about the author

Alyssa Proujansky has studied literature in Ithaca, London and New York, and Traditional Chinese Medicine in New York. She lives in Brooklyn, where she is at work on her first novel.

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Alyssa Proujansky

At the grocery store, she kept having the crazy feeling that someone was going to hand her a baby to hold for a minute. Mothers leaned into freezers, cold fogging their glasses, infants lashed to their chests. Their carts were filled mainly with frozen bags of potatoes, pulped and reformed: French fries, tater tots, patties shaped like moons and stars.

“Here,” she imagined them saying, thrusting the babies at her. She could feel the soft, scented weight in her arms as though it were already there.

She’d had a miscarriage six months before. Her body should really have removed itself from this hormonal shuffle by now, she thought—this stupid, cellular keening.

She’d read that pregnancy altered parts of women’s brains permanently. Forever the article kept shrilly reminding the reader. Forever, forever.

But how long did you have to have been pregnant in order to experience these changes? What if things stopped partway through? Was she brain-changed, or had she somehow made it away, scot-free?

She hadn’t actually wanted to be pregnant to begin with. Now, she blamed herself for her bad attitude—for being unwelcoming; indecisive. Sometimes she even said the wrong word. “My abortion,” she’d say, before she flushed and corrected herself.

Her mourning felt pasted-on, appropriative, undeserved. She thought words like “privilege.” She was a person dragging around, under the shroud of privilege.

There was a hole the exact shape and size of a block. If this block had never existed, maybe the hole hadn’t either. Maybe the wood was smooth and unbroken. There was no such thing as feeling loss about something you had never wanted, she thought.

Sometimes she scrolled around online, looking at other women’s bios. She was reading to learn who had a baby, but mainly to see who didn’t. She thought of the women in the pictures as paper dolls. Images to shuffle around until she found one who fit. She imagined their smiling images settling over her, reminding her that this sad story was someone else’s—not hers. Reminding her of how to think.

In the checkout line, an older woman stood too close, examining her with unabashed fascination. When she went to pay, the woman blocked the credit card swipe machine with her arm.

“Excuse me,” she said, louder than she meant to. She shouldered the woman away.

This was a different self than she was used to, she marveled—one latently hormonal, maybe; unhinged. But the woman seemed unfazed, breathing roughly so she could feel it on her neck.

Outside, it seemed all the world was made of people violating other people’s personal codes. Various individuals stood, scattered over the sidewalk, feet planted. They issued scowling looks at the departing backs of others, miming their dismay. A giant man sat on the steps going down to the subway, his bulk blocking most of the space. He smoked a cigarette, staring straight ahead as pedestrians swarmed politely around him.

An elderly woman on the corner flung her arms out jubilantly as she approached. The woman did not ask to be led across the street, but her facial expression, the movements of her arms, asked the question.

She linked arms with the woman and waited for the light to change. They were so close she could see the tuberous caving of the woman’s face. How her nose and chin craned toward each other.

The woman looked up at her. She felt every flaw, every blemish marked by this woman, but kindly—a warm stroke over each. Her eyes were the clearest blue.

“I don’t have teeth,” the woman offered.

“I’m not sure I heard you,” she said.

“I don’t have teeth,” the woman repeated. “They all fell out a long, long time ago, but it’s not the end of the world. Just the other day, I read that they’ve developed a painless paste. You apply it yourself. Whatever it is you’re missing grows back.”

On the sidewalk, people walked and hurried and shoved and stood. Others limped brutally along. Cars honked and revved and thick smoke steamed up from the gutters. In a tiny break in the noise, someone coughed loudly—and then one by one, other people’s lungs rose up like heavy flapping birds to answer it with their own coughs.

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