Joyland

San Francisco |

Mother Miri Full of Grace

by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

edited by Kara Levy

When Miri and Ben had sex, he filled her with a million babies, but then didn’t ask her to marry him.

“Don’t you think we should?” she asked him. She had dreamed that first she would be married if she were to have a single baby, let alone a million of them. But Ben shrugged and told her that he wasn’t really in that place in his life, and also he wasn’t even sure that the million babies were his, a comment that cut a chasm in Miri’s chest, and she did not call him again, not once during her pregnancy.

They were Ben’s babies, but she wasn’t about to suffer any more of his cavalier disregard. He didn’t seem that bothered. He called once to see how she was, but then took her silence to mean that the babies were not in fact his, an assumption that Miri could live with. Ben had proved himself irredeemable. He was only an OK lay, anyway. He probably wouldn’t make a great father, and he didn’t seem to understand the importance of cunnilingus, and so he could fuck himself from now on, because Miri sure wasn’t going to.

And so Miri’s body grew, and it swelled, her face, her neck, her arms and her legs, even her feet, which surprised her, and she wore sandals every day even though it was winter, her toes fat and swollen and freezing. It was gradual and sudden and her tits hung heavy and her stomach became an unwieldy thing she could not avoid bumping, squishing, knocking about, and she had to pee, always always always, she had to pee, the babies crowding her bladder.

“I only gained about fifteen pounds when I was pregnant with you,” Miri’s mother told her, which was a lie, because Miri had seen pictures of her mother when she was pregnant, and she’d been a hippo, a hungry hungry hippo, and Miri was not about to be shamed for gaining a million pounds when she was pregnant with a million babies, so she just said “Sure, Ma, sure.”

“It totally blows that you can’t drink right now,” Miri’s friend told her, which was a bitch thing to say, especially while sipping a Bloody Mary with a pickled cauliflower garnish that looked good enough to fill Miri’s heart with resentment so thick, so opaque, that she could not see through it. Miri didn’t call her for brunch anymore, because if someone said the phrase “bottomless mimosas” to her one more time her face would explode in a mushroom cloud of rage, and she would burn the universe to ashes.

And the million babies grew and grew and grew inside her, always growing, and now they jostled for space, pushing against Miri’s organs, and especially her bladder, and pushing against each other and she was so hungry all the time.

She craved things like pickled herring and kimchee, cotton candy and cashews, but mostly the coffee she knew she should not have anymore, which did not stop her from sitting in coffee shops just so she could smell it. Even decaf has caffeine, all the mommy blogs told her, and she listened but she hated them for their insistence, and for loving their pregnancies so much. How could anyone love being the size of a planetoid?

Strangers touched her stomach without invitation.

“You look like you’re going to pop!” Miri’s sister told her, and since Miri was incredibly constipated and had been for the last month, she imagined this was a true and fair thing to say, even if she didn’t much care for hearing it. Her sister was much younger than her, however, and was easily forgiven. And with Miri’s belly full of with the heft of a million babies, her sister was displaced to the floor in front of the couch that Miri took up entirely as they watched the whole fourth season of Breaking Bad, so in a way, they were even, both uncomfortable, both with aching backs, and their shared discomfort made Miri feel fractionally less alone.

When Miri’s water broke, she was alone, and she got to the hospital by a cab whose driver did not seem at all concerned that Miri was going into labor, not sensing her urgency or ignoring it entirely, waiting for the light to turn green before taking right-hand turns and generally driving the exact speed limit, a habit that irked Miri on the best of days, but especially so on this, the day that she was about to birth a million babies. She clutched her pre-packed duffle bag to her chest, and tried not to think about being alone.

At the hospital, she was given her own room so that the staff could handle the volume of her offspring once they were born. And so in the hours while her contractions came closer and closer together, she was alone save for the beeping of the hospital machinery, occasional nurse visits, and the drumming of her own interior monologue that asked: Are you a terrible mother already? Over and over and over again in her head. And there was no one there to answer it.

A nurse made an incision from the southern tip of her vagina to her anus so that the million babies could exit without tearing her, and Miri could not even feel it, the pain of her cervix dilating and of the children that she would birth, who would live and also inevitably die. So immense was this pain, and this knowledge, and this labor, that the pain was universal, it was the only thing that existed, and so what was an incision between her cunt and butthole in a moment like that? There was no one there to hold her hand, and so she gripped the sheets, her hands wound into fists. She wailed to no one.

And all at once the babies came slithering out, first one, and then thirty, and then nine hundred, ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and sixty-nine more. Forty-two of them were lizards, seventy three thousand, three hundred and twenty-two of them were stillborn, and fourteen thousand, six hundred and eighty -three of them were of indeterminate gender, and seventy-seven were born with vestigial, sixth fingers and toes, and fourteen had bright red hair, even though Miri and Ben both had black, black hair. One of them was a pearly pink bowling ball, weighing in at twelve pounds. The rest were boys and girls, weighing between seven and ten pounds each, and they all came out screaming.

The nurses sewed the incision back together, so Miri had two strictly delineated orifices once more.

The lizards crawled away, and Miri wept for she had no idea where they went, and she was ready to love a lizard baby just the same as any other baby.

In her backyard, she buried the seventy-three thousand, three hundred and twenty-two babies who never once breathed air from their own noses or mouths. She tried her best to kiss each of them goodbye, and to lay them into their graves gently, but she also had nine hundred twenty-six thousand, six hundred and thirty-five more babies to care for and to feed.

Her garbage was full of diapers.

When she grew a thousand more breasts, she was not surprised. She needed each one to feed the babies that were always hungry, hungry, hungry, and even with one thousand and two breasts, she still could not feed them all, and three thousand, four hundred and sixteen of them died of starvation, and she buried them with their brothers and their sisters.

She wondered who fed the babies that were lizards, and if the lizards were safe.

And since Miri did not even know nine hundred twenty-three thousand, two hundred and nineteen names, she called them all Baby, my Babies, and they cooed and cried and crapped in their diapers as babies are wont to do. And soon they were talking, syllables at first and then words and then sentences, and they asked her things like why, and how, but mostly why and also what and Miri answered as best she could, she answered their millions of questions with all the patience she could muster even though by then she had not slept in four years, two weeks and twenty-nine days.

By this time, two hundred eighty two thousand, seventy-four more had died, and one had spontaneously transmogrified into a large, black bear that visited the backyard, but only sporadically. Forty-seven of them had run away or gotten lost, Miri wasn’t sure which, and she had missing persons out on all of them, but the police didn’t really take her seriously, saying that no one could possibly lose forty-seven children.

And then one day, Miri ran into Ben in the park. She was doing her best to hold several thousand hands in her two, and always one baby was just one the verge of slipping away. Ben had been jogging. He looked good, but older, and had a wedding band on his finger, and he asked Miri how she was, and he motioned to the babies, of which there were now six hundred forty-two thousand, five hundred and twelve left. About three hundred thousand of them looked very much like Ben and he said so, and Miri told him it must be a coincidence.

She had not dated in years, but she was still better off without a man like Ben, and the sureness she felt bolstered her heart. She was not alone. She was surrounded by the babies, who weren’t babies anymore, and she marveled as they began to grow names, like Bill and Leigh, and Philip, and Ysenia.
And she did not call them Baby, my Babies anymore, not out loud.

In the bath, Miri counted each one of the stretch marks left by the million babies on her belly and bottom and thighs, especially on her thighs. There were a million, a millions marks for each one of her million babies, alive or dead, bowling ball or bear. Her back ached from the weight of her thousand breasts, and always, knocking on the bathroom door were the babies, asking when it would be their turn, and was she done yet. She took her time, anyway.

And in the backyard, Ysenia spotted lizards.