ONE THE MISSING PIECE
This is what it feels like, six months into losing Louis:
It feels like someone has pushed a corkscrew through her middle. It is a comically large tool, this corkscrew, like a cartoon prop, but it feels cold and sharp as it pushes its way through her body every morning, every afternoon, every evening, every hour and minute and second of every fucking day and every fucking night, coiling deeper in her before it reaches her margins and then rips its way back out in one brutal yank, uncorking her insides, spilling her guts, hollowing her out from belly button to backbone. The vacancy is palpable, a ragged hole like a cannonball blast through a tall ship’s sail, setting the craft adrift. It feels like her organs are exposed: her stomach, ripped out, unable to contain food; her heart ruptured and pouring blood; her lungs perforated, air whistling a mournful dirge through the ragged flaps of tissue with every miserable breath she pulls through them. Louis felt a part of her, once, and now he is gone. And she is reminded of that pain moment to moment—
Because she is carrying his child.
And that is the quite the ironic sensation, is it not? Louis is gone, and her middle feels ripped out—even as she experiences the opposite sensation of walking around with a squirming
fullness around her belly. It’s as if the baby is not a baby but rather a black hole setting up shop inside her.
As she walks up to the Dead Mermaid Hideaway here in Hesperia, California, she feels the baby in there. Roiling around like a lone potato in a pot of boiling water. Little fucker won’t stop moving. Like the baby wants to kung-fu-kick its way out of the womb. The doc they found for her in Beverly Hills, Dr. Shahini—with her enviable golden skin and those bold black eyelashes like the wings of a swallowtail butterfly—said that Miriam’s body should release chemicals that make her welcome the presence of the child. The chemicals, she said, would help Miriam feel “at home” with the baby inside her, but Miriam told her, “Doc, my body doesn’t make those chemicals.” Because to this day, the baby feels like a parasite, an intruder—
—and mostly she just wants it gone. Gone because it reminds her of him. Gone because even in its fullness and agitation, it makes her feel hollow, empty, and painfully alone. And already she can hear Gabby chastising her inside her mind: It is not an it, Miriam; she is a her.
She’s your daughter, not an end table.
“Feels like a fucking end table to me,” Miriam grouses under her breath. “God, what a great mom I’m going to be.” Like that matters. Right now, until she figures out a way forward, this child will barely be born before it dies—robbed from the world at the moment of birth. From darkness to a brief flash of light, and then taken away again. Returned to the formless chaos from whence all things come. Life gone too quickly to where it usually goes slow: unmade into death.
All part of fate’s plan.
But Miriam is Fate’s Foe. She is the Riverbreaker.
Fate will not write the end of this story. She will.
Miriam swears to herself now, then, always: she will figure
out how and why this kid—this parasite, this end table—is going to die, and she will save its life. Even if that means ending her own in the process. She owes that much to Louis. He is dead because she fucked up.
This baby will not suffer the same fate.
This baby will live.
Deep breath, Miriam. In. Out. The baby squirms inside her.
She takes out her cell and she texts Gabby: I’m here, Dead Mermaid Hideaway.
Gabby reponds: You’re there early
Miriam: No traffic.
Gabby: Early is good
Gabby: See Taylor yet?
Taylor Bowman, the preening lackwit, and also the reason she’s here. The doe-eyed pretty-boy is about to get himself murdered in the next—she checks her watch—37 minutes.
Miriam: I haven’t gone in yet.
Gabby: I wish I was there with you
Miriam: I’ll be fine. You’ve got a more important job. Any luck?
Gabby: None yet, will let you know
Gabby: What’s the place look like?
Miriam looks up and describes what she sees: Awning has a fake mermaid skeleton draped across it. It’s no lie. Someone has made a replica of a mermaid skeleton. It’s a pretty good replica, too—still has some fish scale on its bony tail, some fake webbing between the fingerbones. The red wig is maybe a bridge too far, but the clamshell bra seems a nice touch. She doesn’t bother describing the other signs plastered awkwardly around the doorway in: LADIES DRINKS = 50 CENTS OFF and LOOTERS GET DEAD and FAMOUS FOR OUR GHOST PEPPER MARGARITA, whatever the fuck that is.
Miriam adds: Shifty desert dive bar, except she doesn’t
mean shifty, because autocorrect corrected shitty, so then she has to fix it in all caps: SHITTY desert dive bar duck you autocorrect, which just pisses her off more and leads her to type in thumb-punching rage, ducking motherducker fuck shift shit duck it.
Gabby: I told you, you should just put the profanity in your phone’s dictionary.
Miriam: It’s not my phone and that sounds like work. I’m going in. Will text you updates.
She slides the phone into her back pocket and heads inside the bar.