In the pre-natal class, we talked so much about pain. what else? the doula pulled a turtleneck over her head, inch by inch, and we watched, too scared to laugh. She said labour would prepare us for birth, our bodies would not give us more than we could handle, it would come in waves and we must rest between the waves.
She had us draw pictures of our pain with small boxes of crayons, grit from the gym floor stippling the paper. She gave us ice cubes to hold for ten seconds, twenty, sixty. She said picture the place you’ll come to rest in between waves. I pictured a vacant lot: caked mud and broken bricks, pink wildflowers tossing on the hot city breeze.
In my yard, plants grow and wither and others grow in their place. I leave them alone. The landlord doesn’t like it. I’ve got the baby as an excuse but I’m a neglectful gardener and always have been. Burdock clinging to our cuffs and hair. Butter and eggs. Vetch. The walkway is impassable. The Post Office has stuck a notice on the door, they won’t come here anymore.
My son squats on the porch step, blowing kisses at the overgrowth. Hand out, making his flappy toddler wave, he tells me about them with his syllables: “At, dat, at, sha, ba.” Bladder campion, with its pale green pouch and flowering mouth, protruding stamens; blameless, unaware, growing in dirt, growing even in pavement.
He turns to see if I’m looking.
“Yes,” I say. “Flowers.”
The bees love us, and the yard smells of mint.
Campus was grey and architectural, with a bridge spanning the river. It was meant to evoke Oxford. There were five colleges, you belonged to one, they each had supposed attributes, etc. It was located at the edge of the city, not walkable from where I lived downtown, but a bike path ran through the suburbs.
On this day two girls were up ahead, riding side by side and talking. I hung back, not wanting to hear or to pedal past them. I was then at the peak, or the depth, whichever, of how it went with me then. I had stopped eating meat, stopped swatting mosquitos even, wouldn’t cross out a wrong word taking notes in class but stretch the sentence beyond meaning, just to make it fit. Not thin-skinned so much as no-skinned, and leaves and rain fell straight in.
I saw the two girls stop. One of them dropped her bike and held her hands over her mouth. There was something small flipping in the middle of the path.
The chipmunk must have been eating a grasshopper; the girl’s tire had forced the slimy green body back out its mouth, choking it. There was also blood, unclear the source. The girl cried, “What do we do? Is it going to be okay? Should we take it to a vet?” Her friend said, “Someone should put it out of its misery.”
Chipmunks are very small, small enough to choke on a grasshopper. I picked up a stick from the edge of the path. The chipmunk had slowed its flipping and as I knelt, it stilled for a moment. I lay the stick over its throat and pushed down until I felt the pebbled texture of pavement through its flattened neck, and then I held it there for some number of seconds. I don’t remember the number. After, the chipmunk was dead. I lifted it on the end of the stick and placed it in the grass next to the path. Then I sat down.
The girls thanked me and rode on, toward campus. My tongue in my mouth was sore, as if my teeth had grown too sharp and cut me.
Photo by Flickr user Lawrence L