It’s only a short string of waking hours each month, a day or two. But once you start paying attention to this part of the cycle, it begins to stand out sharply from the rest of the month. These days are different: in your mental calendar they are outlined in neon, a warning color. It’s when you have to be careful.

            On those days your breasts feel intelligent and watchful; pupil-like nipples that bore into passersby. They notice everything. Him? they seem to suggest. Or maybe him? No, you tell them silently. Hush. Those are all married men. It doesn’t help that your neighborhood is one full of young families. The sidewalk is calamitous outside of the grammar school you pass daily: men holding hands with kindergarten-aged children, women with infants in slings over their chest and toddlers they reprimand in voices that are soothing or annoyed. You sidestep myriad strollers; nannies abound. Amid this swarm of activity, something about you feels precisely wrong: your purse, your coat, everything seems cumbersome. It’s better when you’ve passed, and a modicum of peace is restored. Then the quiet of your commute is interrupted only by the occasional blather of an insane person, or a garbled intercom announcement.

            It can’t be a coincidence that you’ve begun dating two grown orphans. Funny, the way a heart tries to soothe itself: in lieu of having a child, you will instead romance parentless boys. One has a father that was murdered and a mother that subsequently lost her mind. The other one’s dad walked out before his mother died suddenly. Both are now in the middle of their twenties, situated at an awkward distance from these circumstances. Childhood still feels near to them, but it is retreating. Soon they will find new ways of defining themselves. But for now it is not odd for bar banter and pillow talk to meander over to the wreckage of their families. When my father left. When my mother died. After my dad died.

They are all alone and you love them for it.

(In the dark you two quibble over a condom. He doesn’t have one, do you? No. You don’t.  It occurs to you how strange it is, that women with their abrupt spells of fecundity are considered to be the fertile ones, when it is men who constantly brim with seed. He smiles at you in the darkness, irresistibly. Now it seems absurd that a prophylactic was even discussed. This encounter will be as urgent and selfish as usual. The two of you have a gift for pretending that recklessness is a kind of love.)

            Of course it is springtime. Earthy, dank, perfumed spring: pollen galore, flowering trees emitting scents, crushed petals underfoot. You stroll through the neighborhood with a lingering awareness of the fact that this is a delicate, temporary season. 

Clarke Clayton's stories have been featured in online publications like Storychord, Untoward Magazine and Knee Jerk. She is a recipient of the Prescott Prize and has been a two-time finalist in the SLS Unified Literary Contest.

This piece is intended to be a meditation on brevity. It also reflects, as much of my writing does, my ongoing fascination with how strange it is to be a woman. I wrote this story as I was emerging from an exhilarating but painful romance, when I sustained myself by reveling in daydreams about love, sex and, inevitably, procreation.




Copyright 2009