Warm Womb World: a story about letting go and confronting mortality
Dad tucked me in because Mom wasn’t there. When I asked him where she was, he said, breath full of alcohol, “You saw where she went.”
“That wasn’t her,” I said. “That was a box. Where did she go?”
“She’s dead, kiddo. The sooner you get that through your head, the sooner you’ll get over her.” He went over to the door and turned off the light. “Get some sleep.”
As he was about to close the door, I said, “Wait.”
“You want me to leave it open?”
I could sense that he wanted to say something; he wanted to tell me that I wasn’t a little kid anymore, and that men aren’t afraid of the dark. But instead he said, “Okay.” And he left the door open, letting a sliver of light pour into my room and paint, from the door to the edge of my bed, a radiant line.
Hours went by and I couldn’t sleep, and whenever I began to enter half-dreams, Mom would say something or she would touch my feet, and I would wake up. This kept happening until I felt restless, hungry, until I was aching for sleep. I hugged my pillow over my eyes and I cried into it. And then I felt a touch at my feet again.
A silhouette stood at the edge of my bed. Though I couldn’t see her face, I was sure it was my mom. “Mommy?” I said. I hadn’t called her that in years.
She approached, the line of light passing over her. She was pale and had milky eyes. A clock was embedded in her naked chest, pushing her breasts apart. Its rim was red with blood that streamed down her stomach to her navel, where the blood was absorbed in a blood-whirl, like water down a drain.
I felt my breath catch in my throat.
She put her finger to my lips.
My tongue dried up.
She tapped the clock on her chest, and it started ticking. “Time,” she said. “Time.” Then she grabbed me and pulled me against her stomach. Her navel expanded so wide that my arm was engulfed. It kept expanding until I was swallowed whole. It was wet and dark for a moment, and, before I could even scream, the sun came up on the pink horizon. Knee-high, purple grass scratched at my shins and ankles as I stumbled. Creatures, fluffy and ball-shaped, rolled around playing with each other. One came up to me and said looking up at me, “You’re new here, huh?”
“Where am I?”
“My name’s Yara. I’m a Ballie from the village of Yipyip.”
“But where am I?”
Green, goopy particles started snowing from the sky. I licked some off the back of my hand. It tasted like a mixture of chocolate and fertile dirt.
“I have to show you to Kuku! He’s going to be so happy to see something new. He likes new things: he says he’s bored of everything here — just so bored. That’s all he ever talks about. Maybe if I bring you back, he’ll talk about me more.” She giggled.
I followed the ball creature as she rolled through grass taller than her. On the horizon, stood a large building, a city tower that was out-of-place with its grey body and shiny metal frame. The pink sky blackened around it.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Kuku’s going to be so happy to see you.”
“Is it drinking the sky’s colour?”
“So happy,” she said dreamily.
We passed two red fluffy creatures who were throwing paper into a well.
“What’re they throwing away?” I asked.
“Bills from Not-so-colourful Land. They always want us to pay them with our happy fruit.”
“Is the tower in Not-so-colourful Land?”
“They can’t have it! I like fruit too much,” Yara said. “The blue ones are my favourite, the ones full of music.”
We made it to the village. Their huts were waist-high, mud-stick structures with circular doors, and they were covered in green snow. “A goop storm is coming,” said the biggest creature of the group with the size and colour of a basketball.
They all cheered at the good news of a goop storm.
“Who is this?” said the hairy basketball creature when it saw me.
Yara said, “He’s something new, Kuku! You always say you want to see something new, so I brought you something new. Give me cuddles.” She leapt at the basketball creature, but she missed and bounced away.
“Who are you?” Kuku asked me.
All the creatures of the village were looking at me. Little marbles, which I hadn’t noticed before, were gathering around my feet. I heard the excitement in their tiny voices. “I’m looking for my mother.”
They all gasped.
“She left you?”
“I don’t think so.”
Kuku’s teeth were white like mine, but they were made of rubber, so they distorted with the movements of his mouth. “Forgive my village’s surprise. Us Ballies stay with our mothers our entire lives. They never leave our side, always watching, caring. Mine’s behind you.”
Glancing over my shoulder, I saw Kuku’s mother perched on a branch. She had the same basketball colour but had two red stripes. She said, “I’m sorry to hear you lost your mommy.”
“I didn’t lose her. She’s just … not with me right now.”
“We’ll gladly take care of you until you find her. There are plenty of mothers to go around.”
I said nothing.
“But he’s an irregular,” squeaked one of the younger Ballies.
“Yeah. He doesn’t belong here,” squeaked another.
Yara rolled to my defence. “He’s just as good as any Ballie.”
Kuku said, “Don’t mind the young ones. Their hearts are still full of doodoo.”
Weeks went by. I started playing games with the Ballies. They liked to get rolled really hard and go really fast, like bowling balls. One day, I accidentally rolled Yara right into a spike and her insides popped. She deflated in my hands as I rushed her back to the village. There, the pump-healer tried to inflate her, but it was no use. She was losing more and more air.
“They’re going to forget me,” she said. Her pink fur had turned pale: almost white.
“You’re going to be okay.”
“Colourlessness is piercing my valve and deflating me, Johnny. They never remember the colourless.”
“You’re not going to die.”
Kuku showed up. “Yara?”
“Kuku,” she said feebly. “Can I have cuddles now?”
Before he could speak a word, before he could grant Yara her last wish, she died.
“I didn’t mean to.” I said, tears burning my eyes.
