June 21, 2019 by The Citron Review
by Kelle Schillaci Clarke
You are baking red velvet cupcakes for Valentine’s Day. Cream cheese frosting and heart-shaped sprinkles. Flour dusts the countertops, your daughter’s hands, her still-fat cheeks. She just learned about Jackson Pollock in a Fancy Nancy book; soon, the kitchen will drip in blood red cake batter, like fine art.
“It’s time for the eggs,” you say. “Watch me first.”
“Why are they brown?” she asks.
“White eggs come from white chickens; brown from brown chickens,” you say matter-of-factly, though it’s a fact you’d learned only recently. It can’t be that simple, you remember thinking. Two firm taps at the rim of the mixing bowl and the egg slides into the bowl, yellow yolk trembling.
“Oops,” she says, pointing at a bit of broken shell, which you scoop out with a fingertip.
She grips an egg, lifts it above her head. You guide her hand closer to the bowl.
“Gently,” you say.
“Gently,” she repeats. She pauses, makes a “shush” sound with pursed lips, then slams the egg against the rim. Egg everywhere, shell shattered. Shattered: (adj.) fancy for broken, malfunctioning, inoperative. Less fancy versions include, not limited to: Kaput. Faulty. Conked out. Wrecked.
Her horrified expression is quickly replaced with a grin. You pause, then hand her another egg. And then another. And then another.
Your first miscarriage happened in March. Of course, you didn’t know at the time it would later be referred to as your first, or that you’d have another half dozen. A sports team. A grocery list. A half-carton of cage-free, organic.
Your mother-in-law visited a week later, armed only with: “you need to stop worrying so much,” “everything happens for a reason,” and something about “God’s plan.”
Then it was Easter. Eggs were everywhere: Cadbury, Reese’s, colorful plastic ones you split in half so you could fill them with egg-shaped chocolates or jelly beans. Eggs you could literally fill with other eggs. Jesus Christ.
First day of preschool: The neat pigtails she leaves with will come home later undone; the puff-sleeves and red-trim Peter Pan collar of her starched-white blouse, wrinkled and stained.
Drop off, Room 4: One mom celebrates a smooth transition. Another leaves visibly shaken, having ripped a howling child from her leg. Yours waves you off easily — you can go now, Mama! — which carries its own unique pain.
At home, you covet the rare quiet. You clean and dry breakfast dishes, tuck unicorns and Barbies into IKEA bins, stack library books. You pick up a plush character from her favorite story, in which an evil fairy turns the prince into a frog. If you unbutton the back of the prince’s shirt and pull out his insides, he transforms into a frog. Shove them back, and he’s a prince again.
You begin to pull out your insides; a clown drawing out an endless stream of the most colorful handkerchiefs.
“Honey, can you grab a half dozen eggs on your way home,” you joked to your husband, after your fifth loss, when he called to check on you. “We can almost fill a half carton with all these dead babies!” The joke was even less funny once you reached a half dozen, then added one more. Your jokes made him cringe, the way you cringed when he said things like: We are pregnant. We are expecting.
We aren’t gushing clots from between our legs. We aren’t feeling a team of losses, cramping and slipping right out of us.
Miscarried (v), as in, not carried correctly. Fancy for carried incorrectly. Fancy for carried the wrong way. Fancy for failed. Foundered. Backfired. Gone Amiss. Come to Nothing. Fall short.
You and your daughter build elaborate forts and complicated Magna-Tile® domiciles—castles, stables, cruise ships, and apartment buildings. You brave storms to crush puddles. You lay on your backs at night, make rings with your thumbs and pointers, softly “om” before bedtime stories. You melt together into superhero bed sheets.
You carried the last baby dead inside of you for several weeks past the early ultrasound showing a tiny, hopeful heartbeat: thump-thump, thump-thump. Hel-lo, Good-bye. Maybe it stopped beating the moment you left the doctor’s office with cautious smiles still tugging delicately at your lips, or maybe it was during a night of fitful sleep, woken with a start by hormonal dreams, needing hourly to pee because your uterus, too stupid to realize it was carrying a dead baby, was still expanding, still making room.
You watch through the kitchen window as she adds new objects to her fairy garden—a tiny metal chair, a Play-doh mushroom, a plastic army man in a classic yoga pose—with help from the neighbor girl. Now they’re sticking fingers in an ice cube tray filled with rainwater, pulling their fingers back and squealing in a way you don’t trust. You go outside to check on them and discover that each cube compartment contains dead earthworms, some in chunks and pieces, others so thickly engorged their insides are bursting out.
“Why are you doing this?” you yell.
“They’re DEAD!” the girls yell back, jumping up and down.
“Dead! Dead! Dead!” they chant with joy, their voices growing louder, frenzied.
You grab your daughter’s hand and slap the tray hard to the ground, scattering purple worm parts, which cling to the moist earth, desperate to return to it. Some, you realize, are still moving, still clinging to life, until your daughter comes over and steps on them. The older girl begins to laugh, while your little one stands frozen to the ground, her eyes filling with tears. You pull her close to you, lift her into your arms, and carry her back inside.
Kelle Schillaci Clarke is a writer, journalist and adjunct English instructor. She earned her MFA from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, but happily left the desert in favor of rainy Seattle, where she lives now with her husband and daughter. She can be found on Twitter at @kelle224.