Saturday, May 28, 2011
Monday, May 16, 2011
Friday, April 8, 2011
My Aunt had a special reputation in the neighborhood as a person who knew who to get rid of unwanted pregnancies, without having to deal with the expense and trouble of seeing a doctor. She referred to it as a Tradition, something I never quite understood but still would never have questioned. It was much easier to let my Aunt speak without interruptions or questions, because after speaking for a time her face would kind of change a little and her voice would sometimes get deeper, and you could feel the presence of someone else in the room, inside my Aunt, and she could say some strange things, stuff that had no context to whatever was going on in our family or the world at large, like she was seeing too far into the future for me to comprehend. But she would laugh and her voice would change back and she'd take another drink from her glass before sharing some arcane bit of knowledge that would one day suit you.
But she made special potions by combining oils from the wooden rack in the kitchen, when some teary eyed woman from the neighborhood would come over and tell her sad story about how they couldn't afford another mouth to feed, or else they'd say they'd gotten knocked up on accident, or by force, but my Aunt never questioned their motives. If they were paying, my Aunt would pick a few leaves from the herb garden out back and she'd let them soak in the oil mixture in her old black glass bowl, and she would swirl the leaves as the lady spoke on about how their doctor is friends with their husband and he'd most certainly report the discretion if she walked into his office with a baby to get rid of. My Aunt, I was never sure she was ever even listening. She'd pour the stuff out through a coffee filter set over the mouth of a mason jar, and a clear liquid would drip drip drip into the jar, and my Aunt would smile even though no one was saying anything funny at all. Everyone knew to come to my Aunt for problems like these.
Once it was all drained out she'd throw away the filter and close up the jar, and my Aunt would tell each of them to drink the liquid before bed, and that the next morning when they went to the bathroom they would pass the baby, simple as that. And then the lady would hand my Aunt the money and they'd disappear. I guess it worked, because I never once heard one of them coming back to say the medicine didn't work. I did see some of the ladies more than once or twice.
When she didn't have her customers coming over, my Aunt began to teach me the Tradition, little bits and pieces as she went. Some days she wouldn't have much at all to say to me, and others I felt like I was getting overwhelmed with her describing what each plant worked for which ailment and how if you mixed certain plants different things would happen. I tried to remember what I could, but she wouldn't let me write anything down. She said you weren't supposed to write about the Tradition, that it had to be spoken and remembered, and carried on. I didn't really understand very much of it at all, but I still clung to her.
I was her shadow. I wasn't the best student, but I tried.
One day, she was explaining how she could make a miscarriage happen with her medicine. She told me that her medicine was only good if it was an early pregnancy, within the first three months, because otherwise the woman would bleed to death passing the baby. My Aunt gave me this look, like she was waiting for me to ask a question, but I didn't have anything to ask. She went on to tell me about another method, one she didn't tell many of her customers about. She said there was too much room for error in the method, even though it was effective at any point in the pregnancy, even up to the day before delivery, she said. It worked, but it was too involved for most of the careless women who came to the house for my Aunt's medicine.
She never explained it to me. She trailed off, and never came back to the topic. Maybe she realized I would never follow the Tradition like she would have hoped. I would have believed it if she told me she saw far into the future, seeing me break away, a firsthand witness to my future follies. From that moment after, she treated me with a sort of resigned defeat. She didn't see it in me anymore.
And I did kind of outgrow her. I found myself avoiding her conferences at the kitchen table, and not making my way out to her herb garden. Summer came, and there was a traveling carnival that had set up in the fields across from our house. I found myself exploring this strange new world and its inhabitants, until I met a man who worked in some capacity for the carnival, but I never found out what he did. He treated me special, and seduced me, and like a fool I fell in love with him, but in less than a week the whole carnival was gone, run out of town by the local police. And there I found myself, 15 years old and pregnant with the baby of a drifter. I told no one of my condition, and for a time I was able to conceal the baby growing inside me. The summer turned to autumn, and by October I'd resorted to starving myself to fight the onset of a lump growing in my stomach. I took to bed, no longer leaving my room, always covered by a blanket. Everyone thought I had come down with some illness. My Aunt, she saw right through it all, and late one night, she entered my room, and sat at the edge of my bed, and explained the method, the one she never shared with me.
If a woman wanted to not be pregnant, she explained, and if she was past her first trimester, she would have to go to a graveyard at midnight, during a waxing moon. She spoke slowly and softly, and I remembered every instruction, so much easier to hold in my mind than it had been the year before. She said I would have to find an infant's grave, by checking the dates on the stones.
I went out, the next night, alone with a small flashlight, I snuck through the silent house and through yards to get to the Clementville cemetery. I walked the rows until I found the right kind of grave. This baby, it had been alive for only six days. I rubbed my stomach and thought about the baby inside of me.
My Aunt said to mix some of the dirt from in front of the grave with my urine to make a clay, and I worked it into a thick mush in my hands, forming the body and then the head and limbs of a tiny figure. My hands shook as I remembered her telling me to lay the clay figure on top of the gravestone. I felt a hot pain deep inside my stomach, a pain so intense I fell to my knees.
She told me about the pain, but I didn't think it would have been as bad as it was. I felt as if I was being pulled apart, and I was splitting up the middle. She said I might see blood, and not to be frightened, but I got scared when it began pouring out of me like a faucet. The dirt turned into sludge around my knees as the deluge continued, until I felt like I had nothing left inside, just emptied out.
She told me I would know when it was all over, and that I was supposed to lay the clay baby in the mess. I watched it fall apart, soaking up the mess around it. It felt like my skin was hanging off of me. I walked home, and as quietly as I could, made my way back to bed. The next morning, my Aunt brought me a cup of tea with leaves still floating in it. She told me it would take away my nausea, and give me back my appetite. She didn't ask about the method. It was like she knew.