Imagine the thick pelt of a bear curled around her cubs in the deep of a cave. With every rumbling snore, her great body swells and sinks. The air is warm, dark and so, so dense.
Not at a thousand feet. Here, the air is thin and crisp and always a little too cold. Molecules slow their restless quivering.
Perhaps the cold will also stop whatever has started multiplying below her belly button. She does not want her organs displaced, choking her. She wants air to breathe. A body that renews itself instead of this slow, sticky unfolding, this burrowing into mucous walls. She imagines bursting capillaries. The fleshiness of it all.
No fleshiness. She needs the clarity of home air; she needs people who speak with less syrup in their voices; she needs a sharp thing, a light that will put everything into bright-edged relief.
Ingrid had let herself be convinced but somehow assumed it wouldn’t work. There are people who try and try and try. Despite what she told Shane, she never cancelled her registration for the Boston marathon. She is used to not getting things that others obtain easily. Her body is a struggle. And yet! This it has done. Child’s play. Her body is good only for bad puns. Sex, the way others talk about it, her body won’t give her, but this, yes. This, yes.
But she too can be vicious, impossible. She will not send for a doula, she will not be found in the prenatal vitamins section, nurturing a thing she doesn’t even know. She doesn’t need give now, nor softness; she wants a straightforward stare and a sharp rap to the back of the head. She wants to be woken up. Pulled from the sticky, sweet and sour resin before she gathers dust; is swallowed in it.
She sits wide awake without watching the movie that is playing on the small screen in front of her. Her headphones are nestled around her neck, and the tinny sounds of explosions reverberate coldly against her skin. The air in the plane is not moist, despite the cabin humming with the snoring and open-mouthed breath of hundreds of dozing passengers in various states of slackness, their heads tipped back, some braced by C-shaped foamy pillows, others by bunched up scarves, sweatshirts, woollen cardigans. The air is not moist thanks to the renewal system, which can clean eight hundred litres of air in only two minutes. She has read this in the onboard magazine and wondered how they measured this. Did the air they cleaned in their tests have the kind of staleness, the alveolar dampness of air that has travelled through human lungs? The kind of air that rises from their gaping mouths when she sleeps beside Shane, and clogs their bedroom with the smell of skin and sebum and teeth and tongue. The smell of the stuff behind your ears.
A soft-footed flight attendant brushes past her, carrying a plastic bag in which she collects the detritus of the first half of the six-hour flight.
This is when Ingrid feels the trickle between her legs.
She joins the small queue of bleary-eyed people waiting for the toilets. A woman with a small boy leaning between her legs and a tall guy with long lashes and once-white sneakers so widened with wear that they have taken on the shape of his feet. He reminds her of Shane, not the face, but the way he holds his body, long and somehow pliable, loose, as if there were never anything to be ready for. Or perhaps it is the opposite—that they were born to welcome everything?
She looks at the floor. This trickle cannot be what she thinks it is, even though it feels the same as it usually feels. She has her little bag with the usual supplies in hand. Another trickle, stronger than the first. The queue shuffles forward. Surreptitiously, she tries to check by flexing her spine forward, placing her legs wide, knees bent, and tucking her tailbone. She sees nothing and gives up. It never really works; she is not that flexible.
Could it be one of those spontaneous things? She braces herself for a mess. Perhaps it has sensed a threat. Perhaps she is inhospitable. She doesn’t know how to feel about this possibility, now that it really exists. She needs this lady with the child to get a move on.
She has not told Shane. They came, all the symptoms came, the nausea, the swelling weight of fatigue, she had felt them coming from the moment of; and so she counted and when she was ten days overdue, bought the ticket and slipped away. She could not take the time then, to feel guilty. It was growing and the longer it grew over there, where it was warm, where Shane could run his hands over her belly, the stronger it would get.
When the lady comes out, the Not-Shane lets her go first.
“You look kinda desperate.”
He grins crookedly, she sucks the fleshy inside of her lower lip between her teeth and does not smile. She is not willing to reward him for this intrusion.
