This Is Who She Was

by Anna Noyes, recommended by Charles Baxter

AN INTRODUCTION BY CHARLES BAXTER

Sometimes when young writers ask me how to think about a plot, I say, “Imagine plot as a promise.” A promise of what, they ask? It’s like this: as a writer, you’re reaching for the reader’s arm, and you’re saying, “Listen to me.” Okay, but why should I listen to you? That’s where the promises come in, and there are at least four ways of answering that question. One way is to say, “Listen to me, because my story is funny.” Another way to answer is to say, “Listen to me: something wonderful will happen in my story.” Or: “Listen to me, because something terrible will happen.” Or, somewhere down the scale of interest: “Pay attention, because something interesting will happen.”

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Anna Noyes’ beautiful “This Is Who She Was” is a dual-character story in which one character (the narrator) is a young woman looking back at past events, and the other major character, Ruth, is, or was, the mother of the narrator’s boyfriend. The action of the story involves a car-trip down to Florida involving the four of them: Ruth, her husband Jay, and Luke, the narrator’s boyfriend, and the narrator herself, whose name we never learn. In Florida they meet up with Ruth’s sisters at a Florida beach house. That’s the outward action of the story.

But the story is really about the inner lives of women and how the men who almost literally surround them have no clue or insight concerning what these women are experiencing or feeling. Slowly, but with great confidence, the story shows us the growing bond between the narrator and Ruth, who are both suffering in mutually distinct ways. The narrator seems to be falling out of love with Luke, and Ruth . . . well, she’s distracted and distant, but she warms to the narrator anyway, as the narrator does to her. After the story’s midway point, the two are watching out for each other and caring for each other, and near the end, the narrator imagines Ruth mothering her.

“This Is Who She Was” narrates its events without sentimentality; its approach offers us specificity and close observation. The style is confident, and it avoids event-inflation. Chekhov would have liked it. How is this miracle arranged? The story’s strategy is to disclose to the reader what the other characters may not know, and for the last few pages the growing intimacy between Ruth and the narrator is precious, doubly so because the reader shares it.

I find myself tremendously moved by this intimacy, the bond between the younger and the older woman, and, without giving away the ending, I can assure you that two narrative promises are fulfilled, almost simultaneously: something terrible happens, and, at almost the same narrative moment, something wonderful happens, too. Rarely can a story manage both.

To any reader coming upon this story for the first time, all I can say is, “Lucky you.”

Charles Baxter
Author of There’s Something I Want You to Do

 

 

This Is Who She Was

By Anna Noyes 

There isn’t any good place to start. I have a picture. In the picture two women share a kitchen. Checkered floor. Wire basket of lemons. One of the women is Ruth. I am the other. The men, hers and mine, are not in the picture. Ruth squeezes lemon juice into a blue bowl. I remember her hands were covered with paper cuts. How could a person get so many paper cuts? I didn’t do anything when her hands started burning but watch her rinse them with cold water. In my mind Ruth will always be wincing in the kitchen, squeezing lemons. I will always be watching.

The picture was taken on the night before our trip to Florida. Jay, Ruth’s husband, snapped it with my camera. Their son Luke was my boyfriend. We’d only been together a few months but he’d invited me to join their family vacation. The vacation was a reunion so that Ruth could see her sisters.

“Get good sleep,” Jay said. Luke’s childhood bed was short; our feet hung off the end. Luke made too much noise when he pushed himself inside me. The fitted sheet came loose and bunched under my back. My necklace clasp kept snagging on the pilled polyester of the mattress.

Afterward Luke fell asleep with his fingers strumming between my legs and I moved his hand away, spread the sheet over my lap and touched myself. My finger circled a flickering pleasure, but the pleasure kept coming and going.

When I opened my eyes Luke’s eyes were open and on me. Play dead. My pulse kicked in my ears. The sheet was a coil of heat in my lap, and the room was laced with the smell of our dirty sleep, like strawberry yogurt, I’ve always thought, never sure if it was his smell or mine. He closed his eyes again, went back to snoring. Ruth was pacing in the hallway. I knew it was Ruth because of her soft footfalls.

Later when I got up to pee she was a dark shape standing by the window at the top of the staircase. I tried to turn her into something else, coats on a coat rack or a curtain, a trick of the eye, but then her weight shifted. I hurried into the bathroom.

