about the author

Marie Schutt is a writer and editor from the Midwest, currently based in Chicago. Her stories have appeared in Sundog Lit, The Collagist, and PLINTH. She is the founding editor of Liminoid Magazine.

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Ship of Theseus  

Marie Schutt

I was to have a child. Maybe a candy one; maybe one made of asphalt, or tourmaline. These were the substances I preferred. I thought a baby like this might be might be happier, and healthier, and whole this way.

I’d found a clinic that would help me. The methods of the future were expensive, but I had life savings, a sum that would just cover a principal payment. The women in the waiting room seemed surprised to see me there. I perfected my bored smile and thought, You don’t even know.

But while I’d been guaranteed that I’d get my wish, something else happened. The doctor miscalculated, or made assumptions about my anatomy. Somewhere, he made a grievous error.

What is it, I’d asked while he frowned at the first ultrasound.

Flesh, he’d answered, his upper lip sweaty.

It was not what I wanted, and not what my body wanted. We had not planned on hosting such a thing. My body began dismantling it. As clumps of tissue were methodically shuttled out, however much could be sloughed at a time, I felt lighter and lighter. The stains in my underwear were unpleasant, but I was thankful we could do this much.

The thing fought back. It replaced what my body took with pieces of me: a corner of my liver, a sliver of bone. The doctor sweated more and said, I’ve never seen anything like this. I told him, angrily, about the Instagram mothers and their perfect babies: one Styrofoam, one cornbread, one—so perfect, so high maintenance—crystalline, unmarked, quivering unflavored gelatin. Beloved.

Do you understand? I screamed at him during one visit. Sponsored posts! You had one job! He patted my hand.

No matter how furious I became, I never cried, but the one time I got close was when I told him, late in the third trimester, exhausted: I saved up for this. I gave you people everything I had.

This is what happened, as my body continued its defiant expulsions:

I began to think of myself as no more than an envelope, my folds slick and clotted and able to contain nothing worth keeping. This was dream-thought, ideas talking to me with their eyes closed, things I should have rejected but did not have the energy for it. I became pale and bags fell under my eyes as my belly bulged.

The two usual instincts warred inside me: the need to eject that which was most disgusting, most repulsive, most defective, and the desire to consume it, suppress it, hide it where it would never be discovered. A part of me, forever.

It was easier just to flush parts of me down the toilet, unexamined.

In the end my body and I couldn’t keep up. The thing not only stubbornly remained whole—it grew. It flourished. It hit its milestones, jerked and swam inside me, its healthy heartbeat like a drum against my ribcage. It replaced every piece amputated from it by taking more from me. Where had it learned to do that? It didn’t seem to ever rest. It also didn’t seem troubled by any of the terrible things I ate in my last, desperate attempts to weaken it: Used tissues. Tree bark. Earthworms that I dug up myself. Nails.

I was dehydrated and undernourished when my water broke. My nerves were shredded by rage, and when the contractions started I became incensed. I barely waited until they hefted me onto a gurney before beginning to push. The nurses looked at each other and said, Okay now, let’s get the doctor for that epidural. I let them, straining until it washed over me like lukewarm foam.

When the baby was out I slept for a long time, and then pretended to sleep for even longer. I did not want to open my eyes. I did not want to see the thing I’d already decided to give up for adoption. Let some family, some more compatible unit, absorb it.

After a few days of fluids and hospital mush, I was home. I sulked. The clinic did not call to check in. I wrote them a long, scathing review on Yelp that I titled “Baby from HELL!!! sTAY Away!!” I had little appetite and subsisted on crackers, bananas, and ginger ale. I passed clots, some of them studded with precious stones. I made a game of guessing what they’d look like before standing and turning to peer down at them. Sometimes I gazed at them for a long time, forgetting myself.

I deleted the Instagram account I’d made for my imminent angel. Then I deleted my account, too.

I went back to work, then started looking for a new job where no one would have questions.

How much of me did that thing manage to poach before I birthed it? I wondered. How much of me, old me, true me, was even left? Things were still sliding and dribbling out of my body. Out there, somewhere, some hideous child breathed and screamed and shat my cells. Threw away what it had stolen from me.

I still had TV. I sat in front of it, late into the night, watching re-runs of reality shows about rich mothers and their obsidian daughters, their entitled flourless sons, adorable and durable rubber infants. I watched infomercials hawking glittery sugar dust to coat soft young heads, special plastic casings for transporting fragile bodies, expensive refrigerated strollers.

I was so angry.

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