Previously in our story, our parents had failed five months in a row to make a baby, and Father had grown frustrated. He couldn’t figure out what our mother was doing wrong. For his Christmas/Chanukah present she gave him a skiing vacation in Steam Boat Springs, Colorado. She secretly thought it would give her a break from him, but he insisted she join him, so he could continue his spermatazoon campaign.
On their second day out, Mother was buried in an avalanche. She waited for our father to rescue her, and when he failed to do so, she thought she would just give way for the last time. But then she remembered there might be life inside her. She bucked and shook her head and arched and reared up into blue, blue sky, gasping and crying, covered in powder.
And not alone. Because that is the moment we came to consciousness in an explosion of bright, bright blue. Not one, but two mouths opening in perfect synchronicity. Twins startled into being, we immediately knew every thought our mother ever had, her past, her present, everything that is, except our future.
The morning after we return home from Colorado, Mother tells Father she needs to talk. A healthful breakfast is in process, tempeh scramble and a spinach-kale smoothie. His broad back to her, he’s in a Kelly green t-shirt, and he’s busy chopping, stirring and whirring.
“I’ve made a decision,” she says, hovering in the kitchen doorway in her long nightgown, hands tearing at a tissue.
His slicing skills are extraordinary—notice the almost transparent petals of garlic flowering from the knife. “I’ve got this,” he says. “I need to get you off dairy and wheat and get you in for some acupuncture. That should kick start those droopy eggs.”
“Not about pregnancy. I don’t want, I mean,” she croaks, “I want to live without you.”
He doesn’t turn around. “Don’t blame me. Your fall triggered the avalanche, buddy. If you had listened to me that never would have happened.”
“That’s not true,” she says.
He pulses the blender, creating a small green tornado in there.
She throws the shredded tissue at his back. It rocks gently to the floor.
He fires up the gas under the wok.
She goes into the bedroom and opens her suitcase on the bed. Dumps her underwear drawer in it.
And then he’s there, his face so close to hers. That face! The gold curls jostling on his high forehead, the very light blue eyes and blond lashes, the cleft chin. He says, “If you fold your clothes correctly you could fit twice as much into that suitcase.” He says, “You’re hysterical. You need to calm down. We’ll talk later.” He leaves, closes the bedroom door. She hears him wedge a chair under the door handle from the outside.
She pushes at the door, rattles the knob, keeps her voice calm, calls, “Open this. Open this right now.” He doesn’t answer. The knife work starts back up in the kitchen.
She paces a little, sings one of the songs she’s taught her fourth grade class, Simple Gifts. She picks up the phone by the bed. It’s beeping. She feels the air thickening, her throat closing. She thinks she hears that whump sound again. It startles her heart. There’s not enough air in here. She unlatches the window and pulls it up. Cool, late January ocean air washes over her. She hears a seal bark. She’s on the second floor. Beneath her–the side of the house with the garbage and recycling bins up against the neighbor’s privacy fence. The last owners used it as a dog run. It’s just packed dirt. She dumps more clothes into her suitcase, zips it up, mumbling, ’tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free, tis a gift, heaves the suitcase over the window and drops it. It falls hard, skids in the dirt, one of the wheels chips off. ’Tis a gift to come down where you ought to be. She laces on her sneakers, hikes up her nightgown with the little blue flowers and the ruffled yoke. She straddles the sill. Her face is flushed and hot and her vision is doing that sparky-fizzy thing again. She drops her legs over, her second half still inside the room. She starts to lower herself down along the side the house.
She thinks then, finally, of us. Not exactly us, because she doesn’t know we’re both here yet, doesn’t even know for sure there’s anyone else riding inside at all, except she has a feeling. She thinks: what if the fall jostles the baby? Undecided, she hangs there by her burning fingers, but she doesn’t have upper body strength and the indecision only lasts a groaning moment before she drops. She does remember to bend her knees and tuck, and she rolls into the dirt, her shoulder nudging the suitcase. As she yanks her nightgown down over her scraped knees, she thinks, Why didn’t I change into pants?
Then she gallops down the dog yard, her suitcase rolling bumpily behind her on its one good wheel. She unlatches the gate, drags her rollie through the early morning streets. How wondrous it feels to be running, the rollie bouncing and scraping, her heart yelling freedom. She runs all the way across Santa Cruz to her cousin Molly’s house.
Molly makes her breathe into a paper bag while she stands over Mother, clenching-unclenching her hands and cursing Father. Molly is a vivified version of our mother, rich, chestnut hair instead of light brown, bright green eyes instead of grey, buff and busty instead of skinny.
Father arrives about twenty minutes later, knocking on the front door over and over like he’s hammering in a nail. Mother and Molly stare at each other across the paper bag. They watch the knob turn. Neither of them remembers if the door is locked. The door holds. He seems to be gone, but then he’s on the back porch looking at them through the sliding glass door.
Molly goes right up to the glass. “I’m calling the police.” Her hot breath steams a tiny curtain between them.
Mother starts to wheeze again.
Molly picks up the phone, stabs 911.
Father looks over Molly’s shoulder to give Mother the eye. He growls, “You need a therapist,” or maybe “You’re a terrorist,” it’s hard to hear through the glass. He taps the glass twice with his finger, as if he were tapping mother’s forehead. He says, and this time she’s sure he says it because he’s yelling, “You’re not quitting. Not happening, not happening, not happening. Get it?”
MICAH PERKS grew up in a log cabin on a commune in the Adirondack wilderness. What Becomes Us is her third book. Excerpts of What Becomes Us won an NEA and The New Guard Machigonne Fiction Award. She co-directs the creative writing program at University of California, Santa Cruz. More info and work can be found on her website.
Adapted from What Becomes Us, by Micah Perks, Copyright © 2016 by Micah Perks. With the permission of the publisher, Outpost19 Books.