Manzano Mountain Review is an online New Mexico literary journal affiliated with UNM-Valencia.

You Made This

by Lisa Piazza

The house is sinking. Soon it will slide. I watch as the floors disintegrate, crooking into a tilted mess. I count on the benevolence of the house even as I count out the drips on the bathroom tile. 
Tonight I circle the living room with tired strides, bouncing the baby to sleep. 
With the heat low, my body alone warms Mona: nineteen days old.
          In the dark there is only shadow.  
                       In the dark the house is intact.  
In the other room, Paul breathes the in-out sound of sleep.  He does not worry over Mona’s breath or bone.  His is a shock of love: a slimmer volume of attachment.   
Everything internal folds out: loose skin a loose shield as organs reorganize, moving back into place:  stomach, intestines, bladder, uterus – they shrink or spread, rooting down. 
The body remembers. 
And then the body forgets.

I am a new contortionist. 
My body twists like a tree with branches enough to hold the baby, peel an orange, dial the phone, write a note, switch the radio, grind the pepper, wash a fork, sit to eat, rise to wash, read the mail, watch the rain, breathe and breathe and breathe and breathe.
This morning the sky knows nothing but grey. 
Outside heavy rain falls from a charcoal sky.  My head bends, dense with sleep un-slept, stuck in a dream’s memory of an escalator at an indoor mall, surrounded by the yellow glow of false daylight. Somewhere a fake sun filters down below – hot and airless.    
The escalator chugs steadily up, up, up.  No plateau in sight. 
Shoppers, immersed in the freedom of their day, float by – arms heavy with boxes and bags.  But I hold on to nothing.  My arms are empty. I remember suddenly my girl, asleep at home, and lurch  into panic, slipping six internal flights to find there is no actual way down.  It is only the internal pull – maternal pull – yanking my heart to my head that feels like movement.
The shoppers carry on: unaware of the folding walls. 
One side, then the other, and another until all four corners crease neatly up.    
The whole scene wraps itself quickly into a cardboard box to be shelved neatly out of sight.
In the afternoon, Paul calls from work to say his friend Kevin is coming over with his new girlfriend to meet the baby, have some drinks.
“Who?”  I ask.        
I glide to the kitchen, toast a piece of bread, then slip  (suspended in the dense, thick air of a half-dream) back into bed beside the baby.  The baby eats but does not grow.  I will take her to the pediatrician to be weighed again tomorrow.  Paul will not come.  He will not lug the heavy car seat through the stacked parking garage, down the elevator that smells like piss, across the hospital quad to the pediatrician’s office.  Will not undress or unwrap their tiny baby to place her on the scale.  He will not stand there, praying the numbers go up and not down.      
I am on my own with this. This and everything else.
Sleeping with Mona is insufficient therapy for the lists I run: 

suffocation                  lost                               loss of vision                slip and slide
starvation                    stolen                          loss of sound               germs outside
fire                                    sick                              loss of love                    sudden sigh
flood                                hit                                 smother love               landslide
fever                                overheated             mudslide                        retry
fall                                     underfed                  waterslide                    big sigh
Every drop dips deeper into mud.  The cave walls double in, straighten out, lengthen and shrink.  

Around five I nurse the baby, take a shower, dig out a pair of black pants from early pregnancy, find  a clean shirt and wipes the water stains and dried toothpaste from the bathroom counter.   It is the best I can do. 
Kevin and his girlfriend, Lane, get there before Paul is home from work. 
“Come in,” I remember  to say.   Kevin hands me a bottle of wine.  I put it on the table and take them into the room with the couch.   Lane is cool, with hair dyed blue at the ends.  She has silver rings on her fingers, nose and lip.  Her voice is loud – she doesn’t apologize for waking the baby.
“Where are the glasses?”  Paul hisses when he shows up ten minutes later.  I look at him but cannot speak.  I have stopped knowing how to respond.   I set Mona down in the small vibrating bassinet in the living room and go  to the kitchen. When I come back, Lane is leaning over Mona, reaching down, picking her up.  I watch as Mona’s head droops back. My hands open by reflex. The wine glasses crash to the hardwood floor. 
“Rae!”  Paul slams past me to get the broom.  Whatever he says next, expecting me to follow him into the kitchen, I don’t hear.   I don’t care about the broken glasses (or about him.)  I head to Mona as Lane cradles the and walks with her away from me, toward the front window, swishing and crooning a lullaby I have never heard.  I trail them – hands empty now, wanting the baby back.
When Lane gets to the window, she turns around and sighs in awe:  “You made this!”    
“Crazy, isn’t it?”  Someone says.  Is it Paul?    
I can only smile remotely. I look at Mona in Lane’s arms and feel  the stranger’s loose hold myself: that’s my own heart there (dripping, pulsing) in the center of Lane’s cupped palms. 
When Lane buries her face in the fold between Mona’s head and neck, I gag.  
“You need a bath!” Lane teases and fondles Mona with her silver-ringed fingers.  The blue star tattoo on her hand flashes toward me, then away, toward and away, again and again as she moves.   I am both mesmerized and nauseous.   

By the time Lane hands Mona back, I am too sick to smile. 

I sink to the floor.  
                                           Soon I will slide. 

The baby, though:  she breathes, she sleeps, she sighs.   

Lisa Piazza’s stories and poems appear in numerous literary journals. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. She is a semi-finalist for the 2018 American Short(er) Fiction prize and a finalist for the 2016 Cosmonaut Avenue Fiction Prize. Her story, "Tell Me Something I Don't Know" won the 2017 Profane Fiction Contest. She lives in Oakland, California with her two daughters.