At 10 centimeters dilated, after eighteen hours of labor, and maybe just to make me feel better, my nurse admits to once masturbating under her desk for the eyes of an intern and surgical fellow. At the time, she had a kid at home with night terrors who’d scream for her when she wasn’t there. How else could she pass her shift? Either way, her name’s Alice. She’s talked through all of my contractions. But she’s a good nurse. And look how she’s immortalized.

The only other nurse I remember by name touched my hair during the exam and told me to close my eyes. “There’s nothing to see,” she said and I was nineteen so she was right. After, when everything (and I really mean everything, right down to my veins) felt dirty, she gave me a bath. She was the type you could ask to hold you when the images resurfaced, who’d rub down your hands and even your feet. And maybe I asked.

“We don’t clean them off right away,” Alice says, only seconds after his arrival. She stands next to me.

I’m still numb, but she’s too close. “What’s most important is that they stay on you.”

“He’s beautiful,” another nurse says, since that’s what they all say. “You did a good job.”

He is weight on my chest. He is finally here, but when I look down it’s hard to get the full view. There is something between our skins. Something unformed and unreal, but a barrier nonetheless. I am still sweating so he sticks to me; he’s happy to stay where he is.

“I love you,” I say. In the future we’ll be in the present, and this will be true.

These are pictures taken without a camera, ordered in the way they appear:

1. His mouth stretching to open and free a first sound – a noise we all learn to call yearning, a minor cry in the shape of a scream.
2. An egg white substance without a name/a part of my body collecting in the smallest folds behind his knees and between his fingers. His legs looping so they cross at the ankle.
3. He isn’t covered in blood; he arrived blank; he came with only one clean scrape.
4. There are his eyes, watery and without a decipherable color, but I call blue. His eyes looking right at me, eyes ringed with light, eyes that aren’t mine.

These are pictures taken without a camera, ordered in the way they appear:

1. I didn’t know how close was too close. He didn’t want our toes to touch. That was a rule.
2. A new position and both feet on the floor and my elbows collapsing with each throw of
his hips. Then bone against bone, so fast and careless, my body boring through the mattress and then sinking. Then what felt like disappearing.
3. There is no picture of “no.” But I must’ve turned my body in some way. There had to be a sign – a stiffening of the back and locking of the knees – a shutting down.
4. I can’t see this.
5. I stayed in his bed for an hour or two after it ended. I stayed curled at the edge, so our toes wouldn’t touch. His lips turned with each breath and pressed against the sheet. His fingers spread; his arms reached.
6. I said “sorry” and how will you ever forgive me? I apologized to him and that’s what I hear. I say it, “sorry,” often and with hope, but it still won’t weaken.

But then there were pictures shot and stored, recorded to serve as truth –

My legs are pale then, and because they used the flash, I see sparse hair. I see what I missed when I shaved, what he must’ve noticed too. There wasn’t bruising on the thighs, no signs of force, because I didn’t fight. They don’t see blood. We didn’t exchange fluids, they watch me say.

Here I am again, opened wide for strangers to study. And my insides keep coming out, so I turn my head and take two fingers down my son’s arms and rub circles. The tears stay back, but I show the word love.

“We’re all done,” a doctor said with the final click of the camera. I was nineteen and I can’t forgive him for the personal pronoun.

I did a job. I just did it again. And I’m telling you all of this to see where it gets me.

My son’s name will be Bear and you can’t blame me. I will claim hormones and then ignore the world to watch him grow into a man. I will have to rearrange snapshots, sure, as will you.

Right now, I bet you’re picturing a bear too: tall and secure on hind legs, ready for the moment he must pick up speed to get close enough to swipe.

So see. I’m in the clear.

 

Dani Blackman

DANI BLACKMAN received an MFA in fiction from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. "A Good Job" was a finalist for the 2016 Reynolds Price Award in Fiction. She teaches English at North Seattle College and lives in Seattle with her wife and son.

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