My shoulders jerk downward as my perfectly round belly bounces up: Huk, huk, huk. I am trying not to laugh out loud, and instead I am shaking the little one. Uterine tendons ping pain at me, pinching in protest.
His voice is breathy when it finally comes from among the clouds in his imagination…"I don't know…" he says to me, looking up at the ceiling. He forms his lips into a little beak shape and goes chomp chomp with them.
I cannot tell if this is part of the answer, or just him being a kid.
"Hey!" he says to me, suddenly serious, "You said we could play outside."
I groan inwardly. All my laughter sucked away by one word: I. I roll my eyes up into my head, looking for an answer. "That was before the mouths in your ears bit me!" I say.
He frowns, golden eyebrows tarnishing in the shadows, "you said..." he says to me.
I try a new approach: "When did I say?"
"This day! Early. When you got the cereal," it sounds like "see-rahl" the way he says it.
I nod, remembering now for myself the conversation over box-tops that marks our mornings. "You're right," I concede, sighing. I ferret my feet into my shoes, letting my shoulders hang and my arms swing against my enormous belly. He laughs at this, thinks it's funny. Suddenly, now, I don't feel like laughing.
"I don't want to go outside," I say to him, but he takes my hand, insistent. I pull back, suddenly afraid of the door. I try to wrap my arms around his waist, pull him back into the safety of our patio and the mouths in the ears. But he keeps going, toward the hulking front door. I hear the hundred-year-old hinges scream in protest, and my throat closes down in sympathy for the tortured metal. That sound is a warning; don't go outside.
I can't do anything but follow him as he pulls open the door. Bright white light shoots from the doorjamb, blinding me as it stabs my eyes.
And still he pulls open the door, unaffected by the light and the heat and fear.
I put my arm up over my eyes, trying to keep my gaze on him. "No, baby." I say to him, "Come back, please."
But he opens the door and steps toward the light.
"No, come back!" I call to him. I reach for him, the shadows from my fingers piercing into my flesh. I reach, hands shaking, but he slips out the door.
Into the light.
I think I scream. I open my eyes, my lids scratching against my corneas as if someone put sand in my eyes. I raise a defensive arm, trying to knock some of the sleep from my eyelashes until the white light swims into some-thing like focus.
A soothing, professional-sounding voice is speaking to my right. She is saying my name, I realize belatedly. Her face is smeared to the right by the lights on the ceiling, but as soon as I see her eyes, I can hear her.
"Jasmine?" she calls to me. I blink, each motion a separate agony. "Can you hear me, Jasmine?" she asks me.
I try to nod, but the muscles in my neck are sore. A reflexive gasp of pain snags in my throat, caught on barbs of even more pain. Somehow, my throat has been shredded by acid or claws or something equally horrific.
The voice floats back, "Jasmine, do you know why you're here?" the Professional asks.
Even with my eyes closed, I can see the avalanche of memory barreling down the mountain at me. I know I stand in the path of certain death if I do not move. I throw my hands up, covering my face with both of my arms before the memories crash around me. The images sweep my feet out from under me. They begin to roll and twist me up into the eddies. Bones snap under the pressure of them, under their brute force. I am bent into unnatural shapes by them. Instead of feeling the reassuring, ligament pinging weight in my belly, I feel watery, Jell-O-y softness of my stretched flesh… empty. I reach down to protect my belly, but it is too late.
Too late, because I know this scream that bathes my throat in acid is my last. I do not need to see the memories; it does not matter how it happened. The images are too horrible, impossible to live with. The images show me: surrounded in white light, alone.
Alone for all eternity.
"No!" I scream, and it does not matter how many times I scream it, it will always be my last scream. "No!"
My voice gives out, "I want to go back," I whisper, clutching my throat. "I'll get bit!" I say to the nurse, squeezing the sounds out between the teardrops in my eyes. "He has mouths in his ears."