She discovers that it’s blood. Blood that looks like normal period blood. She pushes a tampon up herself.
Back at her seat, the movie has moved on without her. She does not put her headphones on. Soon the cramps and the backache kick in. Well. That was that then. That was it. She accepts a tray of warm food from the solicitous hands of a flight attendant, who smiles at her. The movie plays on, unconcerned.
Then, on the ground, everything is far away. Announcements reverberate. There is a lot of walking to do, everyone is falling back into step along the lengthy hallways. After the belly of the plane, the felt tip silence, the narrow seats, the bunched up, tucked in company of other bodies, the airport halls are full of too much empty space.
She waits for her turn at immigration and remembers that no one will pick her up.
When her mother, Valerie, opens the door, she only says, “Ah.”
“Surprise,” tries Ingrid.
Valerie draws the two sides of a shaggy mud-coloured cardigan over her chest. She crosses her arms over it and stands wrapped neck to ankle in the matted wool.
“Last I checked it wasn’t my birthday. And also last I checked we stopped doing birthdays.”
But she steps aside. Ingrid drags her suitcase across the threshold.
“Big suitcase,” remarks Valerie.
“I … I wasn’t sure how long I’d be staying.”
Her mother’s eyes take on a sharpness. Valerie’s hand is still on the door handle and the door is still open.
“I don’t know yet,” Ingrid continues. “Is that okay?”
Valerie closes the door; the hallway falls into a half-darkness in which her eyes become two gleaming specks. Ingrid turns away from them to peel out of her coat. When she bends to take off her shoes, her shirt rides up, and the small of Ingrid’s back erupts in a prickling, needling itch.
“Can I shower?”
She is sticky, smelly. The funk of drying blood and sweat all rising between them, filling the narrow space of the hallway.
“You know where to find things.”
She knows where to find things. Everything is the way it was five years ago. The jet coming out of the shower head is still a little too hard, a little too needling. Her mother’s razor sits on the bathtub rim, a grimy cheap plastic thing caked with coarse black hairs. Dust and longer hairs—a few a startling white—hang trapped in the boar bristles of a brush along with grey fluff, dead skin flakes, poral secretions. At the sink, Ingrid lifts the hand towel to her face and smells it.
She saw them once, as a girl, her mother’s hairy labia and the pink bit of flesh that protruded from all that hair. Valerie had come out of the shower, so it looked like a wet dog’s tongue; one of those dogs with the perpetually soggy whiskers—discoloured, somehow piss yellow from saliva.
Ingrid presses a towel between her legs. So, there was never anything there.
She startles when her phone vibrates loudly against the tiles.
“Iggy! I’ve been trying to reach you!” says Shane’s voice.
Yes, she knows, she has seen his eleven missed calls. She does not say this. She tells Shane there was an emergency.
“She’s okay now. She’s in hospital, but I’ll be picking her up later. It was this weird thing with her intestines. They could have burst or something. They had to operate.”
A thing she has once read about. The fact that your guts could wrap around each other and choke themselves. They could burst and poison you from the inside with the half-digested food you ate. They could do this without warning.
“Okay,” says Shane. “Okay. But she’s going to be okay?”
“Yeah. It looks like it.”
“Are you okay?”
“Me? Oh. Yeah. Yeah.”
“I could come.”
“No. I mean, it’s okay.”
There is a silence in which Shane breathes quietly down the line and she grits her teeth.
“You could have told me,” he says at last. “You could have called me.”
“Sorry. It went so fast. I didn’t think.”
“I don’t know how long I’ll be yet. She might need help,” she adds.
Her mother is standing in the doorway when she ends the call.
Ingrid picks up the towel and wraps it around herself. She’s forgotten that she is not at home. At home, she doesn’t need to lock the door. Her mother’s lips are curled.
“So I’m in hospital. Why?”
Ingrid pushes out her jaw.
“It’s none of your business.”
“You’re in my house.”
