BY ELIZABETH LEMIEUX
Interlochen Arts Academy, ’17
2016 Adroit Prize for Prose: Editors’ List
Miriam spreads her legs and out falls a body. It’s two months early and there’s more blood than baby on the bathroom floor, but she cradles him anyway (now she knows for sure that it’s a him, not just a gnawing) in her skinny, brown arms. She’s kneeling, as if in front of God, but he’s taken away her baby and she has no more blessings since Baby Boy has no more breath.
Eema is downstairs watching TV. It’s Friday, soon the electricity is going to be replaced by shabbat candles. Better get her program in before she has to say her prayers, she thinks. There’s a crack in the ceiling from Miriam running the tub too long and a drip, drip from something slick. Eema looks up to the sky and asks God if he’ll re-tile the floor.
Where’s my girl? Miriam’s boyfriend asks while he’s taking a ride through the dust of the hillsides, back to the commune, smoking a cigarette. His boys roll down the top and shout His girl left him! into the openness. A fat, old Bedouin woman in a long, black thobe shakes her head so hard her breasts bounce up and down. Remind you of anyone? asks one of the boys. Another one says, Miriam’s not looking so hot.
Baby Boy’s dull, purple skin is not rising. His lungs are empty. When Miriam lifts his drooping lid with her pinky, she sees his milky brown pupil. You look like your Aba, she tells him. If you were alive, you would know that.
See you around! Miriam’s boyfriend says as the convertible drives away from the Kibbutz. He feeds the goats, walks through the date palms, and dials the phone. Miram? he says into the static. She hasn’t picked up in a long time but he keeps calling. Now, they only see each other at temple and he cannot see her beauty since she wears baggy sweaters over long skirts. Did you find God? he asks. Is that was this is?
The phone is ringing. If God let you grow up, Aba would teach you to raise goats, she says. Baby Boy should be crying by now but instead his head falls into the crook of her elbow at an odd angle. More blood begins to seep onto the floor.
Hush, thinks Baby Boy. Dark, he whines, Cold, he cries. Breathe, he tries, but there was never breath before.
Aba comes home. Eema takes the soup from the stove and turns off the burner. Will you get the lights? Aba flicks the switch. Where’s Miriam? he asks. Eema ladles them bowls of soup. Miriam’s not feeling well, she says, we’ll have to light candles ourselves tonight.
Miriam wants chicken soup to fill up where Baby Boy used to be. There is blood oozing from the umbilical cord. What am I going to do with you?
Bowie Kalah, sings Eema. She opens the front door and in comes Shabbat Bride, soft white veil against soft white skin. Eema wants her daughter in white one day, but Miriam doesn’t know if the blood with wash away. Shabbat Bride’s train streaks mud across the limestone floor. Nothing is really white anymore.
Well, Eema says, I’m off to bed. Aba nods. Lailah Tov. They crawl beneath the sheets and kiss each other. It’s a mitzvah to make love on a Friday.
The moon is a mouth in an ‘O’ of ecstasy. Miriam remembers when she was the moon and she smiles. Baby Boy, she says to the bundle of bones in her arms, this must be a blessing. Down the steps, she tiptoes until her feet turn blue, past Shabbat Bride sitting on the stoop. Baby Boy’s in a cooler swinging at her side, like she’s picnicking on his lifeless hands and feet.
Hush, Baby Boy says again. Dark, Cold, Breathe, Hush.
Out the orchard, past the goats onto the road where there’s no more electric fences. Miriam’s toes, sticky with fallen dates, collect dust like leather shoes. Nighttime sounds like humming, a million mothers singing Bowie Kalah and they’re daughters singing lullabies to their dead babies on dirt roads. When she falls on the unpaved path red patches like pomegranates appear on her skinned knees, staining her cotton nightgown.
Who’s that shadow? asks a little girl, watching Miriam out her bedroom window. Her mother rolls over and smoothes her dark hair. It doesn’t matter, she says. All the shadows go away in the morning.
Down at the swollen riverside, in the thrushes and silt, Miriam kneels. Her blood rushes off with the fish and foam. Nothing is really white anymore. Her baby lays on a bed of rocks. This will make it go down easy, she says. She strokes the strings of hair stuck to Baby Boy’s scalp until the top of his head is warm from her palm. She closes the cooler, sets it in the current, and waits for Baby Boy to sink.
Cold, Baby Boy thinks. Hush.
The road, the goats, the orchard, her bed. Between the sheets she cradles her bloated belly even though she wants to cradle Baby Boy.
Where’s my girl? Eema asks. She opens the curtains so she can see Miriam’s shame in proper lighting.
Where’s my girl? Aba asks. He sits on the edge of her bed. The cows miss you, he tells her. The orchards miss you.
Where’s my girl? Miriam’s boyfriend asks. He tries to kiss her and she turns away. Sometimes he goes driving and yells out to the Bedouin women, Miriam, you pig!
On Fridays, she sets the table for Shabbat and sits on the stoop with Shabbat Bride. They pass a cigarette back and forth, a bride without a child, a mother without a ring, caught up in each other’s smoke. Eema and Aba bless all their other children, palms warm against scalps. Where’s our girl? Miriam doesn’t know where their girl has gone, but Baby Boy is in the Jordan, choking on her shame.