It’s Time to Push by Lori Sambol Brody
As we conclude the fiction portion of CRAFT’s all-flash November, we are pleased to feature Lori Sambol Brody’s “It’s Time to Push,” a surrealistic flash from her “monstrous babies” series. Inspired by the life of Mary Toft, a seventeenth century woman who claimed to birth seventeen rabbits, the piece opens in medias res with the protagonist, Nora, in the throes of labor. The urgency depicted within this moment not only demands the reader’s attention, but also serves to create the necessary disorientation where anything, even a human birthing rabbits, is permissible. It’s as William Boast says in his craft essay, “The Heimlich and Unheimlich in Short-Short Fiction”: “It [the uncanny or unheimlich] dislocates the reader, forces him out of the realm of the familiar, and replaces the ability to predict with uncertainty.” Brody handles this balance (or imbalance) with deft skill by challenging variations on the familiar rabbit trope throughout the narrative at a pace that matches Nora’s own rapid breathlessness. The culmination engages the reader to reach beyond boundaries toward a greater understanding of what it means to bring another life into this world, fractured pieces and all. Please don’t miss Brody’s author’s note to read more about the inspiration behind “It’s Time to Push,” including more about the fascinating Mary Toft. —CRAFT
It’s Time to Push
and the next contraction bears down on her. Nora tries to breathe like she was taught during birthing classes, but the pain separates her into jagged pieces. She’s only her tight swollen stomach. The nurse in the Lion King scrubs says, Maybe we’ll get out of here by midnight; the last mama had only a two-hour labor. What a pretty little piglet she birthed. And then the relief as the invisible vice around her abdomen loosens in the lull between contractions. Her husband wipes her forehead with a washcloth and asks, Shall I turn the music on? Nothing could be worse than her playlist; she picked calming songs but this is not the time to be calm. Nora doesn’t answer, just turns her face away. She cannot tell him: at a not-drunk-enough work dinner, her coworker spooned paella into her mouth, al dente rice and unidentified gamey meat. She opened her mouth to him, grease glistening on her lips. He grinned. You like rabbit, do you? She’d never had it before. She sucked the meat off the bone (a leg, she thought), and held it out to him. Hold my hand, she said. That night she came home and unbuttoned her husband’s jeans. Rabbit was Velveteen, was White, was the rabbit died. Another contraction tightens and the nurse says, She’s x centimeters dilated as if that means anything to Nora, although this is child number 2. Child number 1 is tucked into her grandmother’s bed, tufts of hair curling from the pink of her ears; when she awakes, she’ll have a sibling. All those sleepless nights with child number 1, all that shit and vomit and tears, both hers and the baby’s, sitting on the couch at 2 a.m. watching Stranger Things. In the car, driving to daycare or to the grocery store, child number 1 asks: Can there be another asteroid like the one that killed the dinosaurs can I think with a hat on why is snow why do the rabbits in the yard run from me why why why. Nora answers, Yes; yes; when the rain freezes; they are scared. A zombie mom, arms falling off. Now her husband asks, What should I do, his tone the same as when he can’t find a piece of his latest puzzle, an image of Albrecht Dürer’s Young Hare, and she’s so hungry but can’t have anything but ice. She doesn’t ask him to slip chips into her mouth. Once, during a grad school research trip, Nora sat in a canoe with a man she coveted and watched a blue-veined iceberg calve into an ice-blue bay. The wave took them by surprise: for a week, she bore a purple and green bruise in the shape of a rabbit’s head, earned when he pulled her out of the bay and wrapped her in his down coat. She still hasn’t stopped shivering. It’s almost time, the nurse says. Nora can’t feel her feet. Her ob-gyn has perfect eyeliner above her mask. You’re doing great, the ob-gyn says. But she isn’t. Now is the time to push. Now is the time to fall back, to scream, to feel the pain like a wave pulling deep, to tell her daughter good night, to say, Yes yes yes dear, to suck on rabbit bones. Is it true that rabbits eat their babies or absorb the fetuses when threatened? She read that in Watership Down as a teen. The nurse says, I see the head! Pain consumes her. Just one more, the ob-gyn says, and a baby keens. The nurse presents Nora with a rabbit’s head slick with blood swaddled in a blanket, ears upright, and the ob-gyn says, Another push, and the torso of a rabbit joins the head on the pink and blue blanket, and then, another push, muscular hind legs, and, another push, two front legs and a tail, and her husband says, You did it, you hero. The nurse pulls out a sewing kit. I’ll get the baby ready for you. The nurse wipes the blood off the white fur, sews the parts together, gleaming needle pulling surgical thread. The stitching is tight; there will be no scars. The nurse then swaddles the rabbit in soft foamy pink, lays it in Nora’s arms. When Nora nuzzles its cheeks, the baby bares sharp teeth. She unwraps the blanket, sucks its paw into her mouth. The fur sticks in her throat.
LORI SAMBOL BRODY lives in the mountains of Southern California. Her short fiction has been published in Smokelong Quarterly, Tin House Flash Fridays, New Orleans Review, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Her stories have been chosen for the Wigleaf 50 and the Best Small Fictions 2018 and 2019 anthologies. She can be found on Twitter at @LoriSambolBrody and her website is lorisambolbrody.wordpress.