Lola in Arms by Anna Potter

Lola in Arms

for Carlo

You were our Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos, wearing balaclavas to the lab and plinking on the ukulele to cheer us when the codes became too onerous. After our first kiss, the world felt terrifyingly generous. I waited patiently, expectantly to discover the limits of your kindness, but that day never came. It soon became clear that I had a choice: retain my bitterness or succumb to my faith in you. Your indefatigable tenderness won. I miss you.

 

A fetus’s growth mimics evolution. A month after conception, a row of slits appear where the neck would be. In fish, these slits turn to gills; in humans, they become incorporated into the musculature of our neck.

My biggest concern is whether I’ll be able to love the thing. It’s hard to imagine something that once had gills suckling at my breast. If you were still here, you would bring me to the zoo to watch the capuchin babies clinging to their mother’s chests. Don’t worry, you’d say. We’re hardwired for love. You won’t have a choice.

I used to think of creation as a series of conscious acts, feats of reason or wit that require deep concentration and a powerful will, but I am coming to realize, for better or worse, that my purpose is simple: I am a vessel, a shell, a hull to keep our seedling safe while it grows.

Or maybe I’m a machine.

The car’s engine runs, but nothing else does, so I walk to town and back at the pace of a sloth.

The midwife had me test my own pee today, part of the DIY aesthetic you’d so appreciate. She has soft hands and a soft voice, but she believes in Jesus Christ and the holy spirit. I am trying not to hold it against her.

 

Even when I sleep, I can feel the weight of my belly, the pull on my back.

The kiss surface, I’ve learned, is closely related to the ding-dong surface: both resemble a sit-and-spin. The so-called citrus or lemon surface is the shape of a lemon without the studs at the end. My heart feels like a ding-dong on a monkey saddle-laden with lemons, so I take a break from studying and go online to purchase my birth kit: two boxes of sterile gloves; lube jelly, 3 grams; cord ring; peri bottle; sutures; sitzbath; swaddling blanket; unbleached cotton infant hat; box of maxi pads.

I’m amazed I’ve made it this far.

 

It’s been fifteen weeks since they shipped you back to Ohio and buried your body in a steel casket with velvet interior. If I’d married you like you’d asked, your body would have been mine to do right by, which is god knows what. Preserved and displayed in a glass box like Lenin? Burned on a pyre in the Ganges? You were twenty-six. I never thought to ask your preference, but I know you would have had one. For as long as I’ve known you, you’ve been stubborn as hell and maddeningly definitive. Your parents claim otherwise. The most easy-going person I’ve ever known, your mother says like a mantra. I see no point in arguing with her. Her only son is dead.

 

The midwife writes down my intake for each day: a cup of coffee with cream, fruit, etc. She palpates my belly and listens to the baby’s heartbeat with her stethoscope. While I’m in the bathroom, peeing in a Dixie cup, she wears ballet slippers in the house and sings to herself. My hips and ribs are expanding to accommodate the growing fetus in my womb. I sleep for two-hour bursts. Intense blackout naps. I can’t remember my own name when I awake.

 

My breasts are sore; my joints so loose, I can do full splits. I vomit every day at 3:30 p.m. I am drinking nettle tea and having lamb’s quarters with garlic for lunch. I wonder what you’d think of me with my pendulous breasts and dense hair. My hand hurts from masturbating too much. It’s the only way I can get myself to sleep.

A lady at the grocery store yesterday asked me if I was okay. I was standing in front of the beans trying to remember our last night together. There is part of me that thinks you faked your death for my own safety. I have fabricated a secret life for you involving revolution and spies. I imagine you hiding out in the desert among the coyotes.

I wish I could go to Mexico with you.

I wish you could steady me while I give birth to our son.

 

In my dream last night, I was lost and on the phone with you, trying to figure out how to get home. I’d lost my shoes and my purse. In the distance, I saw a herd of shimmering unicorns with rainbow manes and opalescent horns. They had gossamer wings on their backs.

I said to you, “I think I must be hallucinating because I see unicorns.”

You replied, “Stay where you are. I’ll come find you.” I believed you although there was no reason to think you’d know where I was any more than I did.

The unicorns were shimmering, enormous creatures. I felt desperate to touch one, to feel its hot breath against my face, but as I got closer, the mirage faded. I felt heartbroken but resigned. Of course they weren’t real. I found a rock underneath a tree by the side of the road. It was then that I noticed a small herd of silver-gray draft horses, their grazing muzzles half-covered in the steam rising up from the earth. One of the horses looked up and began walking toward me. When it got within arm’s reach, I saw that it had a rough granite-like horn in the middle of its forehead. Of course, I thought to myself in the dream, this is what a real unicorn looks like.

 

Lola in Arms

 

Anna Potter’s writing has appeared in Spilled Milk, phoebe, Contrary Magazine, jubilat, and elsewhere. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and former James Merrill House fellow. She can be found online at: annapotter.org

 

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Image: MJ Breiva CC0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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