Here’s a short story based on the flash fiction challenge set on Terribleminds last week. The sentence I chose, “The first breath shattered her world, the second shattered her heart (Fred Yost)”, got me thinking about birth and death, and then, rather oddly, something else. Enjoy.
The Birds and the Bees
The first breath shattered her world, the second shattered her heart.
The third breath shattered her instinct, turning as it did into the mewing groan of a lamb about to be slaughtered.
The thing—she wouldn’t, couldn’t attach any other name—vomited down its pink torso and onto the arms of her mother, its grandmother, she supposed, giving the ward a moment’s peace. Her mother stood, grasping the thing, unable to relinquish it to the horrified nurses who were slowly edging away, getting away. The doctor had already fled.
“Mother,” she croaked. “Get. Rid. Of it.” Her words broke the reverie and the thing was passed to the nearest nurse, who covered it in a fresh blanket, hiding it from the roofless hospital, rain slipping through the overhanging trees. Her mother looked like she was about to take off. Instead, she wiped the vomit from her arms, but only succeeded in rubbing it in.
The groaning, muffled now, continued as before until nurse and thing passed into a room or got far enough away. Either was a relief. Her mother looked at her, wiping more furiously. “What,” she said, statement not question, succeeding in sucking out the suspense of the birth, replacing it with sorrow.
She rolled over and went to sleep, hearing only breath, groan, breath, groan.
She didn’t so much wake up as fall awake, her mother hanging in the corner, sobbing. The first thing she did was check the room. It wasn’t there.
“Mum,” she said softly, the old voice she used when her mother was upset kicking in. That voice was for when she was scared because she didn’t know why her mother, the strongest and fiercest of them all, was crying.
“It’s not…coming back, is it?” Her mother looked up at her, breaking whatever cycle caused her to breathe and sob, breathe and groan, she shook herself hard.
“Stop that, what are you doing?” That did the trick, for both of them.
“Answer me. Is it coming?” she asked again, eyeing the door.
“It-” Sob. “Don’t call it, her, that. She’s,” her mother trailed off, threatening to lose her place. “Why did she look like that?”
She couldn’t answer. She didn’t have one.
They brought the thing back to her a while later, in her own recovery room. She thought of it more as isolation, away from the others and their cries.
The doctor, not her one, a different one, unwrapped the bundle at her bedside, her mother huddled on the other. She hid behind herself, shrinking with every breath.
“She’s perfectly healthy,” the doctor was explaining, as a chubby hand strayed from the meat and investigated the outer reaches of its cocoon.
“How is that healthy?” she demanded, pointing at the five fingers and a thumb. The doctor looked down and shuddered.
“You have to get it out of here. We can’t. It has to go,” the doctor pleaded, her mouth growing wider with every word.
“Where will we take her?” her mother whispered.
“Anywhere but here,” the doctor said, abandoning the bundle on the bed. Its groans returned as the doctor exited, slamming the door behind her.
“What are we going to do?” she asked her mother. The bundle, still wrapped, had commandeered the bed. They stood by the door, hoping against hope that someone would hear them and come to help.
“It’s just a baby. We can’t…hurt it.” Her mother’s voice was still small. Her reduction seemed permanent, carved in half the moment her granddaughter hatched.
“That’s not what it is or what I was promised. It’s nothing to me,” her words brought the groaning back, some semblance of sentience noting the emptiness in her voice, the void where there should be love.
They walked through the hospital, a trolley squeaking in front where the thing laid. Her mother and her held a handle each, both reluctant to go too near.
The others moved out of their way on the journey out, pulling bed sheets over heads or cowering behind rows of perches. Places of congregation were closed, high noon in the hospital. They left through automatic doors that they didn’t have to touch and didn’t look back.
Outside, rain poured down, soaking grandmother, mother and daughter. The walking exit was at the far end, under the protection of a tree that had yet to lose all its leaves to autumn.
“It’s not coming with us,” she said, the raindrops smashing down, making it difficult to see.
Her grandmother looked around. “Over there,” she pointed at a small play area of climbing frames and pits.
They walked to the play area, finding it empty in the pouring rain. The mud of the pit was thick and wet, the climbing frames slick.
“Put it in the pit,” her mother said, making no move to do so herself.
She picked up the soaking bundle, hearing shivering when she put her ear to it. Leaving the wheelchair, she walked over to the sandpit. She bent down and placed the bundle in the pit, making sure to keep it covered.
“The rain will deal with it soon enough,” her mother said, backing away quickly.
“How can you be sure?” she asked, beginning to dig, clawing away clumps of mud. The bundle groaned, breathed, groaned, breathed.
They left shortly afterwards, flexing their wings and taking flight, the bundle containing a pink, hairless baby buried beneath the mud, a dull gurgle escaping.