Hostile Bodies by Ellen Rhudy

Hostile Bodies

Samantha is nine months pregnant. She can see her blue veins through her belly. Then she is ten months pregnant. A baby’s foot forever pushing against the wall of her stomach, darkened print visible on her freckled skin. Then she is ten and a half months pregnant, fist pressing against her bladder, malevolently forcing her to spend her days on the toilet waiting to pee. Then she is eleven months pregnant and in a different reality from the women who surround her when she goes to her doctor’s appointments, women who glow at six months. Monstrous beneath her maternity shirts, stretching apart at their seams, Samantha won’t look at them. “Just you wait and see what’s in store for you, you smug bitches,” she wants to say.

Having begun her maternity leave a week before her due date, Samantha has to return to the office before she gives birth. “Oh, but honey,” her coworkers say, staring at her belly, trailing off when they see her face. Her doctor inspects her and says, no, this is not a candidate for induction or C-section; this is just a baby that does not want to come out. “He is happy as a clam in there!” he says, patting Samantha’s belly with his greasy hand. “The little fellow has a good heartbeat” – pointing to the monitor – “and if we try to force him out, he will just hold on even harder. No telling what could happen.”

“Have you seen this before?” Samantha asks.

“Oh sure,” her doctor says, snapping off his gloves. “We hear about these cases in times of stress, great fear, there was a real slowdown in births during the Cold War. My father treated one woman who was pregnant for two years.”

“Two years?”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” he says. “He’s going to run out of room soon, and then he’ll have to come out. In the meantime, try to remove anything that’s causing you stress. Babies are like horses, they can sense your feelings.”

Samantha believes the baby will split her open before it comes out the natural way. It will come out of her like the alien in Alien. It will burst her in two and devour her. She goes home and browses Amazon for a book on meditation, a yoga mat. She buys a CD of soothing bell music. She finds a ten-hour video of a wind chime on a breezy day, and plays this whenever she’s home. The only source of stress in her life is the baby that will not come out, and she cannot think of any way to remove him.

She is pregnant for one year, and sees the horror on strangers’ faces when she trudges on the subway. They offer her their seats without resistance. She is pregnant fifteen months, and buys the largest size of maternity shirts she can find, unable to look at her own stomach as she pulls them over the growing expanse of her own body. If she looked, she would see the outline of the baby right through herself, like he was on the other side of a piece of tracing paper held to the light. She visits her obstetrician weekly, heat building behind her eyes each time he confirms that no, this baby hasn’t moved anywhere. He suggests giving him a name, making him feel connected to the outside world.

Samantha debates this as she rides the subway home. She hadn’t wanted to name the baby until he came out, until she could see his face and find his one true name, but her stomach is roiled in distress and her back is a clenched fist, and she can’t say she cares anymore. “John,” she says to her stomach, “your name is John, you are wanted, you have a home, you have a name.” But he does not budge, other than to press his two hands against the wall of her stomach, a sick feeling that she tries to cancel out by pressing her own hands down overtop his. She burns incense and practices deep breathing, in one nostril and out the other. She squats or kneels while she watches TV, hoping that gravity will do its work as she inches closer to eighteen months of pregnancy.

“Don’t worry,” her doctor says, “two years is definitely the limit.” But Samantha blows right past two years, so that more doctors come to her appointments to feel her stomach, photograph her for their articles. Squinting at the ultrasound, she asks the doctors when she will run out of space. “It could go on forever,” she hears two of them whispering in the hall. “Amazing.”

Her job lets her go because she takes too many bathroom breaks. “I cannot make my life less stressful,” she tells the doctors, “I cannot make this baby more welcome, you need to get him out.” His face pressed against her stomach, his suckling visible as a growing and diminishing shadow. She thinks again of Alien, of this baby bursting forth in an explosion of blood and guts. She thinks of twins absorbing their siblings, of a man she dated once who said his mole had a tooth in its center. She deletes the wind chime video, listens to Megadeth and Pantera, focuses all her strength on holding that baby right where he is as he realizes what’s happening and struggles to loosen himself from her womb. She imagines the doctors staring at her deflated stomach with its jagged white lightning stretchmarks, pressing their fingers into her as they stare at the formless static of the ultrasound monitor. “Amazing,” they will whisper to one another in the hallway. “Amazing.”

 

hostile bodies

 

Ellen Rhudy lives in Philadelphia, where she works as an instructional designer. Her fiction has recently appeared in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Nimrod, and SmokeLong Quarterly, and is forthcoming in cream city review and The Adroit Journal. You can find her at ellenrhudy.com, or on twitter @EllenRhudy.

 

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Image (modified): Alice Neel CC2.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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