7.02 / February 2012

The Mothers

I worry about what to say to The Mothers.

Once I asked them:  Do you ever wish you could eat Vietnamese food with the taste buds of an infant? I read on the Internet that babies have extra taste buds dotting their cheeks, but that time and chemical shifts and various sensory traumas annihilate the tissues, leaving the adult mouth to experience a world of muted gustatory sensations.  No, The Mothers told me, you wouldn’t want to do that. It would feel like your mouth was on fire.  The babies in bassinets blinked at me with uniform blue eyes and shook their nubby hands like silent maracas.  Then another Mother added, Like an army of very tiny men was unleashed onto your tongue and they were wearing shoes that are like tap shoes but instead of taps, the shoes have sharpened daggers which slice into your papillae.  Also, she continued, think about “salivary incontinence” and how culturally unacceptable it would be at your age.

During the next encounter I tried again.  I said:  Wow.  Your baby’s “stranger anxiety” seems especially acute today. One baby dressed as a bumble bee was crashing her pelvis into my lower ribs, hoping to dry hump her way out of my grip into the arms of someone she didn’t perceive as threatening and irresponsible.  We know it can be embarrassing, The Mothers said, especially when all of the babies seem to reject you at all times.  Then they pulled the baby away from me, took it to the far side of the room.  Another baby, this one dressed as a ladybug, twisted her mouth into a milky smirk, as if to say:  I don’t like the smell of you or Your breasts displease me or I garner more respect and deference in a stained ladybug outfit than you ever will, you sad, shattered woman.

And then yesterday I asked:  Does your baby have a heart murmur? And before The Mothers could answer, I told them I had a heart murmur as a baby, and that it went away, and then came back, louder and more forceful, and that it feels like a silver fish flexing its spine against the back of my throat.  And that I wonder whether the heart, through this orchestra of extraneous sounds and sensations, isn’t trying to tell me something.  But what, I asked The Mothers and the babies who glared at me, drooling, what would the heart be trying to say? And what if it isn’t the heart after all, but something behind the heart, or under the tongue?  And why would this thing, whatever it is, keep sending these messages, beat after beat, year after year, a constellation of signals blinking black in the dark?

Amy Schleunes is a writer, performer, and MFA candidate at the University of Iowa, where she studies both creative writing and dance. Her work recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Missouri Review, McSweeney’s, and Fourth Genre, and she will be a featured playwright in the 2012 Iowa New Play Festival.
7.02 / February 2012