The rain has stopped now, suddenly,
like a scream halfway out of the throat,
and the blades of grass quiver
under translucent drops, as if appalled.
Grass feels no remorse, nor does a knife;
I know this for a fact, still there was a stiletto-thin
entry between my ribs. Some objects are sharper
than a telephone receiver, but not many.
The rain was a kind of forest, like tears.
It has stopped now.
Where Babies Come From
read by gaye mckenney
Lifted from obscurity to duck pond fame for two glorious seasons, the halfback
charged like a mad bull, savagely protecting the oval pigskin. Oh, the marching
bands and the backflipping cheerleaders in red skirts. Oh, the backslapping and free
steaks and cries of We'll never forget. They did though, the collective memory
wilted faster than a crepe pompom in the rain. He graduated by the skin of his
teeth. It was all downhill after that.
This touchdown king worked at Green & Sons Furniture Factory, making enough for
pinball, burgers and beer. When he punched in at six a.m., no band played, no chick
cheered. On Saturday night, he strutted in a lavender shirt, purple trousers, white
bucks, a long silver keychain. He was making out with a girl from another town. He
slapped her sometimes. He parked the pickup on back roads between fields of
yellow-tasseled corn. Sometimes he got out and hammered on the dusty hood, saying, If you loved me, you would, you don't know how blue balls hurt. She had never seen
anything like it.
This girl had an ex-best-friend whom she hadn't seen since Carla dropped out of high
school, then out of sight, because she got knocked up the night of the junior-senior
prom. The theme was Stardust. The ceiling was made of blue crepe paper with a
cardboard full moon. After the wedding, when Carla still wasn't showing, there was a
baby shower with a secretively smiling stork standing on one leg on the gift table.
Mother said, You wouldn't do a thing like that, would you? Daughter said, Don't be
silly. And that was the end of their conversation on sex.
One night when the June bugs were plopping and the hoot owl whooing and the
knee-high corn growing so fast you could hear it, she pulled up her white cotton
panties and said she was expecting and he said, Expecting what? She told him and
said, I guess we will have to get married now. And he said, I would never marry
anyone who put out before they was married, and backed the truck out into the road,
nearly stripping the gears, gravel flying like fists. He drove her home and said, Give me back my class ring and get out.
He was fixing to break up with that dog, he was making out with a girl whose big-shot
father slapped him on the back and remembered every touchdown. He was fixing to
quit the factory. He was tired of walking the dusty road every morning at
five-thirty. He wanted more out of life than twenty bucks a week and a bed in a
three-room shack where four sisters had one bedroom and three brothers the other,
with the parents in the front room. When she told him, he could have killed her; he
was fixing to break up.
She blundered from thought to thought like a cave fish that adapts to ocean depths
where there is perpetual darkness. Small fry can see clearly when they set off, but
the light dims as they swim downward, downward, descending to the deepest level.
When the light is completely gone, skin grows over their eyes.
The Chevy rolled to a stop in the dirt yard. No driveway. The father sighed. The
mother, thin and thin-lipped, said without turning around, You stay in the car. They
knocked, stepped inside. Soon he came out, stopped at the rolled-down car window,
spit, said, No way I'm marrying you. She tossed her head, Don't think I want to
marry you either. He walked on. She watched him disappear around the bend of the
road that lapped like a dusty ocean against a small town with pinball machines and
two factories, one for furniture, one for cheese.
Off they went in a borrowed car, her in a white dress, no bouquet, his fat mother in
the back seat. He drove up and down the main drag to show off the car a little, then
cruised around looking for a JP who was supposed to live on Bluebird Street. They
spotted the big sign on a front lawn, Justice of the Peace, climbed out, knocked. No
one smiled, certainly not the JP who had seen such things before. Mrs. JP and the
fat mother witnessed. When they got back in the car, the mother exclaimed, Well, now
If you make your bed, you have to lie in it. That is the eleventh commandment. Field
mice moved into the vacant house with them, nesting slyly as wedding presents,
their little bellies fecund and fierce. The orange asters were dying. A flock of
blue jays subdued the apple tree, hacking away, leaving ruined fruit behind. Wild
geese honked overhead and the girl heard freedom moving high above the rooftops, as
he moved inside her on the hard bed she had made for herself. Afterward he rolls
away, looks at her with hate, says nothing.
Injustice preys on him, suspicion seizes him, his rage shreds her like a pit-bull
shreds a rag doll; her heart is room-ridden with no watch light or beacon. Let me
tell you what hate does: it erupts like boiling oil, it sears like lye in the
throat, it surges like a fetid sewer-course. She lifts her thin arm like a paper
Now let me tell you about fear. It is like undressing in a field of nettles. Fear is
being always tensed, waiting for an order to pick something up, put something down,
stop or start doing something. It is knowing nothing you do will please. It is
answering to Hey Ugly Pig. It is worse than not having a name, than not having
money, than sleeping on the floor beside the bed. Fear is greater than humiliation.
A neighbor down the road blew his brains out and she thought he was lucky.
It will be better when the baby comes, said the mother-in-law, feeling the girl's
big belly and avoiding comment on the bruises and black eye. Her voice was like the
wind shifting the leaves across frozen ground, or gas hissing from the stove burner,
she spoke too low for her visiting son to hear over there in the corner where he was
parked in front of the television, eating popcorn and whooping as Ingo Johansson
beat the shit out of Floyd Patterson. It wasn't.
Janice D. Soderling’s poetry and fiction is published at a diversity of print and online forums, recent work in The Centrifugal Eye, Studio Journal, dotdotdash, Boston Literary Magazine, Protestpoems, Acumen, Orbis, Mezzo Cammin, Literary Bohemian, Literary Mama, Tilt-a-Whirl, Turtle Quarterly and Coe Review. She is the recipient of the Harold Witt Memorial Award 2010 and is a previous contributor to Soundzine.