They won’t let me see my baby.
“Too sick,” Doctor says.
But still, I beg.
My room is a perfect square. Concrete, painted a pale green, even the ceiling. Bilious and afflicted like me. It’s the humidity, it makes everything ill. It’s infected the paint. The green is so sick it bubbles and protrudes in broken pustules like leprosy sores.
When I lie on my narrow white bed, I can see the ceiling lesions swell and shift. Faces live in the broken peeling blisters. There’s Rock, smooth and fluid, like he’s been blasted out of mountain, forged with full, distinctly negroid lips. There’s the long face of Moose. And in the far corner, there’s Jester. I try not to look at Jester. His face collapses in on itself at the bottom, chin melting out into the ceiling with a cruel snarl. Instead, I try and focus on the fractured silhouette of a pregnant torso on the wall. I imagine her cupping her hands under the heavy swell of her belly in a vain attempt to carry some of the bulk that’s compressing her spine into a crunched “C”.
I spend a lot of the days pacing. One foot carefully placed in front of the other, heel bearing on toe. Over and over. My shoulder rubs along the wall as I walk corner to corner. The walls are exactly fifteen of my feet, though I’m not as sure about the wall with the door. My feet skirt around the door no matter how hard I brace to maintain their purchase against the wall. It’s the window set into the door with its fine mesh of twisted wire reinforcing the glass. A portal that repels malaise.
“You didn’t eat your lunch,” Rock says.
“No,” I answer. His implacable face calms the acid overflowing my stomach and burning my esophagus. I take a breath, focus on his mouth. His voice is soothing, liquid jazz.
“You need to keep your strength up.”
“Think of the baby,” Jester says, but the way he says it buckles my knees and I fold to the floor. His small, black eyes follow me.
“I miss him,” I tell them. I miss his candy floss hair that smells of sunshine stirred with dust. I miss rubbing peanut oil into his scalp to loosen the crusted flakes of cradle cap. Nausea hits me and sweat erupts like I’ve broken open the steam radiator.
The nausea reminds me of the perpetual undertones of the baby — parmesan and blue cheese. No matter how often I bathe him, even while I bathe him, spit-up and that ever present odor of cheese. It makes my eyes water, makes it so I can’t eat. I cry while he cries. He’s always crying. I walk with him, wash him, feed him, walk him and wash him again but still the screams are unrelenting. I wish my husband home, wish him the incessant crying.
Moose looks sad yet aloof. I’m suddenly infuriated at his long muzzle, his drooping lower lip. I hurl carrot after soggy carrot off my lunch tray until one of them brings down a large flake of paint. Moose is gone, morphed into Honeycomb.
Jester erupts in shrill laughter. I start to launch a limp greasy slice of beef at him. I’ve run out of carrots, when a face appears framed behind the window mesh of my door.
“Mrs. Wilson, lie on your bed.”
I ignore the commands issuing from the doughy face floating outside the wire web of the portal. I back into the far corner of the room. Jester is laughing so hard now it resembles choking. Or a wailing baby, piercing as the shriek of a cat in lust. Soon Jester will lose control of bodily functions, his stomach will spill over, his bladder will empty.
I call out for my husband, scream his name, but I am mute, noiseless.
More faces appear at the door. I am non-compliant they’ve learned. Combative. Yet it’s Mr. Wilson who’s gone off to war. More faces assemble, readying. My lips plead soundlessly. Now it’s only a reflex, a knee jerk of silent words.
No, they mime, and please, but there is no hope left to give them voice.
When I hear the lock click open, I fling my lunch tray at the door. It’s futile. There are seven of them. Six white clad orderlies, followed by Nurse Holland holding a four inch hypodermic, its round-ringed handle formed around her fingers like a pair of scissors. Her white starched hat looks like a sail rising out of waves of blonde hair. I wish myself tiny so I can take passage there.
I am strapped on a gurney, buckled with thick leather straps even though the hypodermic has rendered me calm. Liquid restraint. Two of the orderlies hold my legs down, preparing for the ride they will take when I convulse. Again and again they do this. Doctor says at first my memory will be fuzzy but then it will improve, things will come back to me. What things will come, I ask.
They add a heavy strap across my forehead to hold my head in place so I am forced to look at the same spot in the ceiling. In this treatment room, the paint is a round fetal face, eyes closed, mouth pursed, peacefully unborn. But this time, the preparations for my treatment are different; they’re plugging in the electrodes for my temples but Doctor is choosing some tools from his bag as well. My heart is racing. I try and raise my arms as stomach acid blazes up my throat filling my mouth with bile. I wish I could spit it at the orderly. Wish I could move anything.
“Alright, Mrs. Wilson. Just like last time. We’ll administer a few shocks to reset your brain. You’ll be unconscious for six or seven minutes. Today we’re going to try another procedure too. To help you get better.”
I convulse, my eyes rolling. But they’ve forgotten the hypodermic. The paralytic. I am not rendered unconscious yet like they believe. Someone peels back my eyelid.
Doctor is holding a steel icepick scored with four even lines that are engraved with a scale from one to four. In his other hand he holds a small silver mallet. He moves my eyeball out of the way to position the ice pick above it, in the corner of my eye socket. As I feel my skin split and bone yield to the pick under the tap tap tap of the mallet, the icepick oscillates and I remember.
I remember laying the baby down on our kitchen table. Remember opening our icebox and getting the pick I’d left there on top of the block of ice. It was so cold. I worried the steel would stick to my hand like tongue to a winter pole. I held the pick over the center of his tenuous chest. I pressed. His pale skin pushed back at me and then yielded with a slight pop. Like a knife poking into a Macintosh apple. The resistance, the give of surface tension and suddenly it was all the way through and sticking out the other side. I pulled the ice pick out and a thin red geyser followed the arc of my hand. I bent my face into the pulsing red stream until my eyes bled and the crying finally stopped.
After the procedure, they give me dark glasses to hide the bruises. But I don’t wear them. My eyes are veiled crimson.
I miss my baby.
They won’t let me see him.