There was a twinge when I went pee. A hook at the end. It almost felt good.

I’d been warned about this feeling before. Urinary Tract Infection. This was the latest in a long list of incidents in this place I couldn’t see or tend. When I put my fingers inside I felt nothing but a little pressure, like it wasn’t really me I was touching. My insides were a collection of happenings: the first, the cyst on my left ovary. I was eleven, sleeping over in a summer girl’s guest bedroom. I woke up at sunrise to a mouthful of spit, and stayed awake swallowing. That morning I went with her family to the Children’s Relay at the town pool. In the deep end, the lifeguard floated saltines on the surface of the water. We were meant to swim to the crackers before they dissolved, eat the pulpy mush, and race each other back to the shallows. At the finish line all cracker was to be swallowed; they would check our mouths. I threw up in the water. The gynecologist’s fingers were the first I had inside me, and then her jellied speculum.

A second cyst, so rare three interns were brought in to look. Before babies are male or female they have a duct, explained the doctor. For girls it disappears but when some vestige stays it forms a pouch. I had just read a book about a tall girl with internal male sex organs, undiscovered until a tractor accident at age fourteen. The book troubled me — the incubating clutch with its invisible hunger and hormones, and the doctor reaching inside like a magician performing a hat trick. No, nothing like that, said the doctor. You’re perfectly normal.

Left ovary, said the psychic. Be careful. You might get to keep it, but it’s probably best if you don’t.

Twins in your family? she said.

No.

All right, she said. But there will be twins.

Bacteria. Spreading from urethra to bladder, my first UTI. The feeling was unsettling, but my mind was on Ruth, waiting by the window in the shared silence of a house put to bed. I was afraid to open the bathroom door and when I did she was gone.

My two previous boyfriends’ mothers were also named Ruth. Luke’s Ruth stood out in the lineup; the others had gray wiry hair, thick socks over thick ankles, bucket-like wool hats that they crocheted themselves. Both walked a large number of dogs, cleaned counters with disinfectant wipes, and made large bland batches of scrambled eggs. Of course there were differences, but these were the ways in which they were the same.

Luke’s Ruth was tiny, powdered pale, with dark, tailored jackets and pants hemmed to expose a whittled inch of wrist or ankle. Her hair was a silky black tussle, and often she fixed it during conversation, her lips pursing bobby pins. I never saw her mouth without red lipstick. She wore her collarbones like jewelry.

Luke showed me postcards of her paintings, black ink swiped across huge blank canvases. Their home was full of art, but none of it was hers: sailboats on the lake, pink dabs for sailors’ faces; children kicking their feet at the end of a dock; a spaniel chasing down a flock of grouse.

Luke left me alone with Ruth in the hotel room while he and Jay played a game of tennis. She poured wine into two paper cups.

“I feel slightly deranged,” she said, holding her hand over her smile. There was a small gap between her front teeth. “Too many miles of yellow lines.” Our paper cups pressed together in a silent cheers. We sat on the bed and sipped.

I thought maybe I would tell her about my infection, but I didn’t. My discomfort stayed in the background during the first leg of the car ride. What I’d expected as we pulled onto the eight-hour stretch of highway was a repeat of my mother’s lore: fifteen, she had a UTI on a road trip to drop my aunt at a psychiatric hospital. My grandmother was behind the wheel. They were driving from Maine to Virginia with cold cloths tied around their foreheads, and Chinese fans in hand. My aunt was in the passenger seat, reeling from a nervous breakdown, afraid of the radio. My grandmother drove all day and night — she would not stop. My mother’s urge to pee was a plague, and the idea of relief was false, just a searing trickle. She crouched in the backseat and peed into a pickle jar. “Don’t come crying to me,” said my grandmother. “I know you’ve been sleeping around.”

“I think they left us here to bond,” said Ruth. “Either that or they’re trying to bond. One of us will. I think we have a good chance at beating them.”

But we were nervous together. The wax on my cup had softened by the second use. The paper warped beneath my fingers.

“What do you see in Luke?” she asked, just as our silence was starting to feel comfortable. I was starving, the wine slippery in my stomach.

I said he was generous, or open. Or sweet.

“I don’t have an answer,” I said at the end of my answer. “I just love him. I don’t know why.”

Another cup of wine.

“That’s right,” she said. “He is sweet. He’s young. We all love him.” She drank from the bottle and handed it to me. It was nearly empty. I put my mouth over the blot from her lipstick.

