I lay there swaddled and laughing at the fact that I knew full well that pooping in my pants wouldn’t be accepted later in life. I’m a boy again. Maybe I’ll always be a boy. My brain is still soft; the synaptic paths that would trap my conscious and alienate the memories from my past lives hadn’t hardened yet. I feel my recollection slipping. Most recently, the way I died had something to do with a disease but I can’t remember which one. The way I lived had something to do with medicine but I can’t remember exactly which specialty I practiced.

My stroller is bright and distracting, but I can see past it to another one. There’s a baby in it too; she has a bewildered look on her face, as if she’s trying to hold onto what she’s sure to forget. We turn our heads and lock blue eyes.

“It’s hard holding still. I guess muscle control will come with time.” I find it amusing that we can communicate with our minds. I’m frustrated that we’ll both lose the ability.

“It sure is. Do you remember your birth? Your time in your mother’s womb? I do. It was dark and aquatic. The sounds were all bass and no treble,” says the baby girl.

“I remember it well, and everything before it.”

“Ha! Me too. I guess the Buddhists are right.”

“Not quite,” I say. “I think I might have been an ass in my last life. And from what I’ve seen so far, karma isn’t punishing me at all.”

The baby girl’s mother mumbles something to mine and she is taken away. There’s no way we’ll know to pick up where we left off if we see each other again. I can feel my thoughts slipping. The new me is taking hold and a nap is coming on. I need to eat.  A cry comes through my lips like someone else is pushing it. I stop fighting.

***

Sandra tried to wait patiently at the crosswalk. Her nursing bra was soaking through and she didn’t have the serenity to wait for the red hand to turn into a little walking green man. An older mother, maybe in her early forties, walked up and parked her stroller right next to Sandra’s. They were both top-end and expensive with all sorts of gadgets that babies didn’t really need.

“Isn’t this great?”

“What?” asked Sandra.

“Motherhood. We tried forever and finally went to the clinic. They gave Jim a set of tightie-whities with an attached ice bag but it didn’t do anything for his sperm count. We had to go the artificial route, if you know what I mean.”

Jesus, thought Sandra, this bitch has no boundaries. She went back to staring across the street in front of her. The noon sun baked the asphalt and heat waves distorted the white blocks of the crosswalk.

“How old is he?” asked the woman.

“Eight months. And your little girl?”

“The same. Isn’t it weird how babies seem to be so interested by other babies? I swear they would be content to just stare at each other for hours.”

Sandra and the woman looked at their children as the babies locked blue eyes and both women smiled with love. The woman mumbled something salutary and pushed her stroller onto the crosswalk as the green man appeared. Sandra waited a few seconds so she could walk alone despite her hurry. She had no intention of picking up where they left off if she ever met the woman again.

***

The nuns in the St. Clair Hospice preached faith above all else, but sterility ranked higher on the chore charts. Everything was white, the tile the walls the ceiling the noise. The color was chosen so dirt couldn’t hide. It was mind-numbing, though. James didn’t believe in heaven like the nuns wanted him to, but he sure as hell believed in purgatory thanks to his whitewashed hallway. He sat in an electric scooter outside the door to his room. It was the fastest that could be bought, but the governor still kicked in at seven miles per hour. He wore loud plaid. Reds and greens from bald head to toe, he fought back against the nuns’ monochrome.

Jessie’s chair hummed from down the hall. She was fat and familiar as always in her pink jumpsuit. She had lost a leg to diabetes a while back and had an empty pant leg tucked under her enormous butt. Her pink hood was up to cover her blue hair.

“We look ridiculous!” James shouted down the hallway. “Maybe that’s the only luxury that comes with extreme old age. We just don’t give a damn.”

Jessie backed in next to James and clicked her scooter into “park.”

“If that was true I’d still smoke. I miss my smokes.” Her voice was dry and jovial.

“You probably would if the nuns didn’t steal them from you.”

Something gave way in James’s head. The pop was warm and wet. He lost control of his bowels. It wasn’t painful really, but he knew what it meant. He looked over at Jessie and laughed.

“Holy shit, I know you. You’re the girl in the stroller. Jesus. That was almost ninety years ago!”

The pain in Jessie’s chest was epic. One more smoke would’ve been nice, but she clutched the pink velour over her left breast instead of calling out for one.

“I remember. I remember it all! You mom’s shirt was stained with milk and you smelled like shit! Hell, you smell like shit right now!”

“Thanks! Wow, are we talking telepathically?”

Both man and woman laughed aloud as the static hold of gray matter over their souls disintegrated. They both stopped fighting. Memories lost came back in a flood as they both died. As they both left. Their bodies slumped in their scooters. Two corpses painted in pink and plaid against a white hospice canvas.

***

It’s so weird breathing fluid.  It’s calming and solid.  I know it’s amniotic, but the salty taste reminds me of the sea.  Maybe if someone were to remember their time in their mother’s womb, like I’m experiencing it now, and they had boatloads of courage, they could do it again.  I’ll hold on to this one memory, this one idea, as hard as I can and try to breathe underwater when I’m old enough.  Why not?  If we’re smart enough as a species to recreate the taste of strawberries through chemicals, why couldn’t we brew amniotic fluid that adults can breathe?  I’ll be a scientist or a doctor again so I can get it done; being a bum sucked and I should know that by now.

I look down but can’t see.  I reach with my little, ineffective hands.  Yep, I’m a boy as I’ve always been.  That settles it.

I feel the fluid drain and my mother start to panic.  I can’t breathe for a moment as flesh collapses around my face.  I know it’ll pass.  Everything starts to constrict.  There are those bright lights.  There’s the cold.  It’s the first time either sensation has slapped me in nine months.  Or I guess it’s possible that it’s been longer.  There’s really no way to know how much time passes between death and conception because I always forget to check after my brain hardens.  Not this time.  This time I’ll remember being a bum and see how long ago I died.  This time I’ll do better in life.  This time, I’ll breathe under water when I grow up.

I need milk.

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5 thoughts on “Soft in Birth and Death

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