For the benefit of women in active labor, my wife is ushered into a small triage room. There, she collapses under the light of a bare bulb and grieves. Her arm rests over the Thorn in her stomach which she is not ready to lose.
A pair of white shoes asks us labor or surgery. Labor means feeling the Thorn’s exit. Surgery means carrying it for two days knowing its heart no longer beats.
But hours later the Thorn is delivered, exiting with the suddenness of a sneeze. The Thorn draws blood which draws nurses. My wife’s soul draws the chaplain.
I place the Thorn in the chaplain’s praying hands. While advising my soul, he punctures himself. As the chaplain blows away, I wave goodbye to Him.
After being cleaned behind a curtain, the Thorn is returned but now wrapped in a pink blanket. My wife grasps it and comes apart from the sharpness of its point.
Later—with the warm hand of morphine against her cheek—my wife falls into a heavy sleep from which she will wake childless. There is no morphine for me, however; nothing to warm my cheek. I make speech with the machines around us, but they give no reply, save that my wife at least lives. There is the nurse too, but she asks me questions like, Since this is the second child you’ve lost, is it any easier?
The next morning, my wife is wheeled out of the hospital’s back door, far from where discharged mothers carry newborns. She looks to the windows above where hers is being scheduled for cremation.
* * *
It is evident that something is in the house. We sense it in every room: sometimes near our bed where the Thorn was conceived, often around the dinner table where a pink cake had been cut just weeks before, always in the room where varying shades of purple test out a sunny corner. There is an absence of space, an occupation of air.
It finally reveals itself during a commercial. A mother and infant share a tender moment and it appears: a Snake. It uncoils and bites my wife who weeps from the pain. As it slithers away, I read letters in its mottled skin: g r i e f b y e x p o s u r e.
I am terrified by its ability to hurt my wife and what little I can do to stop it.
When family brings food, I hope the Snake remains hidden. Yet in these gifts of condolences are more Snakes, and all with the same letters in their mottled skin. We beg people to stop as we are open wounds being bitten all over.
* * *
My wife weeps in the doctor’s office. The doctor asks her if she is depressed or experiencing grief while being ignorant of the trauma caused by sitting her in a waiting room filled with pregnant women, mothers with newborns, and proud fathers.
Not hearing an answer, he repeats himself. Are you depressed or experiencing grief? My wife’s mouth trembles open and Letter Blocks tumble out, filling the room up to our ears. The doctor looks to me to try and make sense of the Blocks clacking around us but it is too much to discern. He decides on giving her an encouraging squeeze and climbs out of the pile.
Shortly after, a nurse enters to relieve us. She smiles kindly but gives my wife a pained yet practiced look. It is clear my wife is not the first woman at this office with a pregnancy loss. Like a soldier, she echoes the doctor’s question: Are you depressed or experiencing grief?
With a shaking hand, my wife arranges the Letter Blocks on a shelf, spelling:
I D O N T K N O W W H A T T H A T M E A N S
* * *
We come to overconsume. Our recycling bin chokes on bottles, coughing up shards of glass that we ignore under our unwashed feet. We cook and eat, then order delivery. Our garbage can seeks leftovers but finds none.
An Opossum sneaks in through the garage. It is a feral, unwashed creature attracted by our overconsumption. We feed it food and wine, whiskey and tobacco, hours of television, my wife: her pain. It shares our bed and licks my throbbing head when I wake. It gnashes as I feed it my Paid Time Off so we can consume, consume, consume, intent on filling ourselves.
* * *
When we are with company, we watch their mouths. In them are Elephants waiting to blare, You guys doing okay? When they do, the Elephant exits to occupy a space in the house, triggering the Snake to bite, the Blocks to tumble, and the Opossum to consume until the day becomes tomorrow.
We endure this repetition of Elephants for weeks. It forms a hardness in us that we learn to need. We begin withholding less as the cost for introducing an Elephant is to spectate our bloodletting, which in its messiness, mends.
Stronger as a result, we adapt to live with the lot occupying our empty home. We shoo the Opossum back out the garage several times a week; the Snake’s bite becomes less painful as our wounds scar over; one night, an Elephant of my own breaks the silence in our bedroom, asking if it’s time we got a dog.
Then one morning I see an Elephant in my wife’s mouth. Because I am not sure what it wants, I watch it until that evening, when it exits to aid her in arranging the Letter Blocks before me. They spell:
T H I S I S G O I N G T O H U R T