m o r g a n    b r o t h e r s

Baby 6

 

This time, Iím sitting in our home classroom, writing in my packet—always writing in my packet—and she tells me, she says, This family has been blessed, again.


The sequence of things turns around on itself, spins every which way, and you can taste the hope, thick and gamey, wretched and weak. Always tastes the same—like liver. The deep purple and irony parts of things. My sixth baby brother or sister. I stop for a moment when I believe that it will be a girl. Baby Girl 6.


Hallelujah, I whisper.


She sees me cry, but has the wrong idea. Class ends and I go to our room, the room I share with two of the five, and I swallow my bawling until the tears come back up. I vomit snot and it stings my throat. This Iím used to. They regard me sick. Iím sent to quarantine, which may as well be my bedroom. My own room. The room for the unwell and sorry.


Iíll be sick on and off. Sick on and off for nearly a year.


For a while, sheís green and worthless. Too altered to teach. During school hour, my eldest brother stands red and steamy in the face. Lecturelecturelecture. His lessons are like punishments—awkward, wobbly, pitiful and lost. Mad.


Thatís just how it is, how it will be. Nearly a year.


She presses her swollen belly against the screen. The sick room has a locked screen door, locked from the outside. As if I couldnít tear my way through, if I wanted. Her face is tired but there is some streaking around her nose and eyes—some blood, some life.


Iíll be teaching class again, starting tomorrow, she says.


Why are you telling me, I ask. I have my packet; Iím filling it.


I just thought you should know.


Glad youíre feeling better, I say, but Iím sick.


I know, dear. I know.


I wait until she leaves to vomit yellow foam into my bedpan.


The next morning, Iím back in class. My brother is gone and she sits at the pulpit, doesnít stand. Her hair is in a braided bun, but the tail has come undone. It bothers me. I stare at the tail watching it slowly free itself, and I know she will let it. Her face is slack. The usual tiny lines and firmness are padded and free. She is resting on tomorrow, on what is to come.


May I be excused, I squeal. I zip up my mouth, stunned.


Good heavens, girl. You frightened me. Yes, go.


So, I leave. I drag myself down the white hall, past the picture wall of all us five, and I let myself into the sick room, being sure to lock the screen door on my way in. I realize that I left my packet in the classroom and I moan until I realize the miserable sound I hear is coming from me, from my mouth, and I fold it back inside. My heart slows and the pressure seeps out, lets me go. I sleep.


Sheís been sleeping for nearly two days, I hear him say. Sheís ill, very ill. Influenza perhaps. Dare I fear the worst, dare I fear—


But she does this with every child. Falls ill. Doesnít eat much, canít keep anything down. Always clears up when the child arrives. Sympathy, we figure.


Sheís lost an awful lot of weight though, for a girl of her size. Fifteen years old, you say? Five foot five inches. I predict eighty, maybe eighty-five pounds.


Donít you worry, sheís like a clock, this one. Very predictable. Always comes down, always comes back up. Sheíll be just fine. God is at work here.


I stir, let my eyes open. They stare down at me, unblinking.


I left my packet in the classroom, I mutter.


They continue to stare. I left my—


We hear you dear, weíll get your packet. You were asleep an awful long time, had us worried.


I was tired, I say. I pull myself up in bed. A long time, you say? I should really fill my packet. They finally leave and I stare at the dusty light tucked safe between the lace curtains. I know it must be around four, maybe five. She taps on the tattered wood of the screen door, squeezes one packet and then another through the mail slot. She rests her left hand on her belly, palms the fabric of her dress. My mouth tastes like pennies. Her sweet potato colored sweater is tied lazily above her puffy belly and when she reaches a hand to tuck some loose hairs behind her ear, I am taken by a hole in the elbow. The hole cries love. I begin to weep, and I think she has the right idea this time because she says, You know, dear, no matter how many babies I have or may have in the future, you will always be my first daughter.


Did you think of me often when I was in your belly? I ask. Did you feel like a new life was going to be born with me, that everything was going to be better and happier when I was here? The questions are surprising me, sputtering out like laughter. I canít stop them.


Of course, girl. Of course. There is so much hope in a baby, dear. One day youíll know. Itís the most hopeful blessing in the world, the greatest of Godís gifts.


Was it? I burst out.


Was what?


Was life better and happier once I was born?


She tightens the belt around her sweater and sighs, looks at me like sheís mining for falsehoods, wedges of vulnerability. But whatever she finds in there, it makes her cry. In silence. Saltwater surrounds her gray eyes as she steadies herself on the door handle, then edges away from the screen, her unsteady hand the last to go.


Of course, dear, I hear her mumble down the hall. Of course.


You worry her, I hear.


Itís close but low, coming from someone small. Then I see him. His face is dark and thoughtful. Baby 4 was born blue with the cord wrapped around his neck. It took them minutes to get him to howl for his life. Minutes. His grit trimmed the new bellies in shadows and I drew in tight white fists whenever he snuck around.


It was only a question. She could have lied, I say, but I donít let our eyes meet. His are like cold green saucers, always slightly slatted and too gentle, too human.


She doesnít lie. There are too many truths, he instructs.


I pull myself up from the bed and softly shut the door over the screen, over Baby 4 and his sweet and sour cleverness. This is against the rules, shutting the door, but I gasp at the pressure around my heart and know it will subside if I cannot see him anymore. I am so lightheaded that I bang my hipbone into the bed frame and break the thin skin off the glossy, white bone. I lie back down on the bed and let the surprise seep around my side, a carnal stain blooming on the soft beige cotton of my dress. I fill in the level lines of the packet above my head until my arms go numb and scratchy and I forget how to form the letters.

 

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MORGAN BROTHERS maintains a soulless office job deep in the belly of a corrosive industry, whilst writing, creatively, nearly full time, all at the same time. She also blogs - yes, blogs - at thelongbonds.com.


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