By Clara Kiat
The old lady who lives in my belly does not have a name.
Tonight, I sleep next to a window with a view of the full moon. The moonbeams wash over my face. That sensation is probably the closest I will ever get to having a spirit caress my cheeks. I am enveloped in ethereal light.
That is when the old lady who lives in my belly wakes up. Her red lipstick is smeared on the corners of her mouth.
At first, she is quiet, peeking up at the moon and soaking in its rays. She, too, wants a glimpse of the moon, and I do not blame her for coming out of hiding. Moonlight must have vitamins, too, like sunlight. We just have not studied it yet. Those moonlight vitamins must be good for old ladies.
But the old lady gets bored quickly, as she usually does. She retreats into my belly. And when she has nothing to do, she takes out her knife. She licks the tip with her tongue to whet the blade’s appetite, licking ever so gently so that the knife does not draw blood.
It is my blood that she is after.
Humming to herself, she slashes around my womb. For an old lady, her wiry arms are taut with power. She knows exactly where to plunge the blade. Perhaps she imagines herself as Zorro. She slices her way through.
My screams fall on her deaf ears. Her hearing aids have slipped out and are somewhere on the bloodied ground.
The doctor tells me that since old ladies like babies, I should consider giving her one. Babies would keep the old lady busy. She would be calm and fulfilled, doing the sorts of things that grannies do, instead of pacing around my vacant belly with her knife. I shake my head. Babies are not playthings.
But as the old lady runs around my belly like a crazed ninja wielding a katana, I consider the doctor’s advice. I think of the healing properties of babies, all the goodness of their squirmy, soft-boned limbs. I clean myself up and summon my lover. I welcome him into my weary body.
There is no fruit forthcoming. The old lady’s roots have embedded deep in my womb, leaving no room for a baby to sprout.
I go back to the doctor and demand that he take out the old lady from my belly. He cuts me open and finds the old lady on her bed of scar tissue, painting her toenails scarlet. The doctor feeds her a potion to make her fall into a deep sleep, and with a pair of scissors, he removes the old lady and the roots that bind her to my womb.
What follows is a calm that I used to think was unknowable. I dance, climb mountains, dive into deep waters. My belly—my body—is mine alone.
But not long after, it begins once more: my womb thumps against itself, a hollow heart that follows no rhythm. Then I feel stilettos—her heels are kicking against the walls of my belly. The old lady has grown right back. She is testing her new limbs. And then comes the first cut of this new season: a ragged mouth grinning, dripping, spitting bright red. The old lady has a new knife, but her grip is not as firm. The effects of the doctor’s sleeping potion must have lingered.
Her violence comes in erratic spurts, not in clean thrusts like before.
She is asleep most times, curled up within my belly and hugging the blade to herself. When she wakes up, I hear her murmur in the language of dying dreams. With trembling hands, she flings the knife across like a dart. She misses the first couple of times, but she repeats her little game until I am pierced all over like a medieval saint.
I climb on the doctor’s table. Cut out everything, I beg. The old lady, her roots, my womb. But what about your babies, the doctor says. There will be no babies, I mumble, as heady fumes fill my nostrils. Through the window, the last thing I see is a sliver of moon, and I wonder what the old lady would think of this moon.
Later, I wake up and press my fingers against the embroidered skin of my belly. The doctor had snipped away the old lady and the roots that bind her to my womb, and for good measure, dismantled her bed of scar tissue. But he left my womb intact. It was not up to him, he says, to deprive my future babies of a home. I turn away from him and look out at the window. The moon is an eye narrowed into a slit, glaring at the doctor.
The respite is short-lived. The old lady rises yet again. She gets on her knees and puts her palms on the floor of my womb, where her bed of scar tissue used to be. A whimper escapes her. Still on her knees, she grabs her knife and frantically traces a large circle around her, and another inside it, and another, until the circles get smaller, and the knife is a mere whisper from her own skin.
All night, she weeps, sowing salt upon my wounds. The sting is fleeting, but the ache in my heart is not. How small and fragile she has become.
I have come to believe that the old lady does not bear me ill will. It is simply her nature. I think of the things we have in common. My womb. My wounds. The moon.
When the next full moon comes, I will have a good bottle of Rioja ready for when the old lady wakes up from her sleep. A little wine will not hurt anybody. And perhaps we will take up a hobby together, like fencing, and do it under the bright gleam of the moon.