Motherhood Made Her a Literal Dog
That night, as she waited in bed beside the boy, her husband lounged in a hotel room somewhere, reading a book or watching TV or playing video games, eating from a room-service tray laid out on the bed. Even if he was working on spreadsheets or filling out service reports on his laptop, the image of him there, by himself, in a quiet space, seemed luxurious and exotic. In her darkest moments, she imagined that her husband craved this time away from them, a wave of relief washing over him each Monday as he pulled out of the drive. Four whole uninterrupted nights of sleep! Blackout curtains!
A discrete, achievable task to accomplish that day! A paycheck to expect at the end of the week!
Did he ever stay away a day longer than needed? Delay his departure from St. Louis or Indianapolis with one more cup of coffee? Anger ballooned inside her as she imagined him dallying on the Internet in a café. He should leave the moment he was finished. He should get up early—as early as she did—and get his work done quickly so that he could rush home. That’s what she would do if she were away.
Her problem was that she thought too much—“toxic thinking” and so forth—so she tried to stop, but a physical sensation of exertion remained.
Was it her fault that her husband made more money? That it made more sense for her to quit her job than for him to quit his?
Was it her fault that he was always gone, rendering her a de facto single mom for the majority of the week?
Was it her fault that she found playing trains really, really boring? That she longed for even the smallest bit of mental stimulation, for a return to her piles of books, to her long-abandoned closet of half-formed projects, to one entire afternoon of solitude and silence?
Was it her fault that, though she longed for mental stimulation, she still found herself unable to concoct a single original thought or opinion? She did not actually care about anything anymore. Politics, art, philosophy, film: all boring. She craved gossip and reality TV.
Was it her fault that she hated herself for her preference for reality TV?
Was it her fault that she had bought into the popular societal myth that if a young woman merely secured a top-notch education she could then free herself from the historical constraints of motherhood, that if she simply had a career she could easily return to work after having a baby and sidestep the drudgery of previous generations, even though having a baby did not, in any way, represent a departure from work to which a woman might, theoretically, one day return. It actually, instead, marked an immersion in work, an unimaginable weight of work, a multiplication of work exponential in its scope, staggering, so staggering, both physically and psychically (especially psychically), that even the most mentally well person might be brought to her knees beneath such a load, a load that pitted ambition against biology, careerism against instinct, that bade the modern mother be less of an animal in order to be happy, because—come on, now—we’re evolved and civilized, and, really, what is your problem? Pull it together. This is embarrassing.
Actually, if you thought about it, it really wasn’t fair to call her a night bitch. Such a gendered slur didn’t account for the fact she had made a boy with her own body, nurtured his multiplying cells for months and months to her own detriment, to her own fatness, to the decline of her youthful sex appeal, which wasn’t supposed to matter. A real feminist wouldn’t care about such things as the shape of one’s body or being thin or appealing to heteronormative cis men, and actually she did not care about this, but she did care about being hot in her own eyes. It’s just that a person has ideas about herself, has a vision for herself, and her vision for herself had not been of a mother, but now that she was one, she felt strongly that she needed to be a hot one.
But there wasn’t really a commensurate word to degrade men, was there?
If she was Night bitch, was the boy, then, a rotten little cock when he looked her in the eye and then proceeded to dump an entire bin of freshly collected toys on the floor, his only explanation afterward that of macaroni? No.
And was her husband, in turn, a computer nutsack when he was leveling up his Pit Lord for long hours into the night, thus effectively curtailing the potential for a satisfying sex life, thanks to his absence in bed and also to the fact that he was playing video games? Was he a nutsack? Maybe.
Bitch just had a ring to it, that condemning, inescapable ring, a ring that fucker or asshole could never fully conjure for a man. Bitch was flat and sharp and final. She thought of a bored, small-town bureaucrat in a shabby little office with orange carpet and flickering fluorescent bulbs stamping official yet pointless documents with clicking, metal thuds. Bitch. Bitch. Bitch. Thank you. Have a nice day.
The house waited silent and clean, the paint smudges of that day a distant memory. The boy, beside her in bed—bathed not once but twice, for he needed a midday bath and then a night-night bath, to calm him, to try to soothe him into sleep any way she could—was also finally, gloriously asleep. She inched from bed, down the stairs, into the bathroom. She had bruised her tailbone in the fall earlier, or else the tag in her pants had been irritating her back. In indistinct yet nagging discomfort, she reached toward the base of her spine. Her finger found a swollen lump, and when she checked it in the mirror, she saw a raised mound, hot to the touch.
She pressed the spot at the base of her spine with two fingers and flinched at the pain, then twisted around again to examine it in the mirror and, when she couldn’t get a close enough look at it, retrieved a hand mirror, which provided little enlightenment as to the nature of the bump, then opted to take a picture of it with her phone, only to find a blurry red mass on the screen after repeated tries. She thought she felt a hair protruding from the bump and decided tweezing it would relieve her discomfort, and so picked at it blindly for a time, only exacerbating the pain and causing the thing to begin to seep.
Fuck it, she said to no one, and stomped to the closet in the guest room to retrieve a box of her old art tools. As she opened the lid, the pungent smell of the paints and putties and the noxious tang of old glues calmed her and immediately transported her to those long hours alone, fingers dirty and sore, every manner of clay and paint and glue splatter on her clothes. She inhaled deeply, intoxicated, before steeling herself against the tears she felt welling from a place of profound and desperate longing to return to her projects—any project—and the complete inability to do such a thing. She quickly sorted through a shallow tray to find a sharp X-Acto knife—what she had been looking for all along—then washed it at the kitchen sink and held it above a flame on the stove. In the bathroom, she traced the tip of it down the red lump and felt instant relief as it oozed open. She held a hot washcloth to the lump, pushing to drain the fluid, then dabbed it with a hand towel. When she looked again, it had deflated. A flurry of hair poked from the incision she had made. The only word she could think to describe it was tail.