CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
He drove carelessly and the sun passing through the window looked to melt his hair to his head. His eyes were shining. His hands were chalky and raw.
One hand, he kept on the steering wheel and the other let slump between them. A blackened thumbnail, a knuckle bloodied. He made his living with his hands. Like Jesus, she thinks.
But this man is younger than Jesus. His shirt is on the seat between them. On his chest is a lump a parasite makes eating its way toward air. He circles the lump with his fingertip, as if stirring. As if making a doll-sized stew.
The sea was heaving, a mirror that showed back nothing. The town was falling behind them. She can’t see it—how one sack is going to do. She should have given him two, she thinks. She gave him money. He gave it back to her. He took a shirt from her from her country—two—the ram’s head of a sporting team, a soaring modern god.
Her shirt was—but that was his shirt. Hers stuck to her from the heat of the day and the engine heat pushed through the dashboard. Her shirt was becoming transparent, she thinks. And thinks: What a funny way to say it: Make a living with your hands. Make a life.
In the back is a sack of concrete, a tongue of fine grey dust. He has a daughter—there is that. And his god—there is that. And the work of his hands she gives him.
The road was ragged. It was under way. So much in this country was under way. His boy—she supposed you could say that: in the oven: under way. Nearly ready. Some months. Why the oven, she thinks, and not the sack? Baby in the sack. In the stew.
The sea ate at the roots of the palm trees until at last the tide, when the moon was right, dragged them away. They fell softly and without noise, the wood soft and shallow roots drawn out of the loosening sand. Beyond: islands. Soggy unbroken swells.
She brought shoes from her country to give to him, tiny as a doll’s. Now she would keep them. That part of her life was over—years of nights of waking to find her children in their beds. They are the sons and daughters, she thinks. And Jesus died and was buried, she thinks, and on the third day—was it the third day? And she began to write the story in her head:
He needed money and I had money. He needed concrete to make a coffin with and he didn’t have money to buy it. Just a sack was enough to make a coffin with. He didn’t have the little money to spend on a sack so I gave him the money to buy it. He just needed enough for his baby. They didn’t have money for a hospital and when they got there, the baby was dying. The baby was being born and dying across the river all at once. I had money so I gave him money. I gave him a ride to where he lived with his wife. I had a truck I could borrow from Tulio that didn’t have doors and the windows were cracked and he had taped them back with packing tape and that was what we drove. He put the concrete in back in the rusting bed. He had a girl and a dying baby and we drove along the sea in the sunlight until.And she remembered the baby when her boy was born that went on tossing inside her. She had a real living baby on the outside and another baby knocking on the inside, saying: I am still here. And she thought of the baby as it was being born and dying all at once and of what it might be doing, why—what it groped at, what it pushed off from and clawed at—to get out, to stay in. Of what it might know, what it knew of what was happening to it in the minutes it had to live.
And she thought if the coffin were hers to make, who made little with her hands, that she would begin with a coconut, a heavy, sturdy, hollowed-out seed to pack the mud around. To keep the dogs off. A seed inside a seed inside the concrete. You might want it to float but it wouldn’t but a seed at least gives a body room. It will rattle in its pod like a pea, she thinks—
and wishes she had never thought it.
But if he packed the mud right against the baby wouldn’t the concrete burn the baby or pull it apart as it dried? That seemed likely. Nobody wanted to think about that but he was going to have to think about that who made his living with his hands. The blackened thumbnail, the knuckle bloodied.
He drove on. She could not think quite what she had seen in him, what she was seeing now. The lump in his chest. His Halloween teeth—like the teeth of the dead she finds walking. Teeth and bones and burying beads. Still—something. Some old durable hunger.
She had given him a chupeta, of all things, a lollipop, a knob of candy on a paper stick. Now he tossed the stick out the window. He reached around to smear a clear patch in the dust to see through the glass to drive.
A butterfly snagged against the windshield and the wind the truck made moving plucked iridescent dust from its wings. There were thousands of butterflies like it flying above the sea, dipping to leave their eggs on the water. They arrived for days, a living cloud, and she remembered the summer her daughter was born that crickets made their way into the house—by the dozens—by the hundreds—a great abundance. And sang all night with their knees.
His skin was seeping where the bicho pushed against it and polished from being stretched too far. And she wondered in a dream of his baby he might have if the baby like a god would burst through his skin and once and again, as the bicho did, keep blooming in his blood?
That seemed likely.
He needed money and I had money, she thinks.
She thinks: I had it all along.
She had the baby all along and it moved in her and it would bloom as when the rains came and burst out through her head. That seemed likely.
Life longing for itself. And the baby would be the size of a beetle, how it felt. And on one face would be her father’s face and on the other the face of her mother. And wings like a bee. And little snelled feet. And a great booming voice like a god’s.
Noy Holland is the author of Swim for the Little One First (forthcoming from FC2), What Begins with Bird, and The Spectacle of the Body. She teaches writing and literature in the graduate program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.