Pandemic Baby | Katie Quinnelly
Content Warning: Ableist language.
Baby observes me, I observe baby's lashes. Long. Who knows where she got them. Picked them up in the out door. Raspberries in the snakes' mouths. That's how her scream sounds. But it's quiet today. The snakes are in their cages. They'll feed again soon. They have two tongues each. The tongues are split. You know this. They're snakes. A total of four points. The coffee is brewing and the snow is falling. She knows this. Her faces are omniscient. She wakes. Her fists are big for the weather. I mean for a baby. I know this. But only this.
Pandemic Group Chat Dad:
(telephone emoji) / Good morning! / This phone number and pin dials into a conference call with me / If anyone has a minute to call in and / help me please / Good morning! / (cowboy emoji) / help me test the system / I will open the call at 11am / This could be useful during the / Good morning! / pandemic / If you can please call now / (sunglasses emoji) / and keep it open until 1pm / no agenda / I encourage you to / Good morning! / download the app / (thumbs up emoji) / call at your convenience / call me test the system / help me please / please help me
Sometimes I open my eyes and I see her eyelids and sometimes she opens her eyes and we contact for a moment, then we blink until we fall asleep half-naked and covered in milk, then later I’m in the bathroom thinking about how big my boobs are getting, what with all the milk, and he's sitting in the sink saying something about everyone being pushed back into the cave, and "don’t be naive," he says, "how convenient for them if we all get bored and watch the shadows again," and "try to think critically, please," he says, but I won't.
There were nights we didn't sleep. Not one of us, even though we were tired. Even though we were just sick and tired. Even though we went in the next room to scream and punch our legs until they turned black. And then we were called hysterical. We were called so many things and told Get back here. And asked Where you think you're going. Here's the thing. There were things that needed to be fed, and we were the only things capable of feeding. Even though it hurt to feed. And even though we bled. God, how we bled.
Class is cancelled. I sit in bed refreshing my inbox. I'm nervous. I say, baby's two weeks old today. Because of baby, my life is measured in weeks instead of years. I play that song for her. The one about twisting and tearing the body into two pieces. Two weeks ago. There was a split in the house. A door, she might say. If she could say. An opening. One thing became two. She came through. Two legs gave way to two nostrils. Two arms, two legs. Thank god.
You didn't need a pandemic to keep you from coming. I know it would have been a while. But let's just pretend this is what's keeping you from flying. Not the cold air on your metal hips. Not the ice picks you wear in your cargo shorts. Not the gimpy legs. Not your Frankenstein ass. Not your femur pulled out and reconstructed to be a hip. Not your old hip dissolving in a vat of _____ in the back bedroom. Not the rat licking its way into your ear. Not them rats what gone and crawled up in your head.
How to tie a slipknot. How to toss it over the rafter on your back deck. How to get up there with a chair. How to hang a potted plant from the loop. How to not scare anyone anymore. How to face your mom. How to convince her it's ok for you to live alone now. How to tell that doc you don't want what she got. How to look happy. How to make someone genuinely believe you're happy. How to come home. How to kneel down. How to pin your cheeks up. How to wish to take it back.
Lately my dreams don't have a narrative. I'm on no mission. No one I know is getting married. The dreams are just images. Sensations. Emotions. Fear. A staircase. Fingernails. An egg, overeasy. The idea of a big storm somewhere in the distance. Directionless. A birdsong from a bird that doesn't exist. As far as I know, but I don't know. A building in the wrong part of the world. A mirror hanging on the wrong wall. I didn't put that there. The feeling like someone else has been in here, but I don't know who and I don't know where.
To do: Fight the bad guy, fight crime, cry less, cry more, start your period, practice making love, make bread instead, sourdough, scare all of the people at walmart, crabwalk around walmart, butcher a pig, feed your family, forgive yourself for killin', load your gum, click your kneels, kneel before the overlords, hush little bay leaf, don't say a worm, loot the walmart, tell the bad guy he's cute, tell him he's like really hot, let the bad guy fight you, go through menopause, look in the mirror when you ugly cry, tell yourself it's all going to be alright.
The wall in the shower is hard. Hard like a rock is hard, I mean. Hard like You punch like a girl. Hard like You fucked up your hand again. Hard like a fight when you'd rather be sleeping. Hard like the smell of honeysuckle next to a decomposing deer. Hard like Death ruining things from your childhood again. Hard like Death having an all-out field-day. Hard like the baby's cry. I mean, hard like getting the baby to stop. Easy, though. What's easy. Flying the Zimbabwean flag out back. Making tuna salad. Wrapping your hand in an ice pack.
There's a ghost in this house. It's a friendly ghost. It knocks over my things, that's all. Makes the baby smile at the corner where the wall meets the ceiling. When nothing is there. It's ok, I said. I always knew this day would come. I just want to reach out. I just want to make sure I still know some things are real. He nodded. Looked serious. "I'm real," he said, "Your daughter's real." Good, I said. Great. Anything else? "Yes," he said, "Disney World, unfortunately, is real. Little Debbie. Most Hindu deities." Hindu deities, I repeated. Disney World.
Do you ever wake up and your hands are replaced? Not by claws? Not by hooks? But by someone else's hands? And then those hands? They play your grandfather's guitar? Then your father's guitar? Then they tell you there is no difference? And then you listen closely? And, sure enough? There is no difference? And then do you sob? Because no matter what you do? You'll never make a difference? And then do you ask? What the hell is the point? Why suffer? And then you realize? It's because your father suffered? And then you realize? They'll all suffer, too?
Katie Quinnelly is a West Virginian writer and sentient toaster oven. Her work has been published in the Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, and Occulum, among others. Her chapbook, Sparrow Pie, is available through Eggtooth Editions.