Once a year, the woman swims across the Atlantic. The longing comes
over her like a seasonal affliction, like ragweed allergies or the
desire for Christmas lights. The woman does not live near the ocean and
she takes great pains to get there from her home in Sandusky, Ohio. She
calls in sick, arranges childcare, and catches a plane to LaGuardia.
"Rockaway Beach," she tells the cab driver, shedding her winter coat
and donning her rubber flippers.
A woman's toes are growing roots. At first, mortified, she clips them
daily, hobbles to work in tightly laced boots. But the more she tries
to hide them, the faster the roots grow, so that one morning as she is
standing at the kitchen sink, drinking coffee, the roots thrust
downward through the linoleum. Her arms grow woody, a branch grows out
of her throat, and she remains, rooted, now leafy in her kitchen. Her
husband walks in, chirps, "Oh, there you are. Up so early?"
A woman gives birth to a violin. She weeps in her stirrups and blue
gown, "It's just what I've always wanted." Her husband cuts the thick
wire cord, and she takes it to her breast. It is perfectly in key,
except for the D string, which seems a little too loose. She mentions it
to the nurse, who swaddles it snugly in a cotton blanket and carries it
to the nursery. Mother and child cry out simultaneously on A, exactly
one octave apart.
A woman burns herself for firewood. It is winter and her children are
cold -- what choice does she have? She'd sell herself on the street, but
she is too old. She starts off with hair and fingernails but obviously
the furnace wants more. She never did use her left hand much and her
children hardly notice the loss. But when her whole arm disappears, the
older ones grow curious. When she hobbles up from the basement with a
cheerful, rallying grin and her legs cut off at the knees, the children
start wondering who will cook their supper.
A woman longs to be alone. She tries sleep but finds the dreams
domineering and the down comforter suffocating. She takes walks, but the
trees hover too close and the clouds make her shoulders ache. She rides
the subway back and forth, crisscrossing the city all night long, but
only feels jet-lagged in the morning. "Stop looking at me," she'll
mouth these words to you if you catch her eye, "stop looking at me."
A woman decides to compost her son. She figures that given the right
conditions, even his eight-year-old body would biodegrade. Like egg
shells, tea bags, dryer lint. Like peach pits, wet newspaper, chicken
bones. His body still small and tender, she folds him between wild mint
stalks and watermelon rinds. In the fall, the ash tree drops its yellow
leaves, cushioning and cradling him. His curled body grows softer,
smoldering, yielding into good black dirt. The following spring, she
spreads the compost over the vegetable beds, and like the volunteer
canteloupe that overtook the potato patch one year, he rises up. He
emerges from the earth, reaching out to her with coily tendrilled arms
and leafy hands, and she cries out, "My son, my son, my son."