The Woman Who Wanted a Child

For a short time I walked the earth as a woman, breathed in the scent of gardenias and gasoline, made love to a man. We lived in a small house with a narrow staircase leading upwards into nothing; the second floor was never built. I fed him fresh garlic and parsley from our garden, the smell rising to the top of the staircase where we made love, knees and ribcages bumping against the ceiling. But my throat grew dry, my feet stuck in the dust. At night, while he slept, I walked down to the marsh where the birds gathered to dive for fish, the water wetting my waterless lips, the gentle rocking soothing the aches in my feet, my arms. Please, I said to the white tern bringing her six little hatchlings bits of fish guts, you a mother who has so many children, help me a mother who has none.

The next morning, I woke up vomiting feathers. In a few months, my belly was round and full as a blowfish and I felt the flutter against my ribcage. I walked down to the banks of the marsh, spread my legs, and out she came, a pure royal tern, her white feathers beaded with blood. She was hungry and I had nothing to give her; she would not take my milk. I waded out to find the mother bird on the other side of the marsh. I cannot help you, she said, I have my own children to feed. So I turned into a fish. My daughter dove, grasped me in her beak, and swallowed me whole. Now, I live within her light body. We spend our days upon the high winds, bumping only against the sky. Now, I feed her.


Originally published in New Madrid


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