“I hope you take good care of each other.”

“We will,” I said. “We do.”

“Lovely ladies,” Jay called down the hallway. Ruth and I were punching numbers at the vending machine. Ruth kept punching DD instead of D7. She kicked the machine when it didn’t release her Hershey bar.

“Easy,” Jay said. “My wife the sugar junkie.” His smile was seamless porcelain. He scooped her up.

“I’m famished!” she yelled. She kicked at his thighs. He opened the door and threw her on the bed.

Luke was wearing a new white Sheraton Hotel visor, and so was Jay. I wanted to make a joking gesture toward the visor, and with the same look reprimand him for leaving me alone too long, but he wouldn’t look back at me. He spun the racket handle inside his palm and watched Ruth.

Jay pulled her feet into his lap and rubbed them.

“Be gentle. I broke it kicking the machine.” His hands cupped her foot. Between his fingers I could see her toes wiggling.

“Here, Mom,” said Luke. “Consolation prize.” He pulled another matching visor from a paper bag and fit it over her delicate twist of hair. Her ears stuck out, folded by the weight of the wide white brim.

“So good to me,” she said. When she tried to take it off the Velcro on the band snagged her hair. Her hands struggled at the back of her head.

“Let me,” Jay said, but she yanked free before he could help and tossed the visor into my lap. “We can share it.”

Strands of her hair hung from the Velcro, and I covered them with my hand.

Luke was a generous man, and a sweet man, but I do not remember much. There are still frames I can explore, with their own smells and sounds, and he prowls and paces my memory like its borders cage him.

We went back to our hotel room, adjacent to Ruth and Jay’s, after dinner.

Maybe this night we stood in the shower and soaped each other’s backs and chests, and when I looked at him I said in my head, here I am, here I am, here I am, but mostly I looked at my hand as it soaped and thought about some other thing, like when would he move aside so I could have the hot water.

Or the hotel sheets were shiny and smooth, my legs feeling wonderful because I’d shaved them and the sheets were satin.

Or that was the night he went to the bathroom and drank three glasses of water in a row, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down in his throat, and said “Will you watch it around my mom?”

I said, “What do you mean?”

“Just take it easy around her.”

“What, I like her.”

“Like drinking. Drinking with her.”

“Why’d you never mention it before? If it worries you?”

“She never drank before,” he said.

Or that night was the first night on the trip I was nauseous. I ran for the bathroom in the middle of fighting. He crouched beside me while I dry heaved, brushed one strand of hair out of my face and then another, never grabbing the whole bunch.

Because I felt sick sex that night would be off the table, and maybe that’s why we curled into each other, the heat of him wrapped around me itchy as wool, my eyes on the shadowy hotel wall and its green and white stripes. We held hands and he worked his nails against my palm. The feeling gave me goose bumps at first, but his nails lost track of me, got stuck in their own rhythmic rut of scratching. And then he told me that Ruth had cancer, that she needed a hysterectomy. It did not look good, but she had time. Enough time to drink and paint all day, and to see her sisters.

Ruth didn’t talk during the drive the next day. I wiped the thread of drool that hung from Luke’s mouth. I listened to the brassy tap of Jay’s class ring on the wheel. In Georgia, we pulled toward a sign with a painted peach. I pretended to be asleep as Jay paid for a bushel. Ruth had her head tipped to the side as though she were also asleep, but when I glanced over I could see the whites of her eyes through her dark glasses.

“For you, my Georgia peach,” Jay said to her, passing the hard peaches around. Jay and I gnawed their woody white flesh, working them down to their pits. We threw the stones out the windows. Ruth nibbled hers, then peeled at its skin. Luke put his peach between us and it rolled onto the floor, where it would pinball around for days before lodging under the seat to fill the car with sweet ripening, then rotting.

The thruway to the beach house had ocean on either side. Luke woke and begged Jay to pull over. The sedan jittered onto the rumble strip. Luke pulled me out to the breezy breakdown lane.

He dashed across the street and his head dipped out of view below a mound of blown sand. I slid sideways down the plunging dune, but he was already yards ahead, tacking toward the water, so I stopped chasing and gathered his trail of stripped clothes. There were crabs everywhere, skittering in my peripheral vision, tiny curls of quicksand where they burrowed. He ran into the water and swells washed over him.

