Dust Child

BY MEGAN CUMMINS

Published March 4, 2009

I remember being pregnant: the first sharp pain in my stomach, and then the vomit. I remember the tip of the pee stick, positive and pink. Most of all, I remember being alone, living still in the apartment I rented and driving my first car and sometimes eating cereal for all three meals. But with that pain came instinct. I wanted that tragedy in my life – the sores of single-motherhood – and I wanted it to be secret not out of shame but out of the fulfillment of the way I’d always thought of myself as a loner, different, struggling through something to prove I could. So I bought the pre-natal vitamins, told a few people, but only as few as I could. I poured the liquor in my freezer down the drain and turned my nose at the deep smell. The glass bottles sat in the recycling bin for weeks, glowing a little like moonlight gone bad and shivering when the cat brushed past. I would have emptied them, but the dumpster outside was iced in by a bank of snow, and I didn’t want to fall.

The man I’d been with was a neighbor, and he’d since moved. He’d taken me to dinner once – Indian food – and he’d walked through the parking lot with an ice cream cone from the place down the street a few times, stepping right in through the open sliding screen door, with cream dripping between his thumb and forefinger. He’d licked it off before handing the cone to me. He’d smiled.

When I found out I was pregnant, he still lived in the building – I even looked out of the window to see him loading things into a U-Haul. He waved, and I waved back.

I remember being pregnant in the winter, the fear of slipping and not being found, trash piling in the corner because of it, making a corner of my apartment smell of old juice. I pulled my shirts down over the small swell, growing each week, and I feared people with colds. I’d nearly told my neighbor, when he’d stopped in all sweaty from lugging furniture, but hadn’t. I’d told myself I wasn’t even sure if I’d keep it, although I knew I would. I was a little afraid of him, too – he was a bouncer at the club, and I’d never dated anyone like him. I became wary of more things, more people.

But it wasn’t because of him, or ice, or illness. I was at home, boiling water for pasta when I lost the baby. I doubled over the steam, sobbing, until the woman above me heard and came right in. The cat howled as I did, circling with his mouth wide open.

My mother was openly relieved. She said it was God’s will, and smiled at Him out of the hospital window as she said it.

Five months later, I vacuumed the floor for the first time in ages. Cat hair and dirt from spring had covered the carpet, and it was summer now, near when my due date would have been – a summer baby, healthy, given those three months of sun to grow and get fat before winter. I’d been given time off from work, as though I hadn’t miscarried, which almost made it worse. My doctor gave me a prescription, which I took too much of. Still, this was a good sign, the vacuuming, the best thing I’d done in months. I had started to listen to my mother a little – I didn’t make enough, I wasn’t home enough, I wasn’t smart enough to remember to keep syrup of ipecac in the house. Still, though, I’d wanted it.

The vacuum caught the strings; the landlord only put new carpet in every time a different tenant arrives, and I had lived here for years. I let the vacuum grumble a little, and suddenly, in anger, wanted to tear the floor out, pull it out by its teeth. The vacuum began to smoke – I could smell it but couldn’t see it – a dull electrical singe, hardly enough to burn this place down.

When another sob joined my own, I looked up and my sadness was replaced by joy.

My mother tells me I’ve gone mad. When she hears my baby cry over the phone, she thinks I’m making the sound or that I’ve stolen the child from someone. My mother says she’s called police stations, and even though no one in the area reports a missing child and the Amber Alert stays quiet under the green god of rain on the Weather Channel, my mother says she is coming over.

I tell her not to. I say I’ll refuse to open the door. This is my child, born of my flaked skin, my dust, my messy past, born safely into the womb of my home.

—Megan Cummins is an LSA senior.