by Kristy Webster
That morning at the first signal of rusty blood, Lucinda decided she wouldn’t bleed again. She knew at that moment she absolutely, positively, without a doubt in the world must become pregnant, must give birth, must become a mother. And although she had no home and no man to call a home, even though she had no self to self improve, even though Lucinda was weightless, really, kind of floating in the world, she believed she had to fill her womb immediately. In fact, the hunger in her womb was so deep and desperate it took over her whole body. The hunger in her belly felt petty. The emptiness of her womb gnawed at her, it growled, it begged, FEED ME!
Because Lucinda couldn’t breathe on her own she carried an oxygen mask to wear around the city. With the mask pressed over her mouth and wearing the thin veil of a pillow case turned dress Lucinda went out to find someone to fill her restless womb. She didn’t find one or two but 20. She laid with each one, quietly, without warmth, without pleasure, but with hunger, always deep and non-abating hunger. All the time, she kept the mask over her face. Once she was sure the deed had been done, Lucinda went in search of a cave in which to hibernate and just wait for everything to happen to her that was going to happen. Maybe she would die of starvation or from lack of oxygen. Maybe she’d be discovered breathless and bloated in her pillowcase dress. It could end that way. She hoped, instead she’d find a place that could hold her. After all, she didn’t take up much space at all. She required little. Maybe, she even required nothing, except the air she drank from her plastic mask.
Lucinda found a hole and climbed down the hole with her mask and her oxygen. She’d become accustomed to the dark, and to the wet pressure of the dirt walls. Life was joyless, but it was life. She was breathing after all. As her belly swelled larger and larger over the next nine months, climbing in and out of the hole became a chore. So when the days grew close to delivery, she grabbed all the air she could, along with some tea and soda and went down into the hole for good. She would deliver that which would finally complete her and bring her joy in the bowels of an angry park where there were no children, only more joyless survivors kicking garbage cans and yelling at trees.
One morning Lucinda looked up at the light from the bottom of the hole and knew it was time. She felt the first contraction, not just inside her body, but also around her, squeezing her. When it was time, she pushed, all the time with her mask pressed up to her face so tight it was like second skin, a secondary feature of misery. But when Lucinda pushed, it wasn’t just the life inside her that moved, it was the walls around her, and though she couldn’t be certain with all the delirious pain, she believed the light was getting bigger and brighter, and that she too was being pushed up and out of the hole with every contraction, with every push.
Finally, Lucinda reached the terrifying stage of labor that would either bear great fruits or rip her in two and destroy her; the Ring of Fire, the last effort to meet with either life or death. But just as she prepared to bear down for the last time, the mask fell from her face and when she tried desperately to reach for it, she noticed that her arms, her shoulders, were pinned inside the hole in the earth, and that the walls of dirt and rock had indeed all but swallowed her whole. She moved her toes, and there was no ground beneath her. She looked up and the light was white, blinding, pulsing. She tried to breathe, but the walls around her contracted, squeezing her so hard she thought her bones were breaking, stealing whatever oxygen she had left. As she took her last breath, the light emerged at its fullest and most invasive, and in an instant, all turned to black.
The first cry filled Lucinda’s lungs, turned her wet, muddied, flesh pink, and her pillow case dress peeled off like expired skin. Each breath filled her belly, set her cells on fire. The white room was filled with lights, little mechanical torches, cold instruments, and voices. One voice she heard more clearly than any other. A word tiptoed across her tongue. But no language could lose itself from Lucinda’s throat, only a cry, the desperate and pitiful cry of a newborn child was set free. Second by second, Lucinda was forgetting. Forgetting where she’d been, forgetting her age, her illnesses, her fears, her memories no matter how traumatic or powerful or obvious. She kept on forgetting until she even forgot her name, her descent into the dark hole, the park, the mask, the oxygen, the suffocating. The forgetting calmed her cries, and the soft, clear voice guided her, pressed Lucinda’s tiny mouth to her mother’s breast and fed her, her first taste of freedom.