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by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt
It didn’t make no sense to me, but Momma said it made the birthing easier, so I did it anyway.
I was scared. It was my first time, and I wasn’t married. People already talked about my family’s strange ways. Then I started showing, and the gossip spread like ripples in a swamp.
“Let ’em talk,” Momma said. “It don’t make no difference. We’ll have the last laugh on Judgment Day.”
Easy for her to say. She didn’t have to go to school. She didn’t have to see the looks the other girls gave or hear them whispering behind her back. She didn’t have to put up with the rude comments of the boys. Like I was some kind of whore.
KatieJo thought it was neat. She would. She wanted to talk about it all the time. “What’s it like? I want one too, but papa would tan my hide if’n I don’t finish school first. Does it kick yet? Will you let me feel it when it kicks?”
I tried to explain that it wasn’t all roses. I told her about the morning sickness and the weird cravings and waking up each day feeling more like a bloated whale.
“It’d all be worth it, to bring a new life into the world.”
I couldn’t talk to KatieJo about how scared I was. There’s this thing growin’ inside me, getting ready to pop out. I did tell her what Momma said about eating clay.
“She has you eating dirt? Gross. Dirt has worms and parasites and all kinds of nasty things.”
“It makes the morning sickness go away.”
I didn’t explain to KatieJo how Momma and me had gone out into the woods by moonlight. We said some prayers in the old language and then we dug down, past the regular dirt, past the worms and wriggling white grubs, down to a special clay. Momma and me dug it up with our bare hands. It glowed in the moonlight. She smeared some on my lips and then my belly. That was the first time I felt it move. I thought about the grubs and worms we had dug past.
I didn’t tell KatieJo any of this, ’cause Momma asked me not to. But I did remind her that my Momma was a wise woman who had given birth several times.
“Be that as may be, you still wouldn’t catch me eating dirt.”
Yeah. And you’re not the one expecting, are you.
The further along I got, the better the clay tasted to me. The bigger I got, the more I wanted it. I started carrying a bag of clay in my pocket so I could snack on it at school. I’d try to do it when I thought no one was looking, but I guess people saw anyway. They called me white trash and all kinds of things.
Momma said it didn’t matter. They called her worst her first time. It still hurt. I’m not sure Momma cared. She was spending more and more time at church, getting ready for the delivery.
The next day at school I had the craving real bad. I reached my hand into my pocket when I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was Miss Spencer, the school nurse.
“Madison, I need to see you in my office.”
Miss Spencer made me uncomfortable, but I was a good girl — whatever the jealous trash at school said — so I went. When we both sat down, I realized the nurse was as uncomfortable as I was.
“Madison… I think it’s time we had a talk about your…condition…”
I didn’t hear anything that required a response, so I didn’t say anything. A queasy feeling hit my stomach really hard. I needed more clay soon. I rested a hand on my big belly while Miss Spencer went on.
“First, I want to applaud your decision to keep going to school. Your education is very important.”
Momma said I wouldn’t be in their school at all if the law didn’t make me go. But she said it was best to obey the laws of men so people didn’t come snooping around things that were none of their business. I learned the way the world really worked at church.
“But I have to wonder, dear, if you’re seeing a doctor like you should be.”
I felt movement inside me and cooed part of a song in the old language before I responded. “What do I need a doctor for, when I have my Momma to take care of me?”
“I just mean that you may need something more than just…folk remedies…”
I got exactly what Miss Spencer was saying then. She thought me and Momma were hicks who didn’t know what we were doing.
“If I went to the doctor, what would he do?”
“Well…” Miss Spencer leaned forward. “He would want to examine you. And he’ll probably put you on a supplement.”
My belly wriggled. I don’t know how she didn’t notice. “What’s a supplement?”
“It’s a pill with vitamins and…minerals.” Oh, the look on her face when she realized what she had just said. “Special minerals, formulated in a lab.”
Pain shot through me. I took out a ball of clay and swallowed it. The movement in my belly settled a little. “So you want me to give up healthy and natural food and minerals for something somebody I don’t even know made in a lab I ain’t never seen?”
The nurse’s nostrils flared. “I’m just trying to get you to do what’s best for your baby.”
I stood up to leave.
“Baby?” I pulled out a bit piece of clay, bit off some of it and grinned at Miss Spencer as I wolfed it down. “Whoever said I was having a baby?”
From under my clothes, a tentacle took the rest of the clay from my hand.