“Get in here!” he cried. My pain had returned and morphed into a diffuse throb in my pelvis, stretching awake now that we were out of the car.

I was in up to my ankles when Ruth came running from behind me, and teetered into the surf with a wild crashing and laughter, too recklessly, I worried, and she was too small, the white froth at her knees.

“Watch it, Mom!” Luke yelled. He was way out in the water, bobbing like a blond buoy. A wave was coming for her.

She was in up to her chest. It took me so long to run for her, through the water. I wrapped my arms around her waist and held tight. Her hands went up against the wall of the wave before it slammed down, pitching us apart. When I surfaced she was back in the shallows, still lipsticked, smiling loose and wide.

The beach house was crowded with aunts. They came at me with flabby arms to fold me into hugs. They had the pillowy busts of nurses. With her clothes slicked to her skin, Ruth looked like a little boy beside them, all ribs and hip bones and her tiny breasts. She flapped her collar, trying to hide the sheerness of her wet blouse. Jay squeezed her neck as though he were scruffing a kitten. My little mermaid, he called her. The aunts brought her a satin robe and she sat draped on the arm of the couch, her glass fogged by chilled white wine.

Ruth’s sisters arranged that Luke and I sleep in separate beds. I stayed on the first floor, on a pullout couch in front of a television and video console. On the days it rained Luke’s little cousins lay on my bed all afternoon. They left behind a dusting of sand, peeled sunburn, and chips that I’d shake from my sheet before sleeping.

Luke’s bedroom was on the fourth floor. He swam in the ocean, or he tossed a Frisbee, dashing back and forth on the hot sand. He was a fast runner, and he tanned, and grew a patchy beard while I watched from the shore, achy and overwarm, my body shaded by an umbrella and wrapped in a towel. Ruth sat with me and watched the swimmers and the water.

Luke and I had sex once, in the outdoor shower while the aunts and cousins beat each other with bright foam noodles in the pool. The shower stall walls were made out of splintery compressed woodchips. It smelled the way my gerbil’s cage used to smell. The water, from inside the sunning garden hose, was only warm for the first few moments. When I made a noise he put his hand over my mouth. Someone had left a hot water bottle full of sweet tea to brew on the edge of the bench inside the shower, and when I knocked the bench it flopped to the ground and wiggled there.

Lying on the couch reading with him end to end, I reached out and found his earlobe with my toes and held it. When I was little I used to thread my blanket between my toes so I could fall asleep.

We ate Cajun shrimps. Ruth sat across from me at the dinner table, picking apart her shrimp carefully while the rest of them got sauce all over their bibs.

The aunts cackled around us, stirring up bowls of different sour cream–based dips. A projector whirred overhead. Luke held me between his legs, and Jay took a picture. I still have that picture, his sunburned face next to my pallid face. Someone switched the lights off and a hazy old film began to play on the wall. The film was sped up, and the family was rushing around the campfire, storming into the lake, the teeter totter moving frantically up and down, and everywhere the aunts, as girls, in stripes and bobs, flashing smiles.

The movie was silent, but a chorus rose in the room each time a new girl stepped into the frame.

“That’s me!” one aunt shrieked, and another said, “No, that’s cousin Wanda, what an awful haircut. She was with us that summer. That’s that yellow bathing suit, remember?” Wanda, her face a blur, dashed from the camera into the lake and dove under, but before she could surface the camera swung away. The older girls scattered and the little girls hammed into the lens, and in the distance was dark-haired, smudge-eyed Ruth in a pastel-green shirt worn as a dress. First she was leaning against the trunk of a tree with big leaves and later I caught her behind the crowded campfire, dipping plates from a white stack into a basin of water.

“Where’s Ruth?” yelled the aunt who had mistaken herself for Wanda. “Ruth, do you see yourself?” But Ruth wasn’t sitting on the couch where she had been. I didn’t know where she had gone, and I didn’t say anything about recognizing her because maybe it wasn’t her after all, though I knew how she leaned into her hips and how her hair must have fallen then, limp and wavy, over one shoulder.

