Emmy Hitler ate lamp shades in her third trimester.
Frances Edison had inexplicable cravings for tungsten (which was then still known as wolfram), and glass. Doctor Williams, who’d known Frances since she was knee-high to a corn stalk, told her to control herself. Couldn’t be good for her, or the baby. Pregnancy …, he said, every now and again you see it do something funny to a woman.
It wasn’t funny, though, when Reba Carter chased down three pounds of unshelled peanuts with a handful of Not Cool for Cal in ’24! buttons—not funny to her esophagus which was jabbed and pricked by the buttons’s needle backings, and not funny to her rectum that had to pass Coolidge and shards of undigested shells, only centimeters from her birth canal. Nor was it funny to Wade Carter when he received the phone call notifying him that his wife was in the emergency room, three-quarters-crazy, and that perhaps he should come home.
May Earhart sat in front of her Windmaster fan, mouth open, letting the air move into her like a long leg into a stocking. For hours she would sit in front of the propeller blades, which she propped up on a bookshelf by the window so she could watch the clouds flirt and exchange vapor. She daydreamed of ailerons and elevators, fuselages, rudders and leading-edge flaps, friction, airfoils, air flow, air pressure, columns of heated and cooled air, thrust, and lift. She walked herself to the hospital when it was time, arms spread out at her sides, palms cupped, collecting wind like sails.
Cinderella’s mother, her real mother, longed for glass. But unlike Frances Edison, who was content with thick or thin glass, clear glass or tinted, Sestina fancied stained glass. Her craving, (a passion she might have called it), the intense hunger which drove her to wander the streets at night looking for high windows at which to throw rocks, left her lacerated and empty. Chipped teeth, bloody gums, torn gut … Cinderella, she said at her navel (for she had known both that she was to have a daughter, and her unborn daughter’s name since she herself was only a child, Cinderella it’s killing me. I can’t do it. It’s not within the covenant of motherhood.
Vera Wilde extinguished matches on her blackened tongue, and blew wafts of smoke out of her mouth.
Sabina Curie saw through her husband, but spread her legs anyway. She craved a tighter belt.
The wife of C. W. Scheele, the man who discovered wolfram (now known as tungsten), drank mercury to get her husband’s attention. While she knew she was no 1.5 parts per million of the earth’s crust, relatively useless in the production of record needles, and hadn’t had a high boiling point since she was a teenager, she refused to be ignored. 1741 was a cold year—too cold for the quick silver in her stomach. So she died in childbirth.
Betty Astaire yearned for the tap-tap-tapping in her abdomen to stop.
Mary wanted to be left alone.
When her water broke, Jacques Cousteau’s mother was performing cunnilingus on her swim instructor (who was also heavy with child, but one month behind Mrs. Cousteau), in the showering room, after a long lesson. It was the smell of the sea she craved. The taste of the ocean. To be around, up, and in the body of a true swimmer. That clitoral pebble which washed up on the beach, after centuries of turning over and over, of being smoothed by evolution’s slow, deliberate surf—that was what she wanted between her lips. She thought about her instructor in that way as Mr. Cousteau reached the coital meridian that would, five months later, be the swell in her stomach. That was the first time. It scared her—a feeling so foreign she wanted to call it a symptom. It happened again when she first felt Jacques kicking, as if his translucent foot was a bass drum pedal. BOOM, BOOM … the sea … BOOM, BOOM … the ocean floor. She had an acute awareness of Jacques’s positioning in her belly. She tracked him, blindly, using genetic sonar. His deep heart beat ping resonated back to her, and her’s to him. What was that thing in her stomach that moved her, that possessed her to roll around in bloated sixty-nine? to tango that double fetal distend on the cold blue tile floor of the shower room?
Mary Coltrane also felt the bass pedal, but the captivating rhythm was enough to make her drink her own blue-tinted breast milk, and eat flowers from the neighborhood park. Her stomach became a garden of swing—blossoming pulse, throb, and cadence. High-hat pansies. Double-bass daisies. Rim-shot rose-pedaled diarrhea-inducing botany. Boom, tssszz … The areolas of her tom toms moved outwards, like concentric ripples emanating from a pebble hitting the water. Boom, ta tssszz … She was all the way mad. And lonely. The fairy with the straight blue pubic hair (Geppetto was nowhere near the slouch that legend would have us believe) ate formica.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s mother knew she was going to give birth to greatness. She didn’t have sex during her pregnancy, fearing a too-sharp jab of Mr. Wright’s pelvic t-square (which, let’s face it, was not so different from Pinocchio’s nose) might rip into the embryonic sac.
Methuselah’s mother couldn’t sleep at all the last two weeks, but still had waking nightmares of milk and honey.
Leda gnawed on her down pillows when the crests of her tidal contractions broke too far over her head.
The mother of Pope Pius II swallowed gold coins during the winter of 1427. She would quarter an apple and embed a coin in one of the slices, so she didn’t have to think about swallowing such a large circle of metal. It was a game of currency roulette, in which each spin of the Red Delicious wheel might mean another clink clink in her stride. She checked her bowel movements, but none of the coins were ever returned. He’s rich in there, she thought, like a king. And her belly was a finance house, investing placental vitals, and collecting tuberculosis and malaria as interest. She also died in childbirth.
Chelsea Braille ate her husband’s eyeglasses when she realized the condom broke.
Like Mrs. Cousteau, Caesar’s mother longed for the sea. She slept at night with shells tied around her ears, and imagined chesty mermaids serenading her from all sides. She massaged anchovies into her body, training closed the pedaled lips of her vagina, until the vulvan moss showed no breaks—no weaknesses in the bulwark. He would have come out in the tenth month, or even the ninth, if he had had an access of escape. I won’t do it, she said to herself. I won’t. The stomach was her husband’s idea.
Instead of crying, Brucha Chagall licked the blue bottles in which she collected rain water.
Erna Lamaze was compelled to strangle herself at night. Not to death, of course—until she could feel her hands shake, and the floor shake beneath her, and watch her stomach rise and fall in tiny ripples. When she came to, she would search her raw, swollen neck for any cuts, and promise herself that this was the absolute, unequivocal last time. Until the next night.
Hitler. Could it be that all Emmy craved was lamp shades? Not sweet pickles, or tapioca pudding, or even semi-sweet chocolate? Not blue glass, not jazz, not feathers, not air? It’s too eerie to believe.
But there was something more thing she craved.
She felt so much like a candle holder on a high shelf, never made full with a candle, never knowing the weep of soft, hot wax. Had he even seen her naked body since that night? Had he shown any interest when she told him of the hammering, how it felt like baby Adolf (for she had also known the sex and name of her son since she was a child) was trying to pound his way out? Had he ever put his ear to her stomach and said: Lady, I swear by all flowers that this child will do wonderful things?
She longed for the attention received by a painter’s wife the feel of lamplight on her face, the sound of a brush laying her down on canvas. And fingers. She craved fingerprints on her skin, epidermal tires skidding across the roadway of her torso. And light. And light. To be around it. To encapsulate it.
What about Jack the Ripper’s mother? Judas’s? Napoleon’s? Houdini’s? What did Charlemagne’s mother wake her husband for in the earliest hours? What was it that she needed?