The clothes pile around me. The dishes pile up in the sink, and I’m pulling bits of malt-o-meal from my braids. The only other person I see all day is the mailman who turns from the window while he quickly fills the slot. Perhaps he is afraid to see a star of flesh when the baby looses the nipple from her cat-like mouth. I long to see his face, to see him curious as to who lives in this blue house with the gingerbread trim, but in this storybook town, gingerbread houses decorate the hillsides like Christmas bulbs in December.
Awake most of the night, near sleep much of the day, I have become a zombie. I am dazed and numb, not quite craving flesh for food, though my body has become food. My daughter nurses around the clock. She takes cat-naps through out the day and even then I am afraid to relinquish my hold on her tiny body. What if I leave the room and she wakes alone and frightened or is stolen away by the Goblin King? I hold her in the rocking chair all day, holding my bladder for hours.
When I hear the heavy clunk of my husband’s boots on the porch, I don’t know whether I want to run toward him or run away, so I sit still and hold the baby. I pretend not to hear when he asks about my day. What can I say that he can understand when mine is the language of gurgles and coos? So I let him rock the baby, while I sleepwalk into the kitchen to open cans of beans and probably burn the vegetables.
Sleep has become the Holy Grail. I wish for it, long for it, pray for it, imagine it, almost find it, and still it eludes me. When sleep finally comes, there is no rest, only shards of REM swirling like a kaleidoscope. Dreams are a B horror film reeling with black and white flickers on the walls of my mind, disconnected images of drowning babies, missing children, and burning buildings. Dreams are the mirrors and hallways of a Fun House at a midnight carnival with bins overflowing with button-eyed dolls that pretend to be my baby. I wake exhausted, covered in sweat and sticky milk, surprised to find her in the bed beside me sleeping like an angel. I lean my head close to her chest and listen for her breath. I almost rise to find a mirror for her to fog, when a jerk of her arm reassures me, for the moment.
My mind tries to convince my body that she is a separate being, but I am hungry, cold, and tired. I cry when she cries. When I reach for her across the darkness of the bed, she burrows against me, belly to belly and I can almost feel the ghost of her umbilical cord pulse. I encircle her in my arms, the rib cage protecting the heart, the dragon hoarding her treasure, sleeping with one eye open.
Bethany Fitzpatrick has a MA from the University of Arkansas where she studied English literature, creative writing, and ecofeminism. She has had poems published in Exposure, Babel fruit,Cliterature, and Apeiron Review. She has published nonfiction online for Mothering magazine. She lives in northwest Arkansas where she teaches English Composition and raises two lovely, spirited children with her husband.