The film stuttered and the yellow tinge and quiet of the sixties clicked to a different reel with a downpour that sounded like a swarm of wasps. A man with a big red beard walked on-screen carrying a blond baby in a slicker, and the man was Jay, though his face was fatter, and the baby was Luke, probably two years old. Jay sat Luke on an inflatable raft inside a thin, swift stream of rainwater that ran through a flooded lawn. The baby laughed as the raft bounced on the water, away from the camera, and Ruth’s voice off-screen said, “Please, don’t hurt my baby, don’t hurt my baby.” Whoever was behind the camera had a low laugh that shook everything.

And then the scenes kept changing. In one there was cake, and dated poufs of hair in scrunchies, a woman with acid-washed jeans scooping ice cream. I realized I was going to be sick.

The upstairs hallway was carpeted and dark, and, away from the shrieking family, I could hear the waves coming in. Outside it was raining, harder and harder against the window. I put my hand to my mouth and bolted for the bathroom and there was Ruth, sloshing to cover herself in the tub.

“Oh my dear,” she said as I retched. “Oh my dear heart.”

The shrimp, I tried to say, but I couldn’t. I breathed and breathed the green smell of her bath’s steam. Ruth climbed from the tub to hold back my hair, her nails circling my shoulder blade. When I stood the knees of my jeans were wet. “Take my bathwater,” she said, toweling. “While it’s still hot.”

The pain nested inside my pelvis, an unrelenting ache, throbbing and tunneling. When I got into the warm water it felt better.

“You going to make it?” Her cheeks were swollen and stippled red. She was an ugly crier, like me.

“Yeah.”

“Splash your face,” she said. Her eyes were bright with mothering.

“I don’t know why I didn’t tell you before,” I said between splashes. “I knew I had a UTI. But then it went away.”

“Is there pain now?”

I nodded.

She sat on the edge of the tub, brushing off the sole of one foot and then the other before putting them in the water beside my legs. Scars webbed her knees and she caught me looking.

“When you’re pregnant, your center of gravity keeps changing. I didn’t know that, they don’t tell you that, unless you’re an athlete or something. I was working in the city, and the sidewalk between our apartment and my studio was uneven, and I tripped almost every day. All my tights had holes at the knees and Jay would dress my knees with Band-Aids. I was like an eight-year-old boy.”

I pictured Ruth at my age, hurrying in a trench coat and French twist, scabs under her tights, the sidewalk invisible beneath the dome of her belly. It was a comfort to picture her.

I found Luke under the blankets on my pullout bed, and climbed in with him to tell him about the UTI. I could feel that he hadn’t wiped the sand and crumbs from the sheet before getting under. He was sad, and he didn’t know why.

“I’m sorry you’re sick.” He put his head on my stomach.

“You stay,” Ruth said to Luke, as she bundled me in her scarf before we left for the hospital. It was ninety degrees out but my teeth chattered. “No offense, sweetie, but you’ll get in the way.” She kissed the top of his head.

Nothing went like it was supposed to. I was trying to be in love with Luke, but we were stranger and stranger, like the smoothly twirling top that begins to lurch and wobble in loose circles.

When the doctor saw me he said, “Are you sexually active?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Within the past week?”

“Yes.”

“With the same partner?”

“Well, there was that one wild night,” I said, and listened to my laugh trail off. “No, no, just the one partner.” Maybe it was the fever that made me joke. The only other man on the vacation was Jay. Ruth’s hands folded one way and then another, an arrangement in her lap. She had followed me from the waiting room without asking, and stayed quiet and small in the corner. I had thought maybe she would hold my hand.

The hospital rooms were overflowing, so after the doctor saw me they wheeled my gurney into the hall and Ruth trailed alongside, her arm linking my IV stand. My teeth were still chattering, and my whole body ached. They gave me antinausea medication and an IV of saline, which was cold as it flowed into my arm.

Somehow between the fever peaking, the doctor, and the gurney, I think, I’m not certain, that Ruth got drunk and sad. My hospital gown was open at the back. When I fell asleep, I turned onto my side, and woke in fear of the hallway’s drifters spying my underpants with no Ruth to guard me. I didn’t know where she’d gone. An old man with deflated nakedness under his gown shuffled past wailing, “Martha!” The IV leashing him tugged from his arm and he weaved untethered, trailing neat drops of blood into the hallway’s crowd.

