I am an infant, and I am strapped to my mother’s stomach with taut fabric. I see everything my mother sees but five inches sooner.
Right now, we are in the hardware store and she is buying clay to make a fist. I know that we will do this many more times over the next few weeks, and I think maybe she knows this too, in a way. I marvel at the drive gears and the chucks and the feed screws as we walk through the aisles, because I know what everything is for and this is pleasing.
The clay stains both the kitchen table and my mother’s hands terracotta red. A fist manifests on the kitchen table. The fist is huge and meaty and prehistoric looking. Its short finger joints are out of proportion with the flat backside of the hand, which is knotty and mottled with veins. Every part of it is the dense, terracotta red of the kitchen table and my mother’s hands.
And then we are at a yard sale and my mother is asking them if they have any clay. She clutches the classifieds in one of her red hands. Then she is reaching around my body and into her purse to find money to exchange for more clay.
My mother makes another fist.
And then another.
And I try and talk to my baby sister through our mother’s stomach. I can feel her there in her womb, between me and my mother, but she doesn’t know how to speak my language yet. Instead, she lets me see our mother’s dreams, which I have lost touch with since being born.
The night after our mother makes her first fist, she dreams that she has her own personal mosquito, who only feeds on her. It follows her everywhere she goes, her mosquito, drinking her blood. And when she wakes up, she knows she is pregnant again.
Our mother makes more fists. The terracotta red wraps all the way around her hands so that they are only defined from the clay fists by their motion. When she holds me, the red does not transfer, and I am disappointed.
When fists hold all the pencils and stop all the doors and pot all the plants, our mother starts to replace the walls with them. Then the furniture.
Then she dreams that she is in a lighthouse whose walls are all made of stained-glass. Seagulls slam their salty bodies into the stained-glass lighthouse and make the light red with their blood. There are so many seagulls. They slide down the sides of the lighthouse making slimy pathways like snails into a pile at the tower’s base. There are so many seagulls, but they never break through the stained-glass. Our mother is safe. When she wakes up, our mother knows that my baby sister is a boy.
When the money runs out for clay, our mother trades for it—packs of playing cards, pairs of shoes, half-burnt column candles. And then the rugs and the couch and the kitchen table so that she has to make the fists on the floor now.
And I’m getting bigger and so is my baby sister and our mother has to crouch now to make the fists on the floor, so our mother has started unwinding my fabric and placing my body apart from hers in the middle of one of the biggest fists she has made so far. I cannot hear my baby sister’s dream reports from here. I cannot feel our mother’s heartbeat. I only feel the fist, which is still warm from the work of our mother’s hands but growing colder.
And so I realize that the next dream my baby sister can relate to me will be the last.
In the last of our mother’s dreams that I will know, she dreams of goats. Our mother hates goats, which is complicated, because she is a triple Capricorn—Capricorn moon, Capricorn sun, Capricorn ascendant. But in this dream, our mother cares for a baby goat. She brushes the bugs from its hair and braids its beard and strokes its horns. The goat licks her hands and nuzzles her neck and reflects the image of our mother back at her in its sideways eyes. And when our mother wakes up, she loves goats. Our mother loves goats so much.
But the thing is, our mother is not a triple Capricorn; she is not even a double Capricorn. Our mother will learn this in a few years when the Internet will tell her that she is only a single Capricorn and that her mother had lied to her about yet another thing.
But that will be then. Now, our mother loves goats. Now, our mother loves goats so much. And now, our mother stops making fists.
Abigail Swoboda lives in West Philly.