Everything In Its Right Place

[creative nonfiction]

It’s 2 a.m. when the ground collapses. I’m bra-less in the too-bright light, holding her over bathroom tiles, stray hairs gathered by the toilet’s base, her face a blue hue, her eyes looking for me, but trapped inside themselves, and her three-year-old body shaking, no matter my grip. I’d thought the ground was real, but my bare feet won’t work and we’re both falling, falling down through it all, the buttons pushed and 9-1-1 pleas and clunks of first responder boots walking over my clean wooden floors, the dark uniforms I beg to hold us up, the cabin of the ambulance sailing through city streets as her quivering calms and she’s all shaken out and her breath returns over the beeping of the truck’s reverse into side hospital doors. And then the bed that saves us both—small, elevated, white. Paper sheets against our backs. Metal rails against our sides. I could live forever here, monitors hooked up to her tiny finger, numbers blinking in rainbows her body’s intentions where I can see them, milk sweet and dried on her neck and everything still but a belly that’s choosing to rise and fall. The curtains are drawn, light seeping through their bottoms, our coats like crumpled bodies on chairs along the wall, and I try turning this room into a photo, something to flap and keep.

The orderlies push their bins of linens, blue-grey scrubs to match the walls, their rubber soles sweeping across dusty floors, wheels rolling because they can, all the movement outside of us, the crackling coughs and baby wails, and they need a bedpan in room four, but not here, in my still, little square, boxed between these beautiful bars and her bones, her breathing body, her buttery scent, my mouth on the fuzz of her sleep-mashed hair, her forehead damp, lips parted in dreams.

Everything looks good now, they tell me, she’s going to be fine. But what about the ground? I want to ask. Didn’t they see how it just gave out? Oh, it can do that, they would say. In a moment’s notice—tiles, concrete, even soft brown mounds of earth can fall. And as my eyes fell towards my feet they’d pull up my chin: But it’s best to just look here, where everything is in its right place. But I am mother! I would have cried. I can’t have gravity betray us! And they’d reach back beneath their stethoscopes above the tags of their coats and squeeze the cricks out of their tanned, tired necks, and tell me, Shhhh, it’s best to just believe. Can’t you just believe?

Photo Credit: Anna Perez

Emily James is a writer in NYC. Her recent work can be found in Guernica, River Teeth, CHEAP POP, Pithead Chapel, Pidgeonholes, Hippocampus Magazine, Atticus Review, The Rumpus, and jmww, among others. She is the recipient of the 2019 Bechtel Prize from Teachers and Writers Magazine. You can find her online at www.emilysarahjames.com and tweet her @missg3rd.

Photo Credit: Anna Perez