by Kate McCorkle
Sitting at a one-chair table—the one shoved into a dusty nook between decorative pillars—at the Borders’ café, I hoped I might not cry in public. At least not the snot-bubble sobbing that erupts when I’m alone. Walking the dog. Cleaning. In the car. At my desk. Maybe it would just be the repressive, misty-eyed weeping I manage for work or church or the grocery store. The fluttering dabs around the eye with a balled-up tissue, like my body is merely leaking.
Borders, warm and well lit even now on a chilly fall night, is a wonder of organization (except the café, where two workers scramble behind a crummy counter to pick up fallen cups). The café needs a good sweeping. Debris covers the tile floor, but so do puffy coats, backpacks, messenger bags, and power cords. The bistro tables, which could also use a scrubbing, are only slightly less piled with laptops, coffee cups, and scones. Beyond the café, the blond wood shelves shine, overhead lights reflecting from their polished surface. Carpeting, good lighting, and precision reign. Neat rows. Labels. That’s the point, though. To make it easy to find and buy books.
The first divide is between nonfiction and fiction, things that are true and things that are made up; then there’s a warren of subcategories and classifications, like Linnaeus and his taxonomic mind took on the written word. Children, though. The children’s books get separated in that initial cleaving. True, not true, and children. Poetry. Poetry is sticky. It may be more real, more authentic, than facts, but it’s too literary to be nonfiction. Poems might be difficult to organize. (No. It just gets lumped under Poetry.) Organization is the name of the game.
Miscarriage, for instance, is listed under both Parenting and Women’s Heath in the nonfiction section. Under Parenting, the single miscarriage book addresses pregnancy after a loss. It explains how to deal with your current pregnancy and not give in to the fear and anxiety oppressing you like a gravestone after the initial miscarriage. Under Women’s Health, the sole book is a personal account of a woman’s multiple miscarriages and stillbirths. There are several volumes on PPD—postpartum depression—and shelves on infertility. What your doctor isn’t telling you is a popular theme.
Both miscarriages were in the fourteenth week. The first baby was due around Thanksgiving. The second baby was due around Easter. The doctor said it’s not a problem until I have more than three.
Which is why, eventually, I dragged myself to Borders. I need books. I need answers.
Only there aren’t any.
The two books reproach me from the space where another person might sit at my small table. Okay. There are two books.
Well-meaning people, by way of consolation, say, You have Elizabeth. I hear, Don’t be greedy. Many women can’t get pregnant (see: Fertility), have never carried a child to term. So consider that the next time you’re choke-crying. Be grateful for the child you have rather than mourn one who’s gone. I am grateful Elizabeth arrived healthy. I don’t take that for granted. Yet her existence isn’t an inoculation from pain; her life doesn’t negate my grief. Two babies lost within five months. (I didn’t lose them, like luggage or an earring.) They had heartbeats, at one point. People have disagreed with that, though, also in the name of comfort. They say those heartbeats were never children, not human, certainly not a life. One can’t mourn tissue, after all.
There’s too much blood for them not to be alive.
No one’s moved from the café. We’re hunkered down, most of us hunched over writing. If you’re quiet, the clicking computer keys sound like an army of grasshopper jaws chewing in summer. I wouldn’t have chosen this cramped alcove table if there’d been another seat, but I like it now. No one’s squeezing around my chair forcing me to scooch in. I can see the whole café and most of the bright second floor. The bathroom’s just down the hall. A community board littered with pushpins holds notices for dog walkers, piano lessons, babysitters.
There’s no closure, no symbolic good-bye with this. The first one happened at home; I was trying so hard to manage it with a toddler underfoot, I didn’t realize what it was until far in. Fetal with cramps, using Elizabeth’s diapers, the only thing that could somewhat hold the thick blood. (Ruined two pants and a sofa cushion that has to stay forever flipped.) No. That’s not totally true. The first drops of blood shot a primitive icy rod along my spine; the ice pick punctured my brain with fear, but I didn’t know, which is different. And when you’re physically numb from fear, yet there’s a child to care for—how would an animal in the woods react? There’s no predator. A call to the doctor doesn’t help.
The next time, I knew it for what it was, and the doctor insisted on a D&C—dilation and curettage—to scrape out the uterus and “run some tests on the tissue.” I thought of asking for some so I could bury her (him?), but then dismissed the thought. The doctors would need the tissue for testing, and besides, I’d been flushing what I’d known of my child anyway.
They didn’t even do the testing. It’s not a problem until there’s more than three.
Not that a blood test would’ve answered anything, but you grasp—I grasped—at anything.
No one talks about this. Two books in all of Borders. Under Women’s Health/Pregnancy, there are volumes on nutrition, fitness, genetics, lifestyle, tests, drugs, and support. Dozens of books list baby names. But I think with miscarriage you’re shit out of luck. Try again next time. And next time. Until you get to four. Then it counts.
Jason wants to know why. What’s different with these two that wasn’t there (or was) with Elizabeth? Why both at fourteen weeks? I don’t think he blames me. I think he wants to solve the problem. Yet with pregnancy, I am the problem.
Don’t move bags of mulch. Don’t do flip turns swimming laps. Don’t stand up too fast. Drink more V-8. Like I have any control over this. Cells divide, or not, without me. Within me. Where did we drop an unseen stitch? When did the glue unstick?
Is that Parenting or Women’s Health?
The smell of burnt coffee and new books, Coltrane—it’s always Coltrane—in the background, overpowering the chewing grasshoppers. More bags than people lumped across the tile floor like mushrooms, like they’d sprouted under the hunched café people. A voice announces Borders is closing in fifteen minutes. No one in the café moves.
Kate McCorkle’s fiction and essays have appeared in Adelaide Literary Magazine; Forge; free state review; Marathon Literary Review; Midway Journal; r.kv.r.y Quarterly, and others. A Pushcart nominee, Kate’s currently working on a memoir about her time as a young wife introduced to the U.S. Army during 9/11. A mother of four, she swims because it’s more acceptable than punching people.