Flash fiction by Deanna Benjamin
These are My Memories of the Woman Who is Not Me
When I was three years old, she wore braces. After that, she used the tiny rubber bands to tie off her braid, one long snake of strands, a slender triune of dark hair to pass through my fingers. When I was twelve, she had a bicycle. It matched my father’s, but they never rode them. Instead, they had babies, until we three became five. Then, one day, they became four because I became one with my friends clustered around pushers’ doors, crocheting into each other the fuzzy bounds of clustered buds and snowy cocaine, tiny planetary squares on our tongues, my intention to evade the pink-ribboned stares, to embrace the summer and its unrelenting dares, while she, the one who wore braces when I was three, and her philander husband and their two sons faded into the background of a syrupy strum, and I, broken invention that I was, and with lit candle in hand, climbed a stairway made of crumbs, climbed and climbed until I reached a tower, bright and inviting, unaware I was numb. Then, when you were born, she could not be interrupted, so far away in the transcontinental mountains, jagged she and her three, divided by numbered streets, ragged by buried courtships unearthed, frayed and snagged. And you were mistaken for a snow globe of brevity, so thick, so muffled. Vernal, circadian shame. You were meant to be an exit like they were for her, but you were not. Exits suggest doors, and there were no doors that year, only windows painted gray, painted shut. You were meant to be an exit, but you are a siren on a plank, remote and interstitial. You wear Doc Martins and kick dry leaves on sidewalks, and one day, you will forget that spring that came after us, when the dogwood and mockingbirds danced in the wind and the azaleas bloomed. One day, you will watch a mourning dove balance on an electrical wire, tail scooping the winter air. One day, you will braid your hair like she did.
Becoming a Daughter
We talk once a week, usually on Saturdays, but sometimes I call off-schedule with a question. This time it is Wednesday, and the question is about my birth. “What do you remember from the day I was born?” I am trying to piece together something lost.
“When your dad dropped me off at the hospital, the doctors told him, it’ll be a while. You may as well go home, so he went home and played bridge with his friends, and I strained to keep quiet while the doctor sliced through my perineum. A lady doesn’t scream,” she says.
But I don’t want to hear about the science of it. I don’t want to hear about politeness either or her pain. I want the myth, and she is the mythmaker. “But what about when I was being born?”
“When you were being born,” she starts, not too breathy, not too slowly, “I looked into the mirror across the room. The nurse saw and said, That’s your baby’s head. It was turquoise between my legs. Your daughter is cauled, she said. And I thought, Called? What in the world are you being called to do or to be?”
When I look up this condition, this cauled, on the Internet, I learn that it is rare, that one in eighty-thousand babies are born with a caul or en-caul. I learn that to be born with a caul means you come out of the womb with a membrane over your head and to be born en-caul means you are born inside the amniotic sac, that your mother’s water didn’t break. I learn that en is rarer than with, that en signifies that the person will not die of drowning and that the person has some second sight or is destined for greatness or has good luck.
After I broke through the turquoise sac, my mother was wheeled to another room, where she had to keep her head flat for twenty-four hours. “The next day,” she tells me, “they brought you in. We were there for a week. They kept you somewhere else and would bring you to me morning, noon, and night to be fed. Your legs were huge,”she remembers.
Why she had to keep her head flat for so long and why they did not keep us in the same room for so long, I have no idea. It was the Sixties. Perhaps they had given her a sedative that could have blocked her heart were she to sit upright, something that made her blood thick, that took away her strength. Maybe they were studying the psychological effects on keeping a mother from her child for a week. Maybe there was something wrong with me. That’s what I wanted to know: what was wrong with me? (It’s an eternal question among a generation absent in prescriptions. Even when there’s nothing wrong, surely, one thinks, there must be something.) Perhaps fluid build-up? Something that needed monitoring? Maybe I was having an allergic reaction. She told me once that she had to feed me rice water because I couldn’t take her milk. “Your legs were huge,” she says.
I have no record of that week except for a yellowing birth certificate with my inky footprints, evidence that I was small, yes, but only in shape, size. There’s no record of how small I was in the mind of the white-coated deliverer, no record of how insignificant mother-daughter separation would be to him. No record of the week-long primer on the emptiness of space.
The last thing she says about my birth, the end of her myth, of her hero’s journey, is this: “Then we went home, and you survived. I was amazed.”
What if you convinced yourself that something lost is best forgotten, best left at the juncture of revelry and regret, like a pool of syrup after all the pancakes have been eaten? Would it harden like a sugary sheet of glaze, delicate and sweet, like a glittered pane of glass sunburst reflections bouncing between walls? Would it crinkle on the tongue or melt like butter in an ambivalent skillet, burn like a fire consuming an apricot tree log, elated in this delicious moment, eager to blaze and dazzle? Would it mark its territory with a daring crackle? A thump on the cast iron grate? Would its embers float up in genuine ecstasy, a neon promise of flame, only to turn to ash? Or would that something lost lodge itself between forgetting and remembering like meniscus, fluid and necessary, but aging into stiffness, into a rusted joint, an amplified cry, untethered and feasting?
Deanna Benjamin lives in St. Louis with her life partner and two sibling dogs. Her work can be read in Brevity, Waterwheel Review, and other venues. Her website can be found through www.deannabenjamin.com.
Flash Boulevard is edited by Francine Witte. Banner photo Wes Candela