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Spilling

By Kristina Moriconi

 

Last week, my mother reminded me again that I almost killed her during childbirth.

I was a footling breech baby. In the Sixties, c-sections weren’t common among rarely sued OB/GYNs. So, out I came feet first. And, as one could imagine, there was plenty along this slippery corridor for my feet to defile anatomically.

As the story goes, for three days my mother didn’t even know I was born. They were pumping morphine into her. When I was three days old, my father finally named me after a nurse on the labor and delivery floor. He’d probably flirted with her while my mother spent her days recovering in a narcotic haze.

Then, just yesterday, my mother called to tell me that she should have been a nun. She said those exact words to me. And then she continued to ramble on about herself.

So, as she talked, I decided that if she could say that to me, if she could wish her life had been different, then it was perfectly acceptable for me to conjure up a birth mother that would have better suited me. She’d be a vegetarian, of course, in perfect health. She would not be pushing around an oxygen tank because my ideal birth mother would never have smoked two packs a day. She’d lead a richly rewarding life as a talented and world-renowned potter who listened to Joni Mitchell and occasionally still got stoned. And on my birthday she’d send me handmade cards with heartfelt sentiments about how the day I was born was the best day of her life and how having a daughter like me had inspired her to create such beautifully sculpted works of art.

When I finally found a way to end my mother’s soliloquy and hang up the phone, I continued thinking about this woman I’d invented. I actually felt as though I knew her. She existed so lifelike in my imagination that it seemed as if I knew her better than my biological mother of 41 years. In one way, I was comforted by the existence of this imaginary woman; in another way, I was disturbed. There was still a part of me that clung to the hope of connecting with my mother. We were linked biologically; we shared cells. I felt desperate sometimes to make it more than just that, to work on building the kind of relationship other daughters had with their mothers—lunches, pedicures, late night talks about marriage and motherhood.

I decided to take a walk, feeling an almost urgent need to distract myself from the ache I had in the pit of my stomach. On the front porch I paused, noticing the begonias in the hanging baskets had wilted. I filled the watering can, lifted and tilted it into the first plant. A startling shrill came from the purple stems. As water flooded the basket, spilling over the edge, a small bird crashed to the rocks below.

I felt as if I wanted to scream, but the sound became something sharp, like a small bone lodged in my throat. Leaping from the porch, I crouched down and cradled the twitching bird in my palms, bringing it closer to me. The wings folded and unfolded, unreliable, useless, like a broken umbrella. With the bird in one palm, I reached up and eased the basket down from the hook, gently spreading the pink flowers to reveal a hollowed-out mound of twigs and grass. I returned the baby to the safety of its home inside the wilted begonia.

The bird’s mother perched nearby on a bloomless azalea. She screeched and hopped frantically from one branch to another. I began to worry suddenly that the mother might abandon the helpless creature, that my interference, my contamination, might have compromised her desire to continue caring for her own flesh and blood. I remembered reading somewhere that this was often what happened with birds.

I left the porch, walked to the end of the flagstone path, and stood on the sidewalk facing the house. I waited there for the mother bird to return to the nest to check on her baby. Rain began to fall, lightly at first, then heavier. Raindrops spotted my glasses and rushed down my forehead and cheeks like tiny rivers.

I am not sure how long I stood there. My clothes became heavy, weighted by the water they’d absorbed. The mother bird never returned to the nest.

The phone rang inside the house. I hurried in to answer it. This time my mother was calling to tell me how the rainy weather was making her arthritis act up. I looked down at the water pooling around me on the hardwood floor. As she continued to recite her litany of medical problems, I could hear the hissing and clicking of the oxygen concentrator in the background. Despite the tangled web of disappointments, I tried to sympathize with her.

I hung up the phone and quietly opened the front door, tiptoeing out onto the porch. I felt hopeful that the mother bird had returned in my absence.  When I did not see her, I carefully parted the begonia stems and found the tiny bird, one wing tucked beneath its still body, the other spread out, reaching, hopeful in its final gesture.

I scooped the baby into my hand and folded the extended wing inward. Walking back out into the rain, I wept, tucking the bird in close to my body. My tears mixed with raindrops as I bent down into the garden and shoved one hand into the wet earth, ladling the dirt with my fingers until I created a tiny grave. As I lowered the bird into the ground, my sobs became uncontrollable. I pushed the moist soil back into the hole, and the bird disappeared. Once I finished, I watched as several worms struggled to untangle the twisted pink segments of their bodies from the patch of earth I had just disturbed.

I stood there alone beside the garden, soaked and beginning to shiver. I stared at the mud caked on my hands, thick in the spaces between my fingers. My feet sunk into the ground beneath me. All I had left was guilt; it was bundled with the cells that determined me. And I knew at that moment I would carry this guilt with me for the rest of my life, letting it spill over onto any surface where something that looked like love would let me take hold of it for a while.

 

Kristina Moriconi, who would almost always rather be in New York City, divides her time between there and suburban Philadelphia. Her fiction and nonfiction work have appeared in flashquake, Big Ugly Review, Lost Magazine, The Shine Journal, apt and Flash Me Magazine. She has been accepted into the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA Program in Tacoma, Washington.

Photo Blue Tits courtesy of Ali Taylor, London.

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