I expected him to be mad, to attack me: and I almost wished he did, but he smiled and said, “You’re a magician, Johnny! There are waterfalls on your face. Now come on, let’s go have the leftovers from the goop storm.” He rolled out of the healer’s hut, whistling a tune.
I crawled out of the small hut. Outside, everything was exactly the same; marble laughter was in the air; and the world was full of colour. A green Ballie was being praised for his goop-coloured fur by his mother. “Who’s my little goop-ball?”
The world was lying to me. At the break of dawn, only the tower standing on the horizon, grey and humourless, told me the truth. So I ventured out of the village. “Where’re you going,” my foster mother said. She was a pink Ballie, like Yara.
“I’m going to the Colourless Lands.”
“Don’t use that kind of language with me, young man. You know full well that’s not what it’s called.”
I was tired of their half-truths.
“Apologise now,” she said.
“Stop making up names – you’re not getting out of this one.”
“She died because of me and I can’t just pretend. How can you?”
She didn’t answer.
I left. She followed me, but she eventually stopped at the edge of colour. Soon she would forget, or pretend to forget, I even existed.
Grey grass crumbled into ash under my feet. The closer I got to the tower, the bigger it got. I had to crane my neck all the way back to see the top. Dark creatures, human-shaped, appeared now and then from the grey landscape to stare at me, and then they would crumble back into the earth. Some would scream, reaching out blindly. “Not me,” they would say. “Don’t rip my nerves away.” It was like whisks of consciousness gathered deep inside the ash-field and became so concentrated that they willed themselves to take a form, but the ash was too weak to contain them, so they crumbled every time. How many people, I wondered, died here?
I made it to the door, where a doorman with a decaying nose said, “The hunt for the future is stuck to the flowers,” as he opened the door.
I walked past him. The lobby was full of people, a crowd, talking about their problems. “Don’t have the money,” “I hate my job,” “… my wife’s cheating,” “… they put pepperoni on my pizza.” I heard conversation after conversation as I stepped and side-stepped through the crowd. Someone held my hand, a woman. She said, “Please marry me.”
I pulled my hand away.
“Why won’t anyone marry me?”
Finally, I made it to the receptionist’s desk, but it was too tall, so I pulled myself up until I could see her. She was a woman with six arms, which she used to answer phone calls, write memos, and breast-feed a baby. She had three faces, one where it was supposed to be and two others on the sides of her head. The baby in her arms looked perfectly normal. “Hello,” she said with her front face. It was difficult to hear her over the cacophony of voices, including hers as she answered a phone call with her left face and hummed a tune with her right. “How can I help?”
“My friend died.”
“Why, what a silly notion, death,” she said. The baby in her arms had red cheeks like it had fever. “There’s no such thing as death. As our CEO, Lisa Clockchest, says, ‘There’s no such thing as death.’”
“Lisa?” It was my mother’s name.
“You don’t know our CEO?” She cradled the baby with one hand as she reached for a framed photograph on her desk. “Lisa Clockchest,” she said as she handed it to me. It was my mother. She was wearing the sweater dad and I got her for Christmas. “Where is she?”
“Would you like to book an appointment?”
“No, I just want to see her.”
“I don’t know if I should do this, but … touch the baby.”
“Touch the baby!” She held it out to me, its lips making a smacking sound as it left her nipple behind. It started crying. “Touch it.”
Tentatively, I touched its cheek. It stopped crying – and then it gobbled my finger and sucked my entire hand into its mouth, expanding like a snake and sucking my entire arm and my head and my body – my legs. The baby swallowed me whole.
It was dark for a moment, but then I was spat out onto a red, carpeted floor.
My mom’s voice said, “I’ll call you back. Someone just used my private babyvator.”
I picked myself up, trying to get my bearings. In front of me, was a window through which I saw a colourful, pasty landscape. It looked a lot smaller from up here and the horizon was curved. How far up was I?
Behind me, was my mother sitting at a desk with a baby in her arms. “So you used my babyvator.” There was colour in her face, in her cheeks. “You know that’s a criminal off- …” She trailed off. “Johnny?”
“Come here, baby.”
With each step I took towards her, I grew smaller and smaller until she could pick me up and hold me in her arms. I was a baby again. It felt good. Everything would be okay. “My friend died, Mommy. And everyone forgot she existed.”
“Died? Honey, there’s no such thing as dying, it’s the law.”
“It was my fault.”
“No, it wasn’t. Because, you see, like I said, there’s no such thing as dying.” The phone rang. “Hush now, Mommy has to work.”
She picked up the phone, “Hello? Dogs are better than cats, I agree. They make better slaves. But you have to consider that the umbrella opens on Sundays.”
I tried to speak, but she muffled me by holding me against her chest. I felt solid glass and I could see, through an opening between two buttons on her shirt, the hand of a clock.
“I was told the Clementine case was supposed to be over and …” The clock began to tick.
“Time,” I said.
“What did you do?”
She flung me across the room. I scraped my small baby body on the carpet as I landed and rolled. I wobbled onto my feet. I didn’t cry. I walked towards her, step by step, growing bigger and bigger.
“What did you do to me?” Her skin turned pale.
I pushed the desk aside.
Her clothes began to fall off, crumbling like ash. The clock ticked louder and louder. “I can’t see,” she said.
I towered over her as she pleaded with her milky eyes, “Please don’t hurt me.”
I embraced her. “I know this is what you would’ve wanted.”
“I don’t want to die.”
The building started coming down. I watched the horizon line lose its curvature as we fell. “You already are.” Ash raining all around, I let her go.
1 donation = 1 warm womb