“I used to live here too.”
“I think that claim expired more than a decade ago.”
“I’m still your daughter.”
Valerie cackles and turns. She walks away down the hall.
“That yes, that yes.” She waves a hand through the air. “Nice of you to say that.”
“I imagine you’re hungry.”
“Well there’s nothing in the house.”
Valerie doesn’t cook anymore, doesn’t see the use. She only learned to cook for Ingrid and only did so until her daughter could make her own packed lunches. It was better that way, because you never know, you never know when you might be left all by yourself: Ingrid did not look wide-eyed at the washing machine, the powder; Ingrid was not baffled by bedsheets and toilet brushes, she knew that when you mopped a floor, you started from the part furthest away from the door. She knew to use a toothbrush to scrape the yellow grime from around the base of a tap. She knew how to get strangers to back off; she knew not to take any shit from anyone. Yes, Valerie did her bit, now it’s Ingrid’s turn. Her girl is not stupid. She knows everything there is to know.
Ingrid goes shopping and then Ingrid cooks.
“What do you even eat, Mum?”
“Who am I, your child?” Valerie crosses her arms, pushes out her chin. “Pop out your own if you want someone to lecture.”
She has heard the tone her friends’ daughters take with their mothers, as if they had some kind of continued claim, some kind of authority now that they were grown. But Ingrid offers no resistance, even seems to deflate a little, like a trodden balloon. From her seat at the kitchen table, Valerie watches Ingrid push vegetables around the pan. It’s irksome, the way her daughter’s face hangs over the steam like some sad moon, the way she stands there with her shoulders all round, as if to make a statement, as if to appeal to something. Valerie wants to prod her.
“That story you told your man,” Valerie says. “What a load of bullshit. As if I would call you.”
Ingrid says nothing. She has stopped stirring. Now she is just standing there, looking at vegetables cooking, with her palms against the countertop.
“I wouldn’t call you,” adds Valerie.
Ingrid’s chest lifts and falls.
“Not even in an emergency?”
Ingrid pushes hair out her eyes.
“Who, then? Who’s your emergency contact?”
“I have no emergency contact.”
“They’d ask you for one though.”
“I’d tell them, do your best. If I die, I die. Some people don’t have anybody. You’re telling me they wouldn’t save them, just because they don’t have anybody?”
Ingrid lifts a pot out of a drawer, fills it with water. She picks up the knife. She uses the blunt edge to push more vegetables into the pan; the oil crackles. Valerie never taught her that, to flip the knife around.
“No,” Ingrid says at last. “No, I don’t think they’d let them die.”
Valerie leans back in her chair; she lifts both her palms. “There you go.”
“You’re mine though,” says Ingrid when they are eating.
Valerie is distracted by the food. Her girl cooks well, better than Valerie has ever taught her. Good, Valerie decides. Good.
“You’re mine,” Ingrid repeats. “My emergency contact.”
Valerie snorts. “That’s stupid. I’m six hours away. Don’t even know your address or the language.”
“You have the address. I wrote it down for you. We haven’t moved.”
“Well, I don’t know where it is.”
“What about your man, anyway?” adds Valerie. “That Shane.”
Ingrid shakes her head. Valerie wants to reach across the table, grab the girl by the cheeks, and make her straighten her face.
“Well, that just goes to show,” she says instead.
“He would be. I just never list him.”
“Ah,” says Valerie with a dry laugh. “Well. He’s not a doctor as far as I remember.”
“Not a whole lot of good he would be then anyway, in an emergency.”
“No,” Ingrid says. “No.”
When they moved in together, Shane brought his first aid box. They’d celebrated with wine, even danced across the empty floorboards, until she knocked a glass from their makeshift moving box table. One at a time, he pulled the shards out of Ingrid’s feet, holding alcohol-dipped tweezers between index and thumb and then Shane bandaged it all up in soft white gauze.
Blood and dark wine everywhere, wet and viscous in the light.
The sight turned her stomach; he wiped it away.