Steven Berbeco
Part II
I am suspended in juice, lulled by the hump thumping of her heart, in a stasis of embryonic fluids and slow, warm sloshing.

Here there is no color, only shades of shadows. My eyes aren't open yet. I don't know that I have eyes or dilating pupils yet. Here everything is the raw and the uncooked, everything is possible and undone. I don't eat, I don't defecate. I can barely hear anything but the hump thumping.

Her meals flow through me and her love flows through me. I slow down when she sleeps and speed up when she laughs. Sometimes someone punches her in the stomach, and I feel it in my face or chest. Sometimes someone punches her in the face and it misses me completely.

She is lying under a heavy blanket and I am the little furnace keeping her very warm. She pulls the blanket higher over her head, gripping it with red, bloated fingers.

My juices flow into her, and her juices flow into me. I am sometimes upside-down inside her. Just now I feel inside-out. We have the same rhythms. Now both our hearts are off-beat and our minds are untied and limp.

If you were the blanket over her, you would be her clothing, covering her body completely and heavily in a sticky comfort. You might be stained in places by her sweat. You also contain some well-worn undergarments lost in your folds, and a color glossy women's magazine with sex tips and radical beauty ideas, and a hypodermic needle and completely empty syringe, and a snack food wrapped in cellophane plastic.

If you were the small, bulbous lamp by the bed, you would conspire to brighten as she slid deeper under the covers. You would start to hear the low humming of the room around you and eventually hear the inappropriate and uncomfortable questions that she will ask herself aloud. You would know that you are on the small table next to a box of tissues with a luminescent floral design, and an irregular set of keys, and a thick, gold watch, and the telephone that may or may not be ringing right now.

I feel her tense up and release herself, then tense again and hold her breath.

I push. I push back! My fingers collect rivulets and spongy mass as they clench and release and clench. I kick!

Her body shakes with crying. I cannot cry, I cannot cry. I kick!

Strengthened and tinted blood flows from her heart's left ventricle through the semi-lunar cusps and into the ascending aorta, past the subclavian artery and brachiocephalic trunk, dropping through the abdomen and to the external iliac artery. Within the pelvis, the blood feeds into myometrium of the uterus, then the endometrium, and then spreads through the placenta that surrounds me.

I am surrounded by juice and puss. I am held in fluid place by it. I kick!

All her fluids and love are general through her and me, that among us all is living and blood.

I am in a room, different from the one you are in now.

Do you know where I am?

There is a middle-aged man standing in front of a wide, clean mirror, admiring his own face and features. He is dressed in a pleasant business suit, with a muted tie and unassuming, polishable shoes. His body has few scars or blemishes, and he wears a simple ring made of strong metal on his left hand. Behind him men rise from open seats and come from their stalls, and other men step into the stalls and latch the door. Men wash their hands and rinse, and they come and go through a swinging door.

The middle-aged man pats the edges of his hair and thinks about his wife of many years, how beautiful she was when they met and how lucky he is that she has aged gracefully, how wonderful her love was when they founded it and how it grew geometrically through the years and experiences, how she still touches his face gently and he still holds her hands when they kiss, how they joke with giggling smiles about buying a new mattress every year, how he stands in the doorway and she smiles from under the covers, and how she steps out of the house into the crisp autumns, the moist springs, the bright winters, and the endless summers.

He turns the sink's faucets to adjust for temperature and thinks about his son who is old enough to write home with tales of the far-off and unimaginable, who complains that he recognizes his countrymen by their loud behavior but sometimes finds an unknown and dark corner where no one speaks his language, who ironically describes the architecture and street life and sends home picture post cards of castles and murals and domesticated animals tended by men with large moustaches, who still misses his parents even if he is too proud to admit it, who is collecting small gifts for them to give on his return, who walks through the local markets with a tall and proud woman whose name he cannot pronounce, who thinks he might be in giddy and sexy and happy love.

The middle-aged man bends over the sink slightly as he lathers and washes his hands, thinking about his daughter who chooses trousers and not dresses, and short clipped hair kept dryly serious and not luscious curly wet waves, and works on diesel engines repair or hydraulic motor support or aerodynamic systems integration and not literature or music or implacable theories, and demands attention when she is in a room with the accelerated whirr of a high-wattage Tesla coil and not the smooth rolling light buoyancy of contemporarily designed fabric cloth, and marches loudly when she bursts into a room and not able ever to hide a secret, and calls home with practiced and honest regularity and not with any disingenuous feeling or awkward moments or pregnant pauses or taboo subjects.

He straightens his back and turns off the faucets, and steps to the side to take a paper towel, and he thinks what great pleasure comes of his work and workplace, what he started from as a teetering and uppity young man, what the mail room smelled like with its mound of rubber stamps and acid-based ink pads and the rough burlap bags that needed sorting early every morning, what his first desk felt like as he drew his hand over its surface and pulled each drawer out to marvel at its obvious novelty and the small, bulbous lamp that followed him from that office and up, what the development of colleagues and idols felt like, what late evenings were lost in pacing out worries before tempered and clever solutions emerged, what laughs he had had with the secretaries and the staff and the managers and the executives, what he thinks about when looking far and far out of the windows of his office - up over the trees and between the hills and through the passing clouds.

Standing before the wide, glass mirror, he notices suddenly how clearly and cleanly the glass reflects. He turns to face the mirror fully and tightens the knot in his tie.

Go back to
Part I

Steven Berbeco is a high school teacher in the Boston area.
His writing has appeared in Watermark, Christian Science Monitor,
and the Arabic-language Sawt al-Qarya.
He can be reached at

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