Far away down the hall was Ruth, tiny inside her tailored clothes, their crisp lines wilting in the heat, purse strap slipping from her shoulder, her hair wispy and undone. Compared to her I felt moonfaced, wide-palmed, a sturdy girl, and a plain one with plain sadness. The doctor was walking toward me, and he reached me before Ruth did. His drawl made him sound amused. His big, soft hand patted mine. He drawled slow, but Ruth moved slow, and he fit it all in before she could reach me. Click, a key turned inside me as he mouthed about the baby, dumbly obvious as he spoke it aloud, growing inside me. The kidney infection and the baby, and the one could hurt the other, but we caught it in time, he said, and it was so early in my pregnancy that the risk was very low with a course of antibiotics.

“Don’t you worry. Your baby’ll be just fine,” he said, rushing elsewhere.

Ruth was so small in the breeze of her drunkenness. It swayed her.

“Can’t keep secrets in this place,” she said. Each syllable dragged. “I see big news all over your face. Let me up.”

She climbed onto my gurney. I tried to rearrange my expression but it was no use, I felt it telling things to Ruth. In hindsight I was feverish, but I knew then that she was like a psychic, seeing it all, my bumps and hollows and innards and growths. I told her I was pregnant.

She curled against me. Her sigh was warm and wet, sharp-smelling. Her head was a nice weight on my shoulder.

“Luke had a twin who died,” she said. “In utero. I was still pregnant with him for three more weeks, waiting for Luke to be born.”

I smoothed her hair, trailing my IV cord.

“I spoke to my belly like that baby was still alive. I couldn’t picture him gone inside me. I thought the sadness would kill me.” Everyone was fast, wheeling around us. No time to stare, they had spills to mop. “But then my beautiful Luke was born.”

A long time later she said, “Luke’s a wonderful boy, but he’s a baby. He’s not at all ready to be a dad.” It was advice, and I needed a woman’s advice. She put her hand into her purse and worked it around in there for a minute, two minutes, fishing for lipstick. She drew the red bow of her mouth perfectly, but capped the lipstick without screwing it back down. “Fuck,” she said. Our bodies made little noises on the sheath of tissue paper that lined the gurney.

I was supposed to crave pickles, and sauerkraut, and have the kind of husband who would pick up jars of these things at the corner store in the middle of the night, and stay up with me while I ate, rubbing my stomach with cool lotion. I was supposed to have long hair, and a wide, wise mouth, and to have read many more books, traveled, married with a flower garland and a backless silk dress, taught in tweed coats with elbow patches, spooned my husband and taken long baths with him, and I was supposed to have seen my own mother, frail and stooped, through many years of sickness with grace and patience, and be cauterized by the pain of losing her, and turned bright and still and steady inside, like a mother should be, and then I’d be a mother.

I’ve imagined Ruth and me together, in Maine, in a cabin by the bay. Ruth, pacing the floor in a painter’s shirt, like the one I took from my grandmother’s bureau after she died, long and pilled, stiff where the paint streaked. Ruth’s smile, too wide, a baby bouncing on her shoulder. Her clear steady voice rings through my vision, guides the baby into sleep.

I left Florida the next day. I told Luke I was too sick to stay, and this was true. They had me on all kinds of antibiotics. Ruth hugged me at the airport and she didn’t say anything, or look at me in any special kind of way, which made me wonder if it was possible she was so out of it at the hospital that she’d forgotten I was pregnant. Luke and I didn’t make the effort to see each other again that summer. Whatever we had slipped away easily, just a summer fling. Luke phoned a couple times but I didn’t return his calls, and I didn’t go back to school in the fall. Rumor never got around to Luke as it might have if I lived in a town that was closer to our college, but I don’t, and it didn’t.

The three women I knew who killed themselves were all grandmothers.

The first, a ketchup heiress who lived in a yellow mansion with a wraparound porch. On warm nights her grandchildren slept outside in hammocks.

The second, a middle school Spanish teacher. She ate homemade granola for breakfast, coiled a braid around her head, fell in love late in life, and married in the entryway of her barn. She was bustling and red cheeked, always dancing.

And Ruth, with her lipstick and elegant tapered fingers and the scars on her knees, who walked into the water.

I stayed at home and lay in bed in the room above my parents’ garage, waiting for my stomach to grow. It didn’t for the longest time, and then it was enormous.

My center of gravity changed every day, and I fell on the way to the post office. My mom dressed my bloody knee.

All winter I lay on my back and watched the dead spider with her egg sack and her scrap of web blowing between the panes in the storm window, and in the spring her front legs began to squirm and my two gentle girls were born.

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