Jenna Lyles

Kumquat

I remember my mother’s womb. It comes to me in a reoccurring dream I first mistake for another tryst with comatose surrealism. Indeed, my dreams can get a little weird— so that I should be curled up, sucking my thumb in the middle of a ruddy, diamond quilted alcove was nothing too bizarre.

Oblivious to the orthodontic consequences I was shelving for myself, it suddenly dawns on me that even the fixed buzz of silence is void in this place. (And if you have ever borne witness to raw silence then surely you can empathize with the panic that began to set in.) I think to toggle my ears, unclog them, only I find they are stuck down the side of my neck like a pair of gills.

Before I can scream, I wake up.

I have this dream again and again.

***

Is it inappropriate to tell you that my mother’s insides are fleece, and I suspect that is how she came to shroud us all so expertly? The predisposition sewn up inside her so that all of her babies were wreathed in her tender graces and all of her men—the big babies— swaddled.

My mother has a knack for that: swaddling. Taking in and wrapping. Taking in and bandaging.

The woman is a walking shawl.

***

The more the dream persists, the more terrified I am of my deformity. It takes no less than ten different sleep cycles before the somnolence strikes me just right, and then my neck-ears seem old hat. Then it’s the surfeit of my other unintelligible, half-formed, lopsided, and hardly-working features that horrify me.

My rudimentary life tools include: a tail, soft cartilage for a skeleton, liplessness, and round-the-clock hiccups. Sometimes I am the size of a blueberry, sometimes an avocado.

Perhaps most bizarrely, my skin is translucent. Like cellophane noodles. I briefly consider the self-possession of jellyfish, the native aplomb of a creature so transparent that it may never hide anything.

The womb is a wonderful little nook, I decide.

***

When asked my earliest memory, fondness bubbles over the brim of my storytelling. “My fourth birthday.” I beam. “My parents took me to Mount Trashmore to ride my new bike and I busted my chin open.”

In fact, I had let my eagerness to ride it (and possibly the reassuring look of the bike: an impossibly glossy pink frame with pelican white tires) eclipse the daunting trajectory of the city park. I don’t quite remember how I came to hurdle over the handlebars like I did, but I’ll never forget the way my chin punched the asphalt.

My mother ran to me, threw her cloak of elbows and biceps around my filed-down exterior. She drew me snuggly into her chest, unaware that the fabric from her sweater singed the exposed white meat of my abrasions.

This, of course, is not my earliest memory.

***

She has fallen asleep on the loveseat in her blue snowflake robe, which she jokingly refers to as her safety blanket and dons faithfully every winter.

I look at her crunched up in the chair, fetal position. If she were not such a petite woman, she would be spilling from the cushion, oozing over the ottoman. But she is a little thing. She can hardly occupy all of the leather herself, but that tattered robe drapes so willingly over everything that she looks twice her size.

The sash is drawn tight around her waist. A formidable knot looms.

It makes me a little heartsick to think about how much solace she has found in that robe. When I was wrapped up in myself, and my brother was wrapped up in himself, and my father was wrapped up in himself, all she had was that sash to wrap around herself.

***

I don’t know what I will do when I have children of my own and am responsible for encasing their qualms and joys and gaping chins. I doubt there is enough room in me, or that it could be repurposed, made into the iron chamber or velvet sheath my mother’s arms have always been.

I doubt my womb could keep anything safe. I suspect my insides are chiffon, see-through as a jellyfish, and dipping under the weight of anything bigger than a kumquat.

 

Jenna Lyles is an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama where she is also an associate nonfiction editor of the Black Warrior Review. Originally from Jacksonville, Florida, her budding love for Tuscaloosa has proven to keep homesickness at bay. This is her first publication.

 … return to Issue 9.3 Table of Contents.