From the kitchen corner comes the electric hum of the five-paddled fan. At this speed, it looks like a milky circle that spits out the much needed cool air, but I know that there is exactly five blades attached to its centrifuge. I know that each one of the blades slants at a 25-degree angle, and there is a small chip in a shape of a petal at the end of one paddle. I prefer the fan when it’s milky: that way, I can look at it without getting overwhelmed.
I prefer things like that. Either the ones that are elemental in their nature—water, ashes, wind,—or the ones that transform into a blur as a result of their movement. Fluidity and speed are the only things, which cannot cross the barrier and invade the cortex of my brain. Everything else can.
Take that window-blind, for example. I have been told that, for the rest of the world, it is a piece of a dusty-white organza, with tiny blue dots drizzled all over its surface. For me, though, it is a canvas with a precise sequence of embroidered brunnera flowers. The size of each flower is exactly the same—4.3 millimeters—but for the line three feet below the cornice. That is where the sewing machine must have stumbled on the connector stitch that keeps the curtain together. I don’t have to look at it to say how many of those misshapen carnations there are. Thirteen. I knew it from the moment I got here.
I’d like to say that being here is helping, that I am getting better, but that would be untrue. This is how I always was—before she was born, during the medical malpractice trial—and nothing changed since then. I remember the tangible, the concrete, with all its tiring, minute, and maddening details. I can recall the places I visited, the people I encountered, how long ago all of that took place, right to the fraction of a second. But, for the life of me, I cannot remember how I feel.
That’s why when the defense attorney asked me whether I experienced emotional distress when the defendant placed my premature newborn on a bassinet next to my cot, I stood silent, unable to lie.
My daughter left my body precisely at 7:48 AM on the 7th of October 864 days ago. She was 192 days into gestation, and her skin had a purplish tint of the faraway galaxy. Her eyelids hadn’t fully formed, yet her little hands had all the digits in place, unclenched, as if she was still trying to grasp the strand that failed to tether her to this life. We were still connected when her tiny torso hit the cold metal of the bassinet. It was not her, but me—my own fluids, bits of my own flesh—that landed on my delivery gown upon impact. The fluorescent lamp above my head went out for a three quarters of a second, as if trying to save me from my senses, but it was too late. Every little wrinkle, every bluish vein had already seeped through my retina and attached itself to my brain, each of the twenty translucent nails digging into the tissue of my cortex.
It was the defense expert—a psychiatrist with a list of credentials which took four minutes and thirty seven seconds to read—who explained to the judge why there was no merit to my emotional distress claim. It was he who compared my experience of life to a set of still paintings. It was he who convinced the jury that, because all the space inside my head was taken up by those stills, I was incapable of carrying the memory of feelings. I was an oddity, incapable of grief.
The fan keeps spinning, the thirteen misshapen carnations barely moving in the breeze. I spread the ashes of my stillborn from the Clipton bridge, three miles and four hundred feet away from this facility. There was barely any wind that day—a mild 2mph north-eastern, just like today—and my daughter shimmered towards the ocean, impatient to meet the deep aquamarine of the ascending tide. When my eyes began to sting from all the gradients of light, I turned away from the railing. The cars kept speeding by, creating a milky river of movement, erecting the barrier. Only the silver dove, who stretched its wings on top of the unlit lamplight, found its way through and filled my horizon.
The room is still, but for the five paddles spitting the much needed air. On 7th of October 864 days ago, my daughter didn’t take a single breath, while my inhospitable body kept consuming oxygen, and my twisted mind continued to record. Nine hundred twenty eight inhales. Nine hundred twenty nine exhales. Four thousand one hundred and seventy six monitor beeps of a single heart-beat. For the entire fifty seven minutes and forty three seconds before they took her away, my daughter laid there, uncovered, forever the centerpiece of my collection of still lives.
Anna Linetskaya is an emerging writer who, after years of academic work and legal practice, finally finds herself writing pieces she truly enjoys. She is currently working on her first novel while completing her MFA in Creative Writing at the City College of New York. Her most recent short pieces can be found inVisitant Lit and The Writing Disorder (forthcoming Spring 2019).