THE BODY THAT ENSURES SURVIVAL
by Erin Blue Burke
This is what you do when you are out of diapers: you go to the store. You go to the store because your husband is out of town and can’t stop by on his way home from work. You go to the store despite the news warnings, despite the way the air has sunken into a disquieting yellow. You go to the store because last night the baby cried for two hours, kept you up from one to three, before you finally pulled him into your bed and placed him on your husband’s side, nestled him in a pillow that wouldn’t let him roll over. You go to the store because maybe someone will talk to you; maybe someone will wonder how you are doing while they hand over your change, and you will be able to smile and laugh and roll your eyes because, Well, you know how newborns are.
The diapers are on aisle seven. The baby is strapped to your chest, unaware of the trouble he is causing. He starts to cry, and you pull the pacifier up from its clip, stuff it into his mouth.
It is at this moment of soothing that the power goes out. You don’t think much of it, because this is what motherhood has done to you. Your threshold for emergencies has greatly increased, as has your lack of concern for the privacy of your own body and your definition of what it means to have a functioning brain. You are more anxious about the reaction of the baby tethered to you, but he doesn’t seem to notice the darkness.
But you hear murmurs from another aisle. Someone shouts out a command you don’t understand, and before you can turn around, before you can wonder what you are supposed to do, you hear the cloud-train coming. It shakes the ground. It vibrates your overtired head with its ferocious rumble. Only when things start crashing does it all register. Only then do you crouch down and hold the plastic pack of diapers over your head, over both of you.
You start to cry because you are so helpless. You cry the same way you had cried on the floor of the bathroom after throwing up for an hour in the second month of pregnancy. I’m trying so hard, you had whispered. I’m trying so hard to protect you.
It is all you can do to cradle the silent baby against you as debris flies. Something hits your hand, the hand that is over your baby’s head, something sharp and vicious. But you don’t move. You gather the entirety of your being over him. And then it stops before it even seems to have begun. The sound fades away. Things stop torpedoing through the air. And all you can do is sit amidst the wreckage on the floor, crying, your spine leaning against the metal shelf, your hands across his back to make sure he is still breathing.
Eventually there is dim light; the sky outside is gathering sun again. There are voices, flashlights, people searching. Another woman sees you and rushes towards you, wants to know how you are doing.
“I’m here,” you say to her. “I’m fine. We’re both fine.” And you reach up your bloodied hand to wave, indicating your survival.
Erin Blue Burke is a writer from Huntsville, Alabama where she lives with her husband and daughter. Her work has previously appeared in Hypertrophic Literary.