Nuclear Daughter Lora Gray
I remember the static voices: “Bomb. Bomb. Bomb.” The great, distant flash.
I remember the day the bomb seed entered me, thrust deep and spilling into my bones and blood. I am a Nuclear Daughter. I will bear its children. For six months I have watched them swell, twisted lumps pushing out of my abdomen like fists, slow motion punches that eventually open into palms, fingers splayed and grappling for oxygen and light.
I’ve named them Lily and Nod.
I haven’t the heart to tell them that the light here is vicious and the air is poison. Nothing grows on the outside anymore. The green spaces have quivered to yellow-brown, the vineyards have shriveled, and the April lambs drop dead between their mothers’ legs, memories of a nevermore spring.
Mama Nuri says it was the same when the first bombs burst over her mother’s mother’s sky. They slammed into the horizon, she says, and shoved the silver cities down, ripped their breath away and replaced it with twisted seeds. With no cities left to take, this last bomb has taken us instead.
Mama Nuri says the bombs know who deserves its children.
I am a Nuclear Daughter.
Someday my children will grow out of me.
I imagine them nestled against my cheek, cooing with the tiny mouths I know they will never use. I imagine them giggling secrets to each other and running through fields on feet they will never have. I imagine them growing older as I grow old and I try not to mourn.
Today, I can feel my pulse echoed in them when I wake, hand cramped against them to still the pain. The straw mattress I share with the other Daughters is too thin to cradle the shape of them and I stroke my fingers over their knuckled masses. There is pressure too, now, lancing through me, dangerous and insistent. Maybe they’ve finally decided to push their way out of my kidney and into my womb where they can dream themselves into real children.
I have been dreaming lately of Daughter Sarah, found dead two weeks ago in the west ravine. Her body was bloated and black, her bomb child sprouting out of her chest like coyote brush. Her flesh had peeled away in careful, curling strips to reveal the pulpy, faceless infant, three arms frozen against the yellow sky, a hundred fingers aching for Sarah’s embrace.
Today, the morning is red and clear and cold. I dress in heavy leather, folding it carefully around Lily’s jagged spine and Nod’s insistent cooked knee.
“Tainted,” Mama Nuri says when she sees me. She makes the Helix Sign above her head, spits onto her own gnarled feet three times and walks in a wide circle around me, her eyes on the twin mounds curving out of my body.
I have tried explaining to her that Lily and Nod are my children, grown from me like limbs from a tree, like vines, flowers, but all of the old village women insist we Daughters have been cursed.
“You still have your moon blood, girl,” she says. “And no man has seeded you. Your body is poison. You infect us all.”
Death incarnate, says she, the echo of the bomb spreading under my skin.
I climb the bluff cradling them, past a toppled winery with withered grape veins like a forgotten heart. My pulse is Carignan heavy. I remember the last of the grapes, beads of fruit the color of old blood. Bitter, sun-puckered things that clung to my teeth and soured my stomach as if trying to convince me that they had never been worth the trouble to begin with.
The bluff crests, climbing high, and I curl close to the earth. Animal low. Hand, hand, foot, foot, I ascend. The wind is sharp as glass this close to the sea, and I pile my hair over my nose and mouth as I make the final crawl. Lily pinches my spine and Nod spreads himself like a dull sigh against my stomach. I pause, letting the acid air sting them into stillness before hefting myself up.
The ocean breaks below us, a tableau peeling wide and white against the rocks. I close one eye. Click. I close the other. Click. And tuck the image deep, pushing it down to where Lily and Nod can see it. Where they can smell salt air and wide swaths of foam surging onto a wild coastline, pale arms entwined, embracing. I smooth my palm over the mound of them, uneven and rocky as the shore.
For a moment I imagine those open fists closing around my fingers, three hearts beating in time with the tide, and I lower us into a hollow between the stones.
I shed my leathers and, shivering, wait.
Finally, there is a swell. A surge. My kidney quivers. I can hear Lily and Nod squealing, feel them hammering their fists up and out, up and out. I am screaming with them when muscle and bone heave aside, and Lily and Nod burst through flesh. Pain becomes fear becomes joy as they surge upward. Their bodies coil together, and their heads loll heavily in secret rhythms I can feel in the backs of my eyes, my toes, my breasts. I can hear a cacophony of children laughing. Lily and Nod and would-be others I never knew lived inside of me. I watch as they scamper up the tender cords of Lily’s legs and Nod’s strong back, their heads thrown back, faces shining as they emerge into the crimson world.
For a moment, my children are a city, silver and pure and bright as the dawn.
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