The Thought of Us
By Cicily Bennion
Originally published in the Summer 2021 issue of Under the Gum Tree.
All my possessions are in a garage, but the only items I can see are the ones on the periphery: A rocking chair, our mattress, a lamp, a box that says “Dresses,” and another labeled “Bathroom.” I would love nothing more than to unpack, to move out of our in-laws’, to sleep on my own mattress instead of the one in the spare bedroom upstairs. It is a mattress that has lost its integrity on the edges; it slopes down towards the ground and I spend my nights gradually sliding off. But the two-bedroom apartment we hoped to move into—an upgrade we decided to make to accommodate the coming addition to our family, the baby who will make us a party of three—is water damaged. And for the last few months, I’ve been here: Four, then twelve, then eighteen weeks pregnant, sleeping on a bed that does not want me while supposedly, someone, somewhere, is making repairs.
It’s embarrassing to admit this, but there have been nights when I cried for our old apartment. Not gracefully, either, but in choking, gasping sobs, which I tried to muffle with a pillow so that my mother-in-law sleeping across the hall would not hear. My husband, Nathan, would try to point out the silver linings as he wiped away my tears—we were saving so much money on rent and food, my commute to school had practically disappeared, and this new place, when we finally moved in, would have a room for a nursery. When that didn’t help, he’d admit that he missed it too. Together, we would list the things we missed: How the morning sunlight gave color to our gray walls; how we read barefoot on the patio together in the summer. He missed walking to the movie theatre on a weeknight. I missed the sound of his footsteps coming down the corridor, the sound of him coming home. And then, having exhausted myself with memories, I’d fall asleep on the mattress that still did not want me.
I read Amy Leach’s “The Round-Earth Affair” and I’m jealous of the ease with which she says “we” when speaking of her whole neighborhood: “We were each like a tree grown in a cage. My neighbors and I slept tucked behind thin gates and thin doors. . .” She goes on, speaking confidently of the feelings and whims of the neighborhood around her: “We were hard to horrify” and “We were resigned.”
And then quickly, slyly, just as easily, her “we” becomes all of humanity. “. . . Nature needs us like a hostage needs her captors. . . We are dubious heroes who create peril and then save its victims.” I find myself thrilled to be part of her “we” even if it is a we of clumsy devastation. I point this out to my creative writing students in class and they stare back at me, glassy-eyed. See how she’s drawing nearer to you with this one little pronoun? I ask. We are part of something bigger, I say. We are part of this story. My voice is growing desperate. They nod as if to reassure me. It does not reassure me.
After school, I take the bus back to my in-laws’ house. I look at the homes which contain people who never seem to emerge. And then one of them does emerge, and I avoid meeting her gaze. I spend the rest of the afternoon in the living room watching sitcoms with my brother-in-law. Later that day, I drive past the apartment we’re supposed to move into, past all the tiny houses on the block, and I can’t think of a single thing I can say about “us,” my neighbors and me.
I recall a time in our former apartment when my neighbor and friend knocked on my door with her not-quite-two-year-old in tow. “Would you mind watching Ella while I unload the groceries? It’ll just take a minute.” Ella and I sat together on the kitchen floor, eating sliced strawberries from a bowl before she got up to toddle around the living room. I was not pregnant yet, but I wanted to be. And just when I began to sink with that thought, Ella ran to me. She called my name, her babyspeak transforming “Cicily” to “Silly,” and I was happy to be whoever she wanted me to be, so I scooped her up, and both of us were spinning, spinning, spinning.
* * *
At eight o’clock, I tell Nathan I’m going to bed early. Alone in the spare bedroom, I ask our baby how he’s doing in there. In response, my belly rises and falls with my breathing. In these moments it’s easy to believe I know this being inside me, and despite the fatigue and the morning sickness, I thrill at the thought of us. When Nathan comes to bed later, I rouse long enough to tell him that I think this little baby is a sweet one, and he kisses me back to sleep.
We woke up two times in the night to pee, and in the morning we were startled awake, having nearly fallen off the bed again.