I have never been able to see myself in the male narratives of existentialism. The question of my existence is a far more futile one than they write about. The human condition is for men. I reside in the female condition. The philosophical concerns are our bodies, our wrinkles. The men who will love us, hurt us, desire us. You see for women there are two deaths to consider. There is of course the physical decaying. There is just also the death of you. The you who is the object. The you who is gazed upon. The female existence centres around your attractibility. This death is not an end. Merely a change in the state, a move in the lifecycle.
Rhonda downed the convenience store espresso and tossed the can in the backseat as the dashboard clock blinked over to 6:03pm. It clanged and rattled when it joined the others piled on the floor. She popped open the glove box, snatched a handful of yellow Wendy’s napkins and wiped the windshield, which was now covered with a thick nicotine film. The haze might be considered dangerous to most people. To Rhonda, it was an inconvenience. A chore. Another thing she had to do to maintain and upkeep.
Cleaning. Showering. Keeping toenails trimmed. Being alive was a lot of work and it never let up.
Mother takes her Baby Girl to the park on the first warm day of the year. The bluebells have burst into bloom, turning familiar grass into a foreign seascape. Baby Girl wobbles with unpracticed feet on bulbous cerulean heads. She sways as if she floats atop the waves of a real ocean.
Mother loves to hold Baby Girl’s hand, keeping her steady, even if it means crouching till Mother’s young knees ache like an old woman’s. Baby Girl clenches her tiny fingers with determination: one step, then another, then another. Mother only wishes her daughter’s flesh did not stay so rigid and cold, despite the sun’s sweet caresses.
Holding herself together. Being enough. Keeping her womb comfy.
The last street before the IVF clinic. One foot and then the next. Walk steadily, with a light step. Careful. Avoid any cracks in the pavement which could cause a stumble.
Monica sees her dead son in mirrors. He’s always standing somewhere in the room behind her, staring, silent, sullen. Sometimes in the mirror her son is younger, just five or six, playing with his trucks or trains. But most of the time he is his 10-year-old self. He watches her brush her teeth, put on makeup, straighten her clothes. He glares, resentful.
It’s three a.m. and as her child lays beside her, she writes. She writes in a notepad that isn’t a notepad. It’s the very last page in a bible that she found in the nightstand. What she writes with is no pen but an eyeliner pencil on its last legs. When she runs the tip across the paper it hardly gets the words out. But desperate are those words scrawled in cursive. And it’s desperation that muffles her sobs.
My neighbor had a baby once. That much, I got. Just like I got the cup of coffee more or less how I wanted it. Last week, at a different café, I ordered iced coffee but was served black coffee with a sinking scoop of ice cream on top. The waitress smirked at my accent, too, which made me want to flip over her tray.
My neighbor describes the circumstances leading up to the moment she could no longer say she had a baby. It happened a while ago. I’m not sure about the rest because my class just finished Unit 8 and, judging from the syllable count, her words are sophisticated and come from Unit 20, possibly even Unit 35.
The booth in the back right corner at Emilio’s is mine. The hostess knows just to nod at me as I walk in – no, I won’t be eating. The bright colored fairy lights that trim the bar really do it for me. It reminds me of how I used to do the living room for Christmas with the boys, except Emilio’s keeps them up all year. Dominic works Mondays and Wednesdays, Brady works Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Lacy gets the weekend shifts. They all know my order, although Brady does it the best. Dominic keeps giving me lemons instead of limes, no matter how many times I remind him. He’s like my oldest, Jackson – kindhearted, but things don’t really stick with him. Sometimes I swear, I’ll need to tell Jackson to put his laundry away thirteen, fourteen times before he does it. He gets that from his father. His mind is just somewhere else.
“Tell me about my other lives, Mama.”
“That’s not a good idea, Elm.”
“I’m not a child.” I stomped away from Mother and pressed my nose against the station window. I saw my eyes, brown, angry, reflected above fog and black rocks. If I looked at the horizon I could pretend not to see the other reflections, the vast white curve of Mother’s body behind me, the other girls tumbling around me. I could pretend to be alone on this empty wet and dreary world.