Still, every hour, she felt that tug and swell at her breasts, reminding her that the baby should feed.
The first time she was still on the street, passing the kiosks for French fries and cheap leather handbags, a facade with large red letters offering discounts on onesies, dish towels, coffee and a cream-covered pastry, mannequins with fake fur coats and sequined culottes. Panic flared through her body each time her attention fixed on any particular colour, shape or letter, but she had to keep it at bay, she had to buy a toothbrush, she had to approach the young woman with a blonde ponytail at the front desk, she had to hand her a credit card and get a key card in return and take the elevator to the fourth floor and follow the signs down the dark, brown-and-burgundy-carpeted hallway to her room.
In the bathroom, she found plastic cups, each tucked into their own clear plastic sack. She pulled apart one of these sacks, pulled the neckline of her wrap dress down across her chest, and unhooked her nursing bra to expose a bulging, fleshy triangle. At its centre was a darker circle that strained forward to form a reddish brown nipple, now topped with small drops of clear liquid.
This liquid, if you would put your tongue to it, was sweet and only slightly thicker than water. Breast milk gets creamier the longer the baby nurses, she had read, when the baby draws out the milk from the very bottom of the ducts. The clear liquid is just there to satiate the baby’s thirst. If the baby nurses frequently but briefly, they aren’t really feeding, the book went on, they are just ‘snacking.’
For the last month she had sat trapped on her bed, on the sofa, at the dining table, with a baby snacking luxuriously at her breasts. It wasn’t that the baby nursed for a few minutes and then fell off. Rather, the baby sucked slowly, half-heartedly, eyes half-closed, never committing to really drinking, never willingly turning away and letting her know they were done. Sometimes the baby didn’t even swallow, the liquid eventually dripping into the small folds around the neck or onto her blouse. By her estimation, those red, toothless gums remained circled around her nipples at least ten hours a day. It’s more than a full-time job, she tried to turn it into a joke, and at least at the office you get to go to the bathroom now and then.
She didn’t hate her baby. She truly, only felt love, what must be love. The perfectly round head, the delicately origamied ears, the soft fuzz on each cheek that looked like fairy-silk as the morning light came in through the living room window, as the pigeons began their repetitions of syncopated cooing. coo-COO-coo-coo, coo-coo-COO-coo-coo. Again and again. She knew she couldn’t blame anyone but herself. What was more seductive than being needed so entirely?
But does seduction ever sustain? Her areolas were perpetually sticky with milk and saliva, she continued to bleed onto the industrial-sized maxi pad (maxi loaf, she joked again) wedged into her underwear. She leaked everywhere. Her orifices constantly drew attention to themselves. She had always been proper, the cerebral and introspective daughter, but now she had to be ready to display her various sex organs to any doctor, midwife, nurse, breastfeeding specialist, postpartum doula, and husband when-ever they asked to see them, as well as to the waiter at the café, the child playing outside the window, the cashier at the apothecary, the husband’s friends who came over to see the baby and the relatives who’d love a cup of tea, if it’s not too much trouble, all strangely lingering and barely masking their curiosity – their own thirst – as she struggled to put the baby in place for the next session of snacking. They all sucked from her, their tongues lapping around the cutout of her nursing bra, savouring the hard protrusion of her nipples (‘good equipment,’ a nurse had observed), and their mouths lined up around her cunt, white teeth stained with blood. There was no way to stop them. Each unspeakable hour was already in place.
I have to go to the bathroom, she had told her husband, as she passed the baby across the table. But as she sat on the cracked toilet seat, resting her forehead against the stall’s door, she thought about how the restroom opened onto a hallway, and in one direction, if you walked past the kitchen door and some coat racks, were all the tables and customers of the restaurant, including her husband and baby. In the other direction, immediately, was a door, propped open, leading to an alleyway with trash bins and then to the rest of the city. If the baby couldn’t remember her, the baby wouldn’t really be hurt by her. She would be just an idea. Ideas only hurt as much as you let them.
But still, every hour, she felt that tug and swell at her breasts, reminding her that the baby should feed. So she found herself in a small hotel room, staring at herself in the mirror of an even smaller bathroom, with a plastic cup held up to a naked breast. With her thumb and forefinger she began rubbing and tugging on her nipple, squeezing its tip so that drops of translucent liquid began to slide down the cup’s side. Then she used the full expanse of her hand to cup her breast from underneath, slowly kneading with her fingers, pushing from her chest outward towards the areola, trying to relax the rock-hard engorgement. She moaned when she felt the letdown, the sudden rush into her breasts pulled from deep within her womb, and the hand holding the cup positioned it so that the streams of milk smashed into the plastic, turning it hot against the fingers, giving off a faint hiss interspersed with splatter.
The cup was almost filled to the brim. She set it down on the sink and dried her chest with a square polyester towel, the smallest in the assortment. And the deeper love wounds the one she assails, the sweeter she drowns him in herself with the soft splendor of her face. The light above of the mirror turned the room nearly purple in its brightness, and in the skin on the surface of milk she thought she could see a tiny flower begin to bloom, spun of fairy-silk, with what looked like round, toothless gums lining the petals.
Once she finished work on the other breast, she carefully covered the cups with the ripped plastic sacks. She placed them in the mini-fridge, between a can
of Minute Maid and a small bottle of SKYY. The other can that she had taken out, to make room, she would drink herself. Pigeons cooed outside her window. Here was the present