Something happened to you after you had the baby.
You didn’t notice at first — you were too caught up in the panic of “is this a fever?” and “is he pooping enough?” and “why won’t he latch?” You were lost in eyes so dark you could hardly see the pupils, in a tiny wrinkled face simultaneously so still and expressive.
Jason saw it before you did:
In the depths of a particularly hard night, he found you in a puddle. You’ll never forget the look on his face when he said, “What is wrong with you?”
That’s the moment your heart made its first small twist away from him.
And you hated it and you couldn’t explain what was wrong, because you’d only just begun to see it yourself.
Weekdays, when Jason’s working, you rock the babe against your chest and beg him to sleep. Please, please sleep. But he’s all angry, red, wrinkled face. He won’t stop and the sound rings in your head and you can’t bear another moment and —
—And your arm freezes solid.
Through and through.
You nearly drop the baby, but catch him at the last second. His screams intensify and you watch — amazed and horrified and slightly detached — as the freezing spreads down to your free hand, rendering the entire limb a terrible, crystalline anchor.
The first night out after the baby’s birth is desperately needed — and yet you dread it. The baby will be fine fine fine your mother says, pushing you gently toward the door. Jason waits, eager and vaguely annoyed.
Your arm reverted last time. And again the time after that.
Still, you’re holding your breath when Jason closes the car door for you. Panic and anxiety and I can’t do this, no no no and you feel your toes begin to drip inside your pretty black boots. Jason doesn’t notice. He’s crowing about the free evening, about your dinner and movie plans, and you can hardly hear him (this is increasingly common and increasingly disturbing).
He starts the engine and he pulls off, and there’s a scream behind your lips but it can’t pry itself free from your clenched jaw.
By the time you reach the interstate, your feet have pooled, like warm, liquid insoles.
There’s a delicate balance to it, to avoiding freezing or melting. You try not to feel any one thing too violently.
Sometimes it’s a foot, and sometimes it’s an arm, and once it was your throat and you felt like you were suffocating — but you’re getting used to that feeling.
When Jason finds you rocking yourself back and forth on the floor while the baby screams in his crib, he makes you go to the doctor. They send you home with a barrage of concerned looks, stern warnings to learn to ask for help, and a prescription to keep you from coming back.
The pills drop you into a vacuum — silent, numb. They keep you from freezing, from melting. They make your body act like a normal body, while your mind drifts unmoored and uncaring. The baby smiles at you and you don’t smile back.
Later, you cry when you remember it — and your fingers begin to drip on your pillowcase.
You creep out of bed and toss the pills in the trash and dare to lift the sleeping child from his crib. Cradling him to you, you whisper I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.
Jason is furious. You try to tell him maybe a different treatment — but he won’t stop to listen. He refills your prescription and tries to shove the pills into your hand. Your fingers crumble; the drugs rattle and dance as they strike the floor.
The baby looks up. Watches.
Your leg is cold and solid. Tiny frost branches stretch up your thigh. You marvel at the design, tuning out Jason’s shouts. You don’t have the energy to make yourself heard, to distill feeling into words. Eventually, he gives up and leaves.
There’s a pain, somewhere low and dull. Something melting inside, crying for what you’re losing with him.
Then you look at the baby, still watching you.
And he smiles.
And you smile back — so much crushing joy.
It’s all messy and painful as you imagine a future without Jason. But the moment you accept the idea — accept that Jason may not be yours forever, accept your own messy responses, accept the tremendous struggle and the tremendous joy the baby beams at you — is the moment you sublime.
Solid matter disperses, subliming, spreading out indefinitely.
Your body dissipates into a gas and the baby laughs.
Unspeakable joy — it takes every bit of strength you have to condense into solid matter again. When you do, your child giggles, wraps his little fingers around your thumb, and makes the sound that’s supposed to mean “again, again.”
Alexis A. Hunter revels in the endless possibilities of speculative fiction. Short stories are her true passion, despite a few curious forays into the world of novels. Over forty of her short stories have been published, appearing recently in Cricket Magazine, Spark: A Creative Anthology, Read Short Fiction, and more. To learn more about Alexis visit www.idreamagain.wordpress.com.
published June 2018, Shimmer #43 (800 words)