake used to be. My leg bumps something. I reach down into the freezing black, curving my back so that my chest doesn’t touch the surface, and pull up the oar I used to help me stand. The water drips off the oar onto my arm and it’s not water but a condensation, a concentration, of the darkness. It leaves oily trails on my arm.
            There is a small wooden canoe to match the oar, but it’s way out on the lake. Yards away. To reach it, I’d have to swim.
            I lay my hand on my belly. The baby has been quiet for a long time. I worry for it. Will my heat be enough to keep it alive in the impossible cold of the water? Will the weight of it, plus the weight of the darkness in my lungs and the weight of the dress drag me to the bottom?
Lay me down
Let the only sound be the overflow
Pockets full of stones
Lay me down
Let the only sound be the overflow

The water reaches lustfully for my hips. As I wade toward the canoe, I keep an ear trained back toward the cabin. The terrible cold rips the breath from my lungs. It swallows my belly. The baby does not kick. The water licks my neck. I fight the air for breath.
            In, out, in, out, in, out.
            I kick.
            I’ve lost the bottom; I float now, kicking to keep my head above the grabby little waves. Soon, my legs disappear into the numbing black. So I wave my arms and, despite what I’d feared the most, I reach the canoe. The devil is sitting in it. I know it’s him because his eyes slice through the darkness like knives made of electricity. They seem to scream at me. He sings:

Oh, poor Atlas
The world’s a beast of a burden
You’ve been holding on a long time
And all this longing
And the ships are left to rust
That’s what the water gave us

            I know better than to reach out a hand to him. I cling to the side of the canoe. I am past cold, past shivering, and I know that if I don’t get out of the water, both the baby and I will die.
            “You remind me of Ophelia in that dress,” the devil says. “Or the Lady of Shalott.”
            “The Lady of Shalott didn’t drown,” I say.
            “I’ll write your name round about the prow,” says the devil. “Then you can sing me your last song.”
            With some untouchable force that is brother to the darkness, the devil pries my frozen hands from the edge of the canoe. I swallow my panic, force it down into my gut to warm me, give me buoyancy, buy me time.
            The sick yellow-grey moonlight wanes. Only the high edges of things are lit, and even then they aren’t lit but painted with light. It drips from the tops of the trees and falls thickly onto the devil’s shoulders and head. He chuckles deeply as he carves my name into the inside of the canoe. That chuckle finishes what the water started; it crawls into my ears and piles up at the base of my brain, sinking me.
            I sing with the last breath I have:

She’s a cruel mistress
And a bargain must be made
But oh, my love, don’t forget me
I let the water take me

It’s peaceful in the deep.
The arms of the water are no longer crushing. They welcome now; they curl around me protectively as I curl around my belly. The fingers of the water no longer grope and want; they soothe me and smooth my hair and my dress.
            I rest in the black sanctuary. Now that I don’t have the sound of the devil or the cabin in my ears, I can hear the singing:

Lay me down
Let the only sound be the overflow
Pockets full of stones
Lay me down
Let the only sound be the overflow

            It seems to take hours to lift my head far enough to look up at the surface. The last bit of moonlight is fractured by the waves and sluggish fragments float down at me.  They never reach me because I’m sinking.
            I look forward to reaching the bottom. I’ll finally have somewhere still and quiet to rest my head.  
Is this what it feels like to give up? I ask myself.
            The baby kicks once, hard.

(Song: What The Water Gave Me by Florence + The Machine

1 comment:

CëRïSë said...

Wow